Israel tests SMS missile alerts as Iran chatter grows

Israeli soldiers watch as a missile is launched from the Iron Dome defence system in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva in March 2012. Israel on Sunday began testing an SMS system for warning the public of an imminent missile attack as chatter over a possible strike on Iran dominated the Israeli press headlines. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)Israeli soldiers watch as a missile is launched from the Iron Dome defence system … Israel on Sunday began testing an SMS system for warning the public of an imminent missile attack as chatter over a possible strike on Iran dominated the Israeli press headlines. As testing began, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had chalked up "a significant improvement" in its home front defence capabilities, mentioning its highly-vaunted anti-missile systems such as Iron Dome and Arrow 2.
"There has been a significant improvement in our level of defence capacity on the home front: with Iron Dome, with the Arrow, in terms of protection and shelters, in advanced warning systems and in other areas," he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
"But all the threats which are directed towards the Israeli home front are dwarved by another threat -- different in both its scope and its essence. And so I repeat: Iran must never be allowed to get nuclear weapons."
With front page stories in two papers suggesting Tehran had made progress towards the manufacture and assembly of a nuclear warhead, Israel's Home Front Command began final tests of the SMS warning system which is expected to be operational by September.
"The Home Front Command will today start conducting nationwide testing of the 'Personal Message' alert system, which will end on Thursday," said a statement indicating that SMS texts in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian would be sent to subscribers on Israel's three main networks: Cellcom, Pelephone and Orange.
The idea is that the SMS system could be used to warn the population of an imminent missile attack by Iran or Lebanon's Hezbollah militia if Israel strikes Tehran's nuclear facilities which it believes is a front for developing a bomb.
In recent days, talk of a possible strike on Iran has dominated the headlines, largely coming from unsourced officials quoting intelligence reports, none of which it was possible to verify.
"Iran has made progress toward nuclear warhead," was the headline in the Haaretz newspaper.
"The Iranians greatest progress recently is in the manufacture and assembly of a nuclear warhead," the paper said, quoting the official who was drawing his information from an intelligence report which an Israeli newspaper said was recently presented to US President Barack Obama.
Although US officials declined to comment on the report, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak referred to it directly last week, saying it "brings the American assessment much much closer to ours" and makes the Iranian issue "a bit more urgent."
"Not prepared for war" was the headline in Yediot Aharonot, which questioned Israel's readiness to both mount a decisive military strike and to cope back home with the expected fallout.
"Will those preparations be enough to deal a crushing blow to Iran's nuclear facilities and allow Israel to cope with the repercussions of such an attack?" it said. "It is not at all clear that that is the case."
It quoted statistics saying 700,000 civilians did not have bomb shelters, only half of Israel's population of 7.8 million people had gas masks, and that work to fortify 70 percent of the country's hospitals would not be completed until 2015.
Although Israel charges that its arch foe Iran is driving for a nuclear bomb, the US intelligence services say only that they suspect it is seeking a weapons capability but that no decision has been taken on actually making one.
Israel is widely suspected to have the region's sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal.
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ISI has a budget of $300-400 million, 4,000 employees

New Delhi: Pakistan's shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has an annual budget of $300-400 million and despite drastic reductions in personnel "is now assumed (to have a) base strength of approximately 4,000 (people)", says German scholar Hein Kiessling.

ISI has a budget of $300-400 million, 4,000 employees (© Reuters)
Kiessling, who represented the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation (Munich) in Pakistan from 1989 to 2002, has written this in a collection of essays in 'Revisiting Contemporary South Asia' (Pentagon Press).
'The (real) ISI budget is top secret, only a few people know the figure,' he says. 'In fact officially the ISI budget today is between $300 and 400 million.
The personnel strength of ISI has also been a secret, he says.
'During Zia-ul Haq's tenure it was estimated to be 20,000 men. In the 1990s and in the new millennium there were drastic reductions in personnel.
'Therefore, it is now assumed that ISI's base strength is approximately 4,000. Higher estimates often encountered in literature and the press are grossly exaggerated.'

According to the author, changes in personnel policies came out in 2009 under the command of Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
'Today with the exception of six-seven two-star generals, the military personnel in ISI come from the Intelligence Corps of the army -- a move that serves towards the professionalism of the service.
'A military-ISI staff member starts his career as a cadet in combat arms, not in the medical or engineering services.
'After completing basic training comes an intelligence exam. The successful candidate goes on to become an officer in the Intelligence Corps, where he goes through additional courses,' Kiessling says.

The book says that about five percent of the ISI personnel are formerly from the military on a contract basis. Approximately 45 percent are from the military.
Today, ISI has 50 percent of civilian staff members, who need to have 'political knowledge (current affairs), English and analytical skills'.
It says: 'Today the ISI is one of the most active and best intelligence services in Asia.
'It is controlled and efficiently run -- there is no ISI within the ISI. Although officially the Internal Cell was declared closed, it still exists.
'The ISI is the eyes and ears of the military. The military forces see themselves as guardians of Pakistan's survival. Therefore, it is very unlikely that the Internal Cell was closed.'

The author says that ISI has again intensified involvement in 'Azad Kashmir' (Pakistan-administered Kashmir).
'The local jehad structures were upgraded again by bringing back experienced jehadis from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
'Other reports speak of ISI activities in the enlisting of new young fighters.'
It adds that psychological pressure was being exerted on former fighters to reactivate them in Jammu and Kashmir, where a Pakistan-backed separatist campaign has cost thousands of lives since 1989.
The book says that Indian underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, 'currently living under ISI protection in Karachi', continues 'to be a useful tool for the ISI'.
Ibrahim, who the book says still dominates the 'underground world of Mumbai and Dubai', is wanted in India for the March 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai.

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Where's Assad? Mystery deepens about Syrian leader

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged his military Wednesday to boost its fight against rebels, but his written call to arms only deepened a mystery over his whereabouts two weeks after a bomb penetrated his inner circle.
Assad has not spoken publicly since the July 18 bombing killed four of his top security officials - including his brother-in-law - during a rebel assault on the capital, Damascus. The president's low profile has raised questions about whether he fears for his personal safety as the civil war escalates dramatically.
The United States called the Syrian president a coward for marshaling his forces from the pages of the army's official magazine.
"We think it's cowardly, quite frankly, to have a man hiding out of sight, exhorting his armed forces to continue to slaughter the civilians of his own country," said U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Syria, said Wednesday that international observers witnessed warplanes firing in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, where intense fighting has been raging for 12 days.
Speaking to reporters in Damascus, Ghosheh said the situation in Aleppo was dire.
"Yesterday, for the first time, our observers saw firing from a fighter aircraft. We also now have confirmation that the opposition is in a position of having heavy weapons, including tanks," she said, adding that for civilians, there "is a shortage of food, fuel, water and gas."
The U.N.'s World Food Program said it was sending enough emergency food aid for 28,000 people in the city of 3 million. The U.N. has estimated that some 200,000 residents have fled Aleppo.
On Wednesday, a Ukrainian military plane evacuated from Aleppo dozens of Ukrainians and Polish women with their children and in some cases Syrian husbands.
As the country delves further into chaos, there are mounting concerns about Syrian rebels carrying out atrocities against regime supporters.
A video posted online, which was impossible to verify independently, appeared to show rebels executing a man they identified as a member of the "shabiha," or a pro-regime militiaman, in a hail of gunfire. Such developments pose a serious problem for the opposition, which has tried to claim the moral high ground against an authoritarian regime that has been accused of war crimes.
The conflict in Syria, which activists say has killed more than 19,000 people since March 2011, has drawn deep international condemnation. But world powers have few options to help beyond diplomacy - in part because of fears that any military intervention could make matters worse. Syria's close ties to Iran and the Islamic militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon mean that the conflict has the potential to draw in the country's neighbors.
Arab countries are pushing ahead with a symbolic U.N. General Assembly resolution that tells Assad to resign and turn over power to a transitional government. It also demands that the Syrian army stop its shelling and helicopter attacks and withdraw to its barracks.
A vote is set for Thursday morning.
The draft resolution takes a swipe at Russia and China by "deploring the Security Council failure" to act. Moscow and Beijing have used their veto in the Council three times to kill resolutions that might have opened the door to sanctions on Syria.
While the 193-member General Assembly has no legal mechanism for enforcing such a resolution, it can carry moral and symbolic power if a vote is overwhelming.
But the fighting has defied previous attempts at diplomacy. Residents of Aleppo have told The Associated Press over the past week that jet fighters have been strafing rebel positions. Activists have posted numerous videos on the Internet showing rebels commandeering regime tanks after seizing their bases.
Aleppo has been plagued with violence since mid-July, when rebels first attempted to take it over. The rebels have succeeded in holding several neighborhoods despite daily assaults by regime tanks, helicopters and warplanes.
Syria's state news agency on Wednesday claimed several victories by government forces in Aleppo, especially in the hotly contested rebel bastion of Salaheddine. It said dozens of "terrorists" were killed, including some with African nationalities.
Rebels gave a different account, saying they had extended their control over the strategic city by taking two police stations.
Assad's appeal to his armed forces, on the 67th anniversary of the Syrian army's founding, appeared in the army's magazine and was carried on the state news agency.
"Today you are invited to increase your readiness and willingness for the armed forces to be the shield, wall and fortress of our nation," Assad said.
The regime has characterized the rebellion as the work of foreign terrorists, and Assad said that "internal agents" are collaborating with them.
"Our battle is against a multifaceted enemy with clear goals. This battle will determine the destiny of our people and the nation's past, present and future," he said.
The newly appointed defense minister, Gen. Fahd al-Freij, whose predecessor was killed in the July 18 bombing, echoed Assad's words during a televised speech.
"The armed forces will pursue the remnants of these groups wherever they are and eliminate them, preserving the homeland from their evils and restoring peace and security to the country," he said.
Assad's only appearance since the July 18 bombing came in a brief taped segment on state TV as he swore in the new defense minister. But the clip had no audio, and it was unclear where it was shot.
Syria's powerful military, which is vital to keeping Assad in power, has largely held together over the course of the uprising. The pace of defections has risen recently, however. Neighboring Turkey has reported that 28 generals have already crossed the border.
In recent weeks the military has unleashed heavy weapons against the increasingly bold rebels, who have brought the fight to the country's two largest cities. The military managed to drive the rebels out of Damascus after they made stunning - but short-lived - advances there. Rebels claimed responsibility for the bomb that killed four top Assad aides.
Minor clashes around Damascus continue, however, and residents of the Christian neighborhood of Bab Touma in the old city of Damascus reported a half-hour gun battle early Wednesday.
There was also ongoing fighting in several other cities, including Homs in central Syria. Homs was bombarded by mortars, artillery and rockets, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which cites a network of sources on the ground.
Also Wednesday, Turkey launched a military drill just across the border from a Syrian town it claims is controlled by Kurdish rebels - a show of muscle aimed at Kurdish separatists pushing for autonomy within Turkey's borders.
The Turkish government last week said Turkish Kurdish rebels have seized control of five towns along the border in collaboration with their Syrian counterparts. Turkey alleges that the Kurdish guerrillas they are fighting have taken advantage of the strife in Syria to take refuge there.
As the chaos deepens, there are mounting concerns that foreign jihadists and extremists are joining the fray. In a message that appeared in online jihadist forums, Syrian militant Abu Hussam al-Shami called on Muslims to come fight a jihad, or holy war, against the regime because it had committed atrocities against its own people.
Addressing the regime in the nearly 10-minute video, al-Shami said: "We will not be satisfied until we turn you into ashes like those under a cooking pot."
READ MORE - Where's Assad? Mystery deepens about Syrian leader
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