Eagle—eyed Eric Schwappach has spotted three disquieting developments in his reading of the press in somewhat exotic locales. Frequently the news he finds there makes it to the American press and websites in a day or two.
1. Iran's war games
— Thousands of Iranian troops will on Friday start a week—long military manoeuvre in the Gulf to ready armed forces for warding off "threats", a senior commander announced on state television.
The commander of the navy of revolutionary guards corps, Rear—Admiral Mostafa Safari, did not specify the nature of the threat although the manoeuvre comes amid increasing tensions with the West over Tehran's nuclear programme.
"The revolutionary guards corps navy and air force in collaboration with (Iran's regular) army, navy, (the volunteer militia) Basij, and the Iranian police will start a manoeuvre from 31 March until 6 April in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman," he said.
Iran has two armed forces in which both have their own ground, naval and air force all under the command of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He added: "We hope ... We will gain the necessary and needed readiness to decisively reply to any kind of threats."
"More than 17 000 soldiers and sailors will be used, along with 1 500 different kind of vessels, in addition to the different sorts of jet fighter planes, choppers and different missiles," he added, but did not say whether Iran will use its ballistic missiles.
Iran has medium—range Shahab—3 missiles with the capability of 2 000km, able of hitting arch—enemy Israel and US bases across the Middle East.
"The exercise will cover an area stretching from the northern tip of the Persian Gulf all the way to the port city of Chah—Bahar in the Sea of Oman extending 40km into the sea," he said.
In addition, the spokesperson of the manoeuvres, Rear—Admiral Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghan told state television that the strait of Hormouz will be one of the focal points of the exercise.
"Some 80% of the Persian Gulf's oil is shipped out of this strait over which Iran has dominant and accurate control," he said.
"If the enemy wants to make the area insecure, he should be rest assured that he will also suffer from the insecurity, since we know the location of their vessels," he added.
2. Reports of a Saudi nuclear program:
BERLIN, MARCH 29 : Saudi Arabia is working secretly on a nuclear programme, with help from Pakistani experts, the German magazine Cicero reports in its latest edition, citing western security sources.
It says that during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia in aircraft laid on by the oil—rich kingdom.
Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them took the opportunity to "disappear" from their hotel rooms, sometimes for up to three weeks, it quoted German security expert Udo Ulfkotte as saying.
According to western security services, the magazine added, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid—1990s in Pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998 thanks to the work of the now—disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Cicero, which will appear on newsstands tomorrow, also quoted a US military analyst, John Pike, as saying that Saudi bar codes can be found on half of Pakistan's nuclear weapons "because it is Saudi Arabia which ultimately co—financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear programme".
The magazine also said satellite images prove that Saudi Arabia has set up in al—Sulaiyil, South of Riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles.
According to some western security services, long—range Ghauri—type missiles of Pakistani—origin are housed inside the silos.
3. Islamic Jihad claims it has Russian—made rockets
Israelis warn that several of their southern cities, villages and strategic installations could be targeted after Palestinian militants said on Wednesday they have "many" long—range Katyusha rockets in Gaza that can fly up to 30 kilometers.
The militants' use of longer—range rockets, like the one launched for the first time from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday, represents a new stage in the armed conflict with Israel, Israeli security analysts said. In recent years, militants have fired hundreds of homemade Qassam rockets with a range of about 10 kilometers from Gaza into Israel.
The Qassams have fallen short of the Israeli city of Ashkelon. But Katyushas could easily reach the city,and a sensitive industrial area just south of it.
A shaky video released by Islamic Jihad on Wednesday shows what it says is the Katyusha launch. A slender rocket is seen perched on its launcher among greenhouses in northern Gaza, with the tall smokestacks of the Ashkelon power station clearly visible in the background. The handheld camera loses track of the rocket after it leaps into the air. The Israeli military said ithe Katyusha caused no casualties or damage when it exploded.
3 29 06
UPDATE: LTC Joe Myers adds:
The Saudi's have the Chinese CSS—2 nuclear capable missile now...I personally believe [I don't know] that they already have a limited nuke stockpile courtesy of the Chinese...unless the Chinese and Pakistani's [indicated here] are facilitating new or additional warhead development. The CSS—2 is worthless with a conventional warhead.
Eric Schwappach notes that Pakistan is denying the report of collaboration with the Saudis:
Pakistan on Wednesday rejected as 'fabricated' a German magazine report that said Saudi Arabia was working secretly on a nuclear programme with help from Pakistani experts.
'It is a fabricated story and motivated by vicious intentions,' Foreign Office Spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
Citing Western security sources, German magazine Cicero in its latest edition, says that during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia in aircraft sponsored by the oil—rich kingdom.
Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them took the opportunity to 'disappear' from their hotel rooms, sometimes for up to three weeks, German security expert Udo Ulfkotte told the magazine.
According to Western security services, the magazine added, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid—1990s in Pakistan. The latest issue of Cicero, which will appear on newsstands on Thursday, also quoted US military analyst John Pike as saying that Saudi bar codes can be found on half of Pakistan's nuclear weapons 'because it is Saudi Arabia which ultimately co—financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear programme'.
Dismissing the report, the foreign office spokeswoman here said, 'Pakistan has a unilateral commitment to non—proliferation. As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan has taken all measures to strengthen its export control.' AFP