Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Defiant Iran angers US with missile test

This is major news today

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran on Wednesday test-fired a missile it said is capable of reaching Israel, angering the United States amid growing fears that the standoff over the contested Iranian nuclear drive could lead to war.

The Shahab-3 was among a broadside of nine missiles fired off simultaneously from an undisclosed location in the Iranian desert during war games being staged by the Revolutionary Guards, state television showed.

"The aim of these war games is to show we are ready to defend the integrity of the Iranian nation," state-run Arabic channel Al-Alam quoted Revolutionary Guards air force commander Hossein Salami as saying...

Al-Alam said the missiles test-fired by the Revolutionary Guards included a Shahab-3 with a one-tonne conventional warhead and a 2,000-kilometre (1,240-mile) range.

"Our missiles are ready for shooting at any place and any time, quickly and with accuracy. The enemy must not repeat its mistakes. The enemy targets are under surveillance," Salami added.

The more important information than what is to be gleaned from all mainstream media feeding off a single story is the De Borchgrave commentary piece that appears in today's Washington Times. Due to the importance of this piece, it is reproduced here in its entirety:

Is the United States heading into a deadly confrontation with Iran? Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the unsuccessful maverick Republican presidential candidate, warned millions of radio listeners this is now inevitable. He cited House Congressional Resolution 362, lobbied hard by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as a "Virtual Iran War Resolution."

Since its introduction three weeks ago, and before the weeklong July Fourth break, the resolution garnered 150 cosponsors. In the Senate, sister Resolution 580, introduced by Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, was also gathering momentum.

After 11 "whereas" items to build a casus belli against Iran, House 362 would require a naval blockade to "prohibit the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products, impose stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran." It would also ban the international travel of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."

If passed by both houses, the United States would be at war with Iran - alone, without allies, and oil would double immediately to $300 a barrel. The Bush administration has pledged it will keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and protect tankers transporting 25 percent of the world's daily ocean-borne oil traffic through the 32-mile-wide strait.

Tanker traffic between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea use two lanes, each 2 miles wide, for inbound and outbound ships. Iran's largest naval base at Bandar Abbas commands the northern side of the Strait. Three islands near the middle of the Strait are under Iranian control with naval gun emplacements and concealed missiles. U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters is in Bahrain, further up the Gulf.

Sinking or crippling a couple of the 50 supertankers as they pass each other every day in the Strait would not be much of a challenge for Iranian gunners. U.S. retaliation by air would follow minutes later from a carrier in the Gulf of Oman, but meanwhile shipowners the world over would ban any attempt to navigate around the shipwrecks. A barrel of oil would quickly jump to $500, or $12 a gallon, a dollar less than what the Dutch already pay for their heavily taxed gas in the Netherlands.

Iran's military chiefs warned last Saturday the Islamic Republic would shut down the Strait of Hormuz and use "blitzkrieg" tactics in the Gulf if it came under attack. A blockade of Iran would be an act of war. Last January, small Iranian speedboats darted in and out of three U.S. warships sailing through the strait. Had they been suicide boats, at least one of the U.S. vessels would have been hit, as the USS Cole was in Aden in October 2000.

U.S. Navy denials notwithstanding, Iran's capability to close the Persian Gulf is very real. As the fighting in Lebanon demonstrated two years ago, Hezbollah militias deployed mobile missile launchers in large numbers against land-based and naval targets.

Iran has purchased two types of anti-ship cruise missiles from China, the Silkworm and the C-802, whose capabilities are similar to the Exocet and Harpoon family of sea-skimming missiles. NATO estimates the C-802's single shot capability at 98 percent. It was this type of missile, also known as Yingji-82, Chinese for Eagle Strike, that scored two direct hits on the Israeli corvette INS Hanit in 2006, killing four and knocking it out of action.

Some 60 Chinese-made missiles are camouflaged in Iranian coastal batteries, along with hundreds of less sophisticated but just as lethal homemade missiles along the Iranian coast from the Gulf of Oman through the Strait and up its Persian Gulf coastline.

While the new commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Vice Adm. William Gortney, reiterated his predecessor's guarantee to keep 17 million barrels a day passing through the strategic waterway, a congressional resolution to blockade Iran's ports would change the correlation of forces. Iran would see such a decision as an act of war, as any other country would.

Cooler heads now appear to have gained the upper hand in Tehran. Talk about talking is Iran's way of muzzling talk about war. At the United Nations in New York, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters in subdued tones he had received a proposal from world powers (5 plus 1, shorthand for the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) that could prompt a "new process." Five-plus-one were hoping Iran would agree to freeze uranium enrichment at 3,000 centrifuges for the duration of the next round of talks. Mr. Mottaki didn't exclude that either. "The first word diplomats are taught is compromise," he told reporters over lunch.

Mr. Mottaki also said he is "optimistic" talks on his country's nuclear program may begin based on a package of incentives offered by the United States and the other countries and that Iran's official reply would be forthcoming in a couple of weeks.

The softening of rhetoric was in sharp contrast to firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats of death and destruction against Israel. But Mr. Mattaki explained his president's views on Israel by saying a grave injustice had been done to the Palestinians to repair the damage Europeans had done to themselves in World War II.

Mr. Mattaki didn't believe the Israelis or the Bush administration would bomb Iran through January 2009. Neither Israel nor the United States could afford to incur the wrath of the world while talks are ongoing. With three former U.S. CentCom commanders on record against the military option, it was hard to see how Israel could strike on its own - without shutting the Gulf down.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

AIDS, Medicine, and Morals

By Frank Kaufmann

This article first appeared in Mission Herald, the denominational newspaper of the National Baptist Convention

What about AIDS has to do with being Christian? Much. Healing, sexual morality, and compassion, are but a few points of overlap. The other area appropriate for Christians trying to form a proper, personal and communal response to AIDS is the Christian obligation to have a wise and sound grasp of the relationship between religion and science. AIDS is a medical (i.e., scientific/biological) phenomenon on the one hand, and a personal-social-spiritual one on the other.

What is AIDS, how is it transmitted?

The fact is (and this may be alarming, even infuriating to some) we do not know.

There exist theories, even "prevailing theories," as to what causes AIDS, but nothing more than that. The only thing that is known for a fact is that in some people their immune system breaks down. That's the only thing we know. Once the body no longer can defend and protect itself from disease and infection, the slightest malady can be fatal. No one "dies from AIDS." People with AIDS die from diseases that healthy people, with in tact immune systems can easily withstand and recover from.

I am sure there must be some readers now who are reacting, perhaps vehemently, to what I just wrote. "What do you mean we don't know what causes AIDS?! We've known that for years. This essay must be a lot of bunk." My response to this is not only for Christian believers. It is for many in the modern world, including secular types without personal, religious belief. The impulse to regard scientific speculation as "true" is part of the secular and materialistic bias of our time, and even Christians and other people of faith are prone to be infected with this bias.

For all of us the short, simple and well-written essay "Do Science and Christianity Conflict?" by Kenneth A. Boyce could be very helpful. In it he says:
"Science is not a wholly objective enterprise. Scientific research is guided by theories, working hypotheses, operational frameworks, and the like. Scientists not only make observations to formulate theories, they also use theories to guide them in making observations and to interpret what they are seeing, and these theories and the manner in which they guide observations, reflect the biases of the scientific community at the time."
The same is true for AIDS. We have observations (the immune systems of some people break down - some irreversibly), and theories (it happens because of this reason or that).

Quite apart from all the theories (even the prevailing theories) as to what causes AIDS, we DO know at least one very important fact about causes of AIDS; a person can have AIDS as a result of his or her conscious decisions and actions, on the one hand (namely they bring it on themselves), or the person can have AIDS through absolutely NO fault of their own on the other.

Should we have different attitudes to these two different sorts of people?

No. As Christians we are called to genuine, full hearted compassion for all who suffer, (even those who bring avoidable suffering on themselves) [John 8:1 - 11]. Jesus could not be more clear about this.

But even those of us who cannot rise up to the radiant beauty of the compassion to which Lord Jesus calls us, should at the very least suspend disdain, judgment, and other non-Christian attitudes if for no other reason than the fact that there are AIDS sufferers afflicted with this horrifying, frightening, and despairing condition who did absolutely nothing to bring it on themselves.

This latter fact (of the innocent ones) should be seen as a blessing, a protection, a witness, and a teacher for "Christians" who choose for some reason to fill their faith with judgment and rejection of others. While we are so busy railing against this sin or that, this group or that, we wake up to find that we have lumped in with our little list of people we hope to send to Hell, an innocent 8 year old girl who needed a blood transfusion, or a soft, giggly baby who nursed at his mother's breast.

If for no reason than for the innocents, we should meet the AIDS pandemic of our time with the radiant beauty of compassion. "Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, (I) "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on(J) sin no more."

The innocent ones can be seen as those who have given their lives to save US from OUR sins. [Matthew 25:35 - 40]. The tears we shed, the hospice and the prayers we offer are the gateway and the ladder to our spiritual growth and an emerging, respectable Christian character. The pain we feel for the innocents who suffer, helps us to awaken one day to find that our compassion has grown, that the arms of our embrace is wider, and that we can no longer turn our back on even one brother or sister who suffers.

If we can come to this point, with our hearts and our Christian compassion in tact, then we can address the many challenges to Christian faith that taint and defile our world.

What causes AIDS? We pray that scientific inquiry be true, sincere, not biased, not politically and ideologically driven, and that physicians and those devoted to healing come ever closer and closer to the truth, and to a cure.

Is AIDS caused by sexual promiscuity (either homosexual or heterosexual)? If so, then do not be sexually promiscuous. The answer is NOT, "wear a condom." The answer is do not be sexually promiscuous. But that advice is wise for 1,000's of reasons, not only as it pertains to dangers (some fatal) associated with sexually transmitted diseases. These issues of purity and sexual morality are unique, distinct (and important) for Christians. But it is myopic to think of these only in relation AIDS.

The Christian response to AIDS must be forged in the Christian traditions of healing, compassion, and moral purity.