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Iran raises nuclear tension with long-range missile test

Iran raises nuclear tension with missile test launch. Israel reacts angrily to Tzipi Livni arrest warrant issued by British court. US jail to hold 100 Guantanamo inmates. Amnesty International condemns Australia’s asylum policies. Danish police tear gas climate protestors. All this and more in today’s security update.
Rukeyya Khan
16 December 2009

Iran said on Wednesday it had successfully tested what it called an upgraded version of its longest-range solid-fuel missile. The Sajjil-2 has a longer range than previously-tested missiles and could travel 2,000km (1,243 miles), Iran's Arabic-language TV station announced. The announcement comes hours after the US approved legislation to impose sanctions on foreign companies that help supply fuel to Iran.

The latest missile test prompted a call from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for stricter sanctions. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Brown said the test would be treated ‘with the seriousness it deserves’, adding that it was a ‘matter of serious concern to the international community and it does make the case for us moving further on sanctions.'

Iran has intensified its missile development programme in recent years, a source of serious concern to regional powers, Europe and the US at a time when they accuse Tehran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon. Iran however denies the charge and says its nuclear programme only serves to meet civilian energy needs.

The openSecurity verdict: Iran is already subject to three sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. It now risks further sanctions after Tehran rejected a UN-brokered deal to send its low enriched uranium abroad to be further refined into fuel for a research reactor. The international stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme is unlikely to be resolved and today's ballistic missile test which will only stoke fear and mistrust.

In the face of burgeoning international pressure, the Iranian establishment is eager to portray itself as strong and defiant. 'Sajjil', the name of the latest missile, means 'baked clay' in Persian, a reference to a Quranic verse in which God sends birds to drive away attackers from the Muslim holy city of Mecca by bombarding them with stones of baked clay. Today’s test is intended in part to warn the US and Israel against military action.

It is also a show of strength, reflecting Iran’s steady build up of missile technology. Analysts have noted that the predecessor to the Sajjil was the Shahab missile, which was a liquid-fuelled single-stage rocket, copied from the North Korean Nodong missile.  The Sajjil, a solid fuel design, shows that Iranian engineers have left North Korea behind and are producing indigenous missile technology. Experts say the Sajjil-2 is more accurate than Shahab missiles and its navigation system is more advanced.

Yesterday the US Congress approved legislation to levy sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million a year in Iran's energy sectorb as part of an effort to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. The bill was approved by a 412-12 vote. The legislation also authorizes President Obama to use sanctions against companies that provide insurance and tankers for shipments. Proponents of the bill said that many Iranians who are aggrieved about the country's disputed presidential election in June are likely to turn their anger toward the Iranian government if further sanctions were imposed. Whilst the opposition in Iran has vowed more protests, the proverb ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ may well backfire in Iran. Grievances in Iranian domestic politics might not manifest themselves in the same way on international issues.

Though diplomatic and economic pressure does have an effect on Iran, there is a danger it may unite Iranians across the political spectrum. Iranian pride, now vested in the display of technological achievement, is employed to best effect inside Iran when perceived 'imperialist pressure' seeks to curb the country’s legitimate right to nuclear technology. This sentiment is all the more important for members of the opposition who are eager to show that they are not foreign agents, but attempting to restore Iranian identity and pride within the framework of the ideals of the late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Although Iran is the world's fifth largest oil exporter, it lacks sufficient refining capacity to meet domestic energy needs, forcing it to import 40 percent of its gasoline consumption. This makes it vulnerable to any punitive measures that target the fuel trade. Iranian officials dismissed the fuel sanctions on Wednesday and said they would not cause any problems because Tehran had many suppliers.

Tzipi Livni arrest warrant provokes Britain-Israel diplomatic row

Israel has reacted angrily to an arrest warrant issued by a British court against Tzipi Livni, Israel's former foreign minister, over her role during Israel's war on Gaza. The warrant was issued ahead of a UK convention of the Jewish National Fund, to which Livni had been invited. The warrant is thought to have been issued after an application by pro-Palestinian lawyers, but was later rescinded when it emerged that Livni had cancelled her trip.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described efforts to try Livni as an ‘absurdity’ whilst Israel’s ambassador to the UK urged Britain to change the law, which has allowed groups to pursue charges against non-citizens for alleged crimes committed outside the UK. In September, pro-Palestinian groups tried to prosecute Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, on allegations of war crimes, though that request was denied on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. As Livni is no longer a minister within the Israeli government, it would be harder for her to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest.

At a security conference in Israel yesterday, Livni defended Israel's conduct during the Gaza war, saying she 'would make the same decisions all over again.' Meanwhile, Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, said the British government is 'looking urgently' at ways of changing the system to avoid a similar situation arising again, adding that Israeli leaders ‘must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British Government.’ Miliband said Britain was determined to 'protect and develop' ties with Israel, which was a 'strategic partner and a close friend of the UK.'

US jail to hold 100 Guantanamo detainees

The White House announced yesterday that up to 100 inmates inside Guantanamo Bay prison are set to be transferred to a detention facility in Illinois. The Thomson Correctional Centre in Illinois will also act as a venue for trials of some of the detainees whilst others will go before civilian courts. A letter signed by senior US national security aides, including Hillary Clinton, said that 'the president has no intention of releasing any detainees in the United States.' The plan to transfer inmates to US soil has drawn sharp criticism pertaining to the security risks posed by such a move and the legal jurisdiction for holding prisoners indefinitely without trial on US soil.

President Obama's self-imposed deadline to shut the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by 22 January is likely to be unmet after he conceded last month that the move had caused major political and logistical problems for him and the White House. The US Congress has passed a law banning any funding to close Guantánamo and it is not yet clear how Obama intends to pay for the security improvements that need to be made to the Thomson facility.

Amnesty condemns Australia's asylum policies

Australia's offshore immigration detention centre is in breach of human rights and must be closed, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. The condemnation intensified pressure on the government over a policy that may become a key election issue. Amnesty refugee coordinator Graham Thom described conditions inside the detention centre on Australia's remote Indian Ocean Territory of Christmas Island as overcrowded, unacceptable and in breach of Australia's international obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Of particular concern is the treatment of children, many of whom have no guardian with them, and the use of tents to house asylum seekers.

Amnesty has described the facility as 'prison like', adding that damage was done to people's mental and physical health by detaining them in remote, high-security detention centres. Austalia receives a fraction of what the UN estimates to be around 15 million refugees globally but the issue is an emotive one throughout the country.

Danish police tear gas climate protestors

Danish police fired tear gas on Wednesday to disperse crowds of protestors attempting to disrupt the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. Police spokesman Per Larsen said 230 protestors had been detained in clashes outside the Bella conference centre. The organizers of the mass 'Reclaim Power' march, the Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now! (CJN) networks of campaigners, said they hope to enter the Bella Centre today to hold a 'people's assembly' in protest at the direction the talks are taking.

Meanwhile, world leaders have begun arriving at the 12-day climate talks in Copenhagen as they enter their final stretch. Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, is set to replace the president of the UN climate talks, Connie Hedegaard, in time for the final summit session in Copenhagen.

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