The week at a glance...International
Neighbors denounce Assad: Syrian protesters trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad received support this week from the Arab League. The Cairo-based organization suspended Syria’s membership and criticized Assad for using deadly force against peaceful protesters; only once before, in the case of Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi, has the group sided against a dictator embroiled in an Arab Spring uprising. Emboldened, a group of Syrian army defectors calling itself the Free Syrian Army announced on its Facebook page that it had successfully attacked Syrian military installations at several points around the capital of Damascus, an Assad stronghold. Despite agreeing earlier this month to end the crackdown, Assad escalated it this week, killing scores of civilians.
Assassination or accident? A massive explosion that killed the architect of Iran’s missile program at a missile base last week is raising questions of sabotage. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam and 16 other members of the elite Revolutionary Guards were killed in the blast, which was so powerful it rattled windows 30 miles away. Iranian officials said the explosion was an accident, but unofficially, some Iranians and many experts elsewhere are blaming it on the Israeli spy agency Mossad. In the past two years, three Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered on the streets of Tehran, and Iran has fingered Mossad or the CIA in those deaths. Independent analysts believe one or both agencies were behind the Stuxnet computer virus that infected Iran’s nuclear enrichment centrifuges last year. At his funeral, Moghaddam was praised as a patriot who was “constantly preparing himself for the probable upcoming conflict with America.”
Karzai’s conditions: The U.S. must stop the widely hated night raids on civilian houses if it wants to keep troops in the country after 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said this week. Military officials have said the surprise searches of suspected Taliban homes are the most successful way to kill or capture militants. But Afghans are furious at the invasions of homes containing sleeping women and children, and several botched raids have killed civilians. Karzai told a loya jirga of tribal elders that the U.S. had to treat the country like a lion. “A lion does not like when somebody enters his house,” he said.
Radiation still high: Reporters swathed in full contamination suits were allowed into the Fukushima nuclear power plant last week for the first time since the March earthquake and tsunami caused a core meltdown. They saw a scene of devastation and continuing danger. Even though thousands of workers have been cleaning up the site for months—going through nearly half a million radiation suits in the process—the plant is still surrounded by debris and twisted metal. TEPCO utility officials said the reactors are now stable. “The accident phase is over,” said nuclear expert Akira Tokuhiro, “but the next phase of cleaning up will take more than 20 years.” And if the cooling system is disrupted in any way, say by another quake, the fuel could once again release vast amounts of radiation.
U.S. troops to come: The U.S. is “stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region” by stationing a permanent military presence in Australia, President Obama announced during a visit there this week. The agreement, which will allow a contingent of 2,500 U.S. Marines and Air Force troops, as well as warships, to use Australian bases, is seen as a way for the U.S. to exert pressure on China. Over the past year, the Chinese have been claiming territorial control of much of the South China Sea, a major commercial route. China’s Foreign Ministry criticized the announcement, saying it was “debatable whether strengthening and expanding military alliances is a suitable move.”