Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bush seen resisting calls to toughen Iran policy

Reuters has this report for all those who are waiting for a stronger, more focused policy on Iran to appear in president Bush's State of the Union address tonight:

WASHINGTON -- Despite his push for democracy in the Middle East, President George W. Bush is not expected to involve the United States in pressing more vigorously for political change in Iran, according to Republicans who have been urging a stronger approach.

Bush will offer words of support to Iranians who want greater freedom in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, even as U.S. diplomats argue for sanctions against the Islamic republic because of its nuclear program.

But Republicans advocating a more muscular policy toward Iran said they expect no new initiatives, such as boosting funding for pro-democracy and civil society groups in Iran, in Bush's speech. ``This is a policy that has a future and always will, and never a present'' because it is hard to do and requires "the kind of imagination that isn't there'' among U.S. officials, said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

More...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tehran bus strikers violently attacked; hundreds arrested

Worker-communist Party of Iran - The mass assemblies and picket lines of striking bus workers in all ten transport districts of Iran’s capital, Tehran, came under violent attack by the security forces this morning.

Thousands of workers were beaten up and forced to drive the buses. Several hundred drivers and many activists and leaders of the union have been arrested, including the wives and children of four members of the union executive.

From the early hours of this morning, a huge number of security forces were deployed at the bus depots throughout Tehran to stop the strike at any cost. However, displaying enormous courage, the drivers resisted the attacks, wherever they could, and went ahead with the strike. In solidarity with the strikers, many residents of Tehran have refused to board the buses. The union officials said the security forces employed indescribable brutality towards the workers. Arrests, harassment and raids on the homes of the activists are continuing. The Islamic regime is intent on breaking the strike and smashing the union. The union executive is deciding on the next course of action.

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Security council to review Iran nuke case

AP - The United States and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed Monday that Iran should be hauled before that powerful body over its disputed nuclear program.

China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the U.N. nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.

Foreign ministers from those nations, plus the United States, Britain and France, also said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran's activities from the watchdog agency.

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Iran & the Middle East news roundup

Kash - With less than 48 hours before President Bush's "State of the Union" address and four days before IAEA's emergency meeting, Inside sources in Iran reported today that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had held an emergency meeting of his own, ordering all top-level Iranian officials to attend the private gathering to discuss the current nuclear crisis. There are rumors abound that Khamenei, sensing the gravity of the threat his regime is being faced with, is planning to lessen Ahmadinejad’s influence in the nuclear issue by curbing his decision-making powers (Ahmadinejad's willing to provoke one crisis after another and his attempts at derailing the negotiations with EU-3 seem to have got even some of the hard-line mullahs worried) and instead put Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's national security council, more in control of the situation. A few days earlier, Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had also expressed his concerns over the nuclear crisis, calling it "the biggest crisis the Islamic Republic has faced in its history." More to come on this development in the hours ahead.

Here is the rest of the news:

  • Washington Post - Bush's Choice on Iran: The debate on Iran is drifting toward the ugly question that the Bush administration would most like to avoid. That is: Is it preferable for the United States to live with the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran, or with those of a unilateral American military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?

  • Reuters - Merkel Says Iran Threatens Entire Democratic World: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the start of her first visit to Israel on Sunday that Iran threatens not only the Jewish state but the entire democratic world, one of her strongest statements to date. Merkel spoke after meeting interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who expressed Israel's concern at Iran's nuclear programme. Israel, the United States and the European Union accuse Iran of trying to build an atom bomb. Tehran denies this.

  • Fareed Zakaria - Caught by Surprise. Again: In the late 1970s, American officials were aware that the Shah of Iran was losing domestic support. They analyzed alternate scenarios and studied various opposition groups. They thought they were being very bold in their outreach, talking to Marxists, dissidents and other radicals. But they paid little attention to the turban-clad clerics preaching dissent via mosque, audiotape and pamphlet. How many people could possibly support mullahs promising a return to theocracy in the late 20th century? Thirty years later, we're still surprised, and still asking the same questions.

  • Washington Post - In Iran, It's the Regime, Stupid: We need to reorient our strategy. Our justifiable fixation on preventing Iran from getting the bomb has somehow kept us from pursuing a more fundamental and more essential goal: political change in Iran. We need to start supporting liberal and democratic change for an Iranian population that we know seeks both.

  • Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani - To Tame Tehran: On the surface, the regime in Tehran seems to stand together in supporting Iran's more confrontational foreign policy stances. Behind the scenes, however, a fierce struggle is underway.

  • Reuters - Force against Iran seen as perilous last resort: The United States should reserve the option of bombing Iran's nuclear program into oblivion, but it would be a massive military venture that would invite heavy retribution from Tehran. That seemed to be the prevailing view from four days of debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Iran was absent from the line-up of leaders and ministers but figured high on the agenda.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Running away from reality

Kash Kheirkhah

In an article in NY Times today, Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan blames the US President for calling on Iranians to boycott last June’s presidential election, claiming his endorsement led to the creation of a threat called “Ahmadinejad”:

H.D.: That's right: with what appeared to be the endorsement of President Bush and dozens of American-backed satellite television channels that broadcast in Farsi, the disillusioned young people of Iran effectively took one of the world's most closely watched nuclear programs out of the hands of a reformer and placed it into the hands of a hard-line reactionary.

As simple as that.

With all due respect, such a statement, in my opinion, is positively the furthest from the truth, for Mr Derakhshan seems to view the recent developments in Iran through his own ideological prism which is of disgust for whatever policy the Bush administration adopts and contempt for those both inside and outside Iran who have called for an end to the present regime. That’s why his whole hypothesis is predated on a single message from President Bush and all of three or four political TV channels in Los Angeles (which have proved to be of no authority in the eyes of most Iranians, due to their constant infighting and lack of quality programs), while easily ignoring the sham election process and the growing undertone of frustration with Khatami’s government in the Iranian society that led to Ahmadinejad’s victory.

H.D.: It's true that Iranian elections are not quite democratic, because the unelected Guardian Council reserves the right to bar candidates. But the real problem here is that boycotting semi-democratic elections ultimately will not make such a system more democratic.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the illegitimate winner of a massive vote rigging in the first round of a presidential election that proves, with or without people’s participation, he would have been qualified for the run-off election. As Mr Derakhshan very well knows, even Mahdi Karoubi, former speaker of parliament and presidential hopeful raised a public outcry over being eliminated from the race after sudden changes in the vote count by sending a letter to Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, detailing the election violations and even accusing Khamenei’s son of having a hand in having him eliminated. This kind of election can not be called semi-democratic, nor can it be justified by any means.

H.D.: In Iran last June, the call for a boycott resonated with frustrated and apathetic voters. Many, if not most, moderates and reform advocates stayed home from the polls. And we all know what followed: the philosophy-loving moderate, Mohammad Khatami, was replaced as president by a radical militant, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a former military commander who presides over one of the most extreme governments post-revolutionary Iran has yet had.

The disillusionment of the young Iranian people is the direct result of the incompetence of a philosophy-loving president who failed to seize upon the strong mandate 20 million Iranians granted him twice. For eight long years, Khatami’s administration remained incapable of performing its most basic duties, blowing one opportunity after another to push through the reform program, leading people to believe their votes had gone down the drain. In the domestic arena, Khatami’s pussyfooting resulted in the imprisonment of a large number of intellectuals and reformers, including one of his own ministers, the shut-down of all reformist newspapers and most importantly, the disqualification of thousands of reformist candidates in the seventh parliamentary elections by the unelected Guardian Council --not to mention that Iranian people's economic situation during Khatami's presidency deteriorated. As for the decisions regarding the nuclear program, it was quite clear that those weren’t his and his government to make. Now to expect a frustrated nation to go through all that and still take part in, not a flawed, but sham election that as President Bush rightly said was one that ignored the basic requirements of democracy or vote for another obviously powerless, ill-fated candidate is nothing but a pure fantasy. I should add here that I don't mean to say that nothing positive happened under Khatami but in general scheme of things, he was a failure and that was certainly the biggest reason why the masses didn't fall for his successor this time around.

H.D.: An American administration that had called on other Middle Eastern populaces to vote in flawed elections greeted the Iranian electoral process with nothing but open disdain. It is worth revisiting this odd judgment call at a time when Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections has raised even more questions about Washington's confused strategy of democracy promotion.

The reason Iraqis went to the polls despite mortal danger was they had real representative from all shades of the political spectrum to choose from. In fact, the elections in Iraq were the most democratic elections held in the Middle East in 50 years. As for Palestine, no matter the result, the election process itself wasn’t flawed. The recent elections in countries such as Jordan and Egypt whose leaders are close US allies in the region (and don't support terrorism of course) were also held with at least partial participation of the opposition factions such as Muslim Brotherhood. How about Iran? In Iran everyone outside the power circle is barred from the elections. How could we expect the United States to support such sham elections and how would we expect the educated young Iranians to take part in such a puppet show run by a regime whose only concern is high voter turn-out?

H.D.: If the United States is serious about promoting democratic change in Iran, it needs to try the same approach that brought Iraqis to the polls despite mortal danger. Mr. Bush and his supporters should encourage the people of Iran to participate in the next election. And they should urge Iranians to vote for someone who will make their country more open and democratic, rather than more threatening, as Iran under President Ahmadinejad has become.

Just like former President Muhammad Khatami and some of his reformist supporters, Mr. Derakhshan and the political thinking he represents believe in the principles of the current Iranian regime and toward that end, they would say, do and justify anything to keep it functioning. That's where their problem is. They have some principles and if you don’t like them they have some others—as evident in the second round of the elections when in an unbelievable u-turn, they endorsed former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who among Iranian people is identified with everything evil. They accuse the US of double standards while they practice multiple ones themselves.

I believe President Bush, the Iranian opposition factions and the true reformist figures such as Akbar Ganji all did absolutely the right thing in calling for the last election boycott. But even if they didn’t, such an undemocratic election process, coupled with a crippled, unprincipled and most of all, unpopular reform movement wouldn’t have produced an outcome any different than what we see today. Pinning the current mess in Iran’s politics on a single statement is just running away from reality as Mr. Derakhshan has chosen to do so.

'Brokeback Mountain' takes directors guild award

IMDB - It was yet another victory for "Brokeback Mountain" as Ang Lee won the Directors Guild Award for the seemingly Oscar-bound film. Lee bested fellow nominees George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck), Paul Haggis (Crash), Bennett Miller (Capote) and Steven Spielberg (Munich) for the honor; it was also Lee's second DGA Award, as he had previously won in 2000 for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It's yet another in a long line of Brokeback victories, as the film was the big winner at the Golden Globes (taking home four awards) and recently nabbed the Producers Guild of America award, as well as numerous critical honors. The DGA win gives Brokeback and Lee a solid lead in the Oscar race, as only six of the DGA's winners since 1949 have not won an Academy Award -- in fact, Lee's Crouching Tiger win was one of the exceptions, as the Best Director Oscar in 2000 went to Steven Soderbergh for "Traffic." Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday.

The DGA also gave Clint Eastwood (last year's winner for Million Dollar Baby) a Lifetime Achievement Award, and picked Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) for their documentary award, though surprisingly, the film didn't made the short list for the Best Documentary Oscar.

More...

ABC's Bob Woodruff, cameraman seriously injured in Iraq

ABC News - "World News Tonight" anchor, Bob Woodruff and his camera man, Doug Vogt, are both in serious condition after they were hit by an improvised explosive device in Taji, Iraq, today. Woodruff is undergoing surgery at the U.S. military hospital in Balad, where Vogt also is being treated. Woodruff, Vogt and their four-man team were traveling in a convoy with the Iraqi army. They were in a mechanized vehicle when the explosive went off. The exposion was followed by small arms fire. Both men suffered head injuries. Woodruff sustained shrapnel wounds and Vogt was hit by shrapnel in the head and suffered a broken shoulder.

My thoughts and prayers are with Woodruff and Vogt's families.

TV Newser has posted a
link to a piece written by CNN correspondent Michael Holmes, reflecting on the day two of his colleagues were killed in Iraq two years ago. It's definitely an emotional must-read:

It was January 27, 2004, my third "tour" of Iraq. I'm now nearing the end of my fifth, and the sad reality -- for me, at least -- is this place seems less secure each time I've come. More necessary security, more danger, a greater likelihood you could get killed doing your job. I've had my share of risky assignments, from Afghanistan to Gaza and the West Bank, Rwanda to Romania during the 1989 revolution. None come close to the daily feeling here that anything could happen to you, at any time.

It's a sad fact of war coverage that casualties become numbers, compounding the tragedy by trivializing the individual. But that's what many victims here have become -- numbers...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tehran, Iran: Tens of bus drivers wounded, wives taken as hostage

SMCCDI - Tens of Tehran's Collective Bus drivers, technicians and workers have been wounded by brutal militiamen who have attacked the strikers gathered in some of the terminals. The strikers were refusing to allow Bassij para-military members to take the wheels of their vehicles.

Wives of at least 3 strikers have been arrested at their homes and brought to an unknown destination in order to be use as tool of pressure against their husbands. Threats have been made about their fate if the strike doesn't come to an end and that the drivers and other employees of Tehran's Collective Bus Company don't start work on Sunday morning.

But despite all repressive methods used by the Islamic republic regime, many of the employees have stayed home by forcing the Islamic regime to deploy its plain clothes security agents in the streets of the Capital and behind the wheels of the buses.

The un-experienced appointed drivers have a hard time to insure the service and many users are refusing to take the buses in sign of solidarity with the strikers.

Many workers, students and governmental employees, such as teachers, are using the transport problem for not showing up at their works or classes. Tracts have been distributed in the Capital by underground social or workers groups declaring solidarity with the strikers.

More...

World Economic Forum: Muslim societies in the modern world

The Annual Meetings of the World Economic Foru, in which chief executives of the world's richest corporations, some selected national political leaders, intellectuals and journalists discuss the world's most important global, regional and industry agendas, are underway in Davos Switzerland.

One of the topics discussed in the forum this year was "Muslim Societies in the Modern World", a session dedicated to a discussion of the problems forward-looking Muslim political leaders face when trying to speed up modernization in their countries. The panelists--Hajim Alhasani, President of the Iraq National Assembly; Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan; Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan and H.M. Queen Rania of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan-- offer their view points on what they see as the major hurdles on the way of reform in Muslim societies and also react to Hamas Victory in recent Palestinian Elections (I found Musharraf's take on Hamas, in particular, very insightful).

To watch this program or download the podcast click here.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Times of London: War against Iran may be a necessity

Times of London - The unimaginable but ultimately inescapable truth is that we are going to have to get ready for war with Iran. Being of a free-speaking, free-thinking disposition, we generally find in the West that hand-wringing, finger-pointing and second-guessing come more easily to us than cold, strategic thinking. Confronted with nightmarish perils we instinctively choose to seize the opportunity to blame each other, cursing our domestic opponents for the situation they’ve put us in.

The unavoidable reality is that we now need urgently to steel ourselves to the ugly probability that diplomacy will not now suffice: one or way or another, unconscionable acts of war may now be unavoidable.

Those who say war is unthinkable are right. Military strikes, even limited, targeted and accurate ones, will have devastating consequences for the region and for the world. They will, quite probably entrench and harden the Iranian regime. Even the young, hopeful democrats who despise their theocratic rulers and crave the freedoms of the West will pause at the sight of their country burnt and humiliated by the infidels.

All true. All fearfully powerful arguments against the use of the military option. But multiplied together, squared, and then cubed, the weight of these arguments does not come close to matching the case for us to stop, by whatever means may be necessary, Iran from becoming a nuclear power. If Iran gets safely and unmolested to nuclear status, it will be a threshold moment in the history of the world, up there with the Bolshevik Revolution and the coming of Hitler.

More...

Also:

Fox News - 59 percent support using "whatever military force is necessary" on Iran

If diplomacy fails, 59 percent support using "whatever military force is necessary," to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons; however, when presented with specific military options support drops. Some 51 percent support using only air strikes, and 46 percent support using air strikes and ground troops.

Los Angeles Times - 57% Back a Hit on Iran if Defiance Persists

Despite persistent disillusionment with the war in Iraq, a majority of Americans supports taking military action against Iran if that country continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The poll, conducted Sunday through Wednesday, found that 57% of Americans favor military intervention if Iran's Islamic government pursues a program that could enable it to build nuclear arms. Support for military action against Tehran has increased over the last year, the poll found, even though public sentiment is running against the war in neighboring Iraq: 53% said they believe the situation there was not worth going to war.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Match Point: Lucky or good, which one would you prefer to be?

Kash Kheirkhah

Lucky at the price of morality or good at the cost of losing out on life? That's the question we'll keep asking ourselves while and after watching Woody Allen's "Match Point"--his best movie in ten years--which once again illustrates Woody Allen's questioning of faith and moral principles although here, Allen's typical one-liners and quirky sense of humor have given place to character study and unexpected twists and turns of a first-class thriller.

"Match Point" poses the same questions Woody Allen once masterfully raised with his "Crimes and Misdemeanors", only this time in starker terms: In a world full of evil doers and human frailties, is there any place for morality and fidelity? Is life only a game of luck although some try hard to prove otherwise? Is this a world in which the innocent are sometimes slain to make way for grander schemes" as Chris Wilton, the main character of the movie once says?

OK. I'm trying hard not to let this post turn into a spoiler. Suffice it to say that "Match Point" is a movie which will keep tickling your mind long after you have watched it. Whether you are a fan of Woody Allen the same way I am or not, I definitely believe this is a movie worth watching, contemplating and of course debating.

As For me, "Match Point" now sits next to my other Woody Allen all-time favorites: "Annie Hall", "Manhattan", "Hanna and Her Sisters", "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Everyone Says I love You."

Hamas victory a message for Bush

Anna Gearan, AP Diplomatic Writer - After making democracy a defining marker for American foreign policy, President Bush got a jolting message from Palestinian voters: Be careful what you wish for.

The United States promoted the democratic Palestinian election that now has produced an upset victory for the militant Islamic group Hamas. The election could install an organization the United States considers terrorist in place of a Palestinian leadership that, while weak, was pledged to work with Israel and with Washington.

The administration is caught between Bush's clarion rhetoric about spreading liberty even in unlikely places and the reality that self-determination can yield results that appear counter to U.S. interests. That's a challenge the United States may have to confront someday in other places as well, including Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Central Asia, the Balkans and — closer to home — South America.

...Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also pointed to elections in Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt as evidence that "the neighborhood is changing." Rice is careful to add that democracy in the Muslim world will not, and perhaps should not, look like democracy in America.

More...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Max Boot: Air strikes, only serious option on Iran

I have said here all along that it would be a grave mistake for both US and Israel to launch an assault on Iran. However, I don't have the slightest doubt that if both countries conclude that Russia's shuttle diplomacy or eventually UN sanctions won't deter Iran from its nuclear path, they will not give air strikes a second thought and that's what makes me feel really worried because truth be told, I've already given up on my own country's apocalyptic government which these days, instead of defusing the tensions and conflicts they may produce, is busy holding a Holocaust-denying conference and bolstering its nuclear site defenses:

Max Boot, Los Angeles Times - What might stop Iran at this late date? Some conservatives have pinned their hopes on another Iranian revolution. The CIA and other agencies should do everything possible to encourage such an uprising. But the chances of regime change in the near term are not high. Even less likely is a U.S. invasion; the U.S. military is overstretched as it is.

That leaves only one serious option — air strikes by Israel or the U.S., possibly accompanied by commando raids. It is doubtful that bombs could eradicate Iran's nuclear program, but they could set it back for years, possibly long enough for the regime to implode.

There are two major downsides cited by opponents of military action. First, they say, an attack might lead Iranians to rally around the current regime. Possibly. But it might instead expose the mullahs' weakness and thus undermine their authority. The second objection is more serious. Even if air strikes are carried out by Israel, the mullahs would almost certainly order terrorist retaliation against the United States and step up efforts to sabotage our activities in next-door Afghanistan and Iraq.

These are real worries. But do they outweigh the consequences of letting Iran go nuclear?

Sooner rather than later, President Bush must face a hard choice: Either order air strikes (or acquiesce to Israeli strikes) or accept a nuclear-armed Iran. A lot of bluster won't make this difficult dilemma disappear.

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Iran 'is making lunacy official policy'

Spiegel - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has followed up his calls for the destruction of Israel with plans to host a conference questioning the validity of the Holocaust. SPIEGEL ONLINE interviewed German Holocaust historian Götz Aly to discuss how anti-Semitism is becoming official Iranian state policy.

Spiegel Online: The organizers of the conference want to invite, not just representatives of the "conventional view of the Holocaust," but also those who doubt or deny that it happened, such as the revisionists Horst Mahler, Robert Faurisson from France and Israel Shamir, who is an Israeli of Russian origin.

Aly: The planned conference seems to me to demonstrate considerable political stubbornness. It doesn't have anything to do with academic historical research. A man like Mahler doesn't understand the first thing about the topic. It's just not good enough to be a professional know-it-all, and spread resentment. We will certainly not learn anything new about the Holocaust at this conference.

...Spiegel Online: How do you explain the heartlessness and brutality needed to aspire to the destruction of a country?

Aly: That is something which in Germany we know a fair bit about. Creating a universal enemy can serve as a politically uniting force for a country. This is particularly the case for states which are weak, badly led, highly corrupt and don't properly exploit their own economic opportunities. The concept of the enemy allows mass incitement to hatred to provide a diversion from the forces of modern life -- which is constantly demanding more specialization within society as well as greater flexibility.

More...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The committee on the present danger calls for 'regime change' in Iran

Members of The Committee on the Present Danger: James Woolsey the former Director of the CIA, George Schultz the former U.S. Secretary of State, Senator Joseph Lieberman and Senator Jon Kyl:

Nearly a century ago, Iran adopted a constitution that established freedoms for its citizens - that have been lost. The Ruling regime sponsors terrorism, represses human rights, jails dissidents, oppresses women, and is determined to have nuclear weopons. We believe the United States's policy objective must be regime change in Iran.

Among the measures the CPD calls for:

  • Sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council;
  • Embargo on oil and ban of any foreign direct investment in Iran;
  • Building a legal case against the Islamic regime's supreme leader and its current president for torture and murder of Iranians and incitation to genocide;
  • Appointment by the U.S. President of a "Point Person" who would speak to Iranians and would dramatize the plight of political prisoners;
  • More energetic and effective assistance to pro-democracy activists in Iran;
  • Sharply increased support for U.S. based pro-democracy Iranian satellite TV stations: The US Government's Farsi language Radio Farda ("tomorrow") and several hours weekly of Voice of America television are a beginning but not enough if we are going to effectively communicate with the Iranian people. Furthermore, these outlets do not always convey a coordinated U.S. policy message. They should even if it means making staff changes. At least $ 10 million annually should be appropriated to assist independent televison, radio and internet communications with the Iranian people.
  • Ancillary pressure on Tehran by asking from the Lebanese Army to disarm Hezbollah and to restore the Lebanese sovereignty and freedom.

The advent of Ahmadinejad, with his inflammatory rhetoric - frequently reiterated - makes it clear that we should adopt a determined and muscular policy aimed at non-violent regime change in Iran. The means can range from moral support for a student-led effort to demand a national referendum in favor of a constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the various elements described in this paper and other elements that will be formulated as circumstances dictate.


More...

Monday, January 23, 2006

West talks tough with Iran, treads lightly

WSJ (via Iran va Jahan) - As U.S. and European officials press to have Iran brought before the United Nations Security Council, they are also promising that Tehran won't face serious punishment there -- for quite a while.

Even as they press for a showdown with Tehran, American officials privately acknowledge that they aren't sure how to calibrate political or economic sanctions to bring maximum pressure on Iran's leadership without alienating the country's pro-reform and pro-American public. In recent weeks, officials in Washington and London have begun thinking about an aggressive public-relations campaign, beamed into Iran, to counteract Tehran's certain efforts to incite a strong nationalist backlash.

As for what sanctions the U.S. and Europe might press for, officials say they could start with a travel ban for key government leaders and a ban on sales to Iran's nuclear and missile programs and any front companies.

Mr. Milani [ Abbas Milani, an expert on Iran's politics at Stanford University] from the Hoover Institution is arguing for "smart sanctions": cracking down on the government's finances, and military- and nuclear-related trade, while encouraging significantly more contact and trade with Iran's civil society, in hopes of sparking a democratic movement. He acknowledges that such a policy would be politically difficult for the U.S. to put into practice, especially amid the standoff, and it could take years to produce results. He is skeptical that any outside pressure, short of a full ban on Iran's gasoline imports and oil and gas exports, would persuade Mr. Ahmadinejad and the clerical establishment to curtail their nuclear ambitions.

More...

In other news:

Expatica, Netherlands - Iran claims 'conspiracies' isolating football team: Iran has so far failed to find a country ready to play against the national team in test games before the World Cup, reportedly due to anti-Semitic remarks by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's defiance to stop its controversial nuclear programmes.

Christopher Dickey, Newsweek - Countdown to a Showdown: If Armageddon happens, those who survive will look back and see the warnings—so many of them—that were somehow lost from view in the numbing rush of 24/7 news. They will remember that Iran pushed ahead with a nuclear program it claimed was peaceful, although no one (not even some of those who defended its right to do so) really believed that was the case.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Iran's nuclear program: A matter of national pride or tragedy?

Kash Kheirkhah

Last week, at a news conference in Tehran, the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran does not need nuclear weapons; claiming again what he called “Iran's inalienable right” to nuclear technology and that in accordance with its religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited. He also criticized the "double standards" of Western countries which already had nuclear weapons, calling them "arrogant rulers".

The question everyone seems to be asking now is whether Iran has a right to seek peaceful nuclear technology? As an Iranian, I would say sure. It is our absolute right to have "peaceful nuclear technology". On that much, I would agree with those who defend my country's nuclear program.

But Is Iran’s nuclear program under the current regime a matter of national pride? Well, before I answer that question, I'd like to pause for a moment and ask the Iranian president a few questions of my own. I trust Mr Ahmadinejad's response to these questions will also help ease everyone's mind as to why Iran is so intent on acquiring nuclear technology.

Mr Ahmadinejad, if your claim that Iran is pursuing peaceful nuclear technology is true, then:

Why according to the International Atomic Energy Agency's report on Iran's nuclear activities published in November, 2003, have you secretly developed technologies for producing weapon-usable highly enriched uranium and plutonium? Why by this policy of concealment, did you violate IAEA's Nonproliferation Treaty obligations and falsified declarations to the agency regarding safeguards required under the treaty?

Why did Iran acquire nuclear weapons information from a covert supply network headed by Pakistani Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist credited with making Pakistan a nuclear weapons state?

Mr Ahmadinejad, while natural gas is more cost effective than nuclear energy and Iran sits on the second largest natural gas reserves in the world, why do you insist on enriching Uranium for energy production?

Even if enriching Uranium is Iran's “inalienable” right, why did you reject light water reactors offered by the European Troika when you can easily use low grade uranium and light water reactors to produce energy? Doesn't that mean that there's particular need--far beyond civilian purposes-- for highly enriched uranium in reactors?

Mr Ahmadinejad, any country seeking a peaceful nuclear power program would have eagerly accepted the generous incentive package, offered by three European powers and backed by the US, providing Iran with nuclear fuel and technology to build its civilian nuclear reactors, trade agreements and security guarantees. What was wrong with this offer? Why did you reject that?

You and other defenders of Iran's nuclear ambition accuse the west of double standards, asking how is that other countries can possess nuclear technology and Iran can not? Well, which one of these nations has long-range ballistic missiles with "wipe-off-the-map" slogans inscribed on them? How would you feel if Iran were within the striking distance of a nation whose leaders openly boasted of wiping Iran off the map? Would you take them at their words when they said their nuclear program was peaceful?

Mr Ahmadinejad, I'm a patriotic Iranian, but you tell me which one will bolster my sense of patriotism: A costly nuclear power program that is likely to impose a wide range of back-breaking sanctions on an already suffering nation or trade agreements that would lift the sanctions and provide Iran—among other things-- with spare parts for its ailing civilian airline that is taking more lives each passing year?

What do we gain by our nuclear program even if it is peaceful? Is it going to create jobs in a country whose unemployment rate is becoming a national threat? Is it going to bring bread to the homes of our underprivileged people? Is it going to make us a safer nation or put us more at risk?

I'm sorry Mr Ahmadinejad, but as long as I don't have convincing answers to the above-mentioned questions, I won't allow you to use your suspicious nuclear program to appeal to my sense of national pride.

Yes, we Iranians have a right to 'peaceful nuclear technology', but not under you and Islamic Republic of Iran.

Also read:

Fareed Zakaria: Let us not believe one more time that people in a foreign country will welcome American bombs with sweets and flowers.

Washington Post - We Should Strike Iran, but Not With Bombs.

NY Times - Why Not a Strike on Iran?

Iran's protege vows support for Iran against attack


The Iraqi fire-brand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose al-Mahdi Army allegedly receive both financial and logistic support from Tehran, met with Iran's top nuclear negotiater Ali Larijani earlier today in Tehran, Iran. Al-Sadr told reporters he and his army would take it upon themselves to support Iran against any foreign invasion.

In other news:

AP - Europe's biggest bank 'UBS' cancels all banking business with Iran:

Swiss banking giant UBS AG said Sunday it has stopped doing business with Iran because of the company's economic and risk analysis of the situation in the country. All existing business with customers in Iran will be canceled, but Iranians in exile are not affected by the decision, Steiner said, confirming an article in Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung.

More...

In Jill Carroll's own words: Why she went to cover Iraq

Detroit Free Press - Almost a year before she was taken hostage by the Revenge Brigade, freelance writer and Ann Arbor native Jill Carroll wrote the following story for the American Journalism Review. She writes about her ambitions and the chilling reality that foreigners in Iraq, including journalists, face every day -- the threat of kidnapping and execution. This is an edited version of her story that appeared under the title "What a way to make a living."

The cubicle walls are closing in. You'd rather jump off a cliff than cover one more zoning board meeting and just when one of the biggest stories in years is developing in Iraq, those foreign correspondent aspirations seem ever further out of reach.

There's only one way out: pull up stakes, clean out that savings account and get on a plane to Baghdad. It may sound like lunacy, but that's precisely what dozens of journalists have done. The result is a motley group of freelance reporters taking up residence in Baghdad's seediest hotelsincluding a former brotheland churning out stories on shoestring budgets in a country the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the most dangerous in the world for journalists...

Also read:

Dennis Anderson, Editor & Publisher - A tribute to Jill Carroll:

I am in mourning over the Jill Carroll abduction, as I imagine all thoughtful journalists are. It is terrible, and it is sad, and it reminds me that at the Los Angeles bureau of the Associated Press, for eight years, a day did not go by without somebody mentioning the plight of kidnapped reporter Terry Anderson. Now it is Jill Carroll who deserves our hopes and prayers. Iraqi terrorist abductors seem to revel in the capture and kill of unicorns. Unicorns are those rare, gentle creatures who come to that pitiless landscape looking to do good and fall prey to the forces of evil.

Iran's nuclear crisis: Has Europe not learned from its past mistakes?

Kash Kheirkhah

If you'd like to know why Iranian journalist Amir Taheri lays the blame on Europe for the current Iran nuclear impasse, take a moment to have a look at this outlandish article in the Guardian , written by non other than Sir Simon Jenkins, recipient of knighthood for services to journalism in the 2004.

Mr Jenkins calls Iran "a serious country, not another two-bit post-imperial rogue waiting to be slapped about the head by a white man and whose political life is, to put it mildly, fluid." (as an Iranian, I was surprised to learn there exists a political life in Iran at all, let alone that it is fluid!).

In defense of Tehran's nuclear program, Jenkins becomes more catholic than pope, not only sympathizing with Tehran but justifying what he calls nuclear defense (something even Tehran hasn't fessed up to yet): "Iran is a proud country that sits between nuclear Pakistan and India to its east, a nuclear Russia to its north and a nuclear Israel to its west. Adjacent Afghanistan and Iraq are occupied at will by a nuclear America, which backed Saddam Hussein in his 1980 invasion of Iran. How can we say such a country has "no right" to nuclear defense?" This flawed reasoning best proves Amir Taheri's point when he says:" The Europeans are not prepared to acknowledge that the problem is not uranium enrichment but the nature of the Iranian regime. More than 20 countries, from Argentina to Ukraine, enrich uranium without anyone making a fuss. But who can trust the present leadership in Tehran not to embark upon some tragic mischief in the name of its ideology?"

But worst of all, it's Mr Jenkins's wrong-headed conclusion that delivers the punch line: "If you cannot stop a man buying a gun, the next best bet is to make him your friend, not your enemy," which in the words of Groucho Marx means: "Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others."

This amazingly short-sighted mentality on the part of a prominent European journalist comes to me as a shock for it not only shows his detachment from the reality of today's world, but also serves as a sour reminder of the policy of appeasement of Lord Neville Chamberlain's Cabinet against the increasing threat of Hitlerite Germany, naively aimed at ensuring peace in Europe.

In the prelude to his excellent book " History of Second World War", historian B.H. Liddell Hart, in regard to the causation of the Second World War, writes:" To assume that the outbreak of the war and all its extensions were purely due to Hitler's aggression is too simple and shallow an explanation...Ever since Hitler's entry to power in 1933 the British and the French Governments had conceded to this dangerous autocrat immeasurably...At every turn they showed a disposition to avoid trouble and shelve awkward problems--to preserve their present comfort at the expense of future."

According to Hart, Western powers had been well aware of Hitler's expansionist dreams--lebensraum, living space for Germany's expanding population--long before he decided to fulfill them. At the time, European circles were abuzz with arguments for allowing Germany to expand eastwards. In fact, they showed sympathy for Hitler's idea and let him know it. They failed to realize that by appeasing Hitler, they were encouraging a dangerous regime to use the threat of force to its own purposes.

Europe's ill-fated appeasement policy culminated in Munich Agreement in September 1938, according to which European powers agreed that Germany would get Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland and also de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further. For Neville Chamberlain, the Munich Agreement meant "peace for our time". For Hitler though, it was one further step toward his evil goals. For the world, it was a disaster waiting to happen (In an eerie repetition of history, the European powers have been encouraging Tehran for three years now to sign an agreement that would recognize Iran's peaceful nuclear program as long as it promises to go no further).

Hart also writes that what made Hitler, who had always disposed any thoughts of engaging in a major war with the UK, eventually change his mind was the encouragement he had long received from the complaisant attitude of the Western powers coupled with their sudden turn-about in the spring of 1939, a reversal in policy too late to do any good. In Liddlle Hart's own words:

"If you allow anyone to stoke up a boiler until the steam-pressure rises beyond danger-point, the real responsibility for any resultant explosion will lie with you. That truth of physical science applies equally to political science, specially to the conduct of international affair."

And that's where we find ourselves today once again, in the face of a growing threat by a dangerous theocratic regime, with a proven track record of sponsoring terrorism, breaking international commitments and suppressing democratic movements and all the logic we get from a European analyst is the same logic which not too long ago, wreaked havoc upon our world.

What has Europe learned from the consequences of war? What have all these WWII books, museums, movies and memorial services been in aid of? What was all that political hoopla in Europe over Iranian President's holocaust remarks for if all Europe has got to stop a hate-mongering leader from creating another world-wide crisis is suggesting "subtle engagement" instead of standing firm against him and his outrageous demands?

Is history not good enough a teacher to learn from?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Iran faces 'destruction' - Israel warns

I'm very sorry to see that some Israeli officials have now resorted to using the same deplorable language that the Iranian President has been using recently. I know Israelis are angry at what he's been spouting lately, but statements of this nature are just going to fuel more blind rhetoric on both sides and that, I guess, is what fanatics in both Iran and Israel desire:

HERZLIYA, Israel -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned the Iranian people Saturday that they faced 'destruction' unless they managed to restrain their new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 'Look at the fate of others who sought the destruction of the Jewish people. They only brought havoc and destruction to the own people,' Mofaz said.

'I know that a large part of the people of Iran do not support his policies but his despicable acts could bring destruction to all of you. You understand what must be done to prevent this,' Mofaz added, directly addressing the Iranian people.

It was the toughest statement of Israel`s determination to block Iran`s nuclear ambitions since the stroke that felled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon two weeks ago, and it came just two days before the next scheduled international inspection of Iran`s nuclear research facilities.

Mofaz`s speech to an international conference of security experts in Herzliya, an exclusive resort just north of Tel Aviv, contained a clear warning that Israel if the United Nations and the international community failed to act, Israel would do so. 'Israel has to be able to defend itself,' Mofaz said. 'This we can do, and we are working on it now.'

More...

A web witness to Iranian brutality

Washington Post - Enter the Web site: http://www.abfiran.org/ . Click on "Omid: A Memorial," and then "Search." Enter a name -- or a religion, a nationality, an alleged crime. One by one, the stories will transfix you.

Atefeh Rajabi , a 16-year-old schoolgirl: Executed by hanging in Neka, Aug. 15, 2004, for "acts incompatible with chastity."

Azizullah Gulshani : Executed by the state in Mashad , April 29, 1982, for "promoting the dirty, non-Islamic sect of Bahaism."

...Many of the entries are frustrating. There is "no information on this case," or else the information -- from official sources, exile groups, human rights groups -- is sparse. Dates are missing, photographs are missing, and although the site has English and Farsi links to nearly 10,000 political victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran, thousands more haven't even been entered yet.

But this, say Ladan and Roya Boroumand, is only the beginning: Their "Omid" Web site, named for the word "hope" in Farsi, is a living project that will expand as relatives of the victims of the Iranian Islamic regime add to it, correct it, change it. The launch today -- on the 25th anniversary of the Iranian students' release of American hostages -- is in part a bid for the support and the readers they need to expand the site further. It's also a bid for successors. "If the regime kills us," explains Ladan matter-of-factly, "we hope someone else will take up the task."

More...

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Australian: Diplomacy has failed and the choice is clear

Kash - I don't agree with Michael Costello's assessment that military action is the only choice now for the West (US and Israel, in fact) to stop Iran's nuclear program, though just like him, I do believe that imposing universally-respected sanctions on Iran will be an uphill battle for the US and its true allies. On that much, I can agree.

Michael Costello - THE world will either have to accept an Iran with nuclear weapons or it will have to use force to destroy its capability.

Diplomacy has not worked and will not work. Sanctions will not do the trick. Hopes of fomenting internal strife and supporting democratic elements that could topple the fundamentalist regime are hopes that were held for Iraq and elsewhere and which evaporated amid cries of treachery and bad faith.

The heart of the problem is that to be successful, diplomatic pressure on Iran has to be universal, and it isn't. The Russians, after all, are making billions out of Iran by supplying nuclear technology and arms. The Chinese are doing big commercial deals and need Iran's oil for their own economic expansion.

Both are very happy to see the US undermined - in the case of the declining Russians, for reasons of historical resentment, and in the case of the ever-ascending Chinese, as part of their long-term strategy of chipping away at US pre-eminence, global standing and legitimacy.

What about military force? Make no mistake. The US alone, or with others, could destroy Iran's nuclear facilities with conventional weapons. It is exactly that capability for sudden surprise action using bombers and cruise missiles and elaborate target identification that the US has developed since September 11 under the global strike doctrine.

So, does it not make sense to accept a nuclear Iran just as we accepted and contained the Soviet Union and China, and as we have accepted a nuclear India and Pakistan?

The problem is this. Iran is run by Islamic fundamentalist extremists. The President of Iran has excited much interest by declaring the Holocaust to be a myth and calling for wiping Israel from the face of the earth. He is not big-noting himself. He is accurately reflecting the views of those who run the country.

Iran finances and intimately works with a multitude of terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and globally. A nuclear Iran could quickly be a nuclear Hezbollah and a nuclear Hamas. The doctrine of containment assumes that the leadership of the country to be contained has an interest in their personal survival, not a glorification of death, including suicide, and puts national preservation before ideology or religion. None of this applies to Iran.

So there it is. The threat may be a few years away or it may be a few months away. The choice is hard on the world, and above all on Israel. Acceptance or force: either way dreadful. But inaction, pretending diplomacy is another option, is in practice a choice for acceptance. So let's not fool ourselves. Choose.

More...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Albert Brooks: I'm acknowledging the new world with my movie

Kash - Al Brooks first got me hooked on his comedy with his Oscar-nominated performance in Broadcast News (1988)--one of my favorite movies of all time--in which he plays the role of a reporter longing to be a star anchorman. Brooks's comedies are always full of celebral, yet funny quips--as evident specially in his Lost In America (1985) and Defending Your Life (1991)--which is why I really enjoy his works (He's sometimes described as "a West Coast Woody Allen"). Now he's back with an ambitious but risky attempt at what many consider a no-no subject. In the following interview, Brooks explains why he chose such an eyebrow-raising subject as the theme of his new comedy:

Globe & Mail - Albert Brooks has a confession to make: His new film, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, isn't really about looking for comedy in the Muslim world. In the movie, which he wrote, directed and stars in, he plays a comedian in possession of slim career prospects and a solipsistic mien -- a comedian named Albert Brooks -- who travels to India and Pakistan for one month to find out what makes people there laugh.

It's under the aegis of a U.S. State Department initiative built around the notion that understanding the people of the region might help bridge the cultural chasm between the United States and its current enemies. Not only does the fictional Brooks fail spectacularly to complete his assignment; for good measure, he almost manages to spark a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan.

More...

Syria frees five political activists

Washington Post - The government freed five prominent prisoners Wednesday, including a former parliamentary leader and activist who quickly announced that he would form a new political party in the hope of opening the way for immediate democratic change.

Riad Seif, one of the country's boldest and most charismatic opposition figures, was arrested in 2001 along with nine other activists in a crackdown on democracy forums that emerged shortly after President Bashar Assad came to power in 2000. The forums marked a period of ferment dubbed the Damascus Spring, in which Syrians gathered freely for the first time in decades to demand greater democracy and an end to corruption.

The release of the activists was seen by many as an attempt to rally Syrians behind a beleaguered government that has come under intense international pressure over a U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri almost a year ago. Many Lebanese and other foreign leaders have blamed Hariri's killing on Syria, which subsequently withdrew thousands of troops that had been stationed in Lebanon since 1976.

More...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Iran's nuclear crisis: Will Russia and China eventually budge?

Kash Kheirkhah

AP reports that key European countries and the United States are moving ahead with plans to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council while Russia and China have urged negotiations instead of confrontation, casting doubt on the result of next IAEA meeting.

A meeting Monday in London produced no agreement among the United States, France, Britain and Germany and Moscow and Beijing on whether to refer the dispute over Iranian nuclear enrichment to the Security Council.

Russia maintained sanctions were not the best way forward, while China again called for a return to the negotiating table.

So will economic considerations set Russia and China against the West in the days ahead?

No. Not according to Dr Alireza Nourizadeh, a prominent London-based Iranian analyst who follows the latest developments in Iran's nuclear program closely. Yesterday, in his weekly Persian TV program, Dr Nourizadeh predicted Russians and Chinese would eventually choose not to block the US and EU-3 efforts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council:

Russia desperately needs more than 10 billion-dollar-a-year US investment for the next 25 years. EU alone has 12 billion dollars' worth of interests in Russia. In fact, what has kept Russia on Iran's side is not so much the economic interests as much as it is the political ones. The Russians are playing Iran as a political card against the West although they know they can play this card only up to a certain limit.

China, on the other hand, is as the world's biggest energy consumer and has recently signed a $ 100 billion energy contract with Iran, but America will easily be able to find China alternative markets in countries such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iraq and most importantly Saudi Arabia which is now in talks with the Chinese and is ready to increase its oil production up to three million more barrels.

So what could happen next? Again, Dr Nourizadeh:

In London, world powers reviewed three major options as to how to handle Iran's nuclear crisis:

First, Iran's referral to the UN Security Council: issuing a harsh warning to Iran and setting a deadline for the Iranian regime to return to the full suspension of its nuclear fuel research.

Second, symbolic Sanctions: barring Iranian diplomats and leaders from traveling abroad, recalling ambassadors and reduction of trade and diplomatic ties.

And third, smart sanctions such as blocking the export of gasoline to Iran.

For now, Russia and China have only joined Europe and the U.S. in criticizing Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment. But both have also said that they would prefer to avoid Security Council involvement and are outright opposed to sanctions. It now remains to be seen how the United States and its European allies will be able to convince Russia and China to support Iran's referral to UN (and later sanctions) in the run-up to the emergency meeting of IAEA on Feb. 2.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post takes the exact opposite view of Dr Nourizadeh:

First, because Russia and China will threaten to veto any serious sanctions. The Chinese in particular have secured in Iran a source of oil and gas outside the American sphere to feed their growing economy and are quite happy geopolitically to support a rogue power that -- like North Korea -- threatens, distracts and diminishes the power of China's chief global rival, the United States.

Second, because the Europeans have no appetite for real sanctions either. A travel ban on Iranian leaders would be a joke; they don't travel anyway. A cutoff of investment and high-tech trade from Europe would be a minor irritant to a country of 70 million people with the second largest oil reserves in the world and with oil at $60 a barrel. North Korea tolerated 2 million dead from starvation to get its nuclear weapons. Iran will tolerate a shortage of flat-screen TVs.

The only sanctions that might conceivably have any effect would be a boycott of Iranian oil. No one is even talking about that because no one can bear the thought of the oil shock that will instantly follow taking 4.2 million barrels a day off the market.

What do you think?

Iran's nukes, Europe's follies

Iranian Journalist Amir Taheri makes some very thought-provoking points in his latest article, tracing the current nuclear crisis back to three years ago when as he writes" Legally speaking, Iran should have been referred to the Security Council." Taheri sees the current deadlock as a direct result of Europe's policy of "scoring points" against the United States and appeasing Tehran's regime:"The European trio was deceived by its own illusions, not Iranian chicanery. All it was interested in was to score a point against Washington... The Iranians had good reason to welcome the European offer. It removed the serious-seeming threat of military action, while isolating the United States. And it gave Tehran time to speed up its nuclear program." Here are some more of Taheri's thoughts but make sure to read the whole article:

Amir Taheri, New York Post - ...The Europeans are not prepared to acknowledge that the problem is not uranium enrichment but the nature of the Iranian regime. More than 20 countries, from Argentina to Ukraine, enrich uranium without anyone making a fuss. But who can trust the present leadership in Tehran not to embark upon some tragic mischief in the name of its ideology?

European-style appeasement has encouraged Tehran's most radical faction, helping bring Ahmadinejad to power. All the diplomatic gesticulations to follow will only compound that effect.

The Islamic Republic has had three years to prepare for whatever sanctions the Security Council might impose. It has also signed $70 billion in oil and gas contracts with China and $30 billion in arms and industrial contracts with Russia, ensuring that one or both would veto any harsh resolution against Iran.

As things stand, all those concerned in this carnival of absurdities have reason to be happy: The Europeans get rid of the hot potato, the Bush administration finds a diplomatic fig-leaf to cover its lack of an Iran policy, the Russians sell their arms, the Chinese get their oil and gas and the Islamists in Tehran accelerate whatever mischief they might be up to in the nuclear domain.

More...

Iran crisis talks expose west's split with China

Guardian - Differences between the west and Russia and China were exposed yesterday during a meeting in London to discuss strategy for tackling the crisis over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme. After seven hours of talks Britain, France and Germany announced they are to seek Iran's referral to the security council at a meeting on February 2 and 3 of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Javier Solana, the EU foreign affairs chief, said he was "confident" Russia and China will back the referral.

But both countries expressed serious reservations about future handling of the crisis, in particular the prospect of the security council imposing sanctions on Iran...He added that China, which has a veto on the security council, felt squeezed between pressure from the west and dependency on Iranian oil.

What happens next

Vienna Europeans plan emergency IAEA meeting on February 2. Iran will try to avoid referral to security council by reopening talks with Russia

New York Once before the security council, the resolution could tell Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. If ignored, talks would get tougher as US and Europe sought sanctions

Tehran Iran could then scrap deal on intrusive nuclear checks, and disrupt oil supplies if sanctions imposed

US/Israel Air strikes could begin to delay Iran's work on nuclear weapon.

More...

Israel's submarines

One of the readers of the Newsroom has asked an interesting question regarding my previous post,"Israel Air Force trained for Iran attack" which quotes Jerusalem Post as saying that in preparation for a possible military strike against Iran, two Israeli missile submarines were on standby: one in the Persian Gulf and the second in Haifa Bay.

He asks:"How did Israel get a sub into the Persian gulf? Why would Israel even have sub's, this makes no sense."

Well, here's a report published in the Observer on October 12, 2003 which is on Israel deploying nuclear arms in its fleet of Dolphin-class submarines. The report mentions that Israel has three submarines, including one that is placed in the Persian Gulf:

Israeli and American officials have admitted collaborating to deploy US-supplied Harpoon cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads in Israel's fleet of Dolphin-class submarines, giving the Middle East's only nuclear power the ability to strike at any of its Arab neighbor's.

According to Israeli and Bush administration officials interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the sea-launch capability gives Israel the ability to target Iran more easily should the Iranians develop their own nuclear weapons.

According to reliable estimates, Israel has around 200 nuclear warheads. It acquired the three Dolphin class submarines, which can remain at sea for a month, in the late Nineties. They are equipped with six torpedo tubes suitable for the 21-inch torpedoes that are normally used on most submarines. Israel's seaborne nuclear doctrine is designed to place one submarine in the Persian Gulf, the other in the Mediterranean, with a third on standby. Secret test launches of the cruise missile systems were understood to have been undertaken in May 2000 when Israel carried out tests in the Indian Ocean...


And here's another report on Israel's submarines from GlobalSecurity.org:

Three 1,925 ton Type 800 Dolphin class submarines have been built in German shipyards for the Israel Navy. Modern submarines with the most advanced sailing and combat systems in the world, they combine extensive sophistication with very easy operation. The purpose of these submarines is to enable the Israel Navy to meet all the tasks faced in the Mediterranean Sea in the 21st century. The submarines cost $320 million each, and are twice as big as the aging Gal-class submarines that the Israeli navy has relied on to date.

Under a system of rotation, some sources claim that two of the vessels would remain at sea: one in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the other in the Mediterranean. A third would remain on standby.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Israel Air Force trained for Iran attack

Jerusalem Post - IAF pilots have completed their mission training and fighter jets have been prepared for an Israeli attack on Iran, the British Sunday Times reported. The article reported that "the elite 69 strategic F-15 I squadron" had been equipped with weapons that will be tested in combat for the first time, and that two missile submarines were on standby: one in the Persian Gulf and the second in Haifa Bay. The Times also said that special IDF forces would be helicoptered into Iran to take out targets that could not be destroyed in an air strike.

Other major headlines:

  • Mos News - Russian Expert Says Israel Likely to Bomb Iran in Spring: Israel could launch a missile attack on Iran in the upcoming spring, Director of the Russian Political Research Institute Sergei Markov was quoted by Interfax as saying Saturday.

  • EU Business - Javier Solana: Military action against Iran out of the question: A military strike against Iran for its refusal to halt nuclear research is ruled out, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in an interview to be published Sunday.

  • Newsweek - Mohamed ElBaradei: My conclusion on Iran's nuclear program can reverberate around the world.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

BBC Persian cites 'Kash's Newsroom'

There's a roundup of bloggers' reaction to the latest developments in Iran's nuclear standoff on BBC Persian to which I have been referenced as well.

To read the report (in Persian) go here.

Economist special report: Iran's nuclear ambitions

Economist (via Iran va Jahan) - Will the Europeans, America, Russia and others call Iran to account, or will they have their own bluff called instead?

...Getting to the council is one thing; getting action from it is another. A presidential statement urging Iran to comply with inspectors' requests, and even assigning the IAEA wider investigative powers, might get through, since the point would be to strengthen the inspectors' hands, not take Iran's case away from them. Beyond that, other steps could include political sanctions, such as denial of visas for sporting teams or for members of Iran's regime (similar actions are thought to have helped in the past in dealing with the recalcitrant Serb government, for example).

...A likelier alternative might be to launch an attritional campaign by attacking Natanz and Bushehr, recognising that the resulting damage would at best delay Iran's nuclear progress...To attack Iran this way would make sense only if it were thought likely that a friendlier Iranian regime would then emerge. But Iran has no obvious, friendly government-in-waiting. And Iran could strike back—by closing the oil chokepoint of the Strait of Hormuz or hitting American or Israeli interests via proxies in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon and the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel is well within range of Iranian missiles. Diplomacy has not stopped Iran so far. But military action is by no means an attractive alternative.

More...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Jack Bauer, ready to save the world again

If, just like me, you are crazy about 24, then I guess this Sunday is your big day!

NY Times -... The new season [24], which once again drags the special agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) back into the line of duty, does not disappoint. "Sleeper Cell," a Showtime series about an undercover F.B.I. agent who infiltrates a Muslim terrorist cell in Los Angeles, is a spookier, subtler thriller. But "24" still provides an irresistible blend of iPodish computer wizardry and "Perils of Pauline" cliffhanger suspense.

...This countdown clock begins ticking at 7 a.m., 18 months after the end of Day 4. (Each episode takes place over one hour of a 24-hour day that ends at the conclusion of the season.) Bauer, who is still officially dead, has assumed a new identity as Frank, an oil rig worker who lives in Mojave, Calif., with a girlfriend, Diane (Connie Britton), and her surly teenage son, Derek (Brady Corbet).

More...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Israel shouldn't fall into Ahmadinejad's trap

Kash Kheirkhah

I perfectly understand how disturbed Israelis should feel to know they lie within the striking distance of a country whose leader takes delight in boasting about "wiping them off the map." I know how alarming it is for them to realize that such unforunate comments go beyond empty rhetoric and reflect a sick mentality that looks forward to precipitating the world's 'apocalypse'.

But, and as disturbing a thought as it is, Israel shouldn't hand Ahmadinejad what he is looking for on a golden plate. He is a smart adversary and there's a method to his madness. What the world and Israel, in particular, need to do is outsmart Ahmadinejad and his army of evil minions. A military strike will only galvanize majority of Iranians (and probably some other muslim nations) into giving him the support and sympathy he desperately needs to achieve his evil intentions.

The majority of Iranians do not see eye to eye with Ahmadinejad and pray day and night for the day their country will get rid of its present rulers and join back the community of free, law-abiding world nations.

Having that in mind, Israel's wisest move would be joining the US and its allies in their efforts to help creat a global coalition against an outlaw regime, thus containing Iran's growing threat and helping the Iranian people put an end to nearly three decades of misery under mullahs. I'll write more about that in the days ahead.

I also urge my readers from Israel to read what I have written before about the strategy Ahmadinejad and his mentors are following in regard to Israel:

What goals is Ahmadinejad after by his anti-Israeli remarks?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Iran's nuclear program: A win-win situation for Tehran?

Payam, a close buddy of mine--in his reaction to my previous posts regarding Iran's nuclear crisis--tells me that he considers the current stand-off a "win-win" situation for Iran and writes: "Iran is rich and it can afford both to pay for the sanctions and the higher prices through dealers." He then goes on to say that he doesn't see that any sanctions will ever deter the government in Tehran to abandon its ambitions.

I don't agree with Payam's idea at all. Mullahs' apparent unconcern for UN sanctions and their grave consequences for Iran's economy and the Iranian people is--as The White House said this morning--"a serious miscalculation" on their part. Let's not forget that the oil factor many consider to be Iran's saving grace, could easily be turned into the country's Achilles' Heel through some severe UN sanctions. How? Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine, explains:

So, are the mullahs untouchable? No. Paradoxical as it may seem, their greatest weakness is their oil and gas industry. Sure, Iran has the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia. But its facilities for pumping and processing the stuff are in such a sorry state that domestic demand for gasoline is 60 percent greater than the country's refining capacity. To keep up, the mullahs have to import more than 95,000 barrels a day. Iran has the second-largest known reserves of natural gas in the world—but it's a net importer of the stuff its people use. To make matters much worse, the mullahs long ago adopted a policy trying to buy popular support with massively subsidized prices for cooking gas, gasoline and other products. Today, those subsidies eat up a whopping 10 percent of Iran's gross domestic product, according to the latest World Energy Outlook report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (not to be confused with the IAEA).

Even without the current crisis, Iran needs foreign technology and hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment if it's going to meet its domestic energy needs. Yet for that to happen, as the same report suggests, "a resolution of the nuclear issue would be required." "We have a big problem, but the Iranians also have big problems," says the European diplomat. If Ahmadinejad succeeds in provoking the United Nations to impose serious sanctions, cutting off Iran's imports of heavily subsidized natural gas and gasoline, the first people to suffer would be the Iranian president's core constituency—the poor and uneducated.
There couldn't be any neater, clearer explanation than what Chris has provided here as to the effect of the sanctions on Iran and I totally agree with him.

To read the whole article go here.

Russia won't block U.S. on Iran

Washington Post - The Bush administration, working intensely to galvanize international pressure on Iran, has secured a guarantee from Russia that it will not block U.S. efforts to take Tehran's nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council, American and European officials said yesterday.

The commitment, made in a Tuesday night phone call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will likely help the United States and its European allies win support from key countries weighing a tougher line in response to Iran's resumption of sensitive nuclear work.

According to three senior diplomats who were briefed on the call, Lavrov told Rice that Russia would abstain, rather than vote against U.S. efforts to move the issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Security Council. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed to reporters that Rice had spoken with Lavrov and other foreign ministers but did not divulge details.

Russia's pledge was good only for when a vote takes place inside the IAEA. U.S. officials said they remain uncertain as to how Moscow, a traditional ally of Iran's, would react if the issue gets to the Security Council, where Moscow is one of five countries with veto power.

Still, Bush administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity saw the Russian decision as a victory and said they would spend the next several weeks lobbying China for a similar commitment.

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Also: Kash Kheirkhah - US winning card: Russia's compromise proposal

Is Israel preparing to strike Iran?

Last month on December 11, Times of London reported that according to military sources, Israel’s armed forces had been ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran. the paper said that the order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations. Now that Iran--by removing UN seals from equipment at Natanz facility--has set the stage for this possible, long-threatened confrontation, will Israelis play into Ahmadinejad's hands and fall into the trap he has set for them?

Take a look at Jerusalem Post's editorial today and also make sure to read the readers' comments on page 2 also:

Jerusalem Post - ...It would seem superfluous to recall that the last time the world's democracies dismissed similar threats as mad ravings, the result was a world war that left tens of millions dead - and Hitler was not equipped with nuclear weapons. The world cannot build its security on the baseless hope that the mullahs are bluffing.

The unspoken European notion is that the Iranian regime would not use nuclear weapons, but like other nuclear powers, simply possess them as a form of deterrence. This prospect, even if it could be relied upon, should not reassure anyone. Iranian nuclear weapons, even if never detonated or passed on to terrorist groups, would allow the regime to increase its support for terrorism with impunity.

But if the E-3 - the UK, France and Germany - continue to appease Iran it will not avoid such attacks, but invite them once the Iranian regime has managed to protect itself with a nuclear umbrella. As envisioned in the UN Charter, the full economic, diplomatic and - if necessary - military power of the West must be brought to bear on Iran in a classic case of collective self-defense.

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Ahmadinejad's appetite for self-destruction

Spiegel - Iran has broken the seals at nuclear facilities signaling its intention to start production of enriched uranium anew. This is seen as a major provocation in Europe and many newspapers in Germany warn that it's time to drop the carrots and starting wielding the sticks.

Officials in Europe and the United States fear the enriched uranium will be used by Tehran for a suspected clandestine project to produce the mullah regime's first nuclear warhead. Monday's move drew sharp criticism in both Europe and the United States. In Germany, Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the move "cannot be left without consequences," adding he would discuss the issue with France and Britain later this week. In Germany, most newspaper editorialists say there's been enough talk -- now it's time for stronger measures.

In an editorial running under the headline "Appetite for Self-Destruction," the leftist Berliner Zeitung asks what is driving Tehran?... But what is making Iran steer this self-destructive course? "Either they believe they have nothing to gain, no matter what concessions they make to the EU, or they feel so strong that they do not fear a UN debate and sanctions," it writes before concluding that it's probably a sense of both.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iran's nuclear crisis: A game with no winner

By Kash Kheirkhah

ABC News is reporting that Sources with knowledge of Iran's nuclear program say that a senior Iranian official notified the IAEA verbally over the weekend of its intention to introduce uranium hexafluoride gas, or UF6, into centrifuges at a facility in Natanz, 150 miles south of Tehran--the critical step in making material for nuclear weapons . ABC also reports that long-time Iran observers are taken aback by the boldness of Iran's move.

Given the latest western intelligence assessment of the Iran's weapons programmes and also the secret dealings of nuclear weapons know-how between Iran and Pakistan's A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, reports that Iran has finally decided to get Uranium enrichment program in Natanz Facility underway come as no real surprise.

It is quite clear that Tehran has neither any fear of possible UN Security Council sanctions--since it sees them as no threat to its nuclear program-- nor any problem with a possible Israeli or US military strike--since mullahs believe such an attack will help rally the Iranian people behind them and give them a legitimate excuse and a golden opportunity to officially unleash a ferocious response upon Israel.

Unfortunately, Part of the Iranian ruling establishment is still under the illusion that Israel's fear of Iran's reprisal through its terror networks in the region and US current troubles in Iraq, in addition to the lack of a firm popular support for such an attack will deter the two countries from planning a military strategy against Iran . The other part, headed by Ahmadinejad and his mentors--fully realizing of the gravity of the threats posed by the US and Israel-- have stopped at nothing to lure them (Israel in particular) into making a move that will help materialize their doomsday prophecy.

The world is now faced with a historic dilemma: The US and its allies will most probably push for referring Iran to the Security Council in the next IAEA meeting in March, but will UN sanctions alone manage to stop Iran's nuclear program? Will military strike appear to be inevitable as some have suggested? Would a preemptive action delay Iran's nuclear program and eventually lead to the collapse of the present hostile regime as neocons in Washington hope?

But what if such an assault alienates the most pro-American nation in the Middle East and sets in motion a crisis of unprecedented proportions?

On the other hand, what if a trigger-happy leader whose core belief is "wiping enemies off the map" has his finger on nuclear weapons button?

Whatever the outcome of this unfortunate game, the Iranian people as always will pay the ultimate price and that's the way it has been for the past 27 years under the Islamic Republic regime.

Iran's VIP plane crash: Sabotage or accident?

Analysis: If dissenting elements within the Iranian establishment have arranged for individuals critical to the country's national security to be removed, thus weakening Ahmadinejad's position, then a serious rift clearly is brewing within the regime.

Stratfor - An Iranian military plane crashed near the northwestern city of Orumiyeh on Jan. 9. Eleven people, including the head of the ground forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Kazemi, and several top commanders were killed in the crash. Though Iranian officials are citing bad weather and engine failure as cause for the crash, the incident is peculiar given that Kazemi was the second high-ranking Iranian military official killed in the last 26 days. Regardless of whether foul play actually caused the crash, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's support base has been struck hard.

It is entirely possible that the plane crashed due to technical difficulties, as Iranian officials have publicly claimed. Just a month ago, an Iranian military C-130 transport plane carrying 47 journalists crashed into a 10-story apartment building in Tehran, killing at least 110 people. Iran suffered its deadliest military plane crash in 2003 when a Russian-made military transport Il-76 operated by the IRGC crashed near Iran's border with Pakistan, killing all 302 IRGC members aboard. Before that, the crash of a Ukrainian-made An-140 on Dec. 23, 2003, left 46 scientists dead, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 airliner crashed in February 2002, and a Russian-made Yak-40 crashed in bad weather in May 2001, killing 30 people including Iran's transportation minister.

Iran once possessed one of the most capable air forces in the Middle East. Under the shah, the Imperial Iranian Air Force boasted the most advanced U.S.-made aircraft available, and its personnel received extensive training by U.S. Air Force instructors. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, the United States halted support to Iran's air force and embargoed deliveries of military equipment and spare parts. Shortly after that, Iran's 8-year war with Iraq further strained the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). The embargo has made the IRIAF's operation difficult, although the Iranians have displayed ingenuity in maintaining their aging equipment with indigenous means. Serviceability, however, remains a problem.

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Source: Iran va Jahan

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hollywood highlights: My best movies of 2005

Here's the top 10 list of the movies I enjoyed most in 2005. Mind you that there were movies that I haven't been able to see yet but based on what I have read about them and the rave reviews they have received could very well end up on my list (Woody Allen's "Match Point", Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City", Rodrigo Garcia's "Nine Lives", Italy's "La Meglio Giovent, The Best of Youth", France's "Cache" to name a few):
  • 10 - Der Untergang (Downfall), Oliver Hirschbiegel
  • 9 - The Constant Gardener, Fernando Meirelles
  • 8- King Kong, Peter jackson
  • 7 - The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Judd Apatow
  • 6- Pride & Prejudice, Joe wright
  • 5 - Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch
  • 4- Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee
  • 3 - Crash, Paul Haggis
  • 2 - Munich. Steven Spielberg
  • 1 - Goodnight, and Good Luck, George Clooney

"Goodnight, and Good luck", George Clooney's second foray to directing, is truly an amazing work of art not only because of the finesse with which Clooney captures the nuances of the 1950's era and the stunning performance of David Strathairn as "Edward R. Murrow", the intrepid CBS journalist who took on Senator Joseph McCarthy's for his subversion of American citizens' rights, but because it serves as a sour reminder of how far in today's world we have strayed from the journalism Murrow personified in the highest sense.

Powerhouse acting, wonderful black-and-white cinematography and magnificent performances by jazz performer "Dianne Reeves" makes "Goodnight, and Good luck" a true classic. I just can't tell you enough how much I loved this movie and how strongly I believe Clooney and Strahairn should each be rewarded with a richly-deserved Oscar for this 2005 gem.

Ariel Sharon: The things that have not changed

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria weighs in on the impact that Sharon's exit from Israel's political scene will leave on the Mid East peace process and says although Sharon's role was vital, he thinks given the recent lawlessness in Gaza, it is the Palestinian capabilities that will appear as the next big question in regard to any further progress in the Middle East:

I do not believe that Sharon's absence would prove to be the crucial stumbling block. That's because the great obstacle to progress in the Middle East is no longer Israeli intentions but rather Palestinian capabilities. The big story that no one wants to admit yet is that the Palestinian Authority has collapsed, Gaza has turned into a failed state and there is no single Palestinian political organization that could create order in the territories and negotiate with Israel. Palestinian dysfunction is now the main limiting factor on any progress in the peace process.

There were many hopes that Gaza could become a model of what the Palestinians would do once liberated from occupation. Last week The Christian Science Monitor reported on the new scene: "As the first year devoid of an Israeli presence since 1967 dawns," it wrote, "armed militias roam the streets freely, foreigners are kidnapped with regularity, and the measure of a man in this coastal territory is not his political title, or even the size of his house, but the number of AK-47-wielding bodyguards he employs."

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Iraq: The Sunni choose Allawi as their leader

From Iraq the Model: Stage two of the current phase of the political in Iraq which we anticipated a few days ago has just begun and its beginning is marked by the emergence of a new large political bloc.The new bloc was announced today in Baghdad after the largest three blocs of Maram-the Iraqi list, the Accord Front and al-Mutlaq’s Dialogue Front-signed an agreement to form one unified political body.This agreement will grant the new political body a significant political weight with a total of approximately 80 seats in the parliament and with good prospects for reaching something close to 100 seats if a few other smaller lists like Mishaan al-Juboori’s list, the Islamic union of Kurdistan, Turkmen and Christians chose joining it.

...Allawi who appeared in a press conference today after a relatively long hiatus emphasized again that talking about forming the government should take place only after the investigation is over.Adnan al-Dulaimi and Salih al-Mutlaq were standing behind Allawi during the press conference which means that the two men have given Allawi the leadership of the new alliance.

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Also:
  • Reuters - US officials in talks with Iraqi insurgents-NYT
  • AFP - Saudi accuses Iraq PM of politicking over pilgrimage: The Saudi authorities have reacted angrily to complaints by Iraq's outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari that thousands of his countrymen were barred from joining the annual pilgrimage, dismissing them as mere politicking. In a statement carried by Saudi newspapers Saturday, the pilgrimage ministry accused the Iraqi premier of "playing the hajj card to salvage his deteriorating political status and achieve political gains".