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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

[haw-info] Iran War Weekly - January 1, 2013

Historians Against the War is posting Frank Brodhead's "Iran War Weekly,' as a helpful resource for our members and friends. Frank earned a PhD in history at Princeton University and has co-authored several books on US foreign policy. He is a scholar and political activist who has worked with peace and social justice movements for many years. In 2010-2011 he produced the "Afghanistan War Weekly," which was widely used by antiwar groups across the country.
Iran War Weekly
January 1, 2013
Hello All – US-led negotiations with Iran about Iran's nuclear program remain in abeyance as the United States slugs its way through a presidential election, a week of "gun control," and now a fiscal cliff.  The main issues remain the demands by the "P5+1" (the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany) that Iran cease its nuclear enrichment program.  The demands of the P5+1 are backed up by an extensive program of economic warfare against Iran ("sanctions"), whose uncertain impact and outcome also serves (perhaps) to postpone a threatened Israeli military attack on Iran.  Yet as articles by Barbara Slavin and others point out below, the P5+1 has not indicated that they are willing to relax sanctions or withdraw its threats against Iran ("everything is on the table") in exchange for anything other than a complete surrender by Iran.  In short, if and when P5+1 negotiations are resumed with Iran, there is no apparent reason to think that any progress will be made in de-escalating the conflict.
In parallel to the Iran – P5+1 negotiations are those between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran.  After a hiatus of several months, IAEA and Iranian negotiators met two weeks ago and will meet again in mid-January.  Many of the outstanding issues on the IAEA agenda stem from the infamous "laptop documents" that many believe to be forgeries, probably by the Israelis.  Among the most significant issues prompted by the laptop documents is the question of whether Iran tested nuclear weapons components at its military base at Parchin some years ago.  Iran has indicated that it will allow the IAEA to inspect this site "soon"; but whether such an inspection will put an end to the smoke and flak generated by the forged "laptop documents" is doubtful.  I've linked several accounts of the IAEA inspection below, as well as an interesting piece by Gareth Porter about the recent Associated Press hoax/story about Iran's nuclear program, which was reported on in detail in recent issues of the IWW. 
Among the other good/useful reading linked below, I especially recommend the media analysis by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson; the several interesting pieces on legal questions associated with the sanctions regime; an interesting essay on the enormous difficulties that will arise in attempting to (one day) lift the sanctions; several recent writings and speeches by former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian; an interview with Gary Sick, a former National Security Council adviser on Iran, about Iran's nuclear program; and an interview by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, also on Iran and its nuclear program.
I have been including a section on Syria's civil war in the Iran War Weekly because of the impact of this war on the prospects for war with Iran.  As has so often been the case, the Syria story has been on the media front burner in recent weeks, while the Iran story simmers in the background.  The latest news from Syria has underscored what seems to be a military stalemate, strengthening the voices of those calling for a cease fire and/or a negotiated settlement.  The armed opposition has been adamant, however, that it will not negotiate until Assad leaves, a prospect unlikely unless the military balance changes dramatically.  The question for the United States then becomes, will it continue to support the armed opposition in insisting that the fighting and killing continue, or will it abandon its hopes for a military overthrow of the Assad government and support a negotiated settlement?
Finally, I appreciate the help that many of you have given in distributing the Iran War Weekly and/or linking it on websites.  Previous "issues" of the IWW can be read at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383.  If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at fbrodhead@aol.com.
Best wishes,
Frank Brodhead
Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)
The Iran "Threat" in a Kafkaesque World
By Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Journal of Palestine Studies [Autumn 2012].
---- [From the introduction:  "From June 2003 to August 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency published thirty-eight full written reports on Iran's nuclear program and conducted numerous inspections in the country. Yet although the Agency has never determined that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, Iran has never been able to free itself from the relentless U.S. campaign against its nuclear program. This article shows how the United States has mobilized the multilateral institutions to place Iran's nuclear program on the international stage and kept it there. It also examines the parallel role played by the news media, which have resumed their role of a decade ago when they helped Washington make a fraudulent case for invading Iraq on "weapons of mass destruction" grounds. The essay contends that the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons threat is a U.S. and Israeli propaganda construct intended to mask their own real threat to attack Iran."] http://therealnews.com/t2/images/blogs/eherman1218.pdf
Also useful – David Peterson updated the article at "The Iran 'Threat' In A Kafkaesque World: Addendum," ZNet, [December 25, 2012] http://www.zcommunications.org/the-iran-threat-in-a-kafkaesque-world-addendum-by-david-peterson. 
International Law and the Iran Impasse
By Aslı Bâli, Middle East Report [December 16, 2012]
---- The one question that is rarely asked is what exactly Iran has done to occasion all of this international concern and pressure, let alone the rumblings of imminent attack. In one sense, the answer to this question is obvious: Because international actors fear that Iran wants to build an atomic bomb, they perceive its nuclear program as an unacceptable threat to Iran's neighbors, especially the Gulf Arab monarchies and Israel. Yet if these answers seem self-evident, they do not answer another critical question. The UN Security Council is supreme arbiter of international law, and its repeated interventions on the Iranian nuclear issue have created an ambient sense that what Iran is doing is illegal. In what sense are Iran's nuclear activities unlawful? http://www.merip.org/mero/mero121612?utm_source=merolist&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mero121612
The Rise of the Sunnis and the Decline of Iran, Iraq and Hizbullah: The Middle East in 2013
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [January 1, 2013]
---- Between 2003 and 2012 the United States, in a fit of absent-mindedness, made Iran a regional hegemon. Washington overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and delivered it into the hands of the Northern Alliance, a set of strong Iran allies. A break on Iranian influence in Afghanistan was removed. Then the Bush administration overthrew Saddam Hussein, the Sunni ruler who subjected the Shiite majority and stood as a barrier to Iranian penetration of the Middle East. Without meaning to, the US brought to power a religious Shiite government that naturally allied with Iran. Then the US Congress targeted Syria for deep sanctions and the Bush hawks drove it firmly into the arms of Iran. The Bush administration backed Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, which strengthened the Shiite party-militia Hizbullah, which now is a key backer of the government of Prime Minister Najib Miqati. The pro-Iran capitals stretched from Kabul to Beirut (light blue in the map below), and Iran suddenly became a much bigger player in Levantine affairs than it had been in the 1990s. http://www.juancole.com/2013/01/decline-hizbullah-middle.html
(Audio) An Interview with Flynt Levertt
By Scott Horton [December 10, 2012]
---- [FB - Leverett, a former CIA analyst and the director for Middle East Affairs with the Bush II National Security Council, is the co-publisher of the interesting website, www.raceforiran.org.  His 2006 paper, "Dealing with Tehran: Assessing US Diplomatic Options toward Iran," can be read at http://tcf.org/publications/pdfs/pb595/leverett_diplomatic.pdf.]
(Video) Gary Sick on Iran and the Bomb
From Foreign Affairs [December 14, 2012] – 5 minutes
A nuclear Iran unlikely to trigger Middle East arms race
By Michael Theodoulou, The National [UAE] [December 25, 2012]
---- In a study published last week, two experts from the Department of War Studies at King's College in London argue that key regional players - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey - are unlikely to follow suit and develop their own nuclear arsenals. http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/a-nuclear-iran-unlikely-to-trigger-middle-east-arms-race-study#ixzz2G48oluFA
Looking Back at 2012
Iran in 2012: A Year in Review
By Farideh Farhi, Lobe Log December 30, 2012
---- For Iran, 2012 will go down as the year of economic woes. The mantra of the "enemy's psychological war against Iran" will no longer be blamed more than internal mismanagement even by the most ardent supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Leader, Ali Khamenei. The "resistance economy" against the "economic war unleashed against Iran" has become the name of the game. Highly contested politics continued to reign as well. A nationwide election — the first after the contested 2009 election — was held; domestic and international objections regarding the government's treatment of Iranian citizens continued; the attempt to delineate the qualification and age limit of presidential candidates failed. I am not particularly good at ranking events based on importance, but here are my top 10 picks for Iran in 2012. http://www.lobelog.com/iran-in-2012-a-year-in-review/
Top 10 Ways the Middle East Changed, 2012
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [December 29, 2012]
---- The US Congress's National Defense Authorization Act contained an anti-Iran provision that went into effect July 1. It requires the US government to strong-arm the countries still purchasing Iranian oil to stop buying it. The boycott cut Iran's oil sales in half in 2012 (though 2011 was a particularly lucrative year for the regime). At the same time, Saudi Arabia flooded the market by pumping extra petroleum, keeping the prices from rising astronomically. This economic blockade of Iran's petroleum is unlikely to change the regime or its behavior, but it will likely kill the Iranian reform movement. And it could be a path for rising tensions and war between Iran and the United States. http://www.juancole.com/2012/12/ways-middle-changed.html
Recent writing by and interviews with Hossein Mousavian
Dr. Sayed Hossein Mousavian was an Iranian diplomat who served for several years as part of Iran's negotiating team at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  He was ousted from this position following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005. Mousavian is now a visiting scholar at Princeton University.  His recent book, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis, A Memoir, is essential reading for an understanding of Iran's position towards it nuclear program. - FB
An Opportunity for a U.S. - Iran Paradigm Shift
By Hossein Mousavian, The Washington Quarterly
---- The continuing U.S. domination in the Middle East – with its flawed policies – is creating strategic
imbalances in the region and fueling intra-/regional tensions with serious implications for the overall peace and security of the region. The flawed U.S. polices in the Middle East are already leading to its total alienation from the region's people. A recent poll – the first of its kind in the region, conducted in
twelve Arab countries covering 84 percent of the population of the Arab world – shows 93.75 percent of the people look at the Unites States and Israel as the major threat to their interests. https://csis.org/files/publication/TWQ_13Winter_Mousavian.pdf
(Video) An Interview with Mousavian on Iran's Nuclear Program
From Voice of America [December 12, 2012] – 40 minutes
Iran hysteria a cover for Israeli bomb - ex-Iranian diplomat
By Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Russia Today [December 16, 2012]
---- The present-day furor over Iran's uranium enrichment program has provided cover for the Jewish state's own illicit nuclear weapons program, which predates the Islamic republic, former top Iranian diplomat and scholar Seyed Hossein Mousavian told RT. http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13083
US and Partners Prepare Modest Offer to Iran
By Barbara Slavin, Al-Monitor [December 19, 2012]
---- Weeks of deliberations among the United States and its fellow negotiators have produced an offer to Iran very similar to the package Iran rejected last summer, casting doubt on chances for breaking the long stalemate over Iran's nuclear program. The "refreshed" proposal includes spare parts for Iran's aging Western jetliners — a perennial carrot — and assistance with Iran's civilian nuclear infrastructure but no specific promise of sanctions relief, Al-Monitor has learned. Perhaps as a result, Iranian officials appear to be in no hurry to agree to a date to meet again with the so-called P5 +1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/us-iran-modest-offer.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#ixzz2FYQhkH13
Also useful – Nicholas J. Wheeler, et al., "Breaking the Deadlock in the Nuclear Negotiations," Enduring America [December 17, 2012] http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2012/12/17/iran-special-analysis-breaking-the-deadlock-in-the-nuclear-n.html
Iranian Bomb Graph Appears Adapted from One on Internet
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [December 14, 2012]
---- The suspect graph of a nuclear explosion reportedly provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as evidence of Iranian computer modeling of nuclear weapons yields appears to have been adapted from a very similar graph in a scholarly journal article published in January 2009 and available on the internet. … The IAEA's familiarity with the Seifritz graph, two years before it was given graphs that bore a close resemblance to it and which the agency knew contained a huge mathematical error, raise new questions about how the IAEA could have regarded the Israeli intelligence as credible evidence of Iranian work on nuclear weapons. http://original.antiwar.com/porter/2012/12/13/iranian-bomb-graph-appears-adapted-from-one-on-internet/
The December IAEA Talks with Iran
Iran: Progress on Nuclear Talks
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [December 15, 2012]
---- The leader of a United Nations nuclear inspection delegation reported progress on Friday in negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear energy work and said another meeting was planned for Jan. 16. But the leader, Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the Iranians still had not allowed the inspectors to visit Parchin, the military site where, inspectors suspect, nuclear weapons trigger testing work may have been conducted. … Iran's state-run media also reported progress had been achieved but made no mention of Parchin. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/world/middleeast/iran-progress-on-nuclear-talks.html?ref=world
Also useful – Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, "Iran nuclear talks produce a litmus test," Asia Times [December 18, 2012] http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NL18Ak01.html; Simon Sturdee, "IAEA confident of nuclear deal with Iran," Herald Sun [Australia] [December 14, 2012]
Media Tutorial
Iran's Slowing of Enrichment Efforts May Show It Wants a Deal, Analysts Say
By David E. Sanger and James Risen, New York Times [December 27, 2012]
---- By subtly putting its hands on the brakes of its uranium enrichment efforts, Iran may be signaling that it wants to avoid a direct confrontation over its nuclear program, at least in the near term, according to United States and other Western officials.  The action has also led some analysts to conclude that Iran's leaders are showing signs that they may be more interested in a deal to end the nuclear standoff with the West. Evidence began emerging last summer that the Iranians were diverting a significant portion of their medium-enriched uranium for use in a small research reactor, converting it into a form that cannot easily be used in a weapon. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/middleeast/irans-slowing-of-enrichment-efforts-may-show-it-wants-deal.html?ref=world
The New York Times plays dumb about Iran's 20% enrichment offer
By Cyrus Safdari, Iran Affairs [December 28, 2012]
---- Sanger and Risen over at the New York Times say that Iran's conversion of some of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to reactor fuel rods, thus precluding its use for weapons, may be some sort of calculated message to the West that Iran is willing to make a deal. Nevermind that Iran has been saying, quite overtly and as loudly as it can, that it is willing to cease 20% enrichment. Ahmadinejad himself went before the UN General Assembly and made this offer. In fact Iran had announced its intentions to make the fuel too. http://www.iranaffairs.com/iran_affairs/2012/12/the-new-york-times-plays-dumb-about-irans-20-enrichment.html
The Real Obstacles to Successful Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran Lie in Washington, Not Tehran
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, The Race for Iran [December 23, 2012]
---- The whole debate here is that something is wrong in Iran, something is wrong in Tehran that is going to derail talks.  There's never any examination of what drives American politics to demonize countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran…The issue is something here; it's about domestic politics here.
If President Obama cannot get a negotiation going with the Iranians in the next few months, he has a problem domestically here, because domestic constituencies here—and the Israeli government—will say, 'Time is upYou've had enough time.  We can't let the Iranians continue to progress in their nuclear programYou have to take even more coercive action, either more coercive sanctions or military action.'  It's a domestic problem here.  It's not because of something going on in the decision-making or some irrational craziness among Iranian clerics or Iranian lay leaders." http://www.raceforiran.com/the-real-obstacles-to-successful-nuclear-diplomacy-with-iran-lie-in-washington-not-tehran
Pressure mounts on Obama to change tactics on Iran
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor [December 20, 2012]
---- Arguing that further sanctions "are unlikely to stop Iran's nuclear pursuits," a group of Iran experts and senior former officials are calling on the White House to pursue realistic, "serious, sustained negotiations" with Tehran that they say are the best chance to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The letter to President Obama, from 24 signatories whose professional careers have often been marked by dealing firsthand with the thorny Iran issue, suggests that a diplomatic deal can ease the West's greatest fears about Iran's nuclear program – but only if Washington revises its position in nuclear talks that are expected to resume within weeks. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2012/1220/Pressure-mounts-on-Obama-to-change-tactics-on-Iran
Also useful – "Officials to Obama: Act Now to Reach Deal on Iran's Nuclear Program," from the National Iranian American Council [December 20, 2012] http://www.niacouncil.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8767&security=1&news_iv_ctrl=-1
Congress Hinders Progress on Iran
By Paul Pillar, National Interest [December 12, 2012]
---- It should be clear from the history of the past couple of years, as well as a little thought about incentives for Iranian policymakers, that simply piling on still more sanctions without more Western flexibility at the negotiating table will not attain the U.S. objective. The sanctions are hurting Iran and are a major reason Iran wants to negotiate a deal. But the Iranians have dismissed the only sanctions relief that has been offered so far as peanuts, which it is. They have no reason to make significant concessions if they don't think they will be getting anything significant in return. If members of Congress were really interested in inducing changes in Iran's policy and behavior, they would be devoting as much time and energy to asking why the powers negotiating with Iran evidently do not intend to depart much from their failed negotiating formulas of the past as they would in trying to find some new sanction to impose. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/congress-hinders-progress-iran-7844
Also useful – Mahammad Sahimi, "The War Party and the Israel Lobby Wish for War With Iran in 2013,"  Antiwar.com [December 31, 2012] http://original.antiwar.com/muhammad-sahimi/2012/12/30/the-war-party-and-the-israel-lobby-wish-for-war-with-iran-in-2013/; John Allen Gay, "Should We Bomb Iran to Save Money?" The National Interest [December 27, 2012] http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/should-we-bomb-iran-save-money-7906; and Jason Ditz, "Congress to Probe Iran 'Presence' in Latin America,"  Antiwar.com [December 19, 2012] http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/19/congress-to-probe-iran-presence-in-latin-america/
The Chuck Hagel Debate
The Preemptive War on Hagel
Elizabeth Drew, The New Yorker [December 27, 2012]
---- Iran more than any other single issue is at the core of the opposition to Hagel, and that issue is closely linked to the question of the extent to which the US should be allied with the aggressive policies of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward Iran, as well as other issues, such as the settlements and a Palestinian state. And Iran has been among the policy differences Hagel has had over the years with the strongly pro-Israel organizations that are trying to influence US policy, the most politically powerful one being, of course, AIPAC. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/dec/27/preemptive-war-hagel/
Also useful – Max Fisher, "Chuck Hagel's ambiguous stance on dealing with Iran," Washington Post [December 13, 2012] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/13/chuck-hagels-ambiguous-stance-on-dealing-with-iran/?print=1; Max Ajl, "Why Chuck Hagel Is Irrelevant," Jadaliyya [December 24, 2012] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/9233/why-chuck-hagel-is-irrelevant; and Josh Rogin, "Chuck Hagel: America shouldn't be in the lead on Syria, not time to attack Iran," Foreign Policy [http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/12/14/chuck_hagel_america_shouldn_t_be_in_the_lead_on_syria_not_time_to_attack_iran?wp_login_redirect=0
Iran Debates Direct Talks with the US
By Farideh Farhi, Lobe Log [December 11, 2012]
---- While Khamenei may eventually assent to direct talks, the path to that position requires some sort of agreement on the nuclear standoff — even if only a limited one — within the P5+1 frame and not the other way around. The reality is that US pressure on Iran has helped create an environment in which many are calling for a strategic, even incrementally implemented, shift of direction in Iran's foreign policy regarding the so-called "America question." But this call for a shift can only become dominant if there are some assurances that corresponding and again, even incrementally implemented shifts, are also in the works in the US regarding the "Iran question". http://www.lobelog.com/iran-debates-direct-talks-with-the-us/
Also useful – "Iran moves Rafsanjani daughter to solitary confinement," from The BBC [December 31, 2012] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20878804; Rick Gladstone, "Iranian Leader Fires Woman From Cabinet," New York Times [December 27, 2012] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/middleeast/irans-only-female-cabinet-minister-dismissed.html?ref=world; and "Iran: Activists Fleeing Assault on Civil Society," from Human Rights Watch [December 14, 2012] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/13/iran-activists-fleeing-assault-civil-society
Iran's June 2013 Election
Iran election laws under debate
By Jason Rezaian, Washington Post [December 14, 2012]
---- Proposed changes in Iran's election laws are proving contentious, sparking a debate over who should decide which candidates can compete in June's contest to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The possible reforms and the controversy around them mark another round in the struggle between Ahmadinejad and his more conservative rivals, who hope to stymie any chance that an ally of the administration might continue its agenda, including the populist economic policies that many here believe have contributed to Iran's recent fiscal woes. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-election-laws-under-debate/2012/12/14/73927f04-4520-11e2-8c8f-fbebf7ccab4e_story.html
As Ahmadinejad's term ends, will he spoil Iran's election?
By Ali Reza Eshraghi, The National [UAE] [December 31, 2012]
The Complex Mechanics of Removing US Sanctions on Iran
By Navid Hassibi, PBS [Tehran Bureau] [December 27, 2012]
[FB - There are 9 acts of Congress and 25 Executive Orders that regulate US sanctions against Iran, as well as 8 UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning Iran.  The European Union sanctions against Iran came into effect on July 1, 2012.  At least seven other countries also have economic sanctions against Iran.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_Iran.]
---- Speaking at the Brookings Institution earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, "When Iran is prepared to take confidence-building measures that are verifiable, we are prepared to reciprocate." Reciprocate in what way exactly? Presumably by beginning to lift U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran. A negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear dispute will undoubtedly require sanctions relief. What are the mechanics involved in lifting these sanctions? As one adage puts it, "Sanctions are extremely difficult to enact, even more difficult to implement, nearly impossible to remove." Here follows a brief look at the process involved at lifting U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/12/comment-the-complex-mechanics-of-removing-us-sanctions-on-iran.html#ixzz2GfFCU3YI
Also useful – Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, "The Case For Legal Challenge of EU's Sanctions on Iran," CASMI [December 29, 2012] http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13095
Surviving Sanctions, Iran Girds For Further Economic War
By Mohammad Ali Shabani, Al-Monitor [December 20, 2012]
---- Amid the continuing stalemate over Iran's nuclear program, various narratives have emerged about the sanctions and their impact. The dominant one in Western policy circles and mainstream media is that the sanctions are making Iran crack. This reinforces the view that time is on the side of the Western members of the P5+1 and that concessions Iran deems necessary for progress on the nuclear issue shouldn't be on the table. However, a sound understanding of the sanctions' impact on Iran's behavior is only possible if the actual situation in Tehran is properly assessed. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/iran-economic-war.html#ixzz2Fopup6DG
U.S. Acts With Europe to Strengthen Iran Penalties
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [December 21, 2012]
---- The United States and Europe announced strengthened sanctions against Iran on Friday, increasing the number of blacklisted companies and individuals linked to the Iranian nuclear program, in coordinated actions that underscored the failure to resolve one of the most intractable international disputes. Under the expanded sanctions, the Treasury Department in Washington blacklisted four companies and one person, and the European Union blacklisted 18 companies and one person. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/22/world/middleeast/penalties-on-iran-strengthened-by-us-and-europe.html?ref=world
For the US Treasury Dept. announcement - "United States Increases Sanctions Against Iranian Proliferation Networks" [December 13, 2012] http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1804.aspx
Iran: Navy Begins War Games Near Vital Waterway
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [December 28, 2012]
---- Iran's naval forces began six days of war games on Friday in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway considered vital to international oil tanker traffic. Accounts in the state-run news media said the war games, covering a 400,000-square-mile area, were devised to test combat ships, submarines, reconnaissance methods and a new version of the Thunder surface-to-air midrange missile. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/world/middleeast/irans-navy-begins-war-games-near-the-strait-of-hormuz.html?ref=world
Iran Suggests Attacks on Computer Systems Came From the U.S. and Israel
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [December 25, 2012]
---- Iran reported a number of new cyberattacks on Tuesday, saying foreign enemy hackers tried in recent months to disrupt computer systems at a power plant and other industries in a strategically important southern coastal province as well as at a Culture Ministry information center. Accounts of the attacks in the official press did not specify who was responsible, when they were carried out or how they were thwarted. But they strongly suggested that the attacks had originated in the United States and Israel. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/world/middleeast/iran-says-hackers-targeted-power-plant-and-culture-ministry.html?hp&_r=1&
Also useful – Dan Goodin, "Iranian computers targeted by new malicious data wiper program,"  Arstechnica [December 17, 2012] http://arstechnica.com/security/2012/12/iranian-computers-attacked-by-new-malicious-data-wiper-program/; and Declan McCullagh, "Revealed: NSA targeting domestic computer systems in secret test,"  [December 23, 2012] http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57560644-38/revealed-nsa-targeting-domestic-computer-systems-in-secret-test/
(Video) How relevant is the Gulf Cooperation Council?
From Aljazeera [Inside Story] [December 26, 2012] – 25 minutes
---- On the back of a regional summit we look at the prospects of the Gulf states in a post Arab Spring Middle East. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJAB3yCJDKA
Among analysts of Syria's civil war, there seems to be a consensus that neither side can/will win militarily in the near future.  Over the past few weeks Russia has taken a more active role in pushing for a negotiated settlement, clarifying its position that it is open to Assad's removal, but only as an outcome of negotiations, and perhaps an election; not as a precondition to negotiations.  There are indications that Iran may now share this view as well, though Iran's position is not clear on this point.  The problem, however, is that the armed opposition refuses to enter into negotiations with the Syrian government, nor will it cooperate with Russian-initiated negotiations unless the Russians call for Assad's departure, which seems unlikely.  Whether the United States is the party that has rejected negotiations unless Assad departs, or whether the US negotiating position is boxed in by the position of the armed opposition that it helped to create, I do not know.  But as of now, prospects for a cease fire and a negotiated settlement are blocked by "the West," not by the supposed intransigence of the Syrian government, the Russians, etc. - FB
Overviews and Perspectives
Syria is Many Conflicts Rolled into One
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent [UK] [December 30, 2012]
---- A problem for Syria in this crisis is that so many conflicts are wrapped into one. Secular supporters of the uprising emphasize that it is about "the people against the regime". They downplay its sectarian nature, saying this is being exaggerated and manipulated by the government. But sectarianism and democracy are intertwined in Syria, just as they were in Iraq. … The Syrian crisis is further complicated and exacerbated by being at the centre of two long-running regional struggles. These are the growing confrontation between Sunni and Shia across the Muslim world and, secondly, the conflict that pits the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and their allies against Iran and its few friends. It is difficult to see how the present stalemate is going to be broken. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-is-many-conflicts-rolled-into-one-it-is-also-at-the-centre-of-two-regional-struggles-8433199.html
Also useful – Patrick Cockburn, "Descent Into Holy War: What is Really Happening in Syria," Counterpunch [December 17, 2012] http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/17/descent-into-holy-war/
Assad's Roll of the Dice: Is Winter Coming for the Syrian Rebellion?
---- President Bashar Assad knows his regime can't win Syria's civil war — his foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, admitted as much in an interview published last week by a sympathetic newspaper. But nor does he believe he's about to lose what the U.N. last week branded an "overtly sectarian" civil war in Syria. Instead, the regime appears to still believe it can fight its opponents to a draw — al-Sharaa called for dialogue and spoke of a compromise solution, but the regime continues to believe it can set favorable terms for a negotiated outcome.  The secret weapon it hopes to use to halt the rebels' recent momentum? In a word, winter. http://world.time.com/2012/12/24/assads-roll-of-the-dice-is-winter-coming-for-the-syrian-rebellion/#ixzz2GYNoZtcR
(Video) Robert Wright talks to Joshua Landis about Syria
From The Real News Network [December 26, 2012] – 36 minutes
[FB - Joshua Landis writes the website Syria Comment and is one of the most knowledgeable US observers/analysts about Syria.]
(Video) Syria: Battles fought, lives lost, lies told
From Aljazeera [Listening Post] [December 29, 2012]
---- This week's Listening Post special takes a chronological look at a year of battles fought, lives lost and lies told in a war that, as the cliché says, has claimed as one of its casualties, the truth.
The Prospects for Diplomacy
Without negotiations, Syria will be the new Somalia, UN envoy says
Luke Harding, The Guardian [UK] [December 29, 2012]
---- A diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria seemed as far away as ever on Saturday, as the UN-Arab League envoy to Damascus, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the country risked slithering into "hell". Following talks in Moscow with Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, Brahimi said there was no alternative to negotiations. The country faced two stark choices, he said – a serious, Syrian-led political dialogue between the rebels and the regime, or what he darkly called "Somali-isation". http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/29/syria-somalia-un-envoy
(Video) Is a diplomatic truce in sight for Syria?
From Aljazeera [Inside Syria] [December 30, 2012] – 25 minutes
More diplomacy – Ellen Barry and Kareem Fahim, "Russia Calls for Meeting With Syrian Opposition," New York Times [December 28, 2012] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/world/europe/russia-urges-assad-to-negotiate-with-his-opponents.html?ref=world; and "Syria says will respond to any talks on ending conflict," The Daily Star [Lebanon] [December 31, 2012] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2012/Dec-31/200477-syria-says-will-respond-to-any-talks-on-ending-conflict.ashx#axzz2GjaFTFWE
The Regional Impact of the War
Syrian conflict threatens to fracture Iraq
By Mohammed A. Salih, Christian Science Monitor [December 27, 2012]
---- The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and the federal government in Baghdad have not seen eye to eye for years, and the gap between the two is now widening, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. That's been put in stark relief by the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has shifted the fortunes of Iraq's Kurds. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2012/1227/Syrian-conflict-threatens-to-fracture-Iraq
Iran may be reconsidering position on Syria
By Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times [December 29, 2012]
---- As the fighting approaches the two-year mark, the slaughter of Syrian civilians and Assad's slipping territorial control have prompted subtle shifts in Iran's position. Its six-point peace plan appears aimed largely at shielding Assad in the short term, while opening the way for his departure. Although roundly rejected by the Syrian opposition, it offers a window into Iranian thinking about a conflict that officials here once believed that Assad would win. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-iran-20121229,0,7524005.story


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