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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

[haw-info] Iran War Weekly - February 26, 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
February 26, 2013
Hello All – After a six-month delay, representatives Iran and the "P5+1" met in Kazakhstan today to renew negotiations about Iran's nuclear program.  Early news reports say that "the West" offered Iran a very modest lifting of sanctions if Iran would take steps to halt or alter significant parts of its nuclear program.  Iran is expected to make its reply tomorrow, during a second day of talks.  As indicated in pre-meeting analyses linked below, Iran is expected to reject the West's proposal as trivial and insincere, wanting instead for the P5+1 to recognize Iran's rights to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to lay out an offer that would quickly remove all the economic sanctions against it.
The negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran are complicated by several issues, most recently the hiatus imposed by the US presidential election and another one coming soon by Iran's presidential election, which will take place in June.  But the larger question is why the P5+1 – or for practical purposes, the United States – is reluctant to offer significant reductions in economic sanctions, knowing full well that Iran will not accept the baby-step reductions now on offer.  Is it because the United States thinks that sanctions "are working"?  While there is abundant evidence that sanctions are causing hardship to ordinary Iranians, the sanctions have not and do not seem likely to alter the Iranian leadership's nuclear positions.  So, what is the plan?
Indeed, there are growing indications that sanctions have been expanded to a point that is unsustainable.  In the current instance, the P5+1 has put on the table its willingness to cancel sanctions, only recently put in place, that seek to prohibit the use of gold to buy Iranian oil.  Sanctions on gold were seen as closing a loophole in earlier sanctions that attempted to block the international banking system from processing payments to Iran.  But now it turns out that blocking such gold payments is causing problems for Turkey; and sanctions currently under consideration in Congress that would tell the European Central Bank what to do are unlikely to be well-received in the EU.  More generally, as Hillary Mann Leverett explains in an article linked below, third-party sanctions are what she calls a "political and legal house of cards," illegal under all kinds of international law.  If the sanctions route is reaching a dead end, what's next?
In addition to the essays about negotiations and sanctions, I encourage a reading of the essay by former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian; an interesting short essay on the "Cyrus Cylinder"; a enthusiastic review (and some dissent) re: the Leverett's important new book, Going to Tehran; an interesting essay by Nima Shirazi that takes a critical look at the Oscar-winning film "Argo"; and a set of good/useful articles and essays about the current situation in Syria.
One more thing: for people who are anti-war-movement types, I call to your/our attention to latest Gallup Poll survey that shows 99 percent of Americans think Iran's nuclear program is a threat to the United States.  People, we are not doing too well on our anti-war education.  Indeed, there is barely a ripple of agitation against war with Iran in either the blogosphere or in the streets.  Of course, there are many things to keep us way too busy; but it's hard to miss the war-with-Iran train wreck coming down the tracks, and 99 percent of Americans are (so far) not with us.
Finally, a reminder that 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)
What Kerry Needs to Know about Iran
By Hossein Mousavian, Financial Times [February 25, 2013]
[FB – Mr. Mousavian is a former spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiators. His latest book, 'The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir,' is essential reading for understanding the US-Iranian nuclear impasse.]
---- In his first official trip as US secretary of state this week, John Kerry has reiterated that Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. But both he and Vice-president Joe Biden have also this month made a point of calling for bilateral talks to resolve the differences between Washington and Tehran. The response of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, that "negotiations will not solve the problem", has been interpreted as closing the door on that option. Having served in the Iranian government for almost three decades, holding posts in parliament, the foreign ministry and national security, and working on relations with the west, I can confidently state that negotiation is possible. The view that Iran does not want to negotiate is a misreading of the signals – often conflicting – from Tehran. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/4b77d996-7f41-11e2-97f6-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2LttAVFGy
Will Washington Reciprocate? The Iranians and Unconditional Friendship
By Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch [February 18, 2013]
---- Truth be told, this American observer has attended his share of international conferences and has traveled in more than 70 countries. But never has he  visited such a complex, evolving, striving and energized society, populated by idealistic people of great warmth, sense of humor and caring for those  in need as he has experienced in the Islamic Republic of Iran. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/18/the-iranians-and-unconditional-friendship/
(Video) A Different View of Iran, 2013
From Informed Comment [February 25, 2013] – 4 minutes
Find the Missing Word
By Roger Cohen, New York Times [February 22, 2013]
---- [The Cyrus Cylinder], somewhat the worse for wear after two-and-a-half millennia, was dug up in what once was Babylon, now Iraq, in 1879 during a British Museum excavation. Made soon after Cyrus of Persia captured Babylon in 539 B.C., it is covered in the spiky characters of Babylonian cuneiform. … which say that, aided by the chief Babylonian god Marduk, Cyrus ("King of the universe, the great king") captured Babylon without a fight, repatriated deported people living in Babylonian exile, and, as the museum put it in 2010, "restored shrines dedicated to different gods." It has been widely interpreted as the decree of an enlightened ruler determined to allow diverse peoples to rebuild their altars and worship their gods in their own way in their own place with their own sacred images. Cyrus, in this reading, is a father of the multifaith society. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/opinion/cohen-find-the-missing-word.xml
Does Obama really want a deal with Iran?
Pepe Escobar, Aljazeera [February 21, 2013]
---- Almaty, Kazakhstan, is in the eye of the volcano next Tuesday, when the P5+1 - the five permanent UN Security Council members, US, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany - meet again with an Iranian delegation over Iran's nuclear programme. The record shows that all 16 US intelligence agencies know Tehran is not working on a nuclear weapon. In a real negotiation, there would be a credible US offer on the table. There is none. This suggests what Washington really wants is to maintain - and turbo-charge - its harsh sanctions package. Let's review the mechanism of this "negotiation". http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/02/2013220122822678589.html
(Video) US on 'collision course' with Iran over nuclear talks
A short interview with Hillary Mann Leverett, Aljazeera [February 21, 2013] – 5 minutes
Also useful on the negotiations – Nima Shirazi, "Going for the Gold: The P5+1's Latest Lackluster Offer to Iran, "Wide Asleep in America [February 17, 2013] http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/2013/02/the-p51s-latest-lackluster-offer-to-iran.html; Yousaf Butt, "Make Tehran a Serious Offer," The National Interest [February 21, 2013] http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13144; and Peter Jenkins, "Can we have some statesmanship, please?" Lobe Log [February 22, 2013] http://www.lobelog.com/can-we-have-some-statesmanship-please/
Iranian Position on Negotiations
West Must Avoid Giving Useless Concessions to Iran in Kazakhstan
An Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, Iran Review [February 22, 2013]
---- Before the negotiations begin, the Western news agencies have quoted officials of the Western countries as saying that the most important demand of the P5+1 from Iran is to close down its nuclear facility at Fordow in return for lifting of certain sanctions against Iran. It seems that such remarks will do nothing to end the current standoff between the two sides over Iran's nuclear energy program. In the meantime, reference should be made to the propaganda hype launched by the Western political circles and think tanks as well as the recent biased remarks of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about Iran's nuclear program. Taking part in a controversial interview, Ban noted that Iran uses the opportunity provided to it by negotiations with the West in order to develop nuclear weapons. This issue proves that a plan has been put in gear by the West in order to undermine the forthcoming meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Almaty before it begins. In an interview with Tehran Emrouz newspaper, Mohammad Farhad Koleini, an expert on strategic issues, has noted that if the P5+1 take part in Almaty talks with repetitive proposals, the negotiations should be considered doomed as of now. http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/West-Must-Avoid-Giving-Useless-Concessions-to-Iran-in-Kazakhstan.htm
More on Iranian views - By Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, Executive Editor of Iran Review, "Managing Almaty Negotiations without Capitulation or Escalation of Tension,"  [February 24, 2013]
Preliminary Reports on the Kazakhstan Negotiations
Steve Erlanger, "Skepticism Abounds as Six World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks With Iran," New York Times [February 26, 2013]; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/world/middleeast/skepticism-abounds-as-six-world-powers-resume-nuclear-talks-with-iran.html?ref=world
From Reuters, "Iran and Big Powers Hint at Nuclear Talks Concessions," [February 26, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/02/26/world/middleeast/26reuters-iran-nuclear-us.html?ref=world
Scott Peterson, "Iran nuclear talks: Will hints of sanctions relief yield progress?" Christian Science Monitor [February 26, 2013] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0226/Iran-nuclear-talks-Will-hints-of-sanctions-relief-yield-progress-video?nav=87-frontpage-entryLeadStory
Developments in Iran's Nuclear Program
How Close is Iran to Nuclear Weapons?
By Yousaf Butt, Reuters [February 22, 2013]
---- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed last week that new second-generation centrifuges, which Iran plans to start up at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, could cut by a third the time needed to create a nuclear bomb – underlining his deadline of this summer to take military action against Iran.
Netanyahu's prediction, however, appears to be based on some unsubstantiated assumptions regarding Iranian intentions and capabilities. Yet it can provide ammunition to the hawks in Washington and Jerusalem, who could rush us into another needless and counterproductive war in the Middle East. Netanyahu's assertions do not stand up to technical scrutiny.  Critically, he does not mention that Iran has been converting part of its 20-percent-enriched uranium hexafluoride gaseous stockpile into metallic form, for use as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. This conversion essentially freezes the enrichment level and subtracts from the "enrichable" gaseous stockpile used in centrifuges. It is not something that a nation hell-bent on weaponization would do. http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/02/22/how-close-is-iran-to-nuclear-weapons/
Also on Iran's nuclear program – Fredrik Dahl, "U.N. report may show slower growth in Iran nuclear stockpile," Reuters [February 20, 2013] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/20/us-nuclear-iran-iaea-idUSBRE91J13620130220; David E. Sanger and William J. Broad,"Iran Is Said to Move to New Machines for Making Nuclear Fuel," New York Times [February 21, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/world/middleeast/iran-upgrading-nuclear-equipment-inspectors-say.html?ref=world; Reuters, "Iran Announces Uranium Discovery Days Before Nuclear Talks," New York Times [[February 23, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/02/23/world/middleeast/23reuters-iran-nuclear.html?hp; and Ali Akbar Dareini, "Iran selects 16 sites suitable for nuclear plants," Associated Press [February 23, 2013] http://news.yahoo.com/iran-selects-16-sites-suitable-nuclear-plants-130422798.html
Beltway Foreign Policy
By Roger Cohen, New York Times [February 18, 2013]
---- In Iran, [former Obama administration official Vali] Nasr demonstrates Obama's deep ambivalence about any deal on the nuclear program. "Pressure," he writes, "has become an end in itself." The dual track of ever tougher sanctions combined with diplomatic outreach was "not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure." The reality was that, "Engagement was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare."  Opportunities to begin real step-by-step diplomacy involving Iran giving up its low-enriched uranium in exchange for progressive sanctions relief were lost. What was Tehran to think when "the sum total of three major rounds of diplomatic negotiation was that America would give some bits and bobs of old aircraft in exchange for Iran's nuclear program"? http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/opinion/global/roger-cohen-the-end-of-foreign-policy.html?hp&_r=0
Iran's Familiar Destiny
By Jason Hirthler, Counterpunch [February 25, 2013]
---- Without delving into the sordid history of our relationship with the Persian giant at the heart of the Middle East, a glance is enough to confirm that we've trespassed ceaselessly in a country both blessed and cursed by its geographic patrimony. Sitting atop a wealth of petroleum and natural gas, positioned at the delta of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf—that great liquid highway by which ravenous Western powers have extracted black gold for decades—the Iranian people must be exhausted by the hectoring and rebarbative attentions paid them by our colonial legates. Nor is it any consolation for Iranians that their nearest neighbors are also tirelessly plagued by imperial interventions. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/25/irans-familiar-destiny/
Gallup: Staggering 99 Percent of Americans See Iran's Nuclear Program as 'Threat'
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [February 20, 2013]
---- A grim new poll from Gallup shows an overwhelming majority of Americans, indeed 99 percent of them, believe that Iran's civilian nuclear program is a threat "to the vital interests of the United States."
The poll reflects the near complete saturation of American opinion with politicians' claims of the "threat" posed by Iran's civilian program, in spite of repeated reports conceding that Iran isn't presently developing nuclear weapons and that it may indeed never choose to do so. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/02/20/gallup-staggering-99-percent-of-americans-see-irans-nuclear-program-as-threat/
Also useful – Ray McGovern, "Brennan's Loose Talk on Iran Nukes," Antiwar.com [February 23, 2013] http://original.antiwar.com/mcgovern/2013/02/22/brennans-loose-talk-on-iran-nukes/; and Stephen M. Walt, "On Iran, try backscratching, not blackmail," Foreign Policy [February 22, 2013] http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/02/22/on_iran_try_backscratching_not_blackmail
Time to Face the Truth about Iran
By Flyntt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Going to Tehran [February 11, 2013]
---- For more than thirty years, American analysts and policy-makers have put forward a series of myths about the Islamic Republic: that it is irrational, illegitimate and vulnerable. In doing so, pundits and politicians have consistently misled the American public and America's allies about what policies will actually work to advance US interests in the Middle East. The most persistent -- and dangerous -- of these myths is that the Islamic Republic is so despised by its own people that it is in imminent danger of overthrow. From the start, Americans treated the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 as a major surprise. But the only reason it was a surprise was that official Washington refused to see the growing demand by the Iranian people for an indigenously generated political order free from US domination. And ever since then, the Islamic Republic has defied endless predictions of its collapse or defeat. http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=56911
Going to Tehran
---- The article above summarizes much of the Leverett's new book, Going to Tehran.  In his review of the book, linked below, Gareth Porter calls it "arguably the most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be published so far."  I think that the book is especially valuable for conveying a view of the world and the region, and of the United States, from the point of view of Iran.  Seldom do analysts, for example, explain how "offers" from the United States might be perceived as "threats" by the Iranians.  Yet I find the Leverett's presentation of recent Iranian history to be one-dimensional and teleological, passing over too quickly the post-1979 conflicts within the revolutionary coalition.  By identifying critics of the "guardianship of the jurist" with "Western elites," they do a disservice to the many Iranians who fought for, and continue to work for, a different kind of regime.  Does this distortion of history matter?  Not in the sense of diminishing the need to prevent war against Iran.  But by constricting Iran's recent history to a single path leading to an authoritarian clerical regime, I think the Leveretts diminish our ability to understand how Iran came to be as it is, and where it might be going.  In any case, I encourage people to read Going to Tehran, and if the historical part of the story is of interest, I recommend Ervand Abrahamian's recent book, A History of Modern Iran, for an alternative view. - FB
Former Insiders Criticise Iran Policy as U.S. Hegemony
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [February 25, 2013]
---- "Going to Tehran" arguably represents the most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be published thus far.  Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett tackle not only U.S. policy toward Iran but the broader context of Middle East policy with a systematic analytical perspective informed by personal experience, as well as very extensive documentation. More importantly, however, their exposé required a degree of courage that may be unparalleled in the writing of former U.S. national security officials about issues on which they worked. They have chosen not just to criticise U.S. policy toward Iran but to analyse that policy as a problem of U.S. hegemony. … In "Going to Tehran", the Leveretts elaborate on the contrarian analysis they have been making on their blog (formerly "The Race for Iran" and now "Going to Tehran") They take to task those supporting U.S. systematic pressures on Iran for substituting wishful thinking that most Iranians long for secular democracy, and offer a hard analysis of the history of the Iranian revolution. In an analysis of the roots of the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, they point to evidence that the single most important factor that swept the Khomeini movement into power in 1979 was "the Shah's indifference to the religious sensibilities of Iranians". That point, which conflicts with just about everything that has appeared in the mass media on Iran for decades, certainly has far-reaching analytical significance. http://ipsnorthamerica.net/news.php?idnews=4555

Human Rights Issues
The International Tribunal for Iran – February 2013
[FB – Following the path opened up by the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Vietnam in 1967, several international tribunals have looked at cases of war crimes and/or human rights violations. Recent examples include the World Tribunal on Iraq and the recent international tribunal on Palestine.  A two-part tribunal on the massacre of political prisoners in Iran during the 1980s recently concluded its work and published its findings.] http://www.irantribunal.com/Eng/EnHome.html
The Baha'i Institute for Higher Education
By Bronwen Robertson, Small Media [February 21, 2013]
---- Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, more than 10,000 Baha'is have been expelled from government and university jobs, thousands have been arrested and an estimated 200 Baha'i leaders have been killed. Despite belonging to a peaceful independent world religion rooted in Islam, Baha'is are frequently arrested and imprisoned for 'membership' in what the clerics and Islamic judiciary refer to as a "deviant sect". Baha'is are excluded entirely from Iran's standardised education system and denied their basic human right to education. To mark the UN's World Social Justice Day (Feb 20, 2013), London-based non-profit Small Media has launched "Knowledge as Resistance", a comprehensive and innovative report that chronicles the Baha'i community's creative and non-violent resistance to this systematic, targeted, and continued persecution. http://smallmedia.org.uk/knowledge.PDF
The Coming Collapse of Iran Sanctions
By Hillary Mann Leverett, Aljazeera [February 25, 2013]
---- Virtually since the 1979 Iranian revolution, US administrations have imposed unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic. These measures, though, have not significantly damaged Iran's economy and have certainly not changed Iranian policies Washington doesn't like. Between 2006 and 2010, America got the UN Security Council to adopt six resolutions authorising multilateral sanctions against Iran - also with limited impact, because China and Russia refused to allow any resolution to pass that would have harmed their interests in Iran. Beyond unilateral and multilateral measures against Iran's economy, the US has, since 1996, threatened to impose "secondary" sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic. In recent years, Congress has dramatically expanded the range of activities subject to such sanctions, going beyond investments in Iranian oil and gas production to include simple purchases of Iranian crude and almost all financial transactions. This year, Congress blacklisted transfers of precious metals to Iran, to make it harder for Tehran to repatriate export earnings or pay for imports in gold. Congress has also increased the sanctions that can be imposed on offending entities, including their cut-off from the US financial system. Secondary sanctions are a legal and political house of cards. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/02/201322584515426148.html
Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions
From the International Crisis Group [February 25, 2013]
---- Not the product of a single policy, the sanctions regime has mutated over three decades, been imposed by a variety of actors and aimed at a wide range of objectives. The end result is an impressive set of unilateral and multilateral punitive steps targeting virtually every important sector of Iran's economy, in principle tethered to multiple policy objectives (non-proliferation; anti-terrorism; human rights) yet, in the main, aimed at confronting the Islamic Republic with a straightforward choice: either comply with international demands on the nuclear file, or suffer the harsh economic consequences. The story of how the international community reached this point is a study in the limitations and frustrations (some unavoidable, many self-inflicted) it has faced in seeking to influence Iranian policy. It is a study in the irresistible appeal of sanctions, backed both by hardliners who wish to cripple the regime and by more moderate actors who view them as the alternative to a military strike. And it is a study in how, over time, means tend to morph into ends: in the absence of any visible shift in Tehran's political calculus, it is difficult to measure their impact through any metric other than the quantity and severity of the sanctions themselves. That they have yet to significantly curb Tehran's nuclear drive becomes, in this context, more or less an afterthought. http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/iraq-iran-gulf/iran/138-spider-web-the-making-and-unmaking-of-iran-sanctions.asp
Also on sanctions - Rachelle Younglai and Paul Carrel, "Lawmakers target ECB to stop Iran from using euros," Reuters [February 21, 2013]  http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/21/us-ecb-iran-idUSBRE91K0V420130221; and Juan Cole, "WaPo says Gasoline Price Increase Mysterious, Ignores US blockade of Iran Oil!," Informed Comment [February 20, 2013] http://www.juancole.com/2013/02/gasoline-mysterious-blockade.html
2005 US computer virus attack on Iran nuclear plants
By Charles Arthur, The Guardian [UK] [February 26, 2013]
---- Researchers at the security company Symantec have discovered an early version of the "Stuxnet" computer virus that was used to attack nuclear reprocessing plants in Iran, in what they say is a "missing link" dating back to 2005. The discovery means that the US and Israel, who are believed to have jointly developed the software in order to carry out an almost undetectable attack on Iran's nuclear bomb-making ambitions, were working on the scheme long before it came to public notice – and that development of Stuxnet, and its forerunner, began under the presidency of George W Bush, rather than being a scheme hatched during Barack Obama's first term. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/feb/26/symantec-us-computer-virus-iran-nuclear
Oscar Prints the Legend: Argo and the Failure of Truth
By Nima Shirazi, Wide Asleep in America [February 23, 2013]
---- Over the past 12 months, rarely a week - let alone month - went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched "Argo," a decontextualized, ahistorical "true story" of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat.  Salon's Andrew O'Hehir aptly described the film as "a propaganda fable," explaining as others have that essentially none of its edge-of-your-seat thrills or most memorable moments ever happened. … In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, "I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that's another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible -- because I didn't want it to be used by either side. I didn't want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them." For Affleck, these facts apparently don't include understanding why the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun and occupied on November 4, 1979. http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/2013/02/oscar-prints-the-legend-argo.html
---- The IAEA's quarterly reports consistently affirm that Iran has not diverted any enriched uranium to what might be military purposes, and the most recent analysis by the United States' 16 intelligence agencies affirms that Iran does not have the intention of developing nuclear weapons.  With the absence of both smoke and gun, alarmists about Iran parse the tea leaves to find indications that Iran might have dark intentions not readily apparent.  This search has launched several rounds of disinformation.  One, the claim that Hezbollah (and thus Iran) was behind the terror attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last July, has been discredited by the investigative work of Gareth Porter.  His latest contribution is linked below.  A second set of allegations, reported in the last issue of the IWW, uses dubious claims about Iran's attempt to purchase specialized magnets to conclude that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.  This claim is thoroughly debunked in an article linked below from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.  This week we have a new claim, a Cyprus branch of the Hezbollah v. Israel story, with a trial now in progress.  So far I know of no debunking of this story, but you can do it yourself starting with why would Hezbollah send someone from Lebanon to Cyprus to find out what time planes from Israel are landing (instead of, for example, looking on-line or calling the airport). – FB
Bulgaria's Hezbollah 'Hypothesis' and the EU Terror List
By Gareth Porter Aljazeera February 24, 2013
Iran centrifuge magnet story technically questionable
---- Based on an Institute for Science and International Security report, the Washington Post recently claimed that Iranian agents tried to buy 100,000 highly specialized, ring-shaped magnets allegedly intended for centrifuge machines, supposedly signaling a major expansion of Iran's nuclear program.
The magnets in question are not highly specialized and have many uses besides centrifuges; for example, such ceramic ring magnets have been used in loudspeakers for more than half a century.
On an issue as important as Iran's nuclear program, analysts and reporters should not jump to conclusions that are unsupported by evidence. http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/iran-centrifuge-magnet-story-technically-questionable
Trial Offers Rare Look at Work of Hezbollah in Europe
By Nicholas Kulish, New York Times [February 20, 2013]
---- Mr. Yaacoub's testimony offered unaccustomed insights from an active Hezbollah member into the militant group's secret operations. But it carried potentially greater significance for the European Union, which has thus far resisted following Washington's lead in declaring the group a terrorist organization. Experts say that a conviction here would substantially raise the pressure on the bloc for such a designation. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/world/europe/in-cyprus-trial-man-says-hezbollah-scouted-israeli-targets-in-europe.html?ref=world
Also on the "Cyprus Connection" – Nicholas Kulish, "Hezbollah Courier Was Told to Track Israeli Flights," New York Times [February 21, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/world/europe/testimony-in-trial-of-hezbollah-operative-continues-in-cyprus.html?ref=world
Syria's Breakup is a Levantine Norm
By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star [February 23, 2013]
---- The talk about Syria by knowledgeable friends and colleagues whose views I respect has turned increasingly pessimistic in recent weeks, with expectations ranging across a span of many bad outcomes. These range from Syria becoming a Levantine Somalia, where power is in the hands of hundreds of local warlords and tribal chieftains, to a totally fractured state defined by a combination of raging civil war and sectarianism that pulls in interested neighbors and perhaps ignites new regional wars. Speculation about the future of Syria is a growth industry these days, for good reason: What happens in Syria will have an impact on the region, given its central role in the political geography, ideologies and security of the Levant and areas further afield http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Columnist/2013/Feb-23/207557-syrias-breakup-is-a-levantine-norm.ashx#ixzz2LlCztVyr
(Video) On The Syrian Situation
By Gilbert Achcar, Socialist Resistance [February 22, 2013] – 32 minutes
Israel & Syria: Behind the Bombs
By Conn Hallinan, Dispatches From the Edge [February 20, 2013]
---- There is no evidence that the attack had anything to do with the SA-17, which, in any case, both Tel Aviv and Washington know would not pose any real danger to Israel. According to UPI, the attack was cleared with the U.S. So what are some other possible reasons for the attack? … The most obvious target is the Assad regime in Syria, which at first glance would seem to be a contradiction. Wouldn't Israel bombing Syria unite the Arab countries behind Damascus? If there is one thing that the bombing has accomplished, it is to thicken the walls between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Tel Aviv is deploying anti-missile systems on its northern border and handing out gas masks in the Galilee. It is beefing up its presence in the Golan Heights, and reinforcing its border with Egypt. http://www.zcommunications.org/israel-and-syria-behind-the-bombs-by-conn-hallinan
More Weapons to Syria
Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms
By C. J. CHIVERS and ERIC SCHMITT February 25, 2013
---- Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases. The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels' small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad. The arms transfers appeared to signal a shift among several governments to a more activist approach to assisting Syria's armed opposition, in part as an effort to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Mr. Assad's forces. The weapons' distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular, and appears to have been intended to bypass the jihadist groups whose roles in the war have alarmed Western and regional powers. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/world/middleeast/in-shift-saudis-are-said-to-arm-rebels-in-syria.html?ref=world
Also on sending weapons to Syria – Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon, "Obama Could Revisit Arming Syria Rebels as Assad Holds Firm," New York Times [February 18, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/world/middleeast/as-assad-holds-firm-obama-could-revisit-arms-policy.html?hp; and Liz Slyl and Karen DeYoung, "In Syria, new influx of weapons to rebels tilts the battle against Assad," Washington Post [February 23, 2013] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-syria-new-influx-of-weapons-to-rebels-tilts-the-battle-against-assad/2013/02/23/a6bf2bc0-7dfb-11e2-9073-e9dda4ac6a66_print.html
Casualties of War
---- We might ask just why an exact number of deaths in Syria's civil war matters.  60,000; 70,000 – it's way too many.  But some spokespersons for the armed rebellion say that an inflated number of deaths – as, for example, the new estimates from the UN – puts more pressure on e.g. Russia and Iran to support a ceasefire and negotiated settlement that would leave Assad in power.  Conversely, we know from the controversies around the number of casualties in the Iraq war that "reported" and "confirmed" deaths understate the number actually killed.  And even refugees are hard to count.  Here are three examples of the statistical uncertainties of this war. - FB
What the Syrian death tolls really tell us
By Sharmine Narwani, The Guardian [UK] [February 15, 2013]
---- Less than two months after the UN announced "shocking" new casualty figures in Syria, its high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay estimates that deaths are "probably now approaching 70,000". But two years into a Syrian conflict marked by daily death tolls, the question arises as to whether these kinds of statistics are helpful in any way? Have they helped save Syrian lives? Have they shamed intransigent foes into seeking a political solution? Or might they have they contributed to the escalation of the crisis by pointing fingers and deepening divisions?  Syria's death toll leapt from 45,000 to 60,000 earlier this year, a figure gathered by a UN-sponsored project to integrate data from seven separate lists. The new numbers are routinely cited by politicians and media as fact, and used to call for foreign intervention in the conflict. But Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), whose casualty data are part of this count, calls the UN's effort "political" and the results "propaganda".
See also – Armin Rosen, "Counting the Dead in Syria," The Atlantic [February 15, 2013]
U.N. numbers on Syrians in need of help far too low, survey suggests
By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers [February 18, 2013]
---- The first detailed survey of the humanitarian crisis in northern Syria suggests that the United Nations has grossly underestimated the number of civilians in dire need of assistance, a situation that experts say plays down the scope of the catastrophe. "Syria is the largest IDP crisis in the world," said Clare Spurrell of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, the leading body monitoring internally displaced people worldwide. "The longer we underestimate the reality of what is happening on the ground, the further we are getting from an appropriate response." The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released new figures Monday showing 2.08 million people in urgent need in six provinces of northern Syria. That's way below a partial survey of the same provinces that the Syrian opposition and 10 international aid agencies conducted over four weeks in January. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/02/18/183467/un-numbers-on-syrians-in-need.html#storylink=cpy


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