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
April 2, 2013
Hello All – Following a "successful" renewal of negotiations in February, and an ambiguous round of technical talks in March, Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) are set to meet again in Kazakhstan at the end of this week. What are the prospects for progress in resolving disputes about Iran's nuclear program and (not incidentally) reducing the prospects for war?
The basic parameters of these talks will pit demands by the United States that Iran cease or reduce critical parts of its uranium enrichment program against claims by Iran that progress can only be based on "the West's" acceptance of Iran's right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and on the lifting of economic sanctions. The "success" of February's negotiations was based on the apparent willingness of both parties to discuss these issues; but pundit pessimism about the prospects for this week's negotiations stems from how little the United States appears willing to give Iran in exchange for anything.
Among "Western" analysts, there are two broad areas of discussion and disagreement: what are Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities; and whether economic sanctions are forcing the Iranian leadership towards modifying its nuclear program. This week, in the good/useful reading linked below, we have the ingredients for an interesting discussion on both Iran's nuclear program and the effect of economic sanctions. In my view, the differences among antiwar analysts about Iran's nuclear program and the actual effect of the economic sanctions point to the need for the US antiwar movement to pay more attention to Iran and to some of the issues that serve as the basis for pro-war propaganda.
The political-military climate surrounding this weeks negotiations in Kazakhstan keeps getting worse. This is primarily due to the war in Syria. The stepped up shipments of weapons to the armed opposition, President Obama's discussions with Israel (whatever they were), Secretary of State Kerry's warnings to Iraq about Iranian overflights, the apparent rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, Israeli military action on its borders with Syria and Lebanon, and yesterday's news that the United Nations is developing a post-Assad "peacekeeping" force all increase the probability of a regional war. And it is difficult to imagine how the regionalization of the war in Syria could fail to drag in Iran and unleash the military action against Iran that the United States and Israel have long had as "options on the table."
Once again I would like to thank those who you who have forwarded this newsletter or linked it on your sites. Previous "issues" of the Iran War Weekly are posted at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383. If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OVERVIEWS AND PERSPECTIVES
A Curate's Egg (Good in Parts)
By Peter Jenkins, Lobe Log [March 31, 2013]
[Being British, former IAEA envoy Peter Jenkins assumes that we are familiar with the 1895 Punch cartoon that brought "curate's egg" – meaning that (contrary to fact) something basically rotten has good parts nevertheless – into our common English language. I learned this factoid at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate%27s_egg.] ---- Last week, while visiting Israel and Jordan, President Barak Obama publicly emphasised that there is still time to resolve the nuclear dispute without resorting to force and that this is his preference. For peaceniks everywhere, those were encouraging words. But, advertently or not, the President's words also revealed two of the most perplexing aspects of his administration's Iran policy: their insistence on making unique demands of Iran, and their reluctance to give weight to US intelligence findings. http://www.lobelog.com/a-curates-egg-good-in-parts/
Iranian People Caught in Crossfire of Dueling Messages
, Inter Press Service [March 27, 2013]
---- This year, like the first year of Obama's presidency, the two leaders' public messages had added significance because of the positive signals broadcast by both sides after Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany met in Almaty, Kazakhstan in March. The second meeting is slotted to occur Apr. 6. Considering that the exchanged messages came in the midst of ongoing talks, a degree of softened language and the abandonment of threats was expected. In his first Norouz speech in 2009, when both sides were getting ready to embark on serious talks, Obama had said that his administration was committed to diplomacy and a process that "will not be advanced by threats" and is "honest and grounded in mutual respect". This time, however, his message was laced with threats and promises of rewards if Iranian leaders behaved well, eliciting Khamenei's disdainful response, and revealing yet again how intractable – and dangerous – the conflict between Iran and the United States has become. http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/iranian-people-caught-in-crossfire-of-dueling-messages/
Obama and America's "Imperial Temptation" in the Middle East
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Aljazeera [March 2013]
---- Following President Obama's address to an audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem last week, progressive commentators in the United States hailed the speech as "a passionate appeal for peace" that "placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict squarely back on his agenda." But those intoxicated by Obama's rhetoric will soon experience a painful hangover. For the President's Israel speech and the rest of his Middle East trip were focused, first and foremost, on domestic politics here in the United States. And Obama's Middle East strategy is marked by a growing discrepancy between the arrogance of America's regional agenda and its declining capacity to realise this agenda. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/201333012566128270.html
NEGOTIATIONS ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
'Most substantive' Iran nuclear talks to date, but narrow area of agreement'
By March 26, 2013]
---- Iranian nuclear experts [are] deeply engaged on the substance of a revised international proposal, and said they are considering suspending 20% enrichment for six months and converting their 20% stockpile to oxide for medical use at technical talks with six world powers held in Istanbul last week, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor Tuesday. However, the Iranians raised numerous objections to other elements in a revised international proposal presented in Kazakhstan last month, a diplomatic source, speaking not for attribution, said Tuesday. Among them: suspending other operations at Fordo except for 20% enrichment, shipping out Tehran's stockpile of 20% enriched fuel; as well as enhanced IAEA inspections. http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/03/4872/most-substantive-talks-with-iran-in-istanbul-but-narrow-area-of-agreement/
US ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES
Our Myopic Approach to Iran
By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policiy [March 26, 2013]
---- When historians of American foreign policy look back a few decades from now, they will shake their heads in wonder at the incompetence of the U.S. effort to deal with Iran. They will be baffled that the United States spent years trying to convince Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program by making repeated threats of war, passing Congressional resolutions demanding regime change, waging a covert action campaign against the clerical regime, and imposing ever harsher economic sanctions. They will spend a lot of time exploring why U.S. leaders mindlessly stuck to this approach and never noticed that it wasn't working at all. Even as the sanctions bit harder, Iran kept moving closer to a nuclear "break-out" capability. Indeed, some analysts now believe it already has one. http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/03/26/our_myopic_approach_to_iran
Stopping an Undetectable Iranian Bomb
By David Albright, et al., Wall St. Journal [March 26, 2013]
[FB – David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) often provide scientific cover for conservative critiques of Iran's nuclear program. In this contribution, Albright et al. put forward arguments that support the Israeli position that Iran's nuclear program must be stopped before it reaches "critical capability." In contrast, President Obama has placed his "red line" at the production of an actual nuclear weapon, rather than simply achieving the theoretical ability to make one. Yet this "red line" often seems very thin, and the devil is in the details. Here is a good statement of the Neo-con case.]
---- Iran's nuclear program dominated last week's meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A key challenge for both leaders: how to stop Iran's rapid advance toward "critical capability." Critical capability means the point at which Iran could dash to produce enough weapons-grade uranium or separated plutonium for one bomb so quickly that the International Atomic Energy Agency or a Western intelligence service would be unable to detect the dash until it is over. Mr. Obama has implicitly threatened to use force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from "obtaining" nuclear weapons. But once Tehran is perched at critical capability, it could use the threat of an undetectable breakout to enjoy many of the strategic benefits of having a bomb without crossing Mr. Obama's red line. Once Iran has produced sufficient fissile material—weapons-grade uranium or separated plutonium—it will be much more difficult for the West to stop Iran from completing the process of actually building nuclear weapons. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324789504578380801062046108.html
False Choices on Iran
By Paul R. Pillar, The National Interest [March 31, 2013]
---- A well-recognized attribute of opinion polling is that the wording of questions heavily influences the results of a poll. Even experienced and reputable organizations without any apparent ax to grind nonetheless sometimes fall into sloppy wording that heavily and misleadingly skews the responses. This is especially apt to happen with topics encumbered by conventional wisdom that is widely accepted even if it may be erroneous. The Iranian nuclear program is one such topic. … The problem is not to be laid only at the feet of Pew or of pollsters in general. The problem is a cloud of presumption that has made debate in the United States over Iran's nuclear activities one of the least informed debates among any that have gotten as much attention as this one has. http://nationalinterest.org/print/blog/paul-pillar/false-choices-iran-8293
IRAN ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES
Policy Implications of Iran's Fall From Favor in Arab and Muslim Public Opinion
By James Zogby, Huffington Post [March 30, 2013]
---- Iran's nuclear program was once strongly supported throughout the region by the general public, though not necessarily by their governments. Now it is a subject of concern in most countries. Just six years ago, most Arabs and Muslims were willing to defend Iran against international pressure, now they want the international community to do something to rein in Iran's ambitions. Sanctions against Iran, once strongly opposed, are now supported by a majority of Arabs and Muslims in most countries. While there is an uptick in support for military action against Iran, should it persist in its nuclear program, majorities in almost all countries remain opposed to this option. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-zogby/policy-implications-of-ir_b_2984632.html
Double-Digit Inflation Worsens in Iran
By Rick Gladstone, New York Times [April 1, 2013]
---- Iran's double-digit inflation rate worsened for the sixth consecutive month in March, the government said on Monday, in what appeared to be an implicit acknowledgment that international sanctions linked to the disputed Iranian nuclear program are causing some economic harm. The government's statistics office said the rate increased in March to an annualized 31.5 percent, compared with 30.2 percent in February and 26.4 percent a year earlier, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/world/middleeast/irans-double-digit-inflation-worsens.html?ref=world
SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN
Why Sanctions On Iran Aren't Working
---- Sanctions have so far failed to affect the Iranian government's nuclear policy and are unlikely to do so in the future given the perceptions and calculations of the Iranian elite, according to a new report by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). "Never Give In and Never Give Up" [pdf] studies the impact of sanctions on Tehran's nuclear calculus and identifies the factors that have enabled the Iranian government to sustain its policy, despite mounting economic pressure. … The authors contend that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's narrative – which portrays the West as a brutal group out to "get" Iran and keep it dependent on foreign powers – continues to dominate the discourse within Iran's political elite and guide its decision-making. In turn, private lobbying campaigns have tended to focus on securing domestic economic concessions rather pushing for nuclear concessions to the West. … It is highly unlikely that Iran will succumb to sanctions pressure at a time when Khamenei's narrative remains unchallenged, key stakeholders are not visibly lobbying for policy shifts, and no proportionate sanctions relief is put on the negotiating table by Western powers, according to the report. http://www.niacouncil.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9077
Sanctions, "Analysis", and the Never-Ending Circle of Propaganda --- From NIAC to Neo-Cons
By Scott Lucas, Enduring America [March 29, 2013]
---- Most of what passes in the US press and circles of influence as "analysis" of Iran is actually political posturing, trying to put forward self-interested opinion as the Truth. This is a story of how that "analysis", caught up in a false "either-or" of Iran --- it is either menacing, or it is oppressed by the "West"; it is either pursuing a Bomb, or it has no such intention; there will be regime change or a dominant regime which will never be changed --- leads us, again and again, to political dead-ends. … There's only this problem. Neither the report nor its supporters offer a shred of credible evidence for the central claim that the regime has triumphed --- within itself, and by carrying the popular support of the Iranian people --- through the Resistance Economy. No evidence is given to show that the Resistance Economy is more than a propaganda concept and that it has successfully been implemented. Here are four points why NIAC's report is propaganda rather than analysis, and an explanation of why this posturing over sanctions matters, with NIAC's stance only offering an inverted reflection of that of "neo-conservatives" on Iran. http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/3/29/iran-special-sanctions-analysis-and-the-never-ending-circle.html
Gold exports from Turkey to Iran resume
From Reuters [March 29, 2013]
Legal Experts: Stuxnet Attack on Iran Was Illegal 'Act of Force'
By Kim Zetter, Wired [March 25, 2013]
---- A cyberattack that sabotaged Iran's uranium enrichment program was an "act of force" and was likely illegal, according to research commissioned by a NATO defense center. Acts of force are prohibited under the United Nations charter, except when done in self-defense. The 20 experts who produced the study were unanimous that Stuxnet was an act of force, but were less clear about whether the cyber sabotage against Iran's nuclear program constituted an "armed attack," which would entitle Iran to use counterforce in self-defense. An armed attack constitutes a start of international hostilities under which the Geneva Convention's laws of war would apply. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/03/stuxnet-act-of-force/
CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
Syria: A Multi-Sided Chess Match
By Conn Hallinan, ZNet [April 1, 2013]
---- In some ways the Syrian civil war resembles a proxy chess match between supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime— Iran, Iraq, Russia and China—and its opponents— Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France. But the current conflict only resembles chess if the game is played with multiple sides, backstabbing allies, and conflicting agendas. … According to the Guardian (UK), Netanyahu raised the possibility of joint U.S.-Israeli air strikes against Syria, which Israel accuses of shifting weapons to its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is no evidence that Syria has actually done that, and logic would suggest that the Assad regime is unlikely to export weapons when it is fighting for its life and struggling to overcome an arms embargo imposed on it by the EU and the UN. But Tel Aviv is spoiling for a re-match with Hezbollah, the organization that fought it to a standstill in 2006. "What I hear over and over again from Israeli generals is that another war with Hezbollah is inevitable," a former U.S. diplomat told the Guardian. http://www.zcommunications.org/syria-a-multi-sided-chess-match-by-conn-hallinan
Analysis: World Plans for a Post-Assad Syria
April 1, 2013]
---- World leaders have been drawing up contingency plans in case the situation in Syria decisively changes. Most commentators believe that in the end, Assad's regime will collapse. Opposition forces have been regularly capturing small villages and patches of land, and the Assad regime has lost effective control of large parts of the country and many of its supply lines. Conversations in recent weeks with ministers, ambassadors, international leaders and military commanders make clear that detailed planning is now being carried out for what comes next. Here is what the main stakeholders in Syria are planning in the event of a major change in the conflict:
Obama's Syria Policy in Shambles as Assad Opposition Squabbles
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy Newspapers [March 25, 2013]
---- The Obama administration's Syria policy was unraveling Monday after weekend developments left the Syrian Opposition Coalition and its military command in turmoil, with the status of its leader uncertain and its newly selected prime minister rejected by the group's military wing. State Department officials said they still planned to work with the coalition, to which the United States has pledged $60 million, but analysts said the developments were one more sign that the Obama administration and its European allies had no workable Syria policy. The opposition coalition, already in its second incarnation, has proved to be as beset by factionalism as its predecessor, the Syrian National Council, exacerbated this time by the meddling of foreign donors, analysts said. But, the analysts added, the United States has no other entity to back in a war that pits the regime of President Bashar Assad against a jihadist-dominated rebel movement. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/03/25/v-print/186877/obamas-syria-policy-in-shambles.html
Syria Video – a powerful web service that maps Syrian war video by town and province
From Syria Comment [March 31, 2013]
---- Syria Comment Announces a new web service: Syria Video, which can be found at http://syriavideo.net. Syria Video is a web application that maps and aggregates Syrian war videos by tracking a large number of YouTube channels. The channels have been identified as reliable and tied to specific towns or regions of Syria. Syria Video collects all new videos released on these channels and attempts to identify their location in Syria and then displays them in chronological order. Since going online in early January, Syria Video has collected over 40,000 videos from 42 Syrian cities and 10 governates. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=18340
Assad Sends Letter to Emerging Powers Seeking Help to End Syrian War
By Rick Gladstone and Hala Droubi, New York Times [March 27, 2013]
---- President Bashar al-Assad of Syria beseeched a five-nation group of emerging powers on Wednesday to help halt the Syrian conflict, one day after the Arab League moved to further isolate Mr. Assad by ceremoniously filling his government's vacant seat with the opposition coalition that has sworn to topple him. In a letter addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the so-called BRICS group of developing nations, which convened a summit meeting in Durban, South Africa — Mr. Assad framed his request as a plea for assistance in the fight of good against evil. He depicted the opposition forces as terrorists bent on destroying Syria with help from a conspiracy of hostile Arab and Western countries. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/world/middleeast/syrias-developments.html?ref=world
More Arms to Syria
Recent Arms Influx Preparing Rebels to Attack Damascus
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [March 27, 2013]
---- On Monday, it was revealed that the CIA is overseeing what is being called a "sharp" increase in weapons being smuggled to the Syrian rebels from abroad. Officials are not only confirming this, but say it is part of a specific policy to set up an attack on the capital. Syria's government has mostly given up on fighting rebels in small battles nationwide, and has the bulk of its military forces in and around the capital city of Damascus. Arab officials say the surge in arms is part of a "master plan" to conquer Damascus militarily. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/27/officials-recent-arms-influx-preparing-rebels-to-attack-damascus/
A Regional War?
Iran's support for Syria still appears strong - but is it hedging its bets?
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor [March 28, 2013]
---- When the Arab League handed Syria's long-vacant seat to the Syrian opposition on March 26 and endorsed military aid for anti-regime rebels, the first and loudest complaints came from Iran. Despite a two-year rebellion that has seen 70,000 deaths and 1 million refugees, Iran has not veered from its staunch support for Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime it considers a critical piece of its anti-US, anti-Israel "axis of resistance." The Iranian complaints are the diplomatic side of an on-the-battlefield proxy war in Syria, with both sides reportedly receiving a surge of weapons from outside powers in recent months. Iranian military and financial support for Mr. Assad has been stepped up with near-weekly flights (and Russia still continues normal sales to its ally). Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, meanwhile, have ferried fresh weaponry to the rebels, with CIA support. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0328/Iran-s-support-for-Syria-still-appears-strong-but-is-it-hedging-its-bets?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem
Iran says Qatar 'intensifying bloodshed' in Syria with new rebel embassy
From Reuters, [March 29, 2013]
Turkey Cracks the Whip
By March 29, 2013]
---- Turkey is without any doubt the key player and most essential ally for the United States in the entire Near East region. It is frequently cited as an example of how democracy can function in a predominantly Islamic country. It is the NATO member with the largest army after that of the U.S., fought in the Korean War, has fully supported every U.S. intervention in its backyard save only Iraq in 2003, and shares long borders both with Syria and Iran. Whatever happens in Syria will largely be shaped by what Ankara decides to do, and President Obama knows it. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/turkey-cracks-the-whip/
Israel's Anti-Missile System 'likely to leave civilians exposed in event of war'
By Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian [UK] [March 31, 2013]
---- Israel's vaunted missile defence system is likely to leave the civilian population exposed to an incoming barrage of rockets in the event of a war as it is deployed to protect key strategic and military sites, according the country's commander of the home front. Despite the success of the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries at intercepting rockets launched from Gaza during November's eight-day conflict, the five units currently operational are insufficient to protect against the superior firepower of Hezbollah in Lebanon. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/31/israel-missile-system-civilians-exposed
Israel and Turkey restore ties with energy as a motivator
By Joseph Dana, The International [United Arab Emirates] [Apr 1, 2013]
---- Over the past several years, diplomatic relations soured between the two traditional allies over Israel's stubborn refusal to apologise for the deaths of eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American aboard an aid convoy en route to the Gaza strip in 2010. Analysts quickly pegged the apology to instability in Syria and even the Iranian nuclear crisis. But there is another possibility that could be fuelling this rapprochement: a potential stake in the lucrative export of Israeli natural gas. After years of fruitless exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, in 2009 Israel discovered some of the largest offshore reserves of natural gas in the last decade. The exact size of the gasfields are unknown but they are rumoured to contain upwards of 150 years' worth of production. http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/israel-and-turkey-restore-ties-with-energy-as-a-motivator
Turkey and Israel Feel the Effect as Syria's Civil War Fuels Tensions at Borders
By Sebnem Arsu and Rick Gladstone, New York Times [March 28, 2013]
UN: Major Increase in Israeli Warplanes Over South Lebanon
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [March 25, 2013]
---- The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has confirmed a dramatic increase in the number of Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, with several incidents reported in the past two weeks alone.
Israeli warplanes wandering into Lebanon are not a new phenomenon, but UNIFIL reports that this year has seen twice the rate of overflights as 2012, and not all of these are small 1-2 plane incursions. On March 14, an estimated 25 Israeli warplanes conducted four separate flights into Lebanese airspace, heading up virtually the entire coast before turning back just short of Syria. Israel launched air strikes along the Syria-Lebanon border in January and is believed to be considering a full-scale war with Syria, so many of the incursions have been chalked up as posturing for a potential Syria war. Yet Israeli military leaders have talked up the "value" of invading Lebanon yet again, so this can't be ruled out either
Lebanon Is Like A Rolls Royce With Square Wheels…
By Robert Fisk, The Independent [March 29, 2013]
Syrian Conflict's Impact is Felt Across Border in Iraq
By Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post [ , 2013]
---- Syria's civil war is increasingly threatening to destabilize neighboring Iraq, widening a sectarian divide in a nation still reeling from the messy aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion a decade ago. Iraqi officials have expressed alarm in recent weeks as fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the armed opposition has spilled across the border. After staying on the sidelines for more than a year, Sunni tribes in Iraq that straddle the frontier have decisively joined the effort to topple the Alawite Shiite-led government in Damascus. Many officials here fear that a growing Iraqi Sunni protest movement that has found inspiration from the uprising next door could quickly turn into all-out revolt in regions that formed the heart of the Sunni insurgency over the past decade. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/syrian-conflicts-impact-is-felt-across-border-in-iraq/2013/03/27/d7bf14f8-964a-11e2-9e23-09dce87f75a1_print.html