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Sunday, May 26, 2013

[haw-info] Iran War Weekly - May 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
May 26, 2013
Hello All – While huge majorities of the US public oppose war with Iran or US intervention in Syria, Congress and the mainstream US media have stepped up the pressure for a more aggressive stance on both fronts.  With these factors in mind, we might ask whether President Obama's speech this week at the National Defense University – in which he tried to dispose of liberal pressures on his policies re: drones, Guantanamo, and "the war on terror" – should be read as a move away from a confrontation in the Middle East, or as an attempt to secure his liberal base before more intense confrontations with Iran and Syria.
Following a series of generally unfruitful meetings regarding Iran's nuclear program, further diplomacy is now on pause until after Iran's presidential election, which will take place on June 14th.  This week Iran's Guardian Council disqualified the two presidential aspirants who might have challenged the policies of Iran's Supreme Leader and the ruling conservative circles; but the fact that the candidate who has emerged as favored to win has been Iran's chief nuclear negotiator may be significant in the future.
Towards Iran, the US Congress has now done everything but declare war.  In the House this week, a committee reported out a bill that moved toward a full trade embargo – or economic war – against Iran; while by a vote of 99 to 0 the Senate passed a "sense of the Senate" resolution essentially endorsing any military action Israel might take against Iran, and calling on the Obama administration to support whatever Israel does.
Leading media outlets in the United States are also pushing hard for a more aggressive policy towards Iran, perhaps increasingly so.  Several articles linked below illustrate this; the media's spinning of the latest report by the UN's IAEA on Iran's nuclear program is a model of news-as-propaganda.  One reason for this may be the greater salience of Hezbollah, generally viewed in "the West" as a proxy for Iran, in the fighting in Syria.  While Hezbollah's role in the fighting is largely confined to areas of importance to Hezbollah (the Lebanon-Syrian border) and Shi'ism (a shrine desecrated earlier by Opposition forces), Hezbollah's historic conflict with Israel and its designation by the United States (and perhaps soon by the EU) as a "terrorist" organization have added a new element to the internationalization of Syria's civil war.  As this weekend's news suggests, the war is well on its way to spilling over into Lebanon.
Once again I would like to thank those who you who have forwarded this newsletter or linked it on your sites.  This and 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 fbrodhead@aol.com.
Best wishes,
Frank Brodhead
The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency released its quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program this week.  The report can be read at http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_Safeguards_report_--_22May2013.pdf. The report included no surprises nor described any deviations from the lines of development suggested in previous IAEA reports.  A useful summary/analysis can be read on the Arms Control Association website: http://armscontrolnow.org/2013/05/22/cliff-notes-on-the-may-2013-iaea-report-on-iran/#more-3461
Cliff Notes on the May 2013 IAEA Report on Iran
By Kelsey Davenport, et al., Arms Control Association [May 22, 2013]
---- The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) May 2013 quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program indicates that Tehran is continuing to move forward on its nuclear program, installing more advanced centrifuges and building-up its stockpiles of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and 20 percent, and moving forward on construction of its heavy water reactor at Arak. The report findings underscore the urgent need to intensify negotiations with Tehran to resolve the political questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program and to resolve the outstanding questions regarding the potential military dimensions of the program, but, at the same time, the findings reinforce earlier assessments that Iran remains years away from obtaining a deliverable nuclear arsenal.
Media Analysis
---- All this seems tame enough, but a closer look at how the IAEA report was covered in the mainstream media is instructive.  For example, the New York Times story (by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad) was headlined "Iran is Seen Advancing Nuclear Bid."  What does this mean, "nuclear bid"?  It certainly fits comfortably with the claim that Iran is making a "bid" for nuclear weapons; and the burden of the Sanger/Broad story measures the dry facts in the IAEA report with the milestones that would be passed if Iran were making nuclear weapons.  So, for example, Iran continues to build its heavy-water nuclear plant at Arak, "a source of plutonium," but the Times readers are not informed that Iran does not have, and is not building, a reprocessing plant that would be required to extract the plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.  Similarly, Iran continues to enrich uranium to 20 percent U235, a level required for medical purposes, but (ominously) only a stones throw away from the 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon.  But the diabolical Iranians are converting their 20-percent uranium into metal oxide, useful for reactor fuel but not for a bomb; thus diabolically keeping its stock of 20 percent uranium gas below the level that could be further enriched to produce one nuclear bomb, an Israeli "red line" that would be used to justify a military attack against Iran.  And (gasp) they have installed some 600 more advanced centrifuges, but (again, diabolically) have yet to bring them online.  "Much Ado About Nothing," by Sanger and Broad.  A more balanced reading of the IAEA report might deduce that Iran is continuing to assert its right to develop a nuclear program, while making concessions to "Western" fears about nuclear weapons and taking steps to prevent the foreclosure of opportunities for continued negotiations.
The New York Times article can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/world/middleeast/irans-nuclear-program-is-seen-making-progress-in-iaea-report.html?hp. A widely published article with similar problems from the Associated Press can be read at http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/iran-has-installed-700-nuclear-centrifuges-this-year-diplomats-say-1.525393.  A very good analysis of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's shrill response to the IAEA report ("diplomacy and sanctions are not working!") is by  Jason Ditz,  "Netanyahu: Diplomacy, Sanctions Unable to Stop Iran," Antiwar.com [May 23, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/23/netanyahu-diplomacy-sanctions-unable-to-stop-iran/.  At his website "Enduring America," analyst Scott Lucas walks us through some of the key points in the report that are spinnable by those seeking to justify more aggressive action against Iran.  His article, "Iran Analysis: Hype & Substance --- 3 Key Points on Latest IAEA Nuclear Report," [May 23, 2013] can be read at http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/5/23/iran-analysis-hype-substance-3-key-points-on-latest-iaea-nuc.html.  Finally, an interesting Associate Press article was published Saturday that bears on the IAEA report itself.  Written by George Jahn, who is frequently described by critics of US diplomacy towards Iran as a water carrier for US propaganda, the article states that two IAEA officials told Jahn that 80 percent of their "intelligence" about Iran's nuclear program "comes from the United States and its allies."  Whether this is accurate of course is not known, but it suggests/confirms that the IAEA reports need to be read with a critical eye.  (The article can be found at http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_23319960/u-n-nuclear-agencys-iran-probe-driven-by.)
U.S. Congress Moves Toward Full Trade Embargo on Iran
May 23 2013]
---- The U.S. Congress moved closer here Wednesday to imposing a full trade embargo against Iran and pledged its support to Israel if it felt compelled to attack Tehran's nuclear programme in self-defence. The Senate voted 99-0 to adopt a resolution that urged President Barack Obama to fully enforce existing economic sanctions against Iran and to "provide diplomatic, military and economic support" to Israel "in its defense of its territory, people and existence". Washington, it said, should support Israel "in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force" if Israel "is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapons program." The measure also re-affirmed the official policy of the administration of President Barack Obama that it would take whatever action necessary to "prevent" Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. At the same time, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republican-led House of Representatives unanimously approved new sanctions legislation that, if passed into law, would blacklist foreign countries or companies that fail to reduce their oil imports from Iran to virtually nil within 180 days. In perhaps its most controversial section, the bill also eliminates President Obama's ability to waive most sanctions for national-interest or national-security reasons. http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/u-s-congress-moves-toward-full-trade-embargo-on-iran/
Also on the "pro-Israel" resolution – Michael Bowman, "US Lawmakers Pledge to Back Israel Against Iran," Voice of America [May 22, 2013] http://www.voanews.com/content/u-congress-resolution-israel-iran-nuclear/1666558.html; and Associated Press, "US Senate and House Committee Back Israel in defense against Iran nuclear threat" [May 23, 2013] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4383234,00.html
(Video) Iran and American Foreign Policy: Where the US Went Wrong
With Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann Leverett, and Noam Chomsky
[For those wanting to cut to the substantive chase, Hillary's presentation starts 18:20 into the video, Flynt's starts at 37:00, and Chomsky begins at 54:00, followed by Q&A with the audience.]
On Ambassador Sherman's Testimony on Iran
By Peter Jenkins, Lobe Log [May 21, 2013]
[Peter Jenkins is a former UK representative to the IAEA.]
---- Listening, on 15 May, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on US policy towards Iran put me in mind of the inscription Dante imagined over the entrance to Hell: "Abandon hope all you who enter here". There seemed no notion among members of the committee that territories beyond the borders of the United States of America are not subject to US jurisdiction – still less that reasoned persuasion and reciprocity can be more effective tools for achieving US foreign policy goals than sanctions (how the good Congressmen love sanctions!) and the infliction of pain. … Still, it is hard to avoid the thought that the administration could have made more of this opportunity. Ambassador Sherman's opening statement contained no reference to the US intelligence community's confidence that Iran's leaders have not taken a decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, it referred to "Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions" and to the need for Iran to "change course", which the congressmen could be forgiven for taking as confirmation of their chairman's opening assertion that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal. … Most Europeans yearn for the objectivity and ethical agnosticism that underlay the US opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, and the final flurry of US/USSR agreements heralding the end of the Cold War. That sort of objectivity should come naturally, one might think, when the adversary is Iran, a state so very much weaker than the US. Alas, the opposite seems to be the case! http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13244
The Problem is the Same: Economy
By Ali Dadpay, Iran Opinion [May 21, 2013]
---- As Iran's presidential election approaches an increasing number of analysts and observers comment on the state of Iran's economy. The last reports indicate that some segments of Iran's labor force are experiencing high unemployment rate while the economy is experiencing an increasing inflation rate. The next president faces economic challenges some might consider unprecedented. Last month Statistical Center of Iran (SCI) announced employment data for the last Iranian calendar year from April 2012 to March 2013, reporting the unemployment rate to be at 12.2 percent, which is almost at the same level with the unemployment rate in the preceding 12 months. According to this report, Iranian youth experience higher than average unemployment rate, 28% for males aged 20 to 24 years old. http://iranopinion.com/node/49
What Message New US Sanctions Are Meant to Convey to Iran's Next President?
By Ali Omidi, Iran Review [May 23, 2013]
---- The United States House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Relations passed a bill on May 22, 2013, which has paved the way for the US President Barak Obama to enforce new sanctions against all companies conducting transactions with Iran regardless of the type of their transactions and the size of those companies. The bill was also meant to ratchet up the punishments that have been already considered for the violation of the existing sanctions. The main goal of the new bill, which should be passed on the floor of the House of Representatives as well as by the US Senate before it can be signed into law by Barak Obama, is further reduction of Iran's crude oil sales and enforcing more limitations for transactions with Iran's economic and private sectors. On the other hand, the US Senate passed a nonbinding resolution on the same day which put renewed emphasis on the US support for a possible Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. The resolution was passed through 99 ayes with no opposition. The text of the resolution has noted that the United States is committed to security and survival of Israel and considers it part of its "vital interests." http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13245
---- Iran's presidential election will take place on June 14.  Since 1991 Iran's 12-member Guardian Council has approved or disapproved candidates for election.  Last Tuesday the Guardian Council approved eight presidential candidates from the more than 600 who registered to run.  The most significant of their "disapprovals" were former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and current president Ahmadinejad's protégé Esfandiar Mashaei. While Mashaei's disqualification was no surprise, the rejection of Rafsanjani was a political shock.  Though he had been somewhat associated with the Reform camp following the 2009 presidential election and post-election protests, he did not appear to be so out of step with the ruling clerical circles as to disallow his candidacy.  But, it turns out, he was.
With one or two unimportant exceptions, the remaining presidential candidates are seen as close to the views of Supreme Leader Khameinei, with little independent following or popular appeal.  Reform currents, defeated in the 2009 presidential election and the post-election political repression, appear to be divided between boycotting the election or choosing a Lesser Evil. With Rafsanjani now unable to assume this role, a "reformist" presence in the campaign appears unlikely.  But, as many commentators have pointed out, the only certainty about Iran's elections is that of surprise. - FB
(Video) Iranian Politics: Who is pulling the strings?
From Aljazeera [Inside Story] [May 23, 2013] – 25 minutes
---- As two senior politicians are banned from running in the presidential race, we ask if the outcome is now predictable. Inside Story discusses with guests; Sadegh Zibakalam, Ghanbar Naderi and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2013/05/201352382122119842.html
Rafsanjani Shut Out of Iran's Presidential Race
May 22 2013]
---- With the disqualification of former president and current chair of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by a vetting body, the Guardian Council, Iran's presidential campaign is opening with many in the country in a state of shock. Although the eight qualified candidates offer somewhat of a choice given their different approaches to the economy and foreign policy, the disqualification of Rafsanjani has once again raised the spectre that the conservative establishment intends to manipulate the electoral process in such a way that only a conservative candidate will win when voters cast their ballots Jun. 14. The slate of approved candidates includes two individuals — former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani and former first vice president Mohammadreza Aref — who hold mostly similar views to Rafsanjani. In fact, both had said that they would withdraw if Rafsanjani's candidacy was approved. But neither is as well known as the former president and they will now have to compete against each other in attracting likeminded voters. http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/rafsanjani-shut-out-of-irans-presidential-race/
Also useful – Barbara Slavin, "Iran Follows 2012 Election Script To Avoid 2013 Election Surprise,"  Al-Monitor [May 22, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/iran-elections-no-surprises-script.html
U.S. House committee approves measure to back Israel in case of nuclear Iran attack
From Reuters [May.23, 2013]
---- A U.S. House of Representatives committee approved legislation on Wednesday seeking to impose tighter sanctions on Iran - and affirm its support for Israeli self defense - in the latest congressional effort to slow development of the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program. The "Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013" passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a unanimous voice vote and is expected to easily pass the full 435-member chamber, where it already has about 340 co-sponsors. A vote by the Republican-controlled House is likely within the coming weeks. The measure seeks to cut Iran's oil exports to less than 500,000 barrels a day, limit Tehran's access to foreign currency and expand the list of blacklisted sectors of Iran's economy. Sponsors called it the strongest sanctions package ever against Iran's nuclear program. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-house-committee-approves-measure-to-back-israel-in-case-of-nuclear-iran-attack-1.525491
Sanctions Are No Medicine for the Iran-U.S. Standoff
Bu Sara Afzal, Huffington Post [May 20, 2013]
---- Due to Iran's nuclear development program, in 2012 a new round of multilateral sanctions more directly targeted Iran's economy. Now, foreign banks are prohibited from financially dealing with Iran's main banks, including Central Bank of Iran and Bank Tejarat. Since the majority of Iran's medical industry is dependent on foreign imports, Iran is unable to produce self-sustaining amounts of medicine and medical equipment. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-afzal/sanctions-are-no-medicine_b_3307681.html
[See also Jim Lobe, "U.S. Congress Moves Toward Full Trade Embargo on Iran," under US Views and Perspectives, above.]
[See also Ali Amidi, "What Message New US Sanctions Are Meant to Convey to Iran's Next President?" under Iranian Views and Perspectives, above.]
Iran's nuclear designs are the greater Middle East threat
By Michael Oren, Washington Post [May 24, 2013]
[Michael Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.]
---- As we "go to press" (Sunday), two breaking news stories may have a major impact on the shape of Syria's civil war.  The first reflects the difficulties of the many-part "Syrian opposition," now in its fourth day of meetings in Istanbul.  The meeting is tasked (largely by the United States) to expand its membership; i.e. to include additional liberal and secular forces.  It is also called upon to replace its president, and additionally to determine its policy toward the upcoming Geneva II peace conference and to choose a delegation for the conference.  In the best of circumstances, this would be a daunting agenda, and it remains to be seen whether these goals can be accomplished.  While the Russians have succeeded in getting the agreement of the Assad people to attend Geneva II (mid-June), there are strong voices among the Opposition calling for the rejection of meddling by "outside forces" ("the West"), while other voices are trying to square the circle by proposing to "negotiate" with the Assad people only about the steps leading to his departure, but not to consider power-sharing arrangements or a ceasefire. 
The second story thread reflects the intense media focus on the suddenly enlarged role of Lebanon's Hezbollah in the fighting inside Syria but along the Lebanon border, and the spillover of the fighting into Lebanon itself.  If, as now appears likely, the Syrian government forces succeed in pushing the Syrian opposition out of the area bordering Lebanon, this may be seen as a "game changer" by both the Israelis and the Obama administration, with potentially serious consequences for a wider war.  In any case, the descent of Lebanon into civil war now seems highly likely.
The good/useful reading linked below surveys both of these topic areas, as well as useful articles on chemical weapons in Syria, the question of Iranian troops supporting government forces, and some valiant attempts to decipher the policies and strategies of the United States and Israel. - FB
Overviews and Perspectives
Stay Out of Syria!
By David Bromwich, New York Review of Books [May 2013]
---- But the untold story of Syria concerns something beyond the atrocities on both sides. It has also to do with the sinews of war—the financial motive and muscle that keeps it going. A Financial Times article by Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith on May 17, "How Qatar Seized Control of the Syrian Revolution," quoted persons close to the Qatari government who estimate that $3 billion has thus far been spent bankrolling the rebel groups. Sources inside Syria had guessed only a third of that. But the money must keep coming, since Qatar is buying up the loyalty of networks of rebel forces as an investment in the divided Syria of the future. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jun/20/stay-out-syria/
(Video) 'Syrian Conflict Is A War Targeting Iran'
By Tariq Ali, Russia Today [May 24, 2013] – 6 minutes
The "Geneva II" Peace Conference
(Video) A new way forward for Syria's opposition?
From Aljazeera [Inside Syria] [May 26, 2013] – 25 minutes
---- We look at the implications of a new proposal that would allow President Bashar al-Assad and his allies to leave Syria. … Syrian opposition leaders are holding talks in Istanbul, where they will try to expand the group, elect a new president and discuss whether to attend an international conference aimed at resolving the conflict at home. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidesyria/2013/05/201352672941379435.html
Also useful – Kaled Yacoub Oweis, "Syria opposition seeks to unify as momentum for talks builds,"  Reuters [May 24 2013] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/24/us-syria-crisis-opposition-idUSBRE94M17420130524; Stephen Starr, "Syrian rebels, U.S. disagree on peace talks," USA Today [May 22, 2013] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/05/22/syria-kerry-assad-peace-talks/2351799/; and John Irish, "France rules out Iran taking part in Syrian peace talks," Reuters [May 25, 2013] http://www.trust.org/item/20130525152147-orby1/
US Policy/Strategy in Syria
What is the U.S. Really Doing in Syria?
By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy [May 22, 2013]
---- Permit me to indulge today in a bit of speculation, for which I don't have a lot of hard evidence. As I read this article yesterday on Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian civil war, I began to wonder whether U.S. involvement in that conflict isn't more substantial than I have previously thought. And then I did a bit of web surfing and found this story, which seemed to confirm my suspicions. … I don't like not knowing what my government is doing, allegedly to make me safer or to advance someone's idea of the "national interest." And if you're an American, neither should you. If the United States is now orchestrating a lot of arms shipments, trying to pick winners among the opposition, sending intelligence information to various militias, and generally meddling in a very complicated and uncertain conflict, don't you think the president owes us a more complete account of what America's public servants are or are not doing, and why? http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/05/22/what_is_the_us_really_doing_in_syria
Also useful – Jason Ditz, "Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to US Attacking Syria," Antiwar.com [May 22, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/22/poll-shows-overwhelming-opposition-to-us-attacking-syria/; Jason Ditz,"Kerry: US Ready to Up Syrian Rebel Aid," Antiwar.com [May 22, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/22/kerry-us-ready-to-up-syrian-rebel-aid/; and Zvi Bar'el, "U.S. Willing to keep Assad in the picture to avoid threat of all-out Mideast war,"[May 22, 2013] http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/u-s-willing-to-keep-assad-in-the-picture-to-avoid-threat-of-all-out-mideast-war.premium-1.525417?trailingPath=2.169%2C2.216%2C2.295%2C
Israeli Policies and Strategies
Israel Finding Itself Drawn Into Syria's Turmoil
By Jodi Rudoren, New York Times [May 22, 2013]
---- For more than two years, Israeli leaders have insisted they had no intention of intervening in the civil war raging in neighboring Syria, but they vowed to stop sophisticated weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia group, and to respond to intentional fire into their territory. Now, having followed through with a pair of airstrikes on weapons shipments this month and, on Tuesday, the destruction of a Syrian Army position, Israelis are asking what their options are, as if they feel it has become impossible to avoid deeper involvement. For Israel, deeper involvement in the Syrian conflict could lead to an unwanted result: hastening the fall of the Assad government, leaving areas close to the cease-fire line in the hands of radical jihadi groups. It could also have dire diplomatic consequences for Israel's complicated relationship with Russia. And many here believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to conserve his military resources and public support for the continuing possibility of an attack on the Iranian nuclear program. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/world/middleeast/israel-is-drawn-into-syrias-turmoil.html?ref=world
Also useful – Dan Williams, "General says Israel ready to attack Syria should Assad fall," Daily Star [Lebanon] [May 22, 2013] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-22/217989-general-says-israel-ready-to-attack-syria-should-assad-fall.ashx#axzz2U9T0jsa4 and Zvi Bar'el, "U.S. Willing to keep Assad in the picture to avoid threat of all-out Mideast war,"[May 22, 2013] http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/u-s-willing-to-keep-assad-in-the-picture-to-avoid-threat-of-all-out-mideast-war.premium-1.525417?trailingPath=2.169%2C2.216%2C2.295%2C
Iranian Troops Fighting in Syria?
State Dept Official Says Iranian Troops of Fighting in Syria
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [May 21, 2013]
Iranian soldiers fighting for Assad in Syria, says State Department official
By Anne Gearan, Washington Post [May 21, 2013]
---- Iran has sent soldiers to Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia, a senior State Department official said Tuesday. An unknown number of Iranians are fighting in Syria, the official said, citing accounts from members of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the United States. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview a strategy session that Secretary of State John F. Kerry is to hold Wednesday with key supporters of the Syrian opposition. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/state-dept-official-iranian-soldiers-are-fighting-for-assad-in-syria/2013/05/21/a7c3f4ce-c23e-11e2-914f-a7aba60512a7_print.html
And for a "media analysis" – Scott Lucas, "Creating the Latest Scare Story 'Iranians Fighting Alongside Hezbollah,'" Enduring America [May 22, 2013] http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/5/22/syria-analysis-creating-the-latest-scare-story-iranians-figh.html
Chemical Weapons?
Syria has no reason to use chemical weapons
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent [UK] [May 19, 2013]
---- Poison gas is a terrifying weapon. People are still dying in Iran from the effects of ingesting it a quarter of a century ago. It is one of the few weapons to be banned with partial success between its first use on a mass scale in the First World War and again by Saddam Hussein with even greater intensity against Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s. It is right, therefore, that the alleged attack by the Syrian armed forces using chemical weapons against Saraqeb, a rebel-held town south-west of Aleppo on 29 April, should be carefully investigated. … Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight. … As for the credibility of Western government claims about WMD, it is worth recalling that they tolerated Saddam using poison gas on a mass scale. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-has-no-reason-to-use-chemical-weapons-8622335.html
Hezbollah in Syria
A Hezbollah turning point in Qusair?
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star [Lebanon] [May 2013]
---- The most fascinating aspect of the war in Syria this month – and perhaps also the most significant in terms of long-term regional geopolitics – is the direct involvement of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite party and resistance group that is closely allied to Iran and Syria. The significance of Hezbollah's participation in the battle for the Syrian town of Qusair comprises several distinct elements – its reputation as a fighting force, its political wisdom, its perception among Lebanese, its independence from Iran, and its standing in the region and globally as it identifies more closely with the Syrian regime that has been increasingly isolated and sanctioned. Together, these factors make this a potential turning point for the organization whose history since its establishment in the early 1980s has been one of the most remarkable achievements in modern Arab political life. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/ArticlePrint.aspx?id=217921&mode=print
Hezbollah plays its hand in battle for Syria
---- The border between northern Lebanon and Syria is nondescript at the best of times, but in many places now it has been erased by more than two years of conflict in Syria. Lebanese villagers are now playing a key role on the Syrian battlefield with the support of both the Syrian Army and the dominant Shia political and military force in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Ali Haq's village Saf Sufi is among a cluster of communities that technically fall within the Syrian border, but because of a misguided colonialist's pen stroke in the 1920s they are inhabited by Lebanese citizens. Some 15,000 Lebanese Shia have lived for decades on the Syrian side of a frontier, which is not clearly demarcated or patrolled. The predominantly Shia residents of the villages have taken a stance against the increasingly Sunni-led Syrian rebellion, and claim they have been attacked and laid siege to by Islamist fighters. The reason Hezbollah's buttressing of the border is causing such consternation among the Syrian rebels is because it is tipping the balance of power in the government's favour in the battle for the town of Qusayr, 8km into Syrian territory. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/05/2013520103332211192.html
More on Hezbollah and Syria – Franklin Lamb, "Hezbollah and the Syrian Pit," Counterpunch [May 24, 2013] http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/24/hezbollah-and-the-syrian-pit/; Anne Barnard, "Hezbollah Commits to an All-Out Fight to Save Assad," New York Times [May 25, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/world/middleeast/syrian-army-and-hezbollah-step-up-raids-on-rebels.html?ref=world; and Nicholas Kulish, "3 in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah," New York Times [May 22, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/world/middleeast/germany-and-britain-push-to-list-hezbollah-as-a-terror-group.html?ref=world
The War Spills Over into Lebanon
Gunmen Face Off In Tripoli As Sectarian Battle Escalates
By Robert Fisk, The Independent [UK] [May 26, 2013]
---- Tripoli looks like a sectarian battle.  Sunnis versus the Alawites, whose loyalty to Assad and his Shia Lebanese Hezbollah allies has turned the city into a Sunni-Shia conflict.  Yet Lebanon hides dangerous little complexities within its daily shedding of blood. http://www.zcommunications.org/gunmen-face-off-in-tripoli-as-sectarian-battle-escalates-by-robert-fisk
Syrian rebel groups plan to attack Hizbollah in Lebanon
By Phil Sands, The National [UAE] [May 25, 2013]
---- Syrian rebels are planning to attack Hizbollah in its Lebanese strongholds, in response to the Shiite militant group's growing combat role on the side of President Bashar Al Assad in the Syria conflict. Such attacks would mark a significant escalation and spread of what is fast developing into a highly sectarian, regional war. "It is really a question of when, not if, Hizbollah gets attacked on its home territory," said a Syrian opposition activist involved with armed rebel factions and rebel groups working out of Lebanon, made up of Syrian members. http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/syrian-rebel-groups-plan-to-attack-hizbollah-in-lebanon#ixzz2UOOazgWZ

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

[haw-info] Efrain Rios Montt and Henry Kissinger

To members and friends of Historians Against the War,

Tomorrow, Henry Kissinger is scheduled to receive an award from the Intrepid Museum in New York City for "his distinguished career defending the values of freedom and democracy."  In an essay today for the History News Network, Van Gosse, a longtime member of the HAW Steering Committee, reflects on the irony of such an award for Kissinger at a time when the trial of General Efrain Rios Montt for massive human rights violations is about to resume in Guatemala.  The article is "Efrain Rios Montt Will Still Face Justice -- So Should Henry Kissinger."

Monday, May 20, 2013

[haw-info] Iran War Weekly - May 20, 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
May 20, 2013
Hello All – It's official.  After almost a year of no progress in negotiations between "the West" and Iran about Iran's nuclear program, last week's meetings in Istanbul confirmed that there would be, indeed, no progress until at least after Iran's presidential election, which will take place on June 14th.  Whatever the outcome of the election, it is likely that the post-election resumption of talks (if any) will take place in an international landscape greatly altered by the fighting in Syria.
First, Iran's election. As detailed in some good/useful readings linked below, there are a great many "unknowns" and "too soon to tells" regarding the election, including who will be allowed to run and how the several "camps" will (or will not) consolidate around a single candidate.  The last-minute entry of former president Rafsanjani into the race has raised a storm of questions in the Iran-expert blogosphere about the stance and political strength (or weakness) of Supreme Leader Khamenei.  And the entry of current president Ahmadinejad's protégé now raises questions about whether he will survive Tuesday's "cut" by the Guardian Council, and if so, what then, and if not, what will Ahmadinejad do? A dominant motif of analysts is the likelihood of "surprise."
The short-term fate of Syria may be determined this week by a slew of meetings that will address the US-Russian proposal for an international peace conference, now dubbed "Geneva II."  A useful guide to this week's meetings (Kerry in Jordan, the EU on resuming arms to the rebels, the Syrian National Council, etc.) can be read at http://news.yahoo.com/outlook-dim-syria-diplomacy-gathers-force-232809765.html.
There are a great many reasons to think that the conference will not take place at all, or that it will "fail" if it does.  I think the important thing about the conference to watch is the apportioning of "blame" for whatever doesn't work out to the satisfaction of the United States.  First up may be the question of whether or not Iran will be invited to attend (strongly supported by Russia).  A second question is whether the United States and the political and military groups that it supports inside and outside Syria will meet with President Assad, and/or whether they will make it a precondition of attending the conference that Assad will have no role in any political outcome.  And in the background to all such questions will be the apparent success of the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies in regaining, between now and the conference, territory currently occupied by the armed opposition.
And then there are the wild cards.  Israel has announced that it intends to carry out further air strikes against Syrian territory.  According to the (London) Sunday Times, Assad has given orders that any further attacks will be responded to by missile strikes on Tel Aviv.  A second wild card is "chemical weapons," which was a focus of President Obama in his statements while visiting Turkey.  As numerous analysts and Syrian military leaders have commented, it would be senseless for Syria to use chemical weapons while having control of the air and being able to bomb rebel positions.  Thus it is clear that the only military purpose of using chemical weapons at this point would be to encourage US intervention.  Who would have the motive for such a step?  Hardly Syria.
It would seem that the main safeguard against a regional war beginning in Syria is the sheer insanity of such a prospect and the certainty of a disastrous outcome.  Yet I would not be the first to think the situation analogous to July 1914 and World War I.  And (a shout-out to any historians reading this), a former student of Arno Mayer is inevitably drawn to the spectacle of the domestic crises in the United States, Britain, and France, and the possible attractiveness of a war ("home before Christmas") as a way that political leaders might regain control of their domestic agendas and turbulent peoples.
Best wishes,
Frank Brodhead
United Nations nuclear talks with Iran fail to end deadlock
From Reuters [May 16, 2013]
---- The United Nations' nuclear agency failed to persuade Iran Wednesday to let it resume an investigation into suspected atomic bomb research, leaving the high-stakes diplomacy in deadlock.
With Iran focused on a presidential election next month, expectations had been low for the meeting between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been trying for more than a year to reopen an inquiry into "possible military dimensions" of Tehran's nuclear work. … Later, the European Union's foreign policy chief met Iran's nuclear negotiator for dinner in Istanbul to discuss the other line of talks which are a bid to resolve a row that could ignite war in the Middle East. The meeting between Catherine Ashton, who represents six world powers in the talks, and Saeed Jalili, who is running for president in Iran, follows a failed round of diplomacy in April. Ashton said she hoped Jalili would respond to a "good, comprehensive, fair and balanced" proposal that the powers had already made to Iran. The two sets of talks represent distinct diplomatic tracks but are linked because both center on suspicions that Iran may be seeking the capability to assemble nuclear bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program."http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-16/217282-united-nations-nuclear-talks-with-iran-fail-to-end-deadlock.ashx
Three Paths toward a Nuclear Deal with Iran
By Reza Marashi, National Iranian American Council [May 13, 2013]
---- It's easy to miss amid the escalation of sanctions and nuclear bravado, but EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Tehran's lead negotiator Saeed Jalili will meet on May 15 in Istanbul to follow up on last months talks between the P5+1 and Iran. The last round of multilateral talks ended inconclusively, and it has taken a little over a month to get even a one-on-one meeting on the calendar. While no date has been set for a new round of talks with representatives from all seven countries at the table, the upcoming meeting between Ashton and Jalili provides an opportunity to begin planning for how to make negotiations more productive than previous attempts. Getting on a road more promising than the current intermittent exchanges will require a few key steps.  http://ploughshares.org/blog/2013-05-13/three-paths-toward-nuclear-deal
Also useful – Scott Peterson, "Iran nuclear talks in Istanbul show progress remains elusive." Christian Science Monitor [May 15, 2013] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0515/Iran-nuclear-talks-in-Istanbul-show-progress-remains-elusive?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem; Peterson, "Iran's chief nuclear negotiator: we're being asked to make all the sacrifices," Christian Science Monitor [May 16, 2013] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0516/Iran-s-chief-nuclear-negotiator-we-re-being-asked-to-make-all-the-sacrifices; and from Russia Today, "Tehran ready to allow experts to Parchin in exchange for deal with IAEA – Iran's ambassador to Russia" [May 19, 2013] http://rt.com/news/iran-parchin-deal-iaea-486/
3 Glaring Hypocrisies in Obama's Iran Policy
By John Glaser, Huffington Post [May 16, 2013]
---- In testimony to Congress on Wednesday, Obama's State Department official Wendy Sherman reiterated the administration's policy on Iran. Since the intelligence community has concluded for some time now that Iran has not yet decided to pursue nuclear weapons, Sherman felt compelled to recite a litany of supposed Iranian transgressions to justify America's harsh economic sanctions and overall belligerence toward the country. Every major criticism of Iran, though, is one that can also be lodged against the United States. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-glaser/obama-iran-policy_b_3282722.html
(Video) Washington's Hegemonic Ambition and U.S. Policy Toward Iran and Syria
With Flynt Leverett, from Russia Today [Cross Talk] [May 15, 2013] - 25 minutes
New report outlines containment strategy if efforts to prevent Iran nuclear weapon fail
By Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor [May 13, 2013]
---- President Obama has repeatedly declared that his policy is preventing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon. A new report by a former Obama Pentagon official, to be released Monday by the Center for New American Security, argues prevention should be the US policy, but that the United States needs to develop a containment strategy if prevention fails. Among the key points the report makes is that resort to force in the event diplomacy is deemed to fail could itself trigger Iran's determination to produce a nuclear weapon—a decision that the US intelligence community this year assessed Iran's leadership had not yet made. http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/05/5222/plan-b-new-report-outlines-containment-strategy-if-efforts-to-prevent-iran-nuclear-weapon-fail/#ixzz2TlJbdic6
Iran's presidential race: 'Wild card' entry creates dilemma for Khamenei
By Scott PetersonChristian Science Monitor [May 13, 2013]
---- Just weeks before Iran's crucial presidential vote, Iran's supreme leader is facing a new and unexpected dilemma that could derail his plans to restore regime legitimacy and bury the ghosts of Iran's violent 2009 election. Dramatically stepping into the race, with just minutes to spare before a Saturday deadline, was former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The 78-year-old has been a controversial pillar of Iran's Islamic revolution for more than a generation, and portrays himself as a centrist and inclusive savior of a system that has shifted dangerously to the right. … Despite Rafsanjani's revolutionary pedigree, and hard-liners branding him a "traitor," he appeals to reformists for his potential to moderate the ruling system with sheer political heft. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0513/Iran-s-presidential-race-Wild-card-entry-creates-dilemma-for-Khamenei?nav=87-frontpage-entryLeadStory
2 Presidential Candidates in Iran Draw Resentment
By Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times [May 12, 2013]
---- A day after two game-changing politicians signed up at the last minute as candidates for Iran's presidential elections in June, the country's governing establishment reacted angrily, predicting that they would not be allowed to participate or that they would definitely lose. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a protégé of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani signed up at the end of a five-day registration period on Saturday, shocking opponents who had bet on their preferred candidates' being the only ones running in the June 14 election. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/world/middleeast/two-last-minute-presidential-candidates-in-iran-draw-strong-reactions.html?ref=world
What Just Happened in Iran?
By Gary Sick, Lobe Log [May 2013]
---- So what has happened? Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie (among others) must have believed that Ali Khamenei: (1) acquiesced in their candidacy; or (2) could not prevent it; or (3) was essentially irrelevant. Whatever the rationale, their decision to proceed with their candidacy implies that Khamenei was either unable or unwilling to exercise control of the process or that his objectives were quite different from what we had understood from his observable actions and words. At a minimum, these candidates were willing to put Khamenei in an embarrassing position by publicly ignoring his well-known preferences, apparently without concern for the consequences. http://www.lobelog.com/what-just-happened-in-iran/
Meet the Presidential Contenders in Iran's Upcoming Election
By Sina Toossi, Mufta [May 9, 2013]
---- As the Islamic Republic of Iran's eleventh presidential election draws near, numerous individuals, parties, and groups are entering into the electoral fray. With less than five weeks until the June 14th vote, however, no specific candidates or factions stand out as clear and viable contenders for the presidency. This is not particularly unusual within the framework of Iran's political system. Compared to many other countries, Iran has a relatively short official presidential campaign cycle. … After registration, prospective candidates will still have to await the results of a vetting process to receive formal approval of their presidential run. This vetting procedure, which may take up to 10 days, is conducted by a branch of the Iranian government known as the Guardian Council of the Constitution. The Guardian Council consists of six theologians appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. Once vetting is complete, the list of approved candidates is publically announced by the Interior Ministry, which marks the official commencement of the presidential campaign cycle. http://muftah.org/meet-the-presidential-contenders-in-irans-upcoming-election/
Also useful/interesting – Thomas Erdbrink, "Iranian Officials Threaten Two Candidates for the Presidency," New York Times [May 14, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/world/middleeast/presidential-candidates-in-iran-are-threatened.html?ref=world; "Iran may ban candidates who seek ties with US," The Daily Star [Lebanon] [May 17, 2013] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-17/217455-iran-may-ban-candidates-who-seek-ties-with-us.ashx#ixzz2TeiMWNQp; Barbara Slavin,"Don't Get Too Excited Over Rafsanjani's Run," Al-Monitor [May 13, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/rafsanjani-challenges-iran-presidential-elections.html; Mohsen Milani, "The Ayatollah's Game Plan: How to Prevent Another Green Movement," Foreign Affairs [May 15, 2013] http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139383/mohsen-milani/the-ayatollahs-game-plan?page=show; and "Green Movement activists live in fear as Iran's presidential election nears," The Tehran Bureau [May 17, 2013] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/17/green-movement-activists-iran-repression
The Day After a Strike on Iran
By Marwan Muasher May 10, 2013
---- All eyes are on what it will take to prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear weapon. If sanctions and diplomacy prove incapable of containing Tehran's nuclear ambitions—and soon—a military strike to destroy or at the very least delay its program is seen as the least bad option available. Iran gaining a nuclear-weapons capability is a red line that the United States and Israel just won't let it cross. But not enough thought has been given to what happens after a strike is actually carried out. Debate in the United States ends at how to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, while the repercussions of a military strike are not widely discussed. This ominously echoes the run up to the war in Iraq. http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/the-day-after-strike-iran-8456
Nuclear war between Israel and Iran: lethality beyond the pale
Cham E Dallas, William C Bell, David J Stewart, Antonio Caruso and Frederick M Burkle, Jr
---- The proliferation of nuclear technology in the politically volatile Middle East greatly increases the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear war. It is widely accepted, while not openly declared, that Israel has nuclear weapons, and that Iran has enriched enough nuclear material to build them. The medical consequences of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel in the near future are envisioned, with a focus on the distribution of casualties in urban environments. http://www.conflictandhealth.com/content/7/1/10/abstract?utm_source=TomDispatch&utm_campaign=a2c2362735-TD_Turse5_12_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1e41682ade-a2c2362735-308759905
Why sanctions on Iran are not working
By Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi, National Iranian American Council [May 15, 2013]
---- As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran's lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran's economy, they have not changed Tehran's nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact. In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful - by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering. 
Lawmakers push White House to tighten pressure on Iran
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post [May 15, 203]
---- Congressional leaders prodded the Obama administration Wednesday to tighten the squeeze on Iran's economy, saying that even last year's dramatic sanctions against Iranian banks and oil companies weren't enough to stop the Islamic republic's nuclear advances. At a Senate hearing on Iran, lawmakers called for new curbs on Tehran's ability to sell oil or obtain gold and other hard currency to stabilize the Iranian rial. Some suggested that a show of force may be needed to persuade Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawmakers-push-white-house-to-tighten-screws-on-iran/2013/05/15/dd39df62-bd78-11e2-97d4-a479289a31f9_story.html
Also useful – From Reuters,"Treasury official: US to rigorously enforce Iran gold ban" [May 16, 2013] http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Treasury-official-US-to-rigorously-enforce-Iran-gold-ban-313280; and from Reuters, [Turkey] "No decision yet on further Iran oil import," [May 17, 2013] http://www.jpost.com/Iranian-Threat/News/Erdogan-No-decision-yet-on-further-Iran-oil-import-313502
Syria: the threats, costs, claims and lives
By Phyllis Bennis, Open Democracy [May 16, 2013]
---- What the civil war in Syria has exposed is that the massive political and social transformation, and real regime change under way is led by people themselves. US military involvement serves only to escalate the destruction. Politically-driven demands for direct US intervention in Syria – more arms to the rebels, establishing a 'no-fly' zone, creating a safe area somewhere – have been flying around for months. So far, President Obama and the Pentagon leadership have resisted the political pressure. But Obama's resistance has been weak and cautious; we don't have enough evidence yet, it's not clear the red line has been crossed. The clear implication is that if there is more evidence, if some claimed red line is crossed, then all bets are off – and in today's diplo-speak, "all options are on the table." Now, allegations of chemical weapons being used in Syria and Israeli airstrikes against Syrian military targets have given rise to a whole escalating campaign for direct US military intervention. And it's getting very dangerous. http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/phyllis-bennis/syria-threats-costs-claims-and-lives
Ominous Similarities Between Syria and Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch [May 13, 2013]
---- US, British and French recipes for Syria's future seem as fraught with potential for disaster as their plans in 1916 or 2003. In saying that Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks of the leader of a government that has still only lost one provincial capital to the rebels. Such terms can only be imposed on the defeated or those near defeat. This will only happen in Syria if Western powers intervene militarily on behalf of the insurgents, as they did in Libya, but the long-term results might be equally dismal. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/13/history-lessons-the-west-refuses-to-learn/
Robert Fisk: 'Syrian war could go on for two, three years'
An interview with journalist Robert Fisk, from Deutsche Welle [Germany] [May 2013]
---- DW: Mr. Fisk, you've just returned from Syria. What were your impressions?
Robert Fisk: What you find is that there are large areas which have been destroyed, large areas which are largely depopulated, and large areas which are not only undamaged, but in which life more or less continues. This applies not only to the center of Damascus, it applies mostly to the city of Latakia, where there's a large Alawite community, and the same applies to Tartus. So you do find certain areas of Syria where the government is still firmly in control and where some semblance of life goes on. You can go out to lunch; you can shop; you can go to your office. http://www.dw.de/robert-fisk-syrian-war-could-go-on-for-two-three-years/a-16823404
(Video) Rami Khouri interviewed on Syria
From Aljazeera [May 20, 2013] – 6 minutes
Despite Horrific Violence, the US Should Stay Out of Syria
By Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus [May 16, 2013]
---- The worsening violence and repression in Syria has left policymakers scrambling to think of ways the United States could help end the bloodshed and support those seeking to dislodge the Assad regime. The desperate desire to "do something" has led to increasing calls for the United States to provide military aid to armed insurgents or even engage in direct military intervention, especially in light of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. The question on the mind of almost everyone who has followed the horror as it has unfolded over the past two years is, "What we can do?" The short answer, unfortunately, is not much. http://www.fpif.org/articles/despite_horrific_repression_the_us_should_stay_out_of_syria
The Fighting War Inside Syria
Bashar al-Assad issues defiant message: 'I'm here to stay'
Martin Chulov, The Observer [May 18, 2013]
---- In an exclusive interview for the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, shared with the Observer, Assad says he welcomes attempts at dialogue, but believes that western states are looking for ways to fuel the violence, rather than stop it, and are seeking to topple his regime regardless of the toll. Moscow and Washington have been in dispute over the anti-Assad uprising since it began in March 2011 but are now trying to find common ground to quell the bloodshed and destruction as its effects continue to reverberate across the region. If successful, there are hopes talks could take place at the end of this month and lead to a multilateral summit attended by key protagonists.
Compare and contrast – Anne Barnard, "Assad Suggests Peace Talks Would Fail Because West Wants to Prolong War," New York Times [May 18, 2013]  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/world/middleeast/syria-developments.html?ref=world
Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War
By Ben Hubbard, New York Times [May 16, 2013]
---- The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone. After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up. A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state. Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/world/middleeast/pressure-of-war-is-causing-syria-to-break-apart.html?hp
More on the war/fighting – Joshua Landis, "Do the Massacres in Bayda and Banyas Portend Ethnic Cleansing to Create an Alawite State?" Syria Comment [May 13, 2013] http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/round-up/; Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, "Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria," New York Times [May 16, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/world/middleeast/russia-provides-syria-with-advanced-missiles.html?hp; Mariam Karouny, "Syria's Nusra Front eclipsed by Iraq-based al Qaeda," Reuters [May 17, 2013] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/17/us-syria-crisis-nusra-idUSBRE94G0FY20130517; and Julian Borger,"Jihadists' control of Syrian oilfields signals a decisive moment in conflict," The Guardian [UK] [May 19, 2013] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/19/jihadists-control-syrian-oilfields
US Policies and Perspectives
America's hidden agenda in Syria's war
By Phil Sands, The National [UAE] [May 9, 2013]
---- It was some six months ago that Syrian rebel commanders met US intelligence officers in Jordan to discuss the status of the war and, the rebels hoped, to secure supplies of the sophisticated weapons they need to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad. But according to one of the commanders present at the meeting, the Americans were more interested in talking about Jabhat Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group waging war on the Syrian regime than they were in helping the rebels advance on Damascus.
Senators introduce bipartisan bill to arm Syrian rebels
By John Hudson, Foreign Policy [
---- Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced a bill Wednesday to arm the Syrian rebels, the latest piece of legislation aimed at pressuring the Obama administration to intervene more aggressively in the protracted civil war. The bill provides lethal weapons to vetted members of the Syrian opposition and beefs up sanctions on weapons sales and petroleum sales to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. In short, it has all the hallmarks of the bill Menendez introduced last week, but with a bipartisan sheen. http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/05/15/senators_introduce_bipartisan_bill_to_arm_syrian_rebels
Chemical Weapons as an Obama "Red Line"
Obama says U.S. won't act alone on Syria
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, [May 16, 2013]
---- President Obama on Thursday ruled out unilateral U.S. military action in Syria even if proof emerges that Syrian forces have used lethal chemical weapons. "This is … an international problem," Obama said at a White House news conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "It's not going to be something that the United States does by itself. And I don't think anybody in the region would think that U.S. unilateral actions … would bring about a better outcome." Obama's warnings since August that Syrian President Bashar Assad would cross a "red line" if his forces used poison gas in the nation's civil war were widely viewed as a trigger for potential U.S. military intervention. But in recent weeks, with growing evidence indicating use of sarin nerve gas, Obama has made it clear he wants conclusive proof before ordering a response. He previously indicated that he would prefer a collective response, but Thursday was the first time he categorically ruled out action by the United States alone. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-us-syria-20130517,0,16125.story
US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence, says Obama
From The BBC [May 16, 2013]
---- President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria. However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks. Earlier, residents of a north Syrian town told a BBC reporter how government forces had dropped poisonous gas canisters on them from helicopters. The government has repeatedly denied claims it has used chemical agents. It is unclear why the well-armed regime would deploy chemical weapons, which are illegal under international law. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22562372
Iraq Then, Syria Now? - New York Times, sarin and skepticism
From FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting]
---- During the run-up to the Iraq War, the New York Times amplified erroneous official claims about weapons of mass destruction Looking at the paper's coverage of allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria, some of the same patterns are clear: an over-reliance on official sources and the downplaying of critical or skeptical analysis of the available intelligence. http://fair.org/take-action/action-alerts/iraq-then-syria-now/
The US/Russian-sponsored Peace Conference
Kerry Sees Syria Peace Negotiations Taking Place in Early June
From Reuters [May 14, 2013]
---- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he expected a proposed Syria peace conference backed by Washington and Moscow to be held in early June, and he denied reports that the Damascus government did not plan to attend. … Assad's departure has been a demand of the opposition since the revolt started and previous peace initiatives have foundered over the failure to settle on the president's future role. Zoabi, the Syrian information minister, said Damascus also wanted a political solution but that international efforts should also tackle "terrorists", a term the Syrian government uses to refer to rebel forces. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/05/14/world/middleeast/14reuters-syria-crisis-kerry.html?ref=world
America's Syrian Riddle
By Deepak Tripathi, Counterpunch [May 13, 2013]
---- The outcome of the recent Moscow visit of President Obama's new secretary of state John Kerry is instructive. America's agreement with Russia that they co-sponsor an international conference to find a negotiated settlement raised some eyebrows in Washington and among U.S. allies in Europe and the Arab world. President Vladimir Putin seemed to have prevailed in his insistence that Assad's exit cannot be a precondition. But this precondition is the starting point for the Syrian rebels and many of their foreign supporters who have a wider Middle East agenda. A commentary in Italy's rightwing publication Il Geornale said in its headline, "Obama's Defeat: To Pacify Syria He Is In Cahoots With Putin." http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/13/americas-syrian-riddle/
When to Talk to Monsters
By Christopher Hill, New York Times [May 15, 2013]
---- The Obama administration's decision to engage Russia in diplomatic talks is a good but belated one. Russia, a key backer of the Syrian government, cannot by itself end the war, any more than the United States can. But together with countries like Britain, there is a chance, however slim, of a diplomatic breakthrough. The real shortcoming of the administration's policy on Syria has not been an unwillingness to engage militarily — as critics of President Obama have suggested — but the ill-advised decision, in August 2011, to preclude the possibility of a diplomatic resolution involving all sides. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/opinion/when-to-talk-to-monsters.html?hp&_r=0
Russia says Iran must take part in proposed Syria talks
From Reuters [May 16, 2013]
---- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Iran must take part in a proposed international conference to end Syria's civil war, but that Western states wanted to limit the participants and possibly predetermine the outcome of the talks. Conflicting comments from Russia and the West over Iran's role in the possible meeting have added to disagreements which already threaten to derail the conference proposed by Moscow and Washington last week. A French official reiterated Paris' previously-stated stance that Iran could not be part of any talks. "Iran cannot be part of it because it always tries to mix the Syria debate with the nuclear issue," the official said.
More on the question of "Who is Invited?" – Barbara Slavin, "US Should Heed Russia, Include Iran in Syria Talks," Al Monitor [May 17, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/russia-us-syria-talks-iran.html#; and Nassif Hitti, "Geneva II Is Just a Start for Syria," Al-Monitor [May 20, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/geneva-syria-iran-conference.html#ixzz2TsDVYSe9
The UN General Assembly Resolution
UN General Assembly Backs Regime Change in Syria
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [May 15, 2013]
---- The UN General Assembly has passed a non-binding resolution calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and backing the rebellion against him. The vote was opposed by Russia as well as a number of nations expressing concern about foreign intervention in Syria's ongoing civil war. Russia was particularly vocal in criticizing the timing of the resolution, coming just after a US-Russian agreement to work toward a negotiated settlement, and expressing concern that the resolution would damage the efforts to start new peace talks. But perhaps the big news is not that the resolution passed, rather it is that the resolution passed with a fairly narrow majority, only 107 votes out of 193 nations, compared to 133 in a similar vote last year. The loss of votes in favor of regime change likely reflects a growing concern about the behavior of Syria's rebels, from attacks on civilians and al-Qaeda ties to a particularly shocking video earlier this week showing a rebel eating a soldier's heart. While Assad has never had a lot of allies, there seems to be a lot of fear that post-Assad Syria is going to be a big problem for the region. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/15/un-general-assembly-backs-regime-change-in-syria/
More Israeli Intervention?
Israel Hints at New Strikes, Warning Syria Not to Hit Back
By Mark Landler, New York Times [May 15, 2013]
---- In a clear warning to Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamic militants in the region, a senior Israeli official signaled on Wednesday that Israel was considering additional military strikes to prevent that from happening and that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, would face crippling consequences if he retaliated. The Israeli official, who had been briefed by high-level officials on Israel's assessment of the situation in Syria, declined to be identified, citing the need to protect internal Israeli government deliberations. He contacted The New York Times on Wednesday. The precise motives for Israel's warning were uncertain: Israel could be seeking to restrain Syria's behavior to avoid taking further military action, or alerting other countries to another military strike. That would increase the tension in an already fraught situation in Syria, where a civil war has been raging for more than two years. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/world/middleeast/israeli-official-signals-possibility-of-more-syria-strikes.html?ref=world
Israel Threatens More Syria Attacks, Warns Assad Not to Retaliate
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [May 15, 2013]
---- Israeli officials have issued a bizarre statement today regarding their intentions to continue attacking Syria in the near future, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that he'd better just lie down and accept it. The statement, made by an unnamed "senior" official, said Israel was determined to continue its strikes, and that if Assad dared to retaliate for any of the attacks "he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate." President Assad has faced much internal criticism for not responded to this month's previous Israeli attacks, and has fought off those complaints with statements threatening to eventually attack Israel in response, but at a time of his own choosing. Though Israel often openly talks about attacking its neighbors, and indeed often follows through with those attacks, it is unprecedented for them to preface the attack by threatening more attacks if the target retaliates. The threatening regime change, however, may be a blunder on Israel's part, as it will surely be used by the Assad government in the days and weeks to come as evidence that Israel is secretly backing the al-Qaeda-endorsed rebellion, a charge the rebels desperately want to avoid. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/15/israel-threatens-more-syria-attacks-warns-assad-not-to-retaliate/