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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


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