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Iran War Weekly - March 25, 2013


By Frank Brodhead - Posted on 28 March 2013

Iran War Weekly

March 25, 2013

 

Hello All – Last week’s “technical talks” between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) deflated the hopes generated by the meeting of “higher level” negotiators in Kazakhstan in February, suggesting that little can be expected by the next round of talks scheduled, again in Kazakhstan, on April 5 and 6.

 

The technical talks revealed that the parties remained miles apart on the fundamental principles of an agreement.  In fact, as the Leveretts suggest in their article linked below, things are about where they were a year ago.  The US-led team demands that Iran take major steps toward ending its nuclear-enrichment activities before it will consider a significant lifting of economic sanctions, a position that Iran continues to reject.  With Iran’s presidential elections coming in June, little can now be expected from the next round of negotiations in April.

 

Gridlock in the nuclear negotiations makes this week’s developments in Syria especially ominous.  Major reports in The New York Times and The Wall St. Journal have revealed the greatly increased tempo of arms shipments to Syria’s opposition, and the growing role of the CIA in managing this.  Presumably this represents a decision by the Obama administration to double-down on its commitment to the “non-Islamist” armed opposition.  The collapse of the external, political wing of this opposition this week, described in a number of articles linked below, thus leaves the United States with only a military strategy for Syria.

 

And the reach of the war in Syria continues to widen.  This week Secretary of State Kerry made a visit to Iraq to demand that Iraq cease allowing Iranian overflights to Syria.  US military personnel stepped up their role in Jordan, purportedly to prepare for seizing Syria’s chemical weapons.  Israel “returned fire” (of unknown origin) into Syria.  Lebanon’s coalition government collapsed, reportedly a casualty of internal political divisions related to the war in Syria.  The possibility of a truly regional war – and one that would involve the United States and Iran – seems very high.

 

Frank Brodhead

 

OVERVIEWS AND PERSPECTIVES

Playing Chicken with the Islamic Republic

By Linda Heiden, Open Democracy [March 13, 2013]

---- Threats of attack and sanctions have proven to be a double-edged sword, inflicting real damage on both the Iranian regime and its democratic opposition, with real costs for the fragile European economy and America’s strategic power. Despite the Iranian regime’s defiant bravado, the Islamic Republic is under extraordinary pressure. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei faces unprecedented discord within his own circles, multiple challenges to Iran’s strategic regional influence, the threat of attack and the noose of draconian sanctions. But the story has another side: threats and sanctions have had benefits as well as costs for the regime and are exacerbating strategic problems for the West. The change of tone emanating from both Washington and Tehran indicates both sides see advantages to meaningful negotiations. http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/linda-heiden/playing-chicken-with-islamic-republic

 

Obama's Choice: Real Diplomacy (or War) with Iran

By Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett. Aljazeera [March 23, 2013]

---- Contrary to conventional wishful thinking in American policy circles, developments in the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 and the Iran-related messages coming out of President Obama's trip to Israel strongly suggest that the risk of a US-initiated military confrontation with Tehran during Obama's second term are rising, not falling. This is because Obama's administration has made an ill-considered wager that it can "diplomatically" coerce Iran's abandonment of indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. This is dangerous, for it will become clear over the next year or so - the timeframe Obama himself has set before he would consider Iran able to build nuclear weapons - that the bet has failed. If the administration does not change course and accept Iran's strategic independence and rising regional influence - including accepting the principle and reality of internationally-safeguarded uranium enrichment in Iran, it will eventually be left with no fallback from which to resist pressure from Israel and its friends in Washington for military strikes, at least against Iranian nuclear facilities. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/2013323122320841464.html

 

Strategic Engagement: Iran, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council

By Seyed Hossein Mousavian March 23, 2013

---- Although the mistrust is deeply rooted on both sides, Iran, Iraq and the GCC share a number of interests and concerns, including avoiding a fourth war in the region, fighting drug trafficking and organised crime, combating terrorism and extremism, preventing a clash of civilisations which can lead to a significantly greater degree of animosity among the West and the Muslim nations; safe maritime passage of oil shipments through the narrow Strait of Hormuz and security for a quarter of the world’s international energy exports, promoting the role of the Muslim world in the international arena; and last but not least, managing crises in Muslim countries. The question is whether the current tensions can be defused and efforts made to focus on areas of mutual interest and build a new relationship between Iran and the GCC. My diplomatic experience suggests it is a possibility and necessity. http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/strategic-engagement-iran-iraq-and-the-gcc-1.1161822

 

NEGOTIATIONS ON IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Nuclear talks: Iran unmoved by world powers' latest proposal

By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor [March 19, 2013]

---- Behind closed doors in Istanbul yesterday, six world powers gave Iran more details on their latest proposal to limit Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work – an offer Iran says still has "no balance" because it asks Iran to give up more than it gets in return. In marathon 13.5-hour talks, the world powers clarified demands made last month that Iran limit uranium enrichment to 20 percent – a level not too far technically from bomb-grade – and put its Fordow underground facility out of service, in exchange for modest relief from sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Iran said that the incentives were not strong enough, and that the outcome of a year-long negotiation was still too ambiguous to take initial steps that could overcome mutual mistrust. That result tempers optimism voiced by Iran in late February that changes in the six world powers' offer were a potential "turning point." http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0319/Nuclear-talks-Iran-unmoved-by-world-powers-latest-proposal?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem

 

The Not-So-Imminent Iranian Nuke: A Year Away for a Decade

By Nima Shirazi, Wide Asleep in America [March 18, 2013]

---- According to official estimates, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now roughly a year away from acquiring a nuclear bomb.  Well, that is, if it were actually building a nuclear bomb.  Which it's not.  "Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close," President Barack Obama told an Israeli television station on March 14, 2013.  Obama's statement came just two days after his own Director of National Intelligence told a Senate committee that the Iranian government had not made a decision to weaponize its legal, safeguarded civilian nuclear energy program. …Repeating his administration's main talking point, Obama told his Israeli interviewer, "What I have also said is that there is a window, not an infinite period of time, but a window of time where we can resolve this diplomatically and it is in all of our interests." But this window has already been open for decades and Iran has supposedly been only a year away from a bomb for the past ten years. http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/2013/03/the-not-so-imminent-iranian-nuke-year-away.html

 

Iran Open to Direct US Talks

By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [March 21, 2013]

---- Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says that his nation is not opposed to holding direct talks with the United States about its nuclear program, the first time he suggested such talks were a possibility. The last time he commented on talks, he downplayed the reports of “progress” in nuclear talks, insisting that he doubted Western nations were really open to making substantial concessions. In today’s comments he remained skeptical, saying he doubts that bilateral talks with the US would yield any results so long as the administration keeps adding sanctions. Khamenei says that there have been US messages delivered to Iran in the past about such talks, but that the messages suggested they only wanted to demand Iran give in to all US demands, adding “this is not dialogue.” He also said he is concerned the US wants to just leave the issue unresolved so they can keep adding sanctions. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/21/iran-open-to-direct-us-talks/

 

US ISSUES AND VIEWS

US Persian Gulf Policy in Obama’s Second Term

By Gary Sick [March 24, 2013]

---- There are powerful voices in the United States pushing Obama in the direction of direct U.S. military action in the Middle East. Specifically, there are calls for more active intervention in Syria and in favor of explicit threats of military action against Iran. In Syria, the rationale begins with the horrors of the humanitarian disaster, as the Alawite government of Bashar al-Assad fights, literally, for its life. A second reason put forward by proponents of a more muscular policy is to neutralize Iran’s role in the Levant and counteract its direct assistance to Damascus. A third reason, which goes to the very heart of America’s policy dilemma in the 21st century, is that the United States, according to these voices, is still the indispensable nation and should not be satisfied to “lead from behind.” With regard to Iran, the reasoning is somewhat different. Despite the most stifling precautionary economic sanctions ever imposed against a member state of the United Nations, Iran continues to pursue its nuclear development program. The sanctions, it is argued by some, must be reinforced with clear promises of military action if Iran fails to comply with the demands of the United Nations Security Council. In both cases, a more aggressive U.S. posture carries real risks that minor skirmishes or even accidents could escalate quickly into a full blown war. http://garysick.tumblr.com/post/45787800398/us-persian-gulf-policy-in-obamas-second-term

 

IRANIAN ISSUES AND VIEWS

Why the Revolutionary Guards Do Not Run Iran’s Economy

By Kevan Harris, The Diplomat [March 21, 2013]

---- There has long been a consensus among Western pundits that the IRGC controls Iran's economy. The truth is much messier. Particularly in the wake of the contested 2009 presidential elections in the Islamic Republic, a popular consensus has taken shape among Western government officials, policymakers, and scholars on the immense role the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) plays in the Iranian economy. Today, this position significantly informs sanctions policy, as individuals, businesses, and organizations suspected of having ties to current or former IRGC members are quickly blacklisted by Washington and Brussels from international finance and trade networks. My research details how, since 2006, Iran’s government has sold off huge blocks of public companies’ shares through the stock market, transfers to cooperative holding companies, or simply handing over ownership to semi-public bodies to which the government is indebted. The creation of cooperatives, firms, and investment conglomerates affiliated with the IRGC and parastatal bodies do not signify a creeping militarization or “revolutionary” ideological subordination of Iran’s economy so much as they characterize the commodification of bureaucratic privilege and status held by individuals in these organizations. http://thediplomat.com/2013/03/21/why-the-revolutionary-guards-do-not-run-irans-economy/

 

The Tragic Endings of Iranian Cinema

By Hamid Dabashi, Aljazeera [March 23, 2013]

---- The ruling regime in Iran has succeeded in ripping the leading Iranian filmmakers from the fabric of their society and cast them into vague and ambiguous environments about which they know very little. Given their creative ingenuity - as now perhaps best evident in the works of Jafar Panahi or Mohsen Makhmalbaf - they can manage to create almost anywhere, from their living room to the occupied Palestine, but the result begins to abstract the filmmakers from that certain intuition of transcendence that approximates an artist to the sacred precincts of her and his culture. … This is not to say Iranian cinema has no future - but that future is being mapped out and navigated on unchartered territories far from major European or even non-European film festivals. Under the radar is now a young generation of filmmakers whose courageous and imaginative works are yet to receive any recognition in their own homeland or celebration in any major film festival. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/2013320175739100357.html

 

ISRAELI ISSUES AND VIEWS

Turkey: Israel Normalization Would Require Ending Gaza Blockade

By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [March 24, 2013]

---- Friday’s belated Israeli apology for killing nine aid workers aboard the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara was being spun as the ticket to normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey, and Israeli officials have suggested they considered this a goal, with an eye on Syria. Yet the indications are that it isn’t so simple, with comments from both sides suggesting that the status of the Gaza Strip is going to continue to strain the relationship of the two nations going forward. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the full normalization of relations with Israel would require not only compensation for victims of the Mavi Marmara attack, but a commitment to continue easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, something Israel promised already after the November war. That seems unlikely, as Israeli officials not only insisted that there was no commitment to any further relaxation of the Gaza blockade, adding that there was a possibility of a further crackdown on the strip. That already seems to be happening, with Israel severely restricting fishing over the past few days. As for compensation, Israeli officials say they will support a deal if Turkey promises not to prosecute any Israeli soldiers for the killings. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/24/turkey-israel-normalization-would-require-ending-gaza-blockade/

 

Weapons Experts Raise Doubts About Israel’s Antimissile System

By William J. Broad, New YorkTimes [March 20, 2013]

---- For Iron Dome, the performance issue is important, in part, because defense bears strongly on offense. Israel’s decision on whether to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites — as it has repeatedly threatened to do — could hinge on its estimate of the retaliatory costs, including damage inflicted by rockets fired from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/world/middleeast/israels-iron-dome-system-is-at-center-of-debate.html?ref=world

 

CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION IN SYRIA

Islamic Front and Nusra Move on Damascus. Will the US build a Counter-force?

From Syria Comment [March 24, 2013]

---- The Islam Front and Jabhat al-Nusra are gaining strength. Already al-Nusra has a strong foothold in the Damascus region in the Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk, around the Jabal Druze, and in the Daraya-Adhamiya region of Damascus. The US and British are trying to build up forces around Damascus as well, in order to take the capital. They are working hand in glove with Saudis and particularly the Jordanians. Hence the many stories about US training missions in Jordan and cooperation with Jordanian intelligence. Some believe that the US, British and French may be developing a strategy to spearhead a move on Damascus before the Islamic Front and al-Nusra can capture it for themselves. But it is not clear how committed the US and the West are to manning up the opposition in the South of Syria to gain the jump on the growing Islamic tide washing down from the North. http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=18297

 

The Case for Restraint: Syria and the International Criminal Court

By Betcy Jose,Aljazeera [March 21, 2013]

---- The violence and bloodshed from all sides continues, and the international community remains stalemated as to its response to the ongoing crisis. It has explored a number of options, from diplomacy to more coercive action like economic sanctions and military force. Recently, there have been calls for judicial intervention by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Is this a viable option? This piece examines the effectiveness of an ICC investigation as a means of halting the Syrian conflict. It first discusses non-judicial options currently on the table. By illustrating how difficult these options are, a case can be made for why pursuing the judicial option right now may not be effective in helping Syrian civilians or sustaining international law. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/2013320164619306786.html

 

Additional perspectives – Line Zouhour, “Whither the Peaceful Movement in Syria?” Jadaliyya [March 18, 2013] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/10616/whither-the-peaceful-movement-in-syria#.UUiS_T6uH0w.facebook; Stephen M. Walt, “The Dearth of Strategy on Syria,” Foreign Policy [March 21, 2013] http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/03/21/the_dearth_of_strategy_on_syria; and Bassam Haddad, “Perpetual Recalculation: Getting Syria Wrong Two Years On,” Jadaliyya [March 18, 2013] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/10674/perpetual-recalculation_getting-syria-wrong-two-ye

 

US Steps Up Military Assistance to Opposition

Obama Boosts Syria Support as Congress Pushes Military Intervention

By Samer Araabi, Inter Press Service [March 23, 2013]

---- As the Syrian uprising enters its third year, the United States and its allies are preparing to materially increase their support of the armed opposition in Syria.Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional 60 million dollars in direct aid to the rebels, marking the first time Washington will directly supply rebel forces, but the administration appears as wary as ever to get more directly involved. The provision of battlefield materiel has been met with some support from hawks who have pushed for greater military intervention, though many policymakers have urged the president to go even further. Exhortations for intervention have increased since rumours began of a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo. Though U.S. officials have largely dismissed the reports, many members of Congress expressed concern about the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria. http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/obama-boosts-syria-support-as-congress-pushes-for-military-intervention/

 

Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With C.I.A. Aid

By C. J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt, New YorkTimes [March 24, 2013]

---- With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against PresidentBashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders. The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria’s future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad’s main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/arms-airlift-to-syrian-rebels-expands-with-cia-aid.html?hp

 

More on the CIA – Adam Entous et al., “CIA Expands Role in Syria Fight,” Wall St. Journal [March 22, 2013] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324373204578376591874909434.html

 

Syrian Opposition in Chaos

Syrian Opposition in Disarray as its Leader Resigns

By Liz Sly, WashingtonPost [March 24, 2013]

---- Syria’s opposition coalition was on the verge of collapse Sunday after its president resigned and rebel fighters rejected its choice to head an interim government, leaving a U.S.-backed effort to forge a united front against President Bashar al-Assad in tatters. The resignation of Moaz al-Khatib, a moderate Sunni preacher who heads the Syrian Opposition Coalition, climaxed a bitter internal fight over a range of issues, from the appointment of an interim government to a proposal by Khatib to launch negotiations with the Syrian regime. His departure plunged the opposition into disarray at a time when the United States and its Western allies are stepping up their support for moderates opposed to Assad’s regime. Khatib’s coalition was expected to play a key role in identifying the recipients and channeling the assistance. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syrian-opposition-in-disarray-as-its-leader-resigns/2013/03/24/16523304-94ba-11e2-95ca-dd43e7ffee9c_story.html

 

More on the state of the opposition – Jason Ditz, “Syrian Rebel Coalition Crumbling: President Resigns,” Antiwar.com [March 24, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/24/syrian-rebel-coalition-crumbling-president-resigns/; Joshua Landis, “Who is Ghassn Hitto? Why Was He backed to be Prime Minister of an Interim Gov by Mustafa Sabbagh?” SyriaComment [March 19, 2013] http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=18160; Franklin Lamb, “Could the White House Have Dreamt for More?” Counterpunch [March 22, 2013] http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/22/a-draft-dodging-zionist-friendly-rghtwing-texan-islamist-to-lead-syria/; and Anne Barnard and Hala Droubi, “Syrian Opposition Leader Quits Post,” New York Times [March 24, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/israeli-military-responds-after-patrols-come-under-fire-from-syria.html?hp

 

The Chemical Weapon That Wasn’t

Syria ‘Chemical’ Attack Was Rebels’ Doing, Evidence Suggests

By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [March 24, 2013]

---- Last week’s report of a chemical weapon attack in Syria’s Aleppo Province sparked an array of calls to action, with most nations and politicians insisting it vindicated whatever position they had before, despite many points of uncertainty about it. The incident is coming into sharper focus now, however. The attack, intelligence sources appear to agree, was launched by rebel fighters and not government forces. Since the victims were overwhelmingly the Syrian military, this was not a huge shock, but is important to reiterate. The other interesting aspect is that it was not a “proper” chemical weapon, at least from preliminary investigations. The evidence suggests that the strike used a lachrymatory agent, not a nerve agent, and that the deaths were caused by suffocating on chlorine-based gas that was injected into a warhead. In some ways, this is a distinction without a difference, as the use of suffocating gas, regardless of how it kills people, is a serious war crime under international law. The important factor, however, is that it is not the sort of weapon Syria has in its arsenal, rather it is a lower-tech solution. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/24/syria-chemical-attack-was-rebels-doing-evidence-suggests/

 

More on US policy re: chemical weapons– Mark Landler and Rick Gladstone, “Chemicals Would Be ‘Game Changer’ in Syria, Obama Says,” New York Times [March 20, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/world/middleeast/syria-developments.html?ref=world; and Greg Miller, et al., “Backing up Obama’s Warnings to Syria Creates Tough Challenges on Two Fronts,”  Washington Post [March 24, 2013] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/backing-up-obamas-warnings-to-syria-creates-tough-challenges-on-two-fronts/2013/03/24/95cd5570-9314-11e2-a31e-14700e2724e4_story.html

 

Syria’s Conflict Engulfs the Neighborhood

In ‘Spirited’ Talks, Kerry Tells Iraq to Help Stop Arms Shipments to Syria

By Michael R. Gordon and Tim Arango, New YorkTimes [March 24, 2013]

---- Secretary of State John Kerry told Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, on Sunday that Iraq must take steps to stop Iran from shipping arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace. But an hour and 40 minutes of discussions here, which Mr. Kerry said were sometimes “spirited,” failed to yield a breakthrough on the issue. As Mr. Kerry prepared to leave Iraq afterward, he warned that the Iranian flights were sustaining the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and were undermining Iraq’s standing with American lawmakers. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/baghdad-kerry-iraq-arms-shipments-to-syria.html?ref=world

 

Also on US-Iraq-Iran – Jason Ditz, “Maliki Rejects Kerry Demand to Bar Iran Overflights,” Antiwar.com [March 24, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/03/24/maliki-rejects-kerry-demand-to-bar-iran-overflights/.

 

Mikati's Resignation Throws Lebanon into Deeper Crisis

Associated Press [March 24, 2013]

---- Lebanese President Michel Suleiman formally accepted yesterday the resignation of the prime minister, who stepped down blaming government infighting during a time of rising sectarian tensions. Mr Mikati's unexpected resignation throws the country into uncertainty at a crucial time and threatens to leave a void in the state's highest ranks amid sporadic violence inflamed by the civil war in Syria. Underpinning the political crisis are Lebanon's hugely sectarian politics and the fact that the country's two largest political blocs support opposite sides in Syria's civil war. Lebanon and Syria share a complex network of political and sectarian ties, and many fear that violence in Syria will spread to Lebanon. Some Lebanese media have speculated that his decision to step down was based on "insinuations" from the US and its allies to clear the way for an anti-Hizbollah majority, or at least a neutral government. http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/mikatis-resignation-throws-lebanon-into-deeper-crisis

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