Iran War Weekly
December 12, 2012
Hello All – With the US election behind us, the next round of negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program begins. On Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will convene in Tehran, where Iran’s failures to comply with IAEA requests and UN Security Council demands will be the focus of discussion. Shortly after the New Year, the other arena of negotiations, the negotiations that involve the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are expected to resume. These negotiations, which were broken off late last summer as the US election approached, pit demands from the P5+1 that Iran essentially cease its nuclear program against Iranian claims that it has the right to develop nuclear power under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I’ve linked good/useful reading below relevant to both sets of negotiations.
Over the past 10 days there have been some important developments that impact both sets of negotiations. A US spokesperson stated that Iran has until March to comply with the demands of the P5+1, though the consequences of a failure to comply were not specified. But with Iran’s presidential election taking place in June, it is apparent that there is only a narrow negotiating window before the presidential election in Iran – as was the case with the US presidential election – precludes serious negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. As for the IAEA negotiations this Saturday, blowback from the Israeli-instigated media hoax regarding Iran’s alleged weapons-related studies more than a decade ago may have undermined the IAEA’s ability to press Iran on these issues. Readings linked below will, I hope, clarify some of these complexities.
I’ve also linked below more accounts of the impact of the economic sanctions against Iran. The Obama administration is attempting to water down the sanctions legislation now making its way through Congress, fearing that it will make negotiations with Iran more difficult. In the eyes of many in Congress, of course, this is the purpose of the sanctions legislation.
Other topics covered in the good/useful readings linked below include an interesting essay by a former Iranian nuclear negotiator on why Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons; more analysis on the US cancellation of scheduled talks on a nuclear free zone in the Middle East (at the behest of Israel); Israel’s rejection of a resolution by the UN General Assembly calling on it to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and several articles on significant changes in the world’s oil supply.
From the beginning, it has appeared that the US intervention in the Syrian uprising/civil war was motivated largely by the possibility that regime change in Syria would weaken Iran. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the current Syrian regime surviving indefinitely, or to see Syria as a very useful ally to Iran anymore. By the same token, however, the greater involvement of the United States in Syria –having now recognized the legitimacy of the newly formed opposition coalition and having participated in the restructuring of the Syrian armed opposition – may mean that it is the United States, not Iran, that will be bogged down in an irresolvable conflict that is increasingly beyond the ability of the United States to control. In addition to the good/useful reading linked below about Syria, I recommend the websites of Syria Comment (www.syriacomment.org ), War in Context (www.warincontext.org ), and Aljazeera (www.aljazeera.com ) to keep up to date on events in Syria.
A new book by David Patrikarakos, Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State, provides readers interested in this subject with a useful and insightful overview, from the birth of Iran’s nuclear program under that Shah in the 1970s to the present. While Patrikarakos’ presentation of the events of the last decade is not as good as the more-developed accounts in books by Sayed Hossein Mousavian, Mohammed El-Baradei, or Trita Parsi, it is a good, not-too-long introduction to Iran’s nuclear program.
Once again, I appreciate the help that many of you have given in distributing the Iran War Weekly and/or linking it on websites. Previous “issues” of the IWW can be read at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383 . If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at email@example.com .
Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)
OVERVIEWS/THE BIG PICTURE
Ten Reasons Iran Doesn't Want the Bomb
By Seyed Hossein Mousavian, National Interest [December 4, 2012]
[FB – Mousavian was formerly an Iranian diplomat, and is now at Princeton. His recent book, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, is an important resource in understanding the dynamics of the Iranian nuclear issues.]
---- Since the beginning of Iran’s nuclear crisis, the West has been convinced that one approach offers the best hope of altering Tehran’s nuclear policy and halting its enrichment activities: comprehensive international sanctions and a credible threat of military strike. During the same period, I have repeatedly warned my friends in the West that such punitive pressures, no matter how severe, will not change the Iranian leadership’s mindset, and that a military option would be catastrophic for Iran, the region and beyond. Almost a decade has passed and the unrelenting Western pressures applied on Iran have not achieved the objectives they set. Instead, they have resulted in Iran having an expanded and more sophisticated nuclear program. It is time for the West to acknowledge these realities. The question that remains is whether Iran ultimately aims to get a nuclear weapon. If Iran isn’t after the bomb, then the Western accusations and concerns would be reduced enough to allow a diplomatic solution. The following reasons aim to strengthen the case for why Iran is not after a nuclear bomb. http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/ten-reasons-iran-doesnt-want-the-bomb-7802 
The Iranian Nuclear Threat
By Karim Sadjadpour and George Perkovich, Carnegie Endowment [November 29, 2012]
---- The United States and the rest of the P5+1 must decide whether they are prepared to offer Iran incentives that would be sufficient to induce it to compromise, and what a potential U.S.-Iran nuclear breakthrough might look like. The practical question, then, is what specific commitments could be negotiated, verified, and enforced to keep Iran far enough away from having a nuclear weapon that the world would have confidence it could detect an Iranian breakout and mobilize an appropriately robust response, and at the same time allow Iran to exercise its “right” to enrich for purely civilian purposes.
Why Obama’s Version of ‘Engagement’ Has Failed
By Pepe Escobar, Tom Dispatch [December 6, 2012]
[FB – The second half of this interesting essay puts US-Iranian issues into an Asian context, which is important as both countries see themselves as increasingly turning East.]
---- Will Obama 2.0 finally admit that Washington doesn’t need regime change in Tehran to improve its relationship with that country? Only with such an admission (to itself, if not the world) are real negotiations leading to a Wall of Mistrust-blasting deal possible. This would undoubtedly include a genuine détente, an acceptance of Iran’s lawful pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program, guarantees that the result would not be a covert weapons project, and a turning away from the possibility of a devastating war in the Persian Gulf and the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East. Theoretically, it could also include something else: an Obama “Nixon in China” moment, a dramatic journey or gesture by the U.S. president to decisively break the deadlock. Yet as long as a barrage of furiously misinformed anti-Iran hawks in Washington, in lockstep with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, deploy a relentless PR offensive burning with incendiary rhetoric, “red lines,” deadlines, and preemptive sabotage of the P5+1 negotiations, such a moment, such a gesture, will remain the faintest of dreams.
NEGOTIATIONS ABOUT IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
P5+1 to propose new meeting dates to Iran
By Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor [December 10, 2012]
---- Diplomats from six world powers, following further unpublicized consultations in recent days, have decided to propose to Iran dates for holding a new round of nuclear talks as early as this month, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor Monday. However, a meeting is not expected to materialize before January, they said. Diplomats from five of the six nations in the so-called P5+1 also agreed in their latest consultation to “update” the package presented to Iran at a meeting in Baghdad last May, the diplomatic sources said, although they downplayed expectations for major changes to the package. In addition, one country, believed to be Russia, had not yet formally signed on to that decision, one expert briefed by the US administration told Al-Monitor Monday, adding that it was his understanding the dissenting nation wanted a more revamped, generous package. That position is apparently now at odds with the consensus of other members of the international negotiating group, comprised of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia. http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2012/12/3437/p51-to-propose-new-meeting-dates-to-iran/#ixzz2En4cZvok 
Three Worries About Next Iran Talks
By Trita Parsi,Al-Monitor [December 10, 2012]
---- Sometime in the next few weeks, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) will meet with Iran to pick up diplomacy from where it left off last summer. So far, neither side has shown much appetite for compromise. Both sides have insisted on maximalist objectives; consequently, progress has been absent. This time around it might be different. Fabricated or not, there is a sense that the end game is near. The window for this breakthrough likely closes by March of next year  as Iran enters its New Year festivities followed by its paralyzing presidential elections. But there are three things that worry me, that can cause the parties to lose yet another opportunity for peace. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/three-worries-about-the-next-ira.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#ixzz2En4vC9lU 
The November 2012 IAEA Report on Iran and Its Implications
[FB – This week’s talks between the IAEA and Iran will be focused on the concerns raised in this, the latest IAEA report.]
The Middle East NFZ Meeting Postponed
Zoning Out in the Middle East
By Paul R. Pillar, The National Interest [December 6, 2012]
---- This was supposed to be the month for an international conference to discuss a possible weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East. The concept of such a zone has been addressed in past review conferences of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, and meetings at the International Atomic Energy Agency Postponing the conference was a missed opportunity. As one of the convening powers, the United States, along with its British and Russian partners, could have simply gone ahead and convened the conference as scheduled. Israel could decide whether or not it would attend. The conference would be better with Israeli attendance, but could still do some good even without it. Meanwhile, refusal to talk about any of these matters does not make the issue go away. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/paul-pillar/zoning-out-the-middle-east-7823 
WMD-Free Middle East Proposal at a Glance
Also useful – Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner, “Meeting on Middle East WMD Postponed,” Arms Control Today [December 2012] http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2012_12/Meeting-on-Middle-East-WMD-Postponed ; Linda Pearson, “Wikileaks Reveals US, Israel Lies On Iran,” ZNet [December 7, 2012] http://www.zcommunications.org/wikileaks-reveals-us-israel-lies-on-iran-by-linda-pearson ; and Paul Ingram, “A view on what is coming up in the nuclear world,” BASIC (British American Security Information Council) [November 26, 2012] http://us4.campaign-archive2.com/?u=21bea84f309ed51fc9fbf7e94&id=a53d189c5f&e=ab26b1b6ce 
The AP Hoax/Leak
Israel suspected over Iran nuclear programme inquiry leaks
By Julian Borger, The Guardian [UK] [December 10, 2012]
---- Israel is suspected of carrying out a series of leaks implicating Iran  in nuclear weapons experiments in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran and halt its programme. Western diplomats believe the leaks may have backfired, compromising a UN-sanctioned investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities and current aspirations. The latest leak, published by the Associated Press (AP), purported to be an Iranian diagram showing the physics of a nuclear blast, but scientists quickly pointed out an elementary mistake that cast doubt on its significance and authenticity. An article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists declared: "This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax." The leaked diagram raised questions about an investigation being carried out by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors after it emerged that it formed part of a file of intelligence on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work held by the agency. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/10/israel-suspected-iran-nuclear-programme-leaks 
Also useful – Jason Ditz, “Israel Seen Behind AP’s Iran ‘Nuclear Graph’ Hoax,” Antiwar.com [December 10, 2012] http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/10/israel-seen-behind-aps-iran-nuclear-graph-hoax/ ; and Julian Borger, “Iran's nuclear programme: the holy grail of the intelligence world,” The Guardian [UK] [December 10, 2012] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/10/iran-nuclear-programme-holy-grail 
US POLICIES AND PERSPECTIVES
Obama Pledges Push to Resume Iran Talks
By Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Today [December 2012]
[FB – This is a good overview of the recent US positions in the Iranian nuclear negotiations and sanctions regimes, as well as some perspective on what’s coming down the road.]
---- President Barack Obama said last month that he would “try to make a push in the coming months” to resume talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, but did not specify when negotiations were likely to resume. … In December, the Obama administration will have to decide whether to renew waivers that allow nine countries to continue importing oil from Iran. Under a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, these countries were granted exemptions in June that allow them to continue purchasing Iranian oil without penalty after demonstrating that they “significantly reduced” the volume of such imports. However, the law stipulates that the waivers must be renewed every 180 days, during which the country must demonstrate again that it reduced its imports. The waivers for four of Iran’s top oil importers—China, South Korea, India, and Turkey—all will expire before the end of the year if the administration does not grant renewals. The United States renewed the waivers for Japan and 10 European countries on Sept. 14. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2012_12/Obama-Pledges-Push-to-Resume-Iran-Talks 
Has the US Set a March Deadline for War on Iran?
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [December 5, 2012]
---- Last month the US issued an ultimatum to Iran, demanding it fully cooperate with the IAEA by March or else face further action and possible measures at the UN Security Council. Micah Zenko, fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, speculates that this “could indicate that the Obama administration is moving toward the zone of immunity logic.” Zenko is referring to the Israeli standard for deciding to go to war with Iran. Up to now, the Israeli standard to attack Iran is not when it has nuclear weapons or presents an imminent threat to Israel, but rather when Iran’s nuclear program is sufficiently advanced and redundant across the country – although not being weaponized – that Israeli military action would be inadequate to significantly retard it. The US standard, at least as commonly understood, has been a little stricter. Washington has implied it will resort to war only if Iran is demonstrably weaponizing its nuclear program and on the verge of having a nuclear bomb. Despite the semantic differences, the two postures are essentially the same. http://antiwar.com/blog/2012/12/05/has-the-us-set-a-march-deadline-for-war-on-iran/ 
See also – Micah Zenko, “Did the United States just set a March deadline for war with Iran?” Foreign Policy [December 4, 2012] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/12/04/final_countdown?page=0,0 
IRANIAN POLICIES AND PERSPECTIVES
Iran Shows Signs of Resilience Ahead of Potential Bilateral Talks
By Richard Javad Heydarian, Lobe Log [December 5, 2012]
---- A key foreign policy consequence of President Barak Obama’s reelection is the growing possibility of face-to-face talks between the United States. and Iran. Both the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi have expressed, albeit conditionally, their respective governments’ openness to engage in comprehensive bilateral talks — for the first time in almost three decades — to primarily resolve the ongoing nuclear standoff. In some ways, it is Iran’s relative resilience — and ability to avoid a total collapse — that may explain its willingness to explore direct talks with Washington. Tehran feels that it has enough wiggle room to avoid total unilateral concessions and negotiate a more mutually-favorable, face-saving outcome — perhaps, before it’s tool late. http://www.lobelog.com/iran-shows-signs-of-resilience-ahead-of-potential-bilateral-talks/ 
Also useful – Abdul Rasheed Azad, “Pakistan and Iran likely to sign pact on gas pipeline,” [December 6, 2012] http://www.brecorder.com/fuel-a-energy/193/1264775/ 
[FB – An academic list serve that focuses on the Gulf had an active discussion this week about whether or not there was a Fatwa from Ayatollah Khamenei that forbade nuclear weapons, whether it was written or oral, and whether it meant anything. Mousavian (article above) includes the Fatwa as one of the reasons why he thinks that Iran doesn’t want a nuclear weapon. Though it doesn’t answer all the questions, here is a link to a letter submitted by Iran to the IAEA in 2005 asserting that there was such a Fatwa, and that it forbade the production, etc. of nuclear weapons.]
Iran's Statement at IAEA Emergency Meeting [August 10, 2005]
---- “The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the fatwa that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who took office just recently, in his inaugural address reiterated that his government is against weapons of mass destruction and will only pursue nuclear activities in the peaceful domain.” http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/nuke/mehr080905.html 
ISRAELI POLICIES AND PERSPECTIVES
Israel Rejects UN Call to Open Nuke Program to Inspections
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [December 5, 2012]
---- Israel on Tuesday dismissed a United Nations resolution calling on it to adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its nuclear program to international inspections. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel rejects the overwhelming global consensus that Israel allow the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities and to recommit to the NPT, describing it as a “meaningless mechanical vote.” The resolution was approved on Monday by a vote of 174-6 with 6 abstentions and calls on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty immediately and open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It also offered support for a high-level conference to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East which was just canceled by the US and Israel, in order to protect Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly. http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/05/israel-rejects-un-call-to-open-nuke-program-to-inspections/ 
March as a key month for Iran’s nuclear program
By Jasmin Ramsey, Lobe Log [December 5, 2012]
Iran's long-range missiles said to lag U.S. intelligence fears
By Jim Wolf,Reuters[December 7, 2012]
---- An internal report for the U.S. Congress has concluded that Iran probably is no longer on track, if it ever was, to having an ocean-crossing missile as soon as 2015. The study casts doubt on a view long held by U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran could be able to test-fly by 2015 an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, if it receives "sufficient foreign assistance." http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-iran-usa-missilebre8b61c9-20121207,0,1731493.story 
[FB – There are now UN sanctions, US sanctions, and EU sanctions. Some US sanctions date back to the 1979 hostage crisis, but many have been passed in the last few years and have been drafted primarily by AIPAC. A new round of sanctions is now nearing passage in Congress. They are in part a de facto effort by Congress to prevent the Obama administration from successfully negotiating with Iran, which would interfere with the much-desired military attack (or a pre-emptive Iranian abject surrender, I suppose). For that reason, the Obama people are attempting to limit the scope and increase the President’s flexibility re: the current legislation.]
Weighing Benefits and Costs of International Sanctions Against Iran
From The Iran Project [December 3, 2012] – 46 pages
[FB - In September the Iran Project issued a similar report on “The Costs and Benefits of a War Against Iran.” Both reports are signed on to by a long list of Establishment foreign policy figures.
Administration Pushes For Lighter Iran Sanctions In Legislative Fight
By Rosie Gray, BuzzFeed [December 10, 2012]
---- The Obama administration is requesting a number of changes to congressional sanctions on Iran that would make the sanctions less strict, according to a redlined version of the legislation sent to the Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate. The document, provided to BuzzFeed by a Democratic source who is privy to the negotiations, proposes a number of alterations to a package aimed at raising the pressure on Iran to abandon a nuclear program most American observers believe is aimed at building a weapon. The administration's changes would include waiting 180 days for the sanctions to take effect, as opposed to the 90 days as passed by the Senate. http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/administration-pushes-for-lighter-iran-sanctions-i 
Also useful – Barbara Slavin, “Nuclear Deal with Iran May Hinge On European Sanctions Relief,” Al-Monitor [December 6, 2012] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/nuclear-deal-with-iran-may-hinge.html#ixzz2EmnZL5jQ ; Mehrnaz Shahabi, “The Impact of Sanctions on Iranian Society and Artists,” Fair Observer [UK] [December 12, 2012] http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/13077 ; and Jeff Nygaard, “’Mis-Steps’ and ‘Backlash’: Looking at Anti-Iran Propaganda,” Counterpunch [December 11, 2012] http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/11/looking-at-anti-iran-propaganda/ 
OIL AND ENERGY
Oil, Iran, and stability in the Gulf: Why the Gulf states want to keep Iran in a box
By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy [December 5, 2012]
---- The Gulf states' interest in keeping oil prices high enough to balance their own budgets, in a period where heightened social spending and other measures are being used to insulate these regimes from the impact of the Arab Spring. According to the IMF, these states need crude prices to remain upwards of $80 a barrel in order to keep their fiscal house in order. Which in turn means that Saudi Arabia et al also have an interest in keeping Iran in the doghouse, so that Iran can't attract foreign companies to refurbish and expand its oil and gas fields and so that it has even more trouble marketing its petroleum on global markets. http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/12/05/oil_iran_and_stability_in_the_gulf 
Also useful – Barbara Slavin, “NIC Predicts Water Shortage, Oil Glut for Iran in 2030,” Al-Monitor [December 10, 2012] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/nic-iran-water-oil.html#ixzz2EhtxCize ; and (Audio) “Can the World Live Without Iranian Oil?” A discussion with Sara Vakhshouri and Denise Natali, Atlantic Council [December 5, 2012]
What About Solar and Wind?
[FB – While nuclear power might have seemed like a good idea when the Shah got it going 40 years ago, the program’s inertia has carried it into an era when nuclear power is increasingly looked at as a dinosaur technology that makes no sense. It was interesting, therefore, to see this article by Robert Kennedy on the Aljazeera site this week. It turns out Iran is ideal for solar power; check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_power_stations_in_Iran#Solar .]
Saudi Arabia: Ray of light in climate fight?
By Robert Kennedy, Alazeera [December 6, 2012]
---- Synonymous with crude oil and the vast wealth it has bestowed, Saudi Arabia is now planning to tap its copious exposure to the sun to become the world's titan of solar power. The Saudi government is placing its bets squarely on the country's abundant sunlight, as it seeks $109bn in investment to fire up its solar energy sector. A total of $136bn was invested worldwide in solar energy in 2011, underscoring the kingdom's determination to develop its own industry. The goal is to power about 30 per cent of the country's burgeoning energy needs by 2030. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/12/201212681143678361.html 
CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
Is Syria’s Civil War Entering Its Final Act, or Poised for a New Phase?
By Tony Karon, Time [December 6, 2012]
---- There’s no question that rebel forces have made dramatic territorial gains over the past month, with insurgents boosting their artillery and surface-to-air missile capability as they overrun outlying military bases. Two regime aircraft have been downed by SAMs over the past two weeks, suggesting some rebel formations now had some means to defend against air strikes. And the regime’s increasingly besieged garrison in Aleppo is struggling to hold onto Syria’s second city, while the rebels have now launched what may be a sustained assault on the capital Damascus. But for all of that writing on the wall, it may yet be premature to suggest that the 22-month civil war that has claimed more than 30,000 lives is near an end.
Aleppo: How Syria Is Being Destroyed
By Charles Glass, New YorkReview of Books [December 20, 2012]
---- The battle for Aleppo is a war for Syria itself. Another Aleppine who asked me not to print his name said, “If Aleppo falls, the regime will falter.” In both political and military terms, Syria’s commercial capital is vital to both sides. Yet both the regime and its armed opponents are alienating the people they are ostensibly trying to cultivate, as they jointly demolish Aleppo’s economy, the historic monuments that give the city its unique charm and identity, the lives and safety of its citizens, and the social cohesion that had, until now, made it a model of intersectarian harmony. Another friend confided, “The revolution died in Aleppo. They thought they would win the battle of Aleppo. They thought the people of Aleppo would support them.” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/20/aleppo-how-syria-being-destroyed/?pagination=false 
Also useful – From Democracy Now! (Video) “Charles Glass on Syria’s Mutual Destruction and the Unconvincing Fears of Assad’s Chemical Weapons” Democracy Now! [December 11, 2012] http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/11/charles_glass_on_syrias_mutual_destruction ; Anna Haq, “Listening to Syrians: Between the Hammer and the Anvil,” Counterpunch [December 7, 2012] http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/07/between-the-hammer-and-the-anvil/ ; and Maria Fantappie, “A tough liberation for Syria’s Kurds,” CNN [August 23, 2012] http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/23/a-tough-liberation-for-syrias-kurds/ 
Obama’s Syria Policy Comes Dangerously Close to ‘Bush Doctrine’
By John Glaser, Antiwar.com [December 6, 2012]
---- The Obama administration is peddling two scenarios for a potential war in Syria. With news and official statements this week repeating uncorroborated allegations that the Assad regime is moving and mixing elements of chemical weapons and possibly loading the materials into bombs, administration officials warn that the US could intervene militarily (1) if the regime uses these weapons on its own people, and (2) if the danger that these chemical weapons could get into the hands of Islamic militant groups becomes too great. Why has the United States drawn a red line here and not elsewhere? http://antiwar.com/blog/2012/12/06/obamas-syria-policy-comes-dangerously-close-to-bush-doctrine/ 
Also useful – Jason Ditz, “US Aircraft Carrier’s Arrival Near Syria Sparks War Fears,” Antiwar.com [December 5, 2012] http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/05/us-aircraft-carriers-arrival-near-syria-sparks-war-fears/ 
Syria and Chemical Weapons
U.S.Shifting Its Warning on Syria’s Chemical Arms
By David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, New York Times [December 6, 2012]
---- But in the past week, amid intelligence reports that some precursor chemicals have been mixed for possible use as weapons, Mr. Obama’s “red line” appears to have shifted. His warning against “moving” weapons has disappeared from his public pronouncements, as well as those of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The new warning is that if Mr. Assad makes use of those weapons, presumably against his own people or his neighbors, he will face unspecified consequences. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/07/world/middleeast/syrias-chemical-weapons-moves-lead-us-to-be-flexible.html?ref=world 
This Time, Trust Anonymous WMD Claims–They've Got 'Specific Intelligence'
By Peter Hart, FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting] [December 7, 2012]
---- The message could hardly be clearer: According to U.S. intelligence, Syrian government could very well be preparing to use chemical weapons to put down the long and bloody rebellion against ruler Bashar al-Assad. That was the signal from the TV networks and other major media. Should anyone believe they're right? … It is, of course, entirely possible that these fears are very real, and that Syria could be planning a horrific attack in the midst of what is already a horrible situation  there. But U.S. officials were pretty confident that they knew what they were talking about last time. http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/12/07/this-time-trust-anonymous-wmd-claims-theyve-got-specific-intelligence/ 
Bashar Al-Assad, Syria, And The Truth About Chemical Weapons
By Robert Fisk The Independent December 09, 2012
---- The bigger the lie the more people will believe it. We all know who said that – but it still works. Bashar al-Assad has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own Syrian people. If he does, the West will respond. We heard all this stuff last year – and Assad’s regime repeatedly said that if – if – it had chemical weapons, it would never use them against Syrians. But now Washington is playing the same gas-chanty all over again. Bashar has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own people. And if he does…Well if he does, Obama and Madame Clinton and Nato will be very, very angry. http://www.zcommunications.org/bashar-al-assad-syria-and-the-truth-about-chemical-weapons-by-robert-fisk 
Also useful – Leonard S. Spector and Egle Murauskaite, “Dealing With Syria’s Dangerous Arsenals,” ArmsControl Today [November 2012] http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2012_11/Dealing-With-Syrias-Dangerous-Arsenals .
Restructuring the Syrian Opposition
U.S. Will Grant Recognition to Syrian Rebels, Obama Says
By Mark Landler, et al., New York Times [December 11, 2012]
---- President Obama said Tuesday that the United States would formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative, in an attempt to intensify the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to give up his nearly two-year bloody struggle to stay in power. …It marks a new phase of American engagement in a bitter conflict that has claimed at least 40,000 lives, threatened to destabilize the broader Middle East and defied all outside attempts to end it. The United States had for much of the civil war largely sat on the sidelines, only recently moving more energetically as it appeared the opposition fighters were beginning to gain momentum — and radical Islamists were playing a growing role. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/world/middleeast/united-states-involvement-in-syria.html 
Rebel Groups in Syria Make Framework for Military
By Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad, New YorkTimes [December 7, 2012]
---- Military commanders of the main Free Syrian Army units from all over Syria  agreed Friday to a unified command structure, bowing to intense pressure from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who the fighters said promised more advanced weapons once a central military council was in place. The agreement, the product of three days of intensive talks among more than 260 rebel commanders, was a marked departure from previous attempts because it was built strictly around commanders from inside Syria. Previous attempts at unification all foundered on disagreements over the structure, tensions between officers inside and outside the country and the failure of donors to provide the weapons they promised. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/world/middleeast/rebel-groups-in-syria-make-framework-for-military.html?ref=world 
U.S. plan to marginalize Al Nusra in Syria backfires
By Paul Woodward, War in Context [December 10, 2012]
---- How much influence does Washington have over the war in Syria? Somewhere between little and none. How is that evident? Look at the efforts to marginalize Jabhat al-Nusra, the militant group commonly described as an affiliate of al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department is considering designating the group as a terrorist organization and this has brought a swift response from Syria: 83 battalions of rebel fighters have issued a statement expressing solidarity with Al Nusra (h/t Joshua Landis) and told the Americans to mind their own business. http://warincontext.org/2012/12/10/u-s-plan-to-marginalize-al-nusra-in-syria-backfires/