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Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

What the…?

The United States believes Iran has obtained enough nuclear material to make a bomb, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said on Sunday.

‘We think they do, quite frankly,’ Mullen said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ program when asked whether Iran has enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

[UPDATE: Turns out this is old news. Mullen is touting the false narrative that Jeffrey Lewis has already deconstructed. And here's Gates trying to salvage what he can.]

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President George W. Bush uncharacteristically used common sense last year when he rejected aid for an Israeli strike on Iran, David Sanger reports in today’s NYT. This is good news. Yet, writes Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy, Obama’s arrival hardly signals that the military option is off the table:

First, there are still influential voices in Washington who maintain that the United States cannot permit Iran to maintain an independent enrichment capability, and who believe that the United States should use force to prevent this in the event that diplomacy does not succeed. [...]

Second, as the United States draws down its presence in Iraq, Iran’s ability to retaliate in that area of operations will decline. Opponents of the military option will lose one of the obvious counter-arguments to an attack (though there are plenty of others), and opposition within the uniformed military (which has been deeply skeptical of the military option in the past) may decline.

Third, Obama will almost certainly try the diplomatic route first, just as he promised in the campaign. The question is whether the diplomatic strategy that the administration follows has any realistic chance of succeeding.

Walt also points out that the rumoured appointment of Dennis Ross as Obama’s Iran troubleshooter would give air strike advocates a “front-and-center” position in the new administration.

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Another smart pick: former Clinton Middle East envoy Dennis Ross will be named Obama’s troubleshooter for Iran, according to sources. Just so you know what we’re dealing with, check out this piece Ross wrote for a Newsweek special issue in December. Money quote:

The U.N. sanctions adopted in the past three years apply primarily to Iran’s nuclear and missile industries and haven’t targeted its economy. That’s given Tehran the luxury of ignoring them. Hitting the economy more directly would force Tehran to make a choice. Iran has profound economic vulnerabilities: it imports 43 percent of its gasoline, and its oil and natural-gas industries—the government’s key source of revenue, which it uses to buy off its population—desperately need huge amounts of new investment and technology. Iran also faces high inflation and unemployment. Tough sanctions that exploit these problems would force Iran’s leaders to see the high costs—as they measure them—of not changing their nuclear behavior.

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Meanwhile in Tehran…

Just a short note: Zamin has another thoughtful post on presidential politics in Iran. If you ask me, those two guys fighting over who gets to redecorate the White House need to start reading this stuff now.

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Iran: President Qalibaf?

Quiz question to Obama and McCain:

Who is Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf?

Don’t know? Well, you should. The excellent new blog Zamin reports that Tehran mayor Qalibaf may be a serious contender in the Iranian presidential election next year.

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Yesterday was not a good day for the Middle East. Iran carried out another missile test. The U.S. warned that it will defend Israel if its ally is attacked. Indeed, so troubling was the news that Iran even made the front page in Finland. Here’s how the country’s premiere newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (HS) featured these potentially disastrous developments:

HS Reader Spots Fake Iran Pic

So, for Scandinavia’s largest newspaper, known for its quality reporting and astute analysis, the news yesterday wasn’t that a) there was a new round of sabre rattling in the Middle East, or b) that the United States had threatened Iran, or c) that all this sounds perilously close to war.

No — the news was that Iran had doctored a photo.

In fact, not even that.

The real news in Finland was that some geeky reader had noticed there was something fishy about a couple of vapour trails.

Yes. Female suicide bombers are always sexier than males; final battles make for better headlines than slowly grinding violence, even if they never happen; it’s easier just to call everyone ‘al-Qaeda’ than bore your readers with the complexities of a modern insurgency; and the 4000th American killed in Iraq is more newsworthy than than the 3999th.

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Iran: Gloom and Doom

John Robb thinks an attack on Iran is all but inevitable.

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What will Iran do if it is attacked by the United States or Israel?

According to Y. Mansharof and A. Savyon, writing for MEMRI:

Despite confident pronouncements by Iranian leaders that the West will not dare to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Iranian regime has, on orders from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, been preparing for this eventuality by means of a comprehensive emergency plan called ‘Passive Defense.’ Examination of the plan reveals that the regime’s main fear is of an attack on Iran’s vital infrastructures, which would ultimately lead to its downfall. Therefore, alongside a defense doctrine based on preemptive attack, long-range ballistic missiles, and asymmetric guerilla warfare, it has formulated a doctrine of ‘passive defense,’ based mainly on cooperation between regional Passive Defense Councils and the regime’s popular militia, the Basij.

An intriguing read.

For another view, by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt, click here.

I’ve visited Iran once, in 1979, and remember the country and its people fondly. To underestimate their pride and determination would be a mistake of Rumsfeldian proportions. Before the Bush era, I would’ve been inclined to believe common sense will prevail. Now I’m not so sure.

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Iran: Who’s In Charge?

If you thought Iraqi politics were complex, look at this.

It’s an excellent PowerPoint presentation of who runs Iran, and how, by Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an associate professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and director of its Middle Eastern Studies Program.

Points of note:

  • External pressures don’t bring about regime change.
  • Iranian leaders are pragmatists, not lunatics.
  • The revolution is over. “After three decades, normal life no longer sustains intense revolutionary attitudes.”
  • “Iranians don’t necessarily like their regime, but they love their country.”
  • Many important conservatives believe Ahmadinejad has overplayed his hand in the nuclear issue.
  • The new U.S. administration should wait until June 2009 to see who becomes President.

(Via ArmsControlWonk.)

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The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, always a good read even when he’s wrong, has another scoop on Iran, this time detailing the escalation of American covert operations there. As usual, most of Hersh’s sources are anonymous, but he has also spoken to former CENTCOM head Adm. William Fallon:

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. ‘Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,’ he told me. ‘Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.’

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, ‘Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.’

All in all, the story is an embarrassment to the Congress Democrats, who seem to have been cluelessly funding the operations. I wonder if Obama will respond.

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