Saturday, November 25, 2006

Threat not taken seriously

Not a big story. Just hearing from Iran what how I've suspected they've felt since around this time last year.

United States would not dare to attack Iran and such a threat is not being taken seriously by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Secretary of Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Larijani said on Saturday.

He told Pakistani media officials in Tehran that the US is weak enough to dare go through another military adventure.

He was responding to a question whether or not the US or Israeli may attack Iranian nuclear sites in an attempt to damage national nuclear program.

"Israel is not in the position to attack us either, things they say are sheer slogans," Larijani said.

"We do not take such slogans seriously and if they do that (attack Iran) they will receive a decisive response."

Western analysts are really pressing the idea that Iran wants security guarantees. I've never heard this expressed by anyone in official Iran. For what it's worth, the US keeping a supposed military option on the table is purely counterproductive. It does not intimidate Iran while it makes Russia China and Europe more reluctant to allow the US to escalate the issue. On the other hand, on the list of stupid things the US is doing in the Middle East, that "on the table" stuff probably places about twentieth or thirtieth.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Kissinger on Iran

An exclusive with the Khaleej Times? That is the only place I could find this editorial in google news. I can only guess a mainstream western news source will pick this piece up later. Henry Kissinger gives his opinions on how the US should deal with Iran in the post-Hussein Middle East.

Kissinger's opinion piece concludes that the United States must retain leverage over Iran. Presumably this leverage should take the form of some military presence - preferably in Iraq but failing that elsewhere - that could threaten Iran. Without that leverage, Iran will not make the other changes Kissinger wants Iran to be induced to make.

What are those changes? We get a lot of vagueness on this issue. That is not just an issue of Kissinger - most Western commentators on the Middle East have a stubborn habit of refusing to say Israel when they mean Israel.

Iran challenges the established order in the Middle East and perhaps wherever Islamic populations face dominant, non-Islamic majorities.

Huh? Iran challenges the established order in France, Canada or the United States where there are non-Islamic majorities? Why not just say Israel? There is a non-Islamic political if not demographic majority in Lebanon at the moment - but anywhere in the world, except in the region of Israel, the United States would be a prime advocate of demographic majorities translating into political majorities. That is kind of what democracy means.

Kissinger presents Iran's opposition to Israel as unnatural, the result of Iran perceiving itself as a cause and not a nation. This false idea seems to be gaining currency. A democratic Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, secular or not, would have very similar policies towards Israel as Iran and it would have very different policies than what we see now. Even if there was a regime change in Iran, if Iran remains at all democratic it will not change its policies towards Israel. Nor would an Iran that is at all democratic change its demand for both enrichment and a theoretical capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Kissinger expresses the hope that through confrontation the United States can pressure Iran into accepting that it is a poor country that cannot influence the world order. Now Iran is too poor to have much influence on Brazil's relations with Argentina. But Iran is not that poor for its region. Israel's leaders seem unanimous that Iran actually does have the potential to influence the regional order to Israel's disadvantage.

Kissinger mentions without arguing the US position that Iran must not only be prevented from getting a nuclear weapon, it must be prevented from having any technology that would give it a theoretical capability to get a nuclear weapon. This is an extreme position that is at odds with the text and the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That position is seen as an extreme position by many, maybe most, informed observers of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. It is unfortunate if typical that Kissinger does not explain the reasoning behind his position.

Israel's deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh recently fleshed out the argument:

In the most dramatic comments to date by a senior government member on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program, the former IDF brigadier-general described an untenable scenario of Israel "living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction."

He said he was afraid that, under such a threat, "most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. People are not enthusiastic about being scorched."

Thus the danger, Sneh elaborated, was that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would "be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."

Israel is threatened by Iran even having the theoretical capability of making a weapon, even if Iran never actually makes the weapon. The United States, following Israel's lead, has declared that Iran having technology that would give Iran a theoretical weapons capability to be unacceptable.

Iran's neighbors say the opposite. The Saudis and Egyptians have publically said that they are not threatened by an Iranian nuclear program, even including enrichment, as long as Iran does not actually build a weapon. Russia and China have said the same, the point of no return is when Iran actually builds a weapon. Iran having a theoretical capability to build a weapon, according to Sneh, would kill the Zionist dream. But the capability would not kill the Saudi, Egyptian, Russian or Chinese dream. Iran having that theoretical capability would certainly have no impact on the American dream, unless you consider the role of Israel's defender to be part of the American dream.

Kissinger does what most Western commentators do on this issue. He mentions theoretical capability to build a weapon, then mentions actual weapons, then starts using these two very different concepts interchangeably. For example, he says Russia will take a stronger stand than Europe to prevent Iran from being nuclear capable. This is would probably be true if the issue was Iran having an actual weapon, but by that point in the piece Kissinger feels free to use one term to mean the other. To the degree Kissinger is aware his is doing it, it is dishonest, but it seems to be an entrenched habit or reflex.

Another entrenched habit is confounding negotiations with accepting arbitrary US prerequisites for negotiations. Iran consistently says it is willing to negotiate measures to strengthen the safeguards preventing Iran from diverting nuclear material to use in making bombs. Iran will not suspend its own enrichment research as a prerequisite for talks. Kissinger presents this as Iran's unwillingness to negotiate. Again, it is dishonest if Kissinger is aware he is doing it.

Kissinger presents the sanctions package presented by Europe as "minimal sanctions". These are essentially the same sanctions imposed on North Korea after North Korea's nuclear weapon test. In the context of Iran, which has not diverted any nuclear material away from peaceful processes and for which there is no evidence that any weapons program exists at all, the presented sanctions seem more like maximal sanctions. Either way, Kissinger is right that Iran will not be dissuaded from gaining enrichment technology by these maximal or minimal sanctions.

Kissinger's bottom line is that the United States must confront Iran until Iran no longer poses a threat to the world (Israel). The point of those calling for negotiations with Iran is that Iran may be willing to make Iraq much less expensive for the US in exchange for concessions regarding either the nuclear program or the US unilateral sanctions. An understanding is nearing consensus that any help Iran gives the US in Iraq would not be free and talks would allow Iran and the US to discuss prices.

Those advocating negotiations think once prospective agreements are actually spelled out by both sides, maybe an agreement will emerge that both sides see as beneficial. Kissinger's position that the US should continue its policy of pure confrontation with Iran is sure to prevent any mutually beneficial agreement from being reached. But at this point staying the course on Iran would not do much to restrain Iran's growing power in the region.

Ouch: A PR mistake by Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert speaking at a White House press conference on the US occupation of Iraq:

PRIME MINISTER OLMERT: Thank you very much. President -- this is nothing to take an edge to the very accurate analysis that you made with regard to these big issues. We in the Middle East have followed the American policy in Iraq for a long time, and we are very much impressed and encouraged by the stability which the great operation of America in Iraq brought to the Middle East. We pray and hope that this policy will be fully successful so that this stability which was created for all the moderate countries in the Middle East will continue.

The argument that Israel was not helped by the US invasion of Iraq cannot be plausibly made any more and the argument that Israel is a primary beneficiary and expected to be so when the operation was being considered cannot be dismissed any more.

So this statement was a fairly serious public relations mistake by the Israeli government, but really isn't anything more than that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

According to US, Iran does not want US withdrawal

Unease in Iran grows over talk of US pullout

By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

On Tuesday night, Tehran's English-language news channel featured commentary from a political scientist, Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, calling for the United States to remain in Iraq until it has established a strong, stable central government capable of providing adequate security.


Analysts familiar with official thinking say there is support for views such as Mojtahedzadeh's within the professional foreign policy establishment, if not within the hard-line circles closest to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a feeling that a drawn-out timetable for withdrawal would be preferable to a quick pullout.

"They've not said it directly and openly as an official policy line, that they'd like the US to stay, but I think there's a sense among the Iranians that they understand that the US cannot just leave immediately," said Hadi Semati, a well-known Iranian political analyst who is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

They've never said it but I think there is a sense?

The media in the West is just too comfortable making up thoughts and putting them into the heads of people in the Middle East.

Big Threat to Jordan

Newsview: Mideast Uneasy Over U.S. Plans

By SALLY BUZBEE, Associated Press Writer

Most Arab governments believe the U.S. has made a hash of the country. It might be expected, then, that they would want the U.S. military to leave -- and some do.

But others worry that if the U.S. pulls out too soon, Iraq's misery will spill over and inflame the Sunni-Shiite split across the region. They also worry about a rise in Iran's influence.

The big fear is over Jordan -- a key ally of the United States whose king faces new vulnerability because of violence in Gaza and floods of Iraqi refugees. Many regional diplomats have said privately in recent months that they fear for Jordan's stability should the United States pull out of Iraq.

Jordan is not a particularly democratic nation. The people living under its rule are probably less concerned for its stability than the US is. But this "fear for Jordan's stability" being expressed openly is an indication that of the pro-Israel triad - Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - Jordan seems to be the most likely to switch sides first.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Winner of Holocaust Cartoon Contest

This is actually a pretty powerful cartoon. According to descriptions I've read, the image on the wall is of Auschwitz.

To describe the cartoon as anti-semitic would, of course, be a stretch, but I can see how supporters of Israel wouldn't like it.