IRAN’S ‘NEW MIDDLE EAST’

 

 

 

MAKE NO MISTAKE: IRAN STILL SEEKS NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Maseh Zarif
Weekly Standard, March 7, 2011

 

U.S. and allied efforts to curb Iran’s developing nuclear capabilities are failing. Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) convenes its quarterly meeting, where Iran’s nuclear activities will once again be a key agenda item. The IAEA reported in its latest assessment that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride stands at 3,606 kilograms—enough to fuel three bombs once converted to highly-enriched uranium.

The language in the IAEA’s latest report signals the growing concern over Iran’s nuclear weapons activities and the agency’s frustration with Iran’s obfuscation. The agency’s findings, based on inspectors’ work and analysis of intelligence provided by IAEA-member nations, are the basis for its declaration that Iran is failing to cooperate with the watchdog. The IAEA reported that…“Iran is not providing access to relevant locations, equipment, persons, or documentation” to facilitate the agency’s oversight work. For the first time, the report includes an annex itemizing each area in which Iran is failing to respond to IAEA inquiries. This annex contains references to experimentation with nuclear payload and high explosives development—activities directly related to a nuclear weapons program.

IAEA head Yukiya Amano has also rejected the assessment that recent technical problems significantly disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment. In response to a question about the extent of damage that a malware virus inflicted on Iran’s centrifuges, Amano said, “Iran is somehow producing uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and 20 percent. They are producing it steadily, constantly.” The IAEA report and Amano’s comments indicate that Iran continues to develop and refine its capabilities, including in uranium enrichment, which is the most technically complex element of a nuclear weapons program.

Iran’s leadership has recently affirmed its commitment to remaining on its current nuclear path. Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed in February that the regime would not retreat from its current stance on the nuclear issue. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in January that “in the Iranian nation’s point of view, the nuclear issue has ended.” These statements are an explicit rejection of U.S. and international efforts to bring about a change in the regime’s policies.

Iran’s leadership is committed to pursuing a nuclear weapons capability and continues to support terrorist proxies in the greater Middle East. Its hard-line foreign and nuclear policies remain immune from disputes within Iran’s ruling elite. The regime has violently suppressed the only potential tempering force on those policies—the Green Movement opposition—thereby entrenching the current leadership for the time being. Moreover, an aggressive Iranian regime will seek to exploit the recent wave of unrest across the Middle East that has unsettled its neighbors.

The war in Afghanistan and the revolutionary shifts across the broader Middle East have, rightly, consumed significant attention. Today’s IAEA meeting will bring the Iran nuclear issue back into focus, and should serve as a reminder of the mounting Iranian threat to [global] security.

(Maseh Zarif is research manager
at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project.
)

 

THE NEW MIDDLE EAST
Caroline B. Glick
Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2011

 

A new Middle East is upon us and its primary beneficiary couldn’t be happier. In a speech Monday in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Politburo Chief Gen. Yadollah Javani crowed, “Iran’s pivotal role in the New Middle East is undeniable. Today the Islamic Revolution of the Iranian nation enjoys such a power, honor and respect in the world that all nations and governments wish to have such a ruling system.”

Iran’s leaders have eagerly thrown their newfound weight around. For instance, Iran is challenging Saudi Arabia’s ability to guarantee the stability of global oil markets. For generations, the stability of global oil supplies has been guaranteed by Saudi Arabia’s reserve capacity that could be relied on to make up for any shocks to those supplies due to political unrest or other factors. When Libya’s teetering dictator Muammar Gaddafi decided to shut down Libya’s oil exports last month, the oil markets reacted with a sharp increase in prices. The very next day the Saudis announced they would make up the shortfall from Libya’s withdrawal from the export market.

In the old Middle East, the Saudi statement would never have been questioned. Oil suppliers and purchasers alike accepted the arrangement whereby Saudi Arabian reserves—defended by the U.S. military—served as the guarantor of the oil economy. But in the New Middle East, Iran feels comfortable questioning the Saudi role. On Thursday, Iran’s Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi urged Saudi Arabia to refrain from increasing production. Mirkazemi argued that since the OPEC oil cartel has not discussed increasing supplies, Saudi Arabia had no right to increase its oil output.

True, Iran’s veiled threat did not stop Saudi Arabia from increasing its oil production by 500,000 barrels per day. But the fact that Iran feels comfortable telling the Saudis what they can and cannot do with their oil demonstrates the mullocracy’s new sense of empowerment. And it makes sense. With each passing day, the Iranian regime is actively destabilizing Saudi Arabia’s neighbors and increasing its influence over Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority in the kingdom’s Eastern Province where most of its oil is located.…

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that Iran is deeply involved in all the anti-regime protests and movements from Egypt to Yemen to Bahrain and beyond. “Either directly or through proxies, they are constantly trying to influence events. They have a very active diplomatic foreign policy outreach,” Clinton said.

Iranian officials, Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists and other Iranian agents have played pivotal roles in the anti-regime movements in Yemen and Bahrain. Their operations are the product of Iran’s long-running policy of developing close ties to opposition figures in these countries as well as in Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Morocco. These long-developed ties are reaping great rewards for Iran today. Not only do these connections give the Iranians the ability to influence the policies of post-revolutionary allied regimes. They give the mullahs and their allies the ability to intimidate the likes of the Saudi and Bahraini royals and force them to appease Iran’s allies.

This means that Iran’s mullahs win no matter how the revolts pan out. If weakened regimes maintain power by appeasing Iran’s allies in the opposition—as they are trying to do in Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen—then Iranian influence over the weakened regimes will grow substantially. And if Iran’s allies topple the regimes, then Iran’s influence will increase even more steeply.

Moreover, Iran’s preference for proxy wars and asymmetric battles is served well by the current instability. Iran’s proxies—from Hezbollah to al- Qaida to Hamas—operate best in weak states. From Hezbollah’s operations in South Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, to the Iranian-sponsored Iraqi insurgents in recent years and beyond, Iran has exploited weak central authorities to undermine pro-Western governments, weaken Israel and diminish U.S. regional influence. In the midst of Egypt’s revolutionary violence, Iran quickly deployed its Hamas proxies to Sinai. Since Mubarak’s fall, Iran has worked intensively to expand its proxy forces’ capacity to operate freely in Sinai.

Recognition of Iran’s expanded power is fast altering the international community’s perception of the regional balance of forces. Russia’s announcement last Saturday that it will sell Syria the Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile was a testament to Iran’s rising regional power and the U.S.’s loss of power. Russia signed a deal to provide the missiles to Syria in 2007. But Moscow abstained from supplying them until now—just after Iran sailed its naval ships unmolested to Syria through the Suez Canal and signed a naval treaty with Syria effectively fusing the Iranian and Syrian navies. So, too, Russia’s announcement that it sides with Iran’s ally Turkey in its support for reducing UN Security Council sanctions against Iran indicates that the U.S. no longer has the regional posture necessary to contain Iran on the international stage.…

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has failed completely to understand what is happening. Clinton told the House of Representatives and the Senate that Iran’s increased power means that the U.S. should continue to arm and fund Iran’s allies and support the so-called democratic forces that are allied with Iran.

So it was that Clinton told the Senate that the Obama administration thinks it is essential to continue to supply the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese military with U.S. arms. Clinton claimed that she couldn’t say what Hezbollah control over the Lebanese government meant regarding the future of U.S. ties to Lebanon. So, too, while Palestinian Authority leaders burn President Barack Obama in effigy and seek to form a unity government with Iran’s Hamas proxy, Clinton gave an impassioned defense of U.S. funding for the PA to the House Foreign Relations Committee this week.

Clinton’s behavior bespeaks a stunning failure to understand the basic realities she and the State Department she leads are supposed to shape. Her lack of comprehension is matched only by her colleague Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ lack of shame and nerve. In a press conference this week, Gates claimed that Iran is weakened by the populist waves in the Arab world because Iran’s leaders are violently oppressing their political opponents.

In light of the Obama administration’s refusal to use U.S. military force for even the most minor missions—like evacuating U.S. citizens from Libya—without UN approval, it is apparent that the U.S. will not use armed force against Iran for as long as Obama is in power. And given the administration’s refusal to expend any effort to protect U.S. interests and allies in the region lest the U.S. be accused of acting like a superpower, it is clear that U.S. allies like the Saudis will not be able to depend on America to defend the regime. This is the case despite the fact that its overthrow would threaten the U.S.’s core regional interests.

Against this backdrop, it is clear that the only way to curb Iran’s influence in the region and so strike a major blow against its rising Shi’ite-Sunni jihadist alliance is to actively support the prodemocracy regime opponents in Iran’s Green Movement.… In the face of massive regime violence, Iran’s anti-regime protesters are out in force in cities throughout the country demanding their freedom and a new regime. And yet, aside from paying lip service to their bravery, neither the U.S. nor any other government has come forward to help them. No one has supplied Iran’s embattled revolutionaries with proxy servers after the regime brought down their Internet communications networks. No one has given them arms. No one has demanded that Iran be thrown out of all UN bodies pending the regime’s release of…the thousands of political prisoners being tortured in the mullah’s jails. No one has stepped up to fund around-the-clock anti-regime broadcasts into Iran to help regime opponents organize and coordinate their operations. Certainly no one has discussed instituting a no-fly zone over Iran to protect the protesters.

With steeply rising oil prices and the real prospect of al-Qaida taking over Yemen, Iranian proxies taking over Bahrain, and the Muslim Brotherhood controlling Egypt, some Americans are recognizing that not all revolutions are Washingtonian.…

We are moving into a new Middle East. And if the mullahs aren’t overthrown, the New Middle East will be a very dark and dangerous place.

 

IRAN LOOMS LARGE IN LIBYA DECISIONS
Gerald F. Seib

Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2011

 

As debate escalates over whether to intervene militarily to help Libyan rebels oust Muammar Ghadafi, the specter lurking in the background—both for those who want to intervene and those wary of doing so—is Iran. The Iranian factor is little discussed but omnipresent. Understanding how it forms the backdrop is crucial to understanding the argument unfolding this week, in Washington, in Europe and at the United Nations, about whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

Those pushing for intervention worry that the lesson Iran will take away if Mr. Gadhafi survives is that leaders who give ground to democracy protesters (see Hosni Mubarak) are swept away. Meanwhile, those who brutally crush protesters (Libya’s strongman) are the ones who hang on. For Iranian leaders already disposed to crushing their own pro-democracy dissidents, the message will be clear.

Those wary of intervening, including many in the Obama administration, worry that Western intervention will play directly into the narrative Tehran’s leaders have been spinning to justify cracking down on their own dissidents: that the U.S. and its Zionist allies are waiting to take advantage of any Mideast unrest to seize control of the region and its oil assets.…

With Iran in position to make trouble by fomenting unrest among its Shiite brethren in nearby Bahrain, the question of how Mideast turmoil might advance Tehran’s interests already loomed large. Now it figures to play more directly into the Libya debate, for Tehran is trying to play both sides of the argument, rhetorically supporting the Libyan rebels while opposing Western help for them.… In the twisted logic of Iran, popular uprisings in the region are admirable examples of Mideast peoples throwing off oppressive regimes, except in Iran itself, and are worthy of support, except from the West.

Hence, Major Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian military’s chief of staff, declared last week: “The reality is that the U.S. wants to stage a military intervention to find control over Libya’s oil wells as it did in Iraq with the Iraqi oil.” That’s why U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon, in talking with journalists late last week, [responded by] using the term “indigenous” four times to describe dissidents in Libya and elsewhere in the region. The U.S. wants rebels in both Libya and Iran to succeed without acquiring a made-in-America label.

Unfortunately, the world may not work so neatly.

 

IRAN’S GOING NUCLEAR
Charles A. Duelfer

National Interest, March 4, 2011

 

Amidst the landscape of Middle East tumult, there remains the prospect of Iran—and its blatant evolving nuclear capability.

In retrospect, Iran circa the presidential protests of 2009, may be seen as the first in the series of popular rebellions we’re witnessing today—though the leadership there successfully beat down the protests. Indeed, the Tehran regime now appears to be relatively stable in the region. Suddenly almost every other government in the Middle East is viewed with greater uncertainty. Which ones can withstand internal dissent? These mobs of newly empowered individuals will shake and perhaps remove standing governments. And there seems to be a tendency in the White House to celebrate these expressions of popular will on the one hand, but on the other there is no vision of where all this leads.…

[So] how does the world now look from Tehran? Is it better or worse? Is there more incentive or less to push on the nuclear front? Is the Iranian economy going to get stronger or weaker with oil prices topping $100 a barrel?

The leaders in Iran must be pretty happy. They are probably reinforced in their decisions to crack down hard and continuously on the green movement. They did not lose control of their country. Tehran probably does not see the contagion of uprisings in countries like Bahrain, Oman, or Saudi Arabia as something that undermines their position. They have already inoculated themselves against the effects of the Internet and rapid dissemination of dissent. And the higher price for oil may help them economically.

The prospect for a nuclear capable Iran amidst a collection of states that are suddenly focused inwardly on internal threats may be a dominant feature of the new reality over the next year or two. Last week while headlines addressed the chaos of Libya, the IAEA released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear activity. It is not good news.

The IAEA inspectors report that Iran continues to expand its activities and, in particular, its uranium enrichment seems to be continuing with plans for expansion. Tehran has not complied with requirements to explain suspected military nuclear work and seems unfazed by Security Council sanctions. Moreover, the IAEA reports that the output of the declared facilities continues—despite the affects of the Stuxnet cyber attack. The evidence is that despite increased sanctions, the effects of cyber attacks (and reportedly the sabotaging of imported equipment) and the assassinations in Iran of top scientists, the program marches on…to the point where it is beginning to look inevitable rather than unacceptable as previous White House statements have declared.

[Despite this], the prospect of a nuclear Iran is no [longer] so close to the top of the agenda. The New York Times quoted a spokesman for the National Security Council commenting on the IAEA report of Iran’s obstruction and failure to cooperate as “troubling”. Well that talking point could probably be applied to several hundred issues that waft through the White House.

The combined actions to thwart Iran’s nuclear program may have complicated or possibly slowed it. But, if ultimately the only way of ending the program is through military action, that option has recently become even tougher given the ferment in the region.… Our approach of trying to buy time may curiously be congruent with Iranian interests. The longer we put off an increasingly inevitable assessment that Iran has nuclear weapons within its grasp, the better it is for Iran to develop its capability and take advantage of the weakened state of its neighbors.

Over thirty years ago on New Year’s Eve, 1977, President Jimmy Carter visited Tehran. In his toast at the state dinner he said, “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” In less than a year, our embassy had been taken over and he was consumed with the hostage crisis. It would be sadly ironic if, today, the net effect of U.S. regional policies was that Iran is a relative island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world—and with nuclear weapons.