IRAN: PRECONDITIONS AND PROVOCATIONS
Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, February 10, 2011
The January 21-22 meeting in Istanbul between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1), aimed at reaching at least some understandings regarding Iran’s nuclear program, concluded in a resounding failure. To understand why is to shed light on the larger question of Iran’s regional role.
In the course of the meeting, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, head of the Iranian delegation, laid down two preconditions: a cessation of the sanctions against Iran, and recognition of its right to nuclear fuel and enrichment. In practice, the insistence on such preconditions rendered the meeting superfluous. “These preconditions are not a way to proceed,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton noted at the end of the meeting. But they came as no surprise. As Tehran had declared both before and during the talks, it did not want to deal with the nuclear issue at all but with the “entire range of regional and international problems.”
It was a small, if telling, example of how Iranian behavior prior to, during, and following the talks attested to Iran’s sense of supreme self-confidence. Western pressure notwithstanding, Iran draws encouragement from its progress on the nuclear program, from regional developments in Lebanon and Iraq, and from the frozen negotiations in the Palestinian arena. It senses that it can persist in its provocations against the West without paying any price whatsoever.… Indeed, last month’s talks in Turkey offered Iran an opportunity to show how the center of power has shifted from Western dominance to Islamic hegemony under Tehran’s leadership.…
Upon the conclusion of the talks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad hastened to emphasize that…the West had to reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran as a fait accompli. Western behavior towards Iran must take this fact as its point of departure, the Iranian leader insisted. “Conditions are now prepared for reaching good agreements in future sessions,” Ahmedinejad said, “if the opposite side complies with justice and respect (for Iran’s nuclear rights).” He boasted that the world powers had failed to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state, that even hundreds of superpowers could not budge Iran from its positions.…
Iran now has sufficient low-level enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear bomb or two. If the Iranian leadership should decide, on the basis of strategic considerations at home or abroad, to do so, it could enrich uranium to the high level requisite for nuclear weapons. (Iran currently claims that it can already enrich to a level of 20 percent to supply the research needs of the Tehran reactor.)
A recent study by the Federation of American Scientists warned of complacency and a dulling of the sense of urgency on the part of the West. Inter alia, the report concluded that “despite a drop in centrifuge numbers during 2010, the total enrichment capacity of Iran’s main facility has increased relative to previous years.… It would take Iran anywhere from five months to almost a year to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single crude bomb.…”
Reports of a delay in Iran’s nuclear progress due to the damage inflicted by the Stuxnet computer virus only reinforce Iran’s position, and at the same time allow the country to continue making progress on its clandestine military nuclear program. In their current scope, the sanctions may damage the Iranian economy and may impede the nuclear program’s pace, but are not likely to induce Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards to forgo the military nuclear program, vital for anchoring regime stability. For the moment, then, Iran only derives encouragement from the West’s persistent haplessness.
Iran today is demonstrating that it is capable of detrimentally influencing regional politics (the Israeli-Palestinian peace process) and regional stability (in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Afghanistan). Iran also sees itself as inspiring the democratic awakening in the Arab world (Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan), viewing events in Egypt as the direct continuation of Khomeini’s revolution.… Therefore, we must restore a sense of urgency and once more put a credible military threat on the agenda. (According to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, in 2003 such a threat caused Iran temporarily to abandon the military track of its nuclear program due to apprehensions about an American attack.)
American President Barack Obama has the opportunity to “correct” the line that he adopted at the start of his term vis-à-vis Iran, a line that allowed Iran to harden its position on the nuclear issue and intensify its influence in Middle Eastern affairs.… The alternative is grim: a weakening of the moderate Arab camp, a strengthening of the “resistance camp” (Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas, and the other Palestinian terror organizations influenced by Iran), and a steep decline in American influence in the region. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “We have time. But not a lot of time.”
John R. Bolton
LA Times, February 3, 2011
Despite the media’s recent focus on Egypt, events in Lebanon may well tell us more about the troubled prospects for Middle Eastern democracy. The fall of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, replaced by a Hezbollah-dominated coalition, dramatically imperils Beirut’s democratic Cedar Revolution.
Financed and dominated by Iran, terrorist Hezbollah has consistently refused to disarm and become a legitimate political party. Instead, it enjoys the best of both worlds, contesting elections while retaining the military ability to enforce its will against uncongenial results. History will rightly blame the West for the tragedy of the takeover in Beirut, because of its unwillingness to stand against Hezbollah and its Iranian puppet masters.…
In mid-January at The Hague, the prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon submitted long-awaited indictments regarding the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Although the indictments are not yet public, they are widely expected to finger top leaders in Hezbollah, Syria and potentially Iran, and they are doubtless behind Hezbollah’s decision to assert itself by collapsing the government of Hariri’s son.
Rescuing Lebanon from radicals and terrorists will require strong action, noticeably absent in recent U.S. policy. We can no longer pretend that the special tribunal’s existence is an adequate response to the real problem in Lebanon: Tehran’s long-standing drive for regional hegemony. It was always a mistake to confuse the effectiveness of an international criminal court with courts of real constitutional governments, and harmfully naive to think that the special tribunal could operate in a vacuum, as the events in Lebanon make painfully clear.…
For years before Hariri’s February 2005 murder, the West explained away or ignored Hezbollah’s clear role as an active agent of Syrian and Iranian influence. Western dupes and sympathizers noted Hezbollah’s support for schools and hospitals among Lebanon’s Shiite Muslims as if it were a different Hezbollah from the one terrorizing Israel and subverting and intimidating Lebanon’s faltering efforts at representative government. Hezbollah’s diaphanous justification for its military capability—expelling Israel from Lebanon—in effect ended in 2000 when Israel complied with U.N. Security Council resolutions by withdrawing its forces from southern Lebanon. Of course, protecting Lebanon is legitimately the responsibility only of the Lebanese armed forces, which in fact Syria and Hezbollah have also been working to bring under their control.
Western support for Lebanese democracy has been for the most part limited to a series of Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolution 1559, calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and Resolution 1595, creating an international investigation commission to assist Lebanon in prosecuting the Hariri assassination. But Hezbollah foiled these efforts in 2006 by provoking war with Israel. The Security Council ultimately imposed a cease-fire and called for “the disarming of all armed groups in Lebanon,” for an embargo against rearming Hezbollah and for Lebanon’s government to take control of its entire territory, in order to eliminate Hezbollah’s state within a state.
But, as so often before, the West did not follow through. Instead, Iran and Syria rearmed and restored Hezbollah to greater strength (unequivocally demonstrating that Hezbollah was their proxy).
The West must insist on enforcing the Security Council resolutions in support of Lebanese sovereignty and peaceful, representative government, or stop engaging in meaningless gestures. This is our last opportunity before Hezbollah’s armed capabilities swallow democracy in Lebanon, perhaps permanently, and dramatically increase the risk of renewed hostilities throughout the region.…
Unlike Washington’s repeated prior failures, we must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate.… The White House has been obsessed for two years with pressuring Israel to make concessions to Palestinians instead of focusing on the manifestations of Iran’s menace. Perhaps the humiliation of Hezbollah’s collapsing of Saad Hariri’s government as Hariri was meeting in the Oval Office will help spur Obama into meaningful action. If not, the lights will be going out in Lebanon for a long time to come, with devastating consequences in the broader Middle East.
(John R. Bolton is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.)
OBAMA AND [THE] SYRIAN TRAP
Matthew RJ Brodsky
Ynet News, January 5, 2011
…The Obama administration is eyeing an opportunity to make headway with Syria. The theory is nothing new: If the regime in Damascus can make peace with Israel, end its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, distance itself from Iran, and reorient itself toward the West, then the U.S. would further isolate Tehran’s rulers while giving a critical boost to peace efforts around the region.
To that end, President Obama confirmed the new U.S. ambassador to Syria and reports have surfaced of a recent back channel opened between the White House and Syrian officials in Damascus. While Team Obama may see such a development as a panacea for what ails the Middle East, the reality is that Syria will simply use the opportunity to play all sides against each other and pocket concessions, while preserving the very status quo that Washington seeks to alter.
The timing could not be any better for the Assad regime. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon tasked with investigating the string of assassinations in 2005 including that of the pro-freedom, former Lebanese premier, Rafik Hariri, is set to hand down indictments in a matter of weeks. Hezbollah will likely be held responsible with the support and orders coming from Assad’s inner circle. Moreover, just last month U.S. satellite imagery revealed a compound in Western Syria with hundreds of missile-shaped items, functionally related to the North Korean-designed nuclear reactor destroyed in September 2007. For more than two years, Syria has blocked International Atomic Energy Agency access to the remains of the al-Kibar nuclear site and similar installations.
The pattern is already familiar. Damascus makes tactical choices for diplomatic engagement without making the strategic decision to change its worldview in a manner consistent with a state seeking either peace or a regional realignment. By engaging with Syria now, the U.S. not only ensures that Damascus will not be held to account, but it rewards their rogue behavior and emboldens America’s enemies.…
The Assad regime always benefits from the process of peace, but it is the process and not the peace that interests Damascus. That is because Syria has no intention of trading alliances or stopping its support for terrorists as its regional importance rests solely on its capacity to light fires around the region.… President Assad still considers Hamas to be a legitimate resistance group and preserving Hezbollah’s strength is a strategic imperative for the regime whose first foreign policy priority is regaining and retaining its domination over Lebanon. Simply put, for Syria, the rewards for a peace agreement acceptable in Jerusalem and Washington are far outweighed by the benefits provided by its strategic and longstanding alignment with Tehran.
[The Obama administration’s] current flirtation with Damascus, then, only provides benefits to Syria. This distraction points to an American foreign policy in the Middle East that for two years has been built on a fundamental misreading of the region. Indeed, it still rests upon the belief that the problem is one of communication, rather than the decisions and strategic calculations of states and actors such as Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
President Obama came into office with engagement as his mantra, seeking to reset U.S. relations around the globe. One can only hope the White House finds the reset button quickly when it comes to its current approach to the Middle East.
(Matthew RJ Brodsky is Director of Policy of the Jewish Policy Centerin Washington, DC.)
WE WILL NOT BE TURKEY’S PUNCHING BAG
Jerusalem Post, January 5, 2011
Contrary to popular assertions, the current crisis [between Israel and] Turkey did not begin yesterday and certainly not after the events surrounding the flotilla in May.… The exact genesis of the current crisis can be traced to the moment in January 2009 when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan verbally attacked and humiliated [Israeli] President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Everyone who saw this unsettling scene was left in no doubt that this outburst was not improvised or reactive, but part of a carefully thought-out strategy.…
The completely unilateral change in [Israeli-Turkish] relations is not reflective of [Israel’s] actions; rather it is the result of Turkey’s internal politics. Turkey’s relations with Israel are only a small reflection of what is occurring in Turkish society. The best example of this is Ankara’s decision not to vote for sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, in direct opposition to its allies in NATO.
Unfortunately, recent events in Turkey are reminiscent of Iran before the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei. Like Turkey, Iran was among Israel’s closest allies and the two nations held good relations between both governments and people. Similarly, the Khomenei revolution was the result of internal factors and had absolutely no connection to Israel.
During the last couple of months, the incitement against Israel has reached new heights. During Erdogan’s visit to Lebanon in late November, he said that Turkey will not “remain silent” while Israel will “kill women and children using modern aircraft, tanks…phosphorus munitions and cluster bombs.” It is important to note that Erdogan’s visit followed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon a month prior. It was difficult for us to perceive any differences in the vitriol of the two.…
The hatred and incitement reached its peak during the dreadful spectacle when a crowd of 100,000 welcomed the terror ship Mavi Marmara back to Istanbul chanting jihadist slogans and “Death to Israel.” The lack of condemnation for these outrageous scenes from any official Turkish sources makes it extremely hard for us to show restraint. We will not be a punching bag and will react, as any other sovereign nation, to such insults and abuse.
If the Turkish government is truly honest about seeking to normalize relations with Israel, it needs to stop looking for excuses and attaching preconditions.… We are seeking a return to a frank and honest dialogue with Turkey, and I invite my counterpart, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, to Jerusalem, or any other location, where we can discuss all issues of relevance to both nations and the wider region. Allies can have disagreements; it is how we deal with these disagreements that is the true mark of any relationship.
(Avigdor Lieberman is the Israeli deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.)
WE COULD STILL ‘LOSE’ IRAQ
LA Times, February 13, 2011
…Remember Iraq? That country we [the U.S.] invaded in 2003? The one where more than 4,400 American soldiers have lost their lives and more than 32,000 have been wounded? The one where we’ve spent nearly $800 billion?
As recently as 2008, Iraq dominated American politics. But now it’s a nonstory. Other subjects have pushed it off the front page, from the economy and healthcare to Afghanistan, Tunisia and Egypt. In a way, Iraq has been a victim of its own success. Because it seems to be doing relatively well, policymakers have shifted their attention to more urgent concerns. But there is a danger that our present inattention could undo the progress that so many have struggled so hard to attain.
Iraq has made impressive gains since 2006, when it was on the brink of all-out civil war. Violence is down more than 90% even as the number of U.S. troops has fallen to 50,000 from 170,000. The Iraqi political system continues to function with the recent inauguration of a new coalition government led by returning Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. And the economy is picking up steam, as contracts are signed with foreign companies that can tap the country’s vast oil reserves.
But there remain disquieting reminders of darker days. More than 250 Iraqis died in terrorist attacks in January, up from 151 in December, with most of those attacks attributed to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group whose obituary has been written more than once. Roughly as many civilians died in Iraq last year as in Afghanistan—about 2,400. Remind me again which country is at peace?
The political situation [in Iraq] remains as uncertain as the security situation; indeed, the two are closely connected. The formation of a new government occurred only after an agonizing nine-month deadlock in 2010. Iyad Allawi, who won the most votes, lost the prime minister’s office and accepted as a consolation prize leadership of a new strategic policy council with undefined powers. His primarily Sunni Muslim backers remain convinced they will be frozen out of power by the Shiite prime minister. Maliki, in turn, is deeply suspicious of Sunni groups such as the Sons of Iraq, as well as of his Shiite rivals in cleric Muqtada Sadr’s movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Shiites and Sunnis are united chiefly by their desire to curb Kurdish autonomy, a prospect that fills the Kurds with understandable dread.
In short, Iraq remains a volcano. It has been capped for the moment but could erupt again. Especially because the most effective cap—a U.S. military presence—is due to be removed at the end of the year. Prospects of a security accord that would keep American forces in Iraq past 2011 are rapidly dimming. Maliki, who spent long years of exile in Syria and Iran—no fans of the United States—has always been suspicious of America. He would certainly prefer not to have tens of thousands of U.S. troops under a four-star general looking over his shoulder. President Obama, for his part, came to office pledging to withdraw from Iraq and, judging by his State of the Union address, appears determined to do just that.
Unless both men change course and soon, the mission now performed by 50,000 U.S. troops will be left to about 1,000 diplomats and perhaps 100 soldiers in an Office of Security Cooperation, with thousands of mostly non-American contractors providing security and logistical support.…
This is worrisome because if there is any lesson in American military history, it is that the longer U.S. troops stay in a post-conflict area, the greater the odds of a successful transition to democracy. The iconic examples are Germany, Japan and South Korea. When U.S. forces leave prematurely, on the other hand, the odds of a bad outcome greatly increase, whether in the post-Civil War South, post-World War I Germany, Haiti in the 1930s and 1990s, or Somalia in the 1990s. Foreign peacekeepers are still in Bosnia and Kosovo long after the end of their conflicts. Does anyone think that Iraq is more stable than those postage-stamp-size countries on the periphery of Europe?
Iraq may very well muddle through no matter what. It has so far. But I would be a lot more confident about its future if we were making a bigger commitment. It would be a tragedy if, after years of struggle and sacrifice, we were to lose Iraq now…because of our own attention deficit disorder.
(Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.)