Israel, Syria trade accusations at U.N. nuclear meeting


Syria, itself suspected of illicit nuclear activity, accused the West at a major U.N. meeting on Wednesday of double standards in implicitly condoning an Israeli atomic arsenal and warned of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Israel hit back at the annual assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by saying Syria and its ally Iran were “known for their clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

The Jewish state also made clear its view that the volatile region was not yet ready for creating a zone free of such weaponry, which Arab states have been pushing for.

“Such a process can only be launched when peaceful relations exist for a reasonable period of time in the region,” Israeli atomic energy commission head Shaul Chorev said. “Regrettably, the realities in the Middle East are far from being conducive.”

The United States said last week Syria was using the “brutal repression” of its people waging an uprising as an excuse not to address international concerns about its past nuclear work.

U.N. inspectors have long sought access to a site in Syria's desert Deir al-Zor region that U.S. intelligence reports say was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons before Israel bombed it in 2007.

The IAEA has also been requesting information about three other sites that may have been linked to Deir al-Zor, which Syria says was a conventional military site.

Syrian Ambassador Bassam Al-Sabbagh, in a rare public comment on the issue, insisted that his country was ready to cooperate with the U.N. agency and he sought to turn the tables on Damascus's accusers by hitting out at Israel.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, although it refuses to disclose any capability. Like its ally the United States, the Jewish state sees Iran's nuclear program as the most urgent nuclear proliferation threat.

“HOSTILE MIDDLE EAST”

Clearly referring to Washington and its allies, Al-Sabbagh told the IAEA's General Conference in Vienna:

“The fact that some influential states … condone Israel's possession of nuclear capabilities and its failure to subject them to any international control exposes clearly the extent of double standards used by those states.”

He said that this “poses a threat to the region's security and stability and may even spark a nuclear arms race there” and that Israel was the main obstacle to ridding the region of atomic weaponry.

Israel has said it would sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and renounce nuclear weapons only as part of a broader Middle East peace deal with Arab states and Iran that guaranteed its security.

Chorev, the Israeli delegate, said the concept of a region free of weapons of mass destruction “is certainly much less applicable to the current volatile and hostile” Middle East and would require a significant transformation in the region.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, denying Western and Israeli suspicions that it wants to develop an atom bomb capability. Syria also denies any such ambitions.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said this year that Syria had asked for understanding of its “delicate situation” in response to requests for Syrian cooperation with his inspectors.

President Bashar al-Assad is fighting an 18-month-old revolt in which more than 27,000 people have been killed.

Chorev said the situation in Syria was a reminder of the need to secure nuclear materials and added that the whereabouts of atomic fuel intended for the destroyed Deir al-Zor reactor was an “enigma”.

Editing by Rosalind Russell

U.N. nuclear chief holds talks in Tehran, hopes for deal


The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief held rare talks in Tehran on Monday after voicing hope for a deal to investigate suspected atomic bomb research – a gesture Iran might make to try to get international sanctions relaxed and deflect threats of war.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano began discussions with the head of Iran’s nuclear energy organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, a few hours after his pre-dawn arrival, according to ISNA news agency.

Amano, who was on his first trip to Iran since taking office in 2009, a period marked by rising tension between the IAEA and Tehran, was also due to meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday. There was no word on the course of the talks by mid-afternoon.

“I really think this is the right time to reach agreement. Nothing is certain but I stay positive,” Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat with long experience in nuclear proliferation and disarmament affairs, said before departure from Vienna airport. He added that “good progress” had already been made.

But while Amano scheduled Monday’s talks with Iran at such short notice that diplomats said a deal on improved IAEA access in Iran seemed near, few see Tehran going far enough to convince the West to roll back swiftly on punitive sanctions when its negotiators meet global power envoys in Baghdad on Wednesday.

“We are not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice words,” a Western diplomat said of the Baghdad meeting, the outcome of a big power session with Iran in Istanbul last month that ended a diplomatic freeze of more than a year.

Two days after seeing Amano, Jalili will hold talks in the Iraqi capital with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief heading a six-power coalition comprised of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – plus Germany.

By dangling the prospect of enhanced cooperation with U.N. inspectors, diplomats say, Iran might aim for leverage for the broader talks where the United States and its allies want Tehran to curb works they say are a cover for developing atomic bombs.

Pressure for a deal has risen. Escalating Western sanctions on Iran’s economically vital energy exports, and threats by Israel and the United States of last-ditch military action, have pushed up world oil prices, compounding the economic misery wrought by debt crises in many industrialized countries.

HOPE VIES WITH MISTRUST

Some diplomats and analysts said Amano, given a recent history of mistrustful relations with Iran, would go to Tehran only if he believed a framework agreement to give his inspectors freer hands in their investigation was close. Iran has been stonewalling IAEA requests for better access for four years.

“Amano would not have travelled to Tehran had he not been provided with assurances that progress could be made. If he returns to Vienna empty-handed, the embarrassment will be more damaging for Tehran than the agency,” said Ali Vaez, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“However, if the IAEA is satisfied with Tehran’s cooperation, Iranian negotiators will have a new trump card to play at the negotiating table in Baghdad.”

The U.N. watchdog is seeking access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to shed light on work in Iran applicable to developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, especially the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.

Two meetings between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to produce any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after another round of talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes for a deal.

“We need to keep up the momentum. There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA,” Amano said, stressing that he did not expect to visit Parchin during his short, one-day stay in Tehran.

“We regard the visit … as a gesture of goodwill,” Salehi said. He hoped for agreement on a “new modality” to work with the IAEA that would “help clear up the ambiguities”.

DOUBTS

Yet while an Iranian agreement on a so-called “structured approach” outlining the ground rules on how to address the IAEA’s questions would be welcome, it remains to be seen how and when it will be implemented in practice.

“We’ll see if the Iranians agree to let the agency visit Parchin. I have my doubts, no matter what any agreement says on paper,” said one Western envoy ahead of Amano’s visit to Iran.

Such a deal would also not be enough in itself to allay international concerns. World powers want Iran to curb uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or for nuclear bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

Iran, to general disbelief from its Israeli and Western adversaries, insists its nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity in a country that is one of world’s top oil exporters and to produce isotopes for cancer treatment.

Unlike its arch-enemy Israel, assumed to harbor the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, Iran is a signatory to treaties that oblige it to be transparent with the IAEA.

ISRAEL SKEPTICAL

Leaders of the Group of Eight, worried about the effect of high oil prices on their faltering economies, turned up the heat on Iran on Saturday, signaling readiness to tap into emergency oil stocks quickly this summer if tougher new sanctions on Tehran threaten to dry up supplies of crude.

Israel, convinced a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a mortal threat, has – like the United States – not ruled out air strikes to stop Iran’s atomic progress if it deems diplomacy at an end.

Israel believes Iran is using the talks only to buy time.

In Baghdad, the powers’ main goal is to get Iran to stop the higher-grade uranium enrichment it started two years ago and has since expanded, shortening the time needed for any weapons bid.

“What the powers are proposing right now is a kind of interim arrangement … (but) this certainly is not sufficient to stop the military (nuclear) project in Iran,” said Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon.

“Our fear is that from Iran’s perspective this is a sort of sacrifice of a pawn in a chess game in order to protect the king. We are not voicing satisfaction with this move, if it is the final move,” he told Israel Radio.

Iran says it needs uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent for its medical isotope reactor. Enrichment to 5 percent of fissile purity is suitable for power plant fuel, while 90 percent constitutes fuel for bombs.

The IAEA wants Iran to address issues raised by an agency report last year that revealed intelligence pointing to past and possibly ongoing activity to help develop nuclear explosives.

Iran says the intelligence is fabricated, and has so far resisted requests for inspectors to examine Parchin, maintaining that it is a purely conventional military installation outside the writ of nuclear inspectors.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, William Maclean in London, Patrick Markey in Baghdad, Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Report: Obama tells Khamenei to prove there’s no weapons ambition


President Obama reportedly relayed a message to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei challenging the Iranian supreme leader to prove his assertion that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon.

Obama sent the message last week through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Washington Post foreign policy columnist reported on Friday.

“Obama advised Erdogan that the Iranians should realize that time is running out for a peaceful settlement and that Tehran should take advantage of the current window for negotiations,” columnist David Ignatius wrote. “Obama didn’t specify whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium domestically as part of the civilian program the United States would endorse. That delicate issue evidently would be left for the negotiations that are supposed to start April 13, at a venue yet to be decided.”

Khamenei recently reiterated a claim dating back to the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is banned by Islamic law.

Australia expands sanctions against Iran


Australia imposed expanded sanctions on Iran as concerns escalated over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Tuesday that the new measures restrict business with the petroleum and financial sectors in Iran.

“Iran must take steps required by the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and engage constructively with the international community on its nuclear program,” he said.

The new sanctions come two days after the governing Labor Party’s national conference, which passed a resolution stating that “Labor also calls on Iran to cease support for terrorism and desist from its calls for and efforts towards the destruction of Israel.”

Last month, Britain, Canada, the United States and the European Union added fresh sanctions on Tehran after the publication of a damning U.N. report, which Iran’s ayatollahs dismissed as baseless.

Rudd said that “Australia is committed to a negotiated solution of the Iran nuclear issue.”

Report: Iran to build new nuclear research reactors


Iran plans to build “four to five” nuclear research reactors and will continue to enrich uranium to provide their fuel, a nuclear official said on Monday despite Western pressure on Tehran to curb atomic work.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi, said Tehran would build the reactors “in the next few years” to produce medical radioisotopes, according to the students news agency ISNA.

“To provide the fuel for these (new) reactors, we need to continue with the 20 percent enrichment of uranium,” ISNA quoted him as saying.

Netanyahu: Only ‘credible’ military threat led by U.S. can stop nuclear Iran


Only the convincing threat of military action headed by the United States will persuade Iran to drop plans to build an atomic bomb, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Speaking to foreign journalists, he said that although the latest round of international sanctions were hurting Iran, they would not be enough to force a u-turn on nuclear weapons.

“You have to ratchet up the pressure and … I don’t think that this pressure will be sufficient to have this regime change course without a credible military option that is put before them by the international community led by the United States,” he said.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Ahmadinejad: The next Hitler?


From 1939 to 1945, during the Holocaust, 6 million Jews died atrocious deaths throughout Europe at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

On Aug. 6, 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed office as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a rise that could provoke the beginning of the next Holocaust or World War.

Ahmadinejad, 50, has been a very outspoken and controversial character since he stepped into office. Not only is this man an anti-Semite, but he’s also drawn the attention of the international community as an imminent threat to the entire globe.

He has clearly established a blatant opposition to the Jewish people as a whole, as well as other faiths different from his own Shi’a Islam. Throughout his term, he has repeatedly quoted the deceased mullah, Ayatollah Khomeni, by saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” Recently, Ahmadinejad held a “Holocaust Summit” in which he denied the Holocaust, calling it a “myth.”

The honorary guests included David Duke, grand wizard of Klu Klux Klan in the 1970s, who spoke to the summit, saying, “The Holocaust is the device used as the pillar of Zionist imperialism, Zionist aggression, Zionist terror and Zionist murder.”

However, Ahmadinejad’s hatred isn’t limited to the Jewish community. Recently, he called for a census of every single follower of the Bahai’ faith for “confidential reasons.” Thousands of non-Muslims are being persecuted every day in Iran by his actions — Ahmadinejad is the one provoking it.

Hateful remarks and threats may be legally permitted, but the development of uranium and other dangerous products that may contribute to the construction of weapons of mass destruction certainly is not. Despite numerous demands from the United Nations, Europe and the United States, Iran has refused to cease producing these radiological compounds, citing that they are being developed purely for internal nuclear growth and research.

Currently, Iranian scientists are feverishly producing copious amounts of potentially deadly nuclear compounds, which eventually may be used on Israel or possibly the United States.

“The combination of a regime with a radical agenda, together with a distorted sense of reality, put together with nuclear weapons, is a dangerous combination that no one in the international community can accept,” says Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry.

Some might argue that though Ahmadinejad may appear to be a threat to the world, he is serving and providing for his own country and people. But the scores of protests against Ahmadinejad by college students in Tehran over the past couple of months prove otherwise.

In fact, when he first stepped into office, dozens of activists shouted abusive slogans and set off firecrackers as Ahmadinejad addressed students at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University. Furthermore, students recently disrupted a speech by Ahmadinejad at the Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. According to the Iranian Student News Agency, the students set fire to photographs of Ahmadinejad and threw firecrackers. The protesters also chanted “Death to the dictator.”

The only reasonable, rational or even ethical thing to do is to dismantle the current Iranian regime and throw Ahmadinejad out of power. This is obviously not an easy task.

Therefore, the Jewish community as a whole, teens and adults, should take an affirmative stance against Ahmadinejad, by being the first ones to initiate or attempt to initiate some sort of change, whether large or small.

We can all use editorial articles, peaceful and effective protests, and especially our voices to raise awareness against Ahmadinejad and his terror.

Jewish politicians, rabbinical and social leaders must step up and attempt to make a change themselves or address the present situation in Iran to those who can make a change.

Not only is Ahmadinejad’s regime currently persecuting the Iranian Jewish community in Iran, but if nothing is done, the global Jewish community may once again face another Hitler equipped with powerful nuclear technology, brutality, and worst of all, complete and utter hatred against Jews. Our eyes were shut more than 60 years ago when millions died; let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Joshua Yasmeh is a sophomore at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills.

Speak Up!

Tribe, by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15; Deadline for the April issue is March 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Israel Watches Iran With Worry


 

For Israel, it’s the classic “I’ve got good news, but you might want to hear the bad news first” scenario.

Just when a confluence of unrelated events revived the prospect of peace talks with the Palestinians, Iran’s potential nuclear threat to the Jewish state suddenly seems greater than ever.

In fact, the Iran dilemma is almost the mirror image of new hope with the Palestinians: The prospect of a nuclear-armed, radical Islamic regime suddenly has moved from the “within years” to the “within months” column, differences between the United States and Europe are dogging resolution — and the United States wants Israel to just sit still.

Reports of Iran’s accelerated development of nuclear material, as well as missiles to deliver it, have profoundly unsettled Israelis.

“We believe we know what the real intentions of the Iranians are,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said last week in Cleveland at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of North American Jewish federations. “The real intention of the Iranians is to develop a nuclear bomb.”

The level of agreement over keeping at bay a nation that routinely calls for Israel’s elimination and glorifies suicide bombers reached across Israel’s otherwise fractious political culture.

“Israel cannot, cannot live under the shadow of nuclear Iran and the bomb,” Ephraim Sneh, a leader of the opposition Labor party, said on CNN.

“Israel is very vulnerable,” said Sneh, who was in Washington last week. “All our economic and intellectual assets are concentrated in a piece of 20 and 60 miles. That’s all. Two bombs can turn Israel into a scorched Third World country. We cannot live with it.”

Yossi Beilin, leader of the dovish Yahad party, said the issue hangs over the nation at a time when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s death, forthcoming Palestinian elections and the Bush administration’s post-election energy present renewed opportunities for peace in the region.

“Iran is a very, very important issue,” Beilin said. “For us it is hovering, it is a problem.”

Israel and the United States were hoping the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would announce tougher measures at its board meeting Thursday, including more rigorous international monitoring and a trigger mechanism that automatically would refer any violation of Iran’s nonproliferation agreement to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.

Mindful of this week’s IAEA meeting, the Iranians signed an agreement last week with France, Germany and Britain to temporarily suspend their uranium enrichment efforts.

Iran announced on Monday that the suspension, in effect until Iran works out a long-term agreement with the international community, is now underway.

Instead of assuaging concerns, however, the agreement underscored skepticism about Iran’s intentions. Within days of signing the agreement, a reliable opposition group said Iran was using advanced technology to enrich uranium at military sites and keeping the activity secret, presumably to exempt it from the suspension.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran also said that the country had purchased enriched uranium in 2001 and designs for nuclear warheads in the mid-1990s.

Iran dismissed the claims out of hand, but on Friday European diplomats — some apparently from the same nations that had negotiated the suspension agreement — were telling reporters that Iran was accelerating enrichment ahead of the suspension.

The diplomats were furious with the obvious effort to get Iran as close as possible to weaponization before the freeze kicks in.

President Bush said he found the allegations credible. Attending a meeting of Pacific Rim leaders in Chile, Bush said he considered the reports a “very serious matter.”

Another area of concern for the Americans is the development of missiles needed to deliver the warheads.

“I have seen some information that would suggest they had been actively working on delivery systems,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week.

Iran dismisses the reports as unfounded and compares them to the erroneous intelligence on weapons development that helped draw the United States into war with Iraq.

“The burden of proof is on the shoulder of the person who makes the claims,” Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Monday in an interview on CNN.

The problem with that explanation is that Iran often is the source of the claims. In August, Iran released photos of a new version of its Shihab missile that had a baby-bottle design, as opposed to the usual cone shape.

The design apparently was drawn from Soviet era ICBM nuclear missiles, said Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, since a nuclear device fits better in a baby-bottle shape.

Why would the Iranians allow the release of those pictures?

“They want people to know,” Clawson said.

With Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein out of the way, flexing muscles sends a message that Iran is now a dominant power in the Middle East. That would allow Iran to continue its disruptive involvement in Lebanon, where Israel says Iran has armed Hezbollah terrorists with 13,000 missiles. Hezbollah and Iran also have emerged among the main financiers of Palestinian terrorist attacks in the West Bank.

The revelations late last week only increased skepticism among some on the 35-member IAEA board, and the United States has expressed its determination to impose stiffer standards, especially since Iran reneged on previous deals.

Europeans also are unnerved that the newer Shihab missiles apparently could put major European cities within range.

On the other hand, China and Russia — which as declared nuclear nations have considerable influence at the IAEA — are averse to sanctions. Russia has a financial stake in Iran’s main nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Furthermore, Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general, on Monday called Iran’s enrichment suspension a “step in the right direction,” despite skepticism by Israel and others that any real suspension was underway.

Should Iran clear the IAEA hurdle, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) plan to reintroduce their bipartisan “Iran Freedom Support Act” when Congress reconvenes in January. It would allow the president to sanction countries that do business with the Islamic regime and strengthen support for opposition groups.

That likely would have the strong support of the pro-Israel community in Washington, which believes the suspension agreement with Europe is inadequate.

“Iran is intensely working to marry its nuclear and missile programs so that it can deliver a nuclear weapon at the earliest possible date,” said Andrew Schwartz, a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Nothing in the agreement stops Iran from completing nuclear warhead designs or improving its missiles to enable them to deliver nuclear weapons.”

After this meeting, Bush likely would raise the threat of sanctions when the IAEA board meets again, in about four months.

Israel, meanwhile, is sitting on its hands, not wanting to upend delicate U.S. efforts to build international support. U.S. officials have made clear they do not want Israel to repeat its successful 1981 strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak.

“I don’t see how it would do anything but provoke … a conflict between Israel and Iran, and we want to avoid that at all costs, and I think the Israelis recognize that,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “It’s one thing to attack a reactor in Iraq 20-some years ago. It’s something entirely different to take on that challenge now.”

Israelis say they are happy to comply, for now. On the record, they say the window for Iran’s nuclearization is two years; off the record, they say the world is looking at 12 months.

“The complacency of the international community drives Israel, pushes Israel to the corner,” Sneh, a retired general, told CNN. “We don’t prepare a pre-emptive strike, but, gradually, along the axis of time, we are pushed to the corner.”

 

Iran Missiles Graver Security Threat Than ‘Spy’


The building tempest surrounding Israel, the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and allegations of spying shouldn’t obscure the real problem at the root of it all: Iran’s WMDs.

The most urgent question is this: Will Iran attack Israel if its nuclear sites are attacked by the latter or the United States?

Iranian military commanders have been outspoken on the issue in recent weeks: Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guards political bureau, said that the “entire Zionist territory” was currently within range of Iran’s missiles. Guards commander Gen. Rahim Safavi warned that Iran will crush Israel if it was “mad enough to attack Iran’s national interests.” Bagher Zolghadr, second in command of the Guards, said that if Israel dared attack nuclear centers in Iran, the army would not hesitate to demolish the Dimona nuclear reactor, along with Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Iran’s Defense Minister, Ali Shamkhani, 49-year-old Guards commander-turned-rear admiral, announced two weeks ago yet another successful test of the country’s Shahab-3 missile, capable of carrying an 800 kilogram conventional or NBC (nuclear, biological or chemical) warhead 1,200 kilometers away.

Shamkhani said: “The Israelis are trying hard to improve the capacity of their missiles, so are we.”

Some experts say Iran tested the Shahab-4, a missile believed to be based on the Russian SS-4 or the North Korean Nodong-2, the existence of which is denied by the regime but is confirmed to be under secret development. The missile is thought to have a range of more than 2,000 kilometers and is capable of carrying a warhead possibly weighing more than 1.5 tons.

Naturally, the test raised concerns in Washington. Although some experts hinted that it amounted to more of a political statement than a real display of new capabilities, Israel was quick to announce it was going to test again its Arrow anti-missile system.

But regional developments say Israel has to wait for its turn to be “dealt with.”

The anti Israeli flare-up came at a time when in Iraq, the Shiite Medhi Army led by firebrand pro-Iran cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was entrenched in the holy mosque of Ali in Najaf, the country’s sacred Shiite capital. Worried not to hurt religious sentiments, Iraqi and U.S. government forces were trying to smoke them out, with little success. They had to wait for Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s interference to end the duel. Other Shiite cities were also engulfed in unrest.

A senior Iraqi government official played videotapes for reporters showing seized boxes of weapons intended for Mehdi Army. Iraqi minister Wael Abdel Latif, said the weapons came from Iran. Scores of Iranians were arrested among the Mahdi Army’s fighters, according to press reports.

Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the United States of “shamelessly” massacring the Shiite population in Najaf, in spite of its preaching democratic values. Other top religious leaders in the country followed suit. If their remarks served as spiritual and political ammunition for those fighting U.S. and other forces in and around Najaf’s holy shrines, then the military commanders’ remarks would be more than simple saber-rattling. Those entrenched die-hards encircled by the world’s most powerful army, and others scattered all over Iraq, would certainly do with some military backup as well.

Shamkhani told the al-Jazeera satellite television network on Aug. 18: “America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq.”

He very cleverly chose al-Jazeera for the lengthy interview. In fact, his flawless Arabic is much more clearly heard and understood in Najaf and Baghdad than in Tel Aviv.

The next day, Abdolrahman Rashed, former editor in chief of the prestigious Arab daily Asharqalawsat, wrote in London: “Iran’s missiles might be aimed at Israel, but let us not forget that Iran has never, even by mistake, had any clash with Israel. The only possible probability is that their objective lies among their neighbors. And then there is Iraq. “

At least one such example occurred in April 18, 2001, when Iran launched more than 70 Scud-3 missiles in a matter of hours against more than seven targets in southern and eastern Iraq, aiming to eliminate bases of the Iranian opposition Mujahidin Khalq Organization in Iraq.

Unlike Saddam Hussein, the clerics ruling Iran are excellent strategists. They think that now is their chance to aim their adversary’s Achilles’ heel, which they call the “Iraqi quagmire.” In this battle, anti-Israeli rhetoric is a weapon second to none.

But, unlike Rashed’s conclusion, they certainly would not stay there. It certainly has to be “Iraq first,” but there would certainly be others next. Let us not forget their famous mobilizing motto during their eight-year war with Saddam Hussein: “The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala.”

Iran’s clerics think much the same way today.


Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.