In Iran talks, North Korea parallel goes only so far


If you have nuclear weapons, all sorts of bad behavior will be tolerated.

That’s the lesson some are worried Iran may be learning from North Korea’s increasingly confrontational stance against South Korea and the United States.

Pyongyang has stepped up its belligerent rhetoric in recent days, threatening to strike targets in South Korea and America, shuttering the joint North-South industrial park at Kaesong and warning foreigners to leave South Korea to avoid possible nuclear war. The Obama administration has scrambled to tamp down tensions, in part by delaying some planned military exercises.

Combined with the latest failure to reach any accord in talks between the major powers and Iran on Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, some Iran watchers are worried the Islamic Republic is learning that truculence pays off — at least if you have nuclear capabilities.

“I would imagine the lessons they’re drawing are not the ones the Western powers would like,” Valerie Lincy, who directs the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, told The New York Times. “That you can weather sanctions and renege on previous agreements, and ultimately if you stand fast, you’ll get what you’re looking for.”

But Iran experts caution that there are some fundamental differences between North Korea and Iran that undercut parallels between them.

For one thing, said Alireza Nader, a senior Iran analyst at the Rand Corp., the impasse in the most recent round of negotiations with Iran held in Kazakhstan was the result of political uncertainty in Iran, not the situation in North Korea.

Iran is scheduled to hold elections on June 14. Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the country's supreme leader, is maneuvering to replace outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with someone who is more loyal to the theocracy and less prone to distracting outbursts, Nader said.

Nader also said Tehran is much more likely to be influenced by sanctions than Pyongyang because North Korea is totalitarian and Iran, while authoritarian, still is susceptible to public pressures.

“North Korea has suffered from sanctions, but its regime does not care about its population the way the Islamic Republic has to consider its population,” Nader said.

Michael Makovsky, a Pentagon official who helped shape Iraq policy during the George W. Bush presidency and has been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Iran, said the big question is whether Iran is drawing dangerous lessons about America’s will to stop regimes from obtaining or using weapons of mass destruction.

“There's still a big question mark about the U.S. using force” to stop the use of unconventional weapons, said Makovsky, now the director of foreign policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “We have to make abundantly clear we're serious about not having a nuclear Iran.”

President Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 last month just prior to his visit to Israel that he believed he had a year’s window to resolve the Iran crisis through pressure and diplomacy. He emphasized during his visit that he would not count out a military strike should that process fail. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry repeated that message this week during a visit to Israel.

“The clock that is ticking on Iran’s program has a stop moment, and it does not tick interminably,” Kerry said Tuesday in Israel. “We have said again and again that negotiations are not for the sake of negotiations, they are to make progress. And negotiations cannot be allowed to become a process of delay, which in and of itself creates greater danger.”

Kerry also raised the North Korea parallel in addressing reports that Iran was reopening mines for yellowcake, which can be used to prepare uranium fuel for nuclear reactors.

“Clearly, any effort — not unlike the DPRK, where Kim Jong-un has decided to reopen his enrichment procedures by rebuilding a facility that had been part of an agreement to destroy — in the same way as that is provocative, to open up yellowcake production and to make any step that increases the rapidity with which you move towards enriched fissile material raises the potential of questions, if not even threat,” he said. “And I think that is not constructive.”

Heather Hurlburt, the executive director of the National Security Network think tank, said Iran is more susceptible to international opinion than North Korea, particularly because Tehran is seeking to enhance its international influence.

“There's a political cost to an Iranian regime becoming perceived the way North Korea is perceived,” she said. “Iran’s regime is acutely aware of it.”

U.S. can intercept North Korean missile but may opt not to, admiral says


The United States is capable of intercepting a North Korean missile, should it launch one in the coming days, but may choose not to if the projected trajectory shows it is not a threat, a top U.S. military commander told Congress on Tuesday.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific region, said the U.S. military believed North Korea had moved to its east coast an unspecified number of Musudan missiles, with a range of roughly 3,000-3,500 miles.

An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters “our working assumption is that there are two missiles that they may be prepared to launch” — which was in line with South Korean media reports.

Locklear said the Musudan's range was far enough to put Guam, a U.S. territory, at risk but not Hawaii or the U.S. mainland.

“If the missile was in defense of the homeland, I would certainly recommend that action (of intercepting it). And if it was defense of our allies, I would recommend that action,” Locklear told a Senate hearing.

Asked whether he would recommend shooting down any missile fired from North Korea, regardless of its trajectory, Locklear said: “I would not recommend that.”

The comments by Locklear came amid intense speculation that Pyongyang may be preparing for a missile test -—something the White House says would not be a surprise — or another provocation that could trigger a military response from Seoul.

The Pentagon has in recent weeks announced changes to its posture to respond to the North Korean threat, including the positioning of two, Aegis-class guided-missile destroyers in the western Pacific and deployment of a missile defense system to Guam.

Any U.S. or South Korea response to a North Korean provocation has the potential to further escalate tensions on the peninsula, just as North Korea intensifies threats of imminent conflict. Pyongyang warned to foreigners on Tuesday to evacuate South Korea to avoid being dragged into “thermonuclear war”.

NO 'OFF-RAMP' TO TENSIONS

The North's latest message belied an atmosphere free of anxiety in the South Korean capital, where the city center was bustling with traffic and offices operated normally.

Despite the heated rhetoric, Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the threat could be aimed partly at bolstering Kim Jong-un, 30, the third in his family to lead the country.

Locklear said the U.S. military believed the younger Kim was more unpredictable than his father or grandfather, who always appeared to factor into their cycle of period provocations “an off-ramp of how to get out of it.”

“And it's not clear to me that he has thought through how to get out of it. And so, this is what makes this scenario, I think, particularly challenging,” Locklear said.

Lawmakers at the hearing were extremely critical of China, the North's major benefactor, and Locklear acknowledged that the United States wanted Beijing to do more to influence the North to dial-back its aggressive posture.

Asked at one point in the hearing whether China was a friend or foe, Locklear responded: “Neither.”

“I consider them at this point in time, someone we have to develop a strategic partnership with to manage competition between two world powers,” he said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Jackie Frank

Budget, Iran top priorities for new Israeli government


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government will face the immediate task of passing an austerity budget and the time-sensitive challenge of preventing what it believes is Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons.

Following is a list of the coalition's main priorities as Netanyahu started his third term in office on Monday:

PASSING A BUDGET

After clinching coalition agreements last week, Netanyahu said his government's first task would be “passage of a responsible budget” – shorthand for widely expected spending cuts and tax rises.

The budget deficit rose to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 – double the original target. It was cabinet infighting over the 2013 budget that led Netanyahu to call an early election.

Netanyahu now has 45 days to put together a budget and win parliamentary approval, or face another general election. Parliament could, however, use special legislation to extend the deadline to 120 days.

IRAN

Netanyahu has said his government's “paramount task” would be “to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons”.

Last year, Netanyahu announced a “red line” for Iran's nuclear program, saying Tehran should not be allowed to obtain 240 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium, a point it could reach, he said, by spring or summer of 2013.

It was another heavy hint from Netanyahu that Israel could attack Iran's nuclear sites. But officials and analysts say Iran has slowed its mid-level uranium enrichment to stay beneath the Netanyahu threshold.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in an interview with Israel's Channel Two television last week, said it would take Iran more than a year to develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran denies seeking atomic arms.

SYRIA

Israel is closely watching Syria's civil war, with occasional spillover mortar fire into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Netanyahu has voiced concern that Syria's chemical weapons and other advanced arms could fall into the hands of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and al Qaeda.

In January, according to a Western diplomat and a source among Syrian rebels, Israeli planes bombed a convoy near Syria's border with Lebanon carrying weapons to Hezbollah.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE

Netanyahu has said that Obama's visit this week would put the Israeli-Palestinian peace issue on his new government's agenda earlier than expected.

Beyond an oft-repeated call to the Palestinians to return to peace talks they abandoned in 2010 over Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank, Netanyahu has not voiced any new ideas on how to restart the negotiations.

Israel's new housing minister, a settler himself, said on Sunday the cabinet would keep expanding settlements to the same extent as Netanyahu's previous government.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Peres says Israel can’t go it alone in Iran, trusts Obama


Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday came out against any go-it-alone Israeli attack on Iran, saying he trusted U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.

His comments appeared to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who have both raised the prospect of a unilateral Israeli strike, despite assurances from Washington it will not let Iran get the atomic bomb.

“I am convinced this is an American interest. I am convinced(Obama) recognizes the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him,” Peres told Channel Two television.

“Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay (Iran’s nuclear program). It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”

[Related: Israel minister: Possible war with Iran could be month-long affair]

A flurry of comments by Israeli officials and media reports over the past week have put financial markets on edge by appearing to suggest an attack could be launched before the U.S. presidential election in November.

An unidentified top “decision maker”, widely believed to be Barak, told Haaretz newspaper last Friday that Israel “cannot place the responsibility for its security and future even in the hands of its greatest ally”, a reference to the United States.

Peres said in the interview that he did not believe Israel would launch an attack on Iran before November.

As president, Peres, 89, has little political power in Israel. But he has won the respect of many Israelis while serving in the post and his opposition to any unilateral action poses an additional challenge to Netanyahu.

A political source close to Netanyahu issued an angry response to Peres’ comments shortly after the president’s interview was aired.

“Peres has forgotten what the role of Israel’s president is. He has forgotten that he made three major mistakes in regard to Israel’s security … his greatest mistake was in 1981 when he thought bombing the reactor in Iraq was wrong and, to the fortune of Israel’s citizens, Prime Minister Begin ignored him,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In 1981 Israeli warplanes destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad.

Israel’s prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, had cautioned that a nuclear-armed Iraq under Saddam Hussein would pose a threat to the existence of the Jewish state and ignored then opposition leader Peres’ warnings against the strike.

AMERICAN PRESSURE

At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it was important that military action be the “last resort”, adding that there was still time for sanctions and diplomatic pressure to work.

“I don’t believe they’ve made a decision as to whether or not they will go in and attack Iran at this time,” Panetta said.

During a visit to Jerusalem at the start of the month, he made some of his strongest comments yet on curbing Tehran’s nuclear project. “We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period,” he told reporters.

In parliament on Thursday, Barak said Israeli deliberations on a course of action were continuing.

“There is a forum of nine (ministers), there is a (security) cabinet, and a decision, when it is required, will be taken by the Israeli government,” Barak said.

“This doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. The issue is complicated, but the issue is being deliberated,” he added.

Israeli officials have told Reuters that the prime minister’s cabinet was split on the issue, while the top military leadership was believed to be opposed to any mission that did not have full U.S. support.

“Over the past several months, a wide-ranging and unbridled public relations campaign has been conducted in Israel. Its only aim has been to prepare the ground for premature operational adventures,” said opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, who pulled his Kadima party out of the ruling coalition in July.

Iran rejects Israeli and Western allegations that its nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons, and has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked – retaliation that could draw the United States into the conflict.

Additional reporting by Maayen Lubell; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alison Williams

Israel: Syria Government Still in Control of Chemical Weapons


The Syrian government is still in full control of its chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Israel’s foreign minister warned separately that the Jewish state would act decisively if Syria handed over any chemical or biological weapons to its Hezbollah enemies.

“The worry, of course, is that the regime will destabilize and the control will also destabilize,” the defense official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio.

But he added: “At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime.”

Western countries and Israel have voiced fears that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militant groups as the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erodes.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said Israel would consider military action to ensure those weapons did not reach Assad’s Hezbollah guerrilla allies in Lebanon. Israel says Hezbollah has some 70,000 rockets in its arsenal.

But Israel appeared to harden its line on non-conventional weapons reaching Hezbollah when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday that decisive action would have be taken against such a move.

“The moment we see Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah this is a red line for us. And from our point of view it is a clear casus belli. We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint,” Lieberman said.

On Monday, Syria acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign nations intervened in the 16-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan

After Bibi’s U.S. visit, question remains: What’s Israel’s next step on Iran?


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waiting and watching when it comes to Iran—although for how long, no one knows.

Analysts and Jewish organizational officials who speak with Israeli and U.S. government say Netanyahu came away from his meeting last week with President Obama feeling that he has a strategic partner in seeking to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But, they say, he has yet to decide whether Obama’s tactics will do the job or if Israel must strike.

Critical Israeli conclusions from Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama have yet to be revealed in part because Israeli officials may still be considering their course of action, suggested Jason Isaacson, international relations director for the American Jewish Committee.

“We don’t yet know the crucial decisions,” or if there are any, he said.

“It was a worthwhile visit,” Isaacson said. “There is greater understanding than existed before, and there had been pretty considerable understanding before.”

David Makovsky, a senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, outlined a number of theories that have cropped up in the wake of the meeting: That Netanyahu will wait until after European oil sanctions kick in this summer to decide on a course of action, or that he would launch a strike before the American elections in order not to be locked in by the powers of a newly elected president to set an international agenda. Or that he would not act at all.

“There were a lot of convergences between the president and the prime minister, but timing wasn’t one of them,” Makovsky said. “Obama said we have plenty of time in his speech” to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “and that is not the Israeli perception.”

It was hard to pin down how much time Israel believes it has, in part because its calculations are based on Western intelligence, which may not be entirely reliable. A key factor, Makovsky said, was when and whether Iran developed the capability to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, 93 percent.

“Israel has two questions: Will conversion to highly enriched uranium be detected in real time, and will the United States be able to act in real time,” he said.

A consensus is that the main takeaway of the meeting last week between the two leaders is that they had moved toward one another: Obama in making explicit the possibility of a U.S. military strike on Iran, in underscoring Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself, and in rejecting a strategy of containing Iran; and Netanyahu in ratcheting down threats of military action.

“For now the chances of an Israeli attack against Iran have receded,” said Alireza Nader, an expert on Iran-Israel relations at the Rand Corp., an independent think tank that often consults with the U.S. government. “I wouldn’t say the military option is off the table. We’ll have to see what Netanyahu says in the next few days or weeks.”

What precisely is the time frame for a make-or-break decision by Netanyahu on whether to strike is a matter of conjecture?

Some suggest that Netanyahu cannot act before the consequences are clear of tough oil sanctions that the European Union is set to impose on Iran, if only because Netanyahu has pressed so hard for the sanctions. The sanctions are set to kick in on June 1, and it will take weeks to see if they have had an effect on Iran’s considerations of whether to advance its suspected nuclear program.

“More than ever the idea that the sanctions could lead to a change in behavior of the Iranians is guiding us,” a senior European diplomat said, speaking of the mood on the continent.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said it was his impression that Netanyahu would not decide to act at least until the American elections in November. The backlash of a strike before then would not serve Israel well, he said, noting the uncertainty it would inject into the American political sphere and economy, particularly regarding oil prices.

“Israel will not act for the time being, from my perspective, until the elections because of the unforeseen consequences, the impact on the economy,” he said.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Israeli analyst, says the chances of a unilateral Israeli attack against American wishes are “tiny.”

“If Americans are dragged into war and oil shoots up, it would damage our position,” he said. “Our relationship with the United States is a very valuable strategic asset.”

In the immediate wake of the meetings, news reports surfaced that Israel had asked the Obama administration for weaponry that would help in a strike against Iran. The White House denied a report in the Israeli daily Maariv that Obama had promised bunker-buster bombs and other equipment that could help Israel to hit Iran on the condition that it not attack this year.

Unnamed Israeli and U.S. officials were later quoted confirming that a request for such assistance was made by Israel. The unnamed U.S. official told Reuters that a request was made during Netanyahu’s meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta but that no agreement was reached.

One prominent critic of the notion that Israel could successfully attack Iran’s nuclear facilities is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Appearing on the CBS news program “60 Minutes” that was broadcast Sunday night, Dagan warned that an Israeli strike on Iran could result in a war that has “devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life.”

Dagan, who has clashed with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the issue, said if there is a strike, he would “always prefer that Americans will do it.”

However, it is not clear whether Israeli leaders are content to rely upon the U.S. to do what they feel is necessary if push comes to shove.

Makovsky outlined three areas of tension between the Israeli and American approaches: What would constitute the trigger, an Iranian capability to make a weapon, which is Israel’s red line, or Iran’s decision to weaponize, the U.S. red line; the utility of diplomacy; and Israel’s sense of urgency regarding when Iran’s nuclear program becomes impenetrable—what Barak calls a “zone of immunity.”

“The Israeli fear is that Iran will try to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel, and offer the U.S. enough to stay at the table and not strike,” Makovsky said.

But Foxman said the fact that Netanyahu and Obama reinforced the perception of alignment mattered more than differences over timing.

“Trigger mechanisms, weaponizing, capability, this is all pilpul,” he said, using to the term for Talmudic disputes. “What does zone of immunity even mean?”

Aaron David Miller, a former top Middle East negotiator under a number of presidents, wrote that despite the differences, the Iranians would understand after the meeting that Obama and Netanyahu were united in a determination to prevent the Islamic Republic from going nuclear.

“Perhaps the most important development to emerge from the meeting last week was Obama’s clear reset of the frame of reference within which American policy toward Iran will now play out,” he wrote on CNN’s website. “He gave very little away to the prime minister in terms of assurances, let alone guarantees, of American military action against Iran. But he did highlight the new vocabulary: Containment of Iran and its nuclear program won’t do anymore. Prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon is now the strategic objective.”

U.S. official: Netanyahu asked Panetta to approve sale of bunker-busting bombs


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the United States approve the sale of advanced refueling aircraft as well as GBU-28 bunker-piercing bombs to Israel during a recent meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The American official said that U.S. President Barack Obama instructed Panetta to work directly with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter, indicating that the U.S. administration was inclined to approve the request as soon as possible.

During the administration of former U.S. President George Bush, the U.S. refused to sell bunker-penetrating bombs and refueling aircrafts to Israel, as a result of American estimates that Israel would then use them to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

West seeks to pressure Iran at U.N. nuclear meet


Western powers hope to win Russian and Chinese backing for rebuking Iran at the U.N. nuclear agency next week over Tehran’s failure to address mounting fears that it is secretly bent on acquiring nuclear weapons capability, diplomats say.

Seeking to ward off any such diplomatic action, Iran has warned its opponents and others against making “provocative statements” at the March 5-9 meeting of the 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Western envoys say the lack of progress at talks this year between the IAEA and Iran and Tehran’s acceleration of sensitive atomic activity mean the board should respond to the country’s defiance of increased international pressure.

But they make clear they want broad support for any new board resolution and especially from Russia and China, which have backed four rounds of U.N. sanctions since 2006 but criticised unilateral Western punitive steps against Iran.

An IAEA resolution, while containing no concrete measures, would be aimed at sending a united message to Iran that it must stop stonewalling the U.N. agency’s investigation into possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme, diplomats say.

“We think there needs to be a resolution that makes clear … that Iran needs to do more, a lot more, to comply with the agency’s requirements,” a senior Western official said.

He said Iran’s lack of cooperation with a senior IAEA team, during two rounds of meetings in Tehran in January and February, represented a “gigantic slap in the face” for the IAEA.

But an ambassador of a non-Western state showed a lack of enthusiasm, saying a resolution that was adopted at the most recent board meeting in November, and voiced increasing concern about Iran’s nuclear programme, was still “relevant”.

It was more important, he said, to create “favourable conditions” for a resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six major powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

They are discussing how to react to an Iranian offer last month to restart talks which have been frozen for more than a year, as Iran presses ahead with its nuclear programme.

A report by the IAEA last week said Iran was significantly stepping up uranium enrichment, a finding that sent oil prices higher on fears tensions between Tehran and the West could escalate into military conflict.

Israel has threatened to launch strikes to prevent Iran getting the bomb, saying Tehran’s continued technological progress means it could soon pass into a “zone of immunity”. U.S. officials say sanctions should be given time to work.

IRAN’S “OUT OF THE BLUE” OFFER

The IAEA’s report showed Iran had tripled monthly output of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, well above what is usually needed to fuel nuclear power plants.

Iran says the more highly refined uranium will replenish the dwindling special fuel stocks of a reactor that produces medicinal isotopes.

But 20 percent enrichment, experts say, represents most of the effort needed to attain the 90 percent threshold required for nuclear explosions.

Much of this work is carried out deep inside a mountain at Iran’s underground Fordow facility to better shield it against military strikes, and it is preparing for a further expansion.

Iran is now believed to be capable of increasing its output capacity of 20 pct uranium four-fold “over a fairly short period of time”, a Western diplomat said.

The IAEA report showed total production so far of this higher-grade material at about 110 kg, roughly half way to the quantity Western experts say would be sufficient for one bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking weapons of mass destruction, saying it needs higher-grade uranium for the Tehran research reactor making isotopes for cancer care.

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, insisted that “substantial progress” was made in the Tehran meetings.

“There shouldn’t be any provocative statements. There should be encouraging statements for Iran and the agency to continue the work,” he told reporters this week.

During the two rounds of talks in the Iranian capital, Iran did not grant IAEA requests to visit the Parchin military facility, seen as central for its investigation.

The November IAEA report said the agency had information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin to conduct high-explosives tests which, it said, were “strong indicators of possible weapon development.”

Vienna-based diplomats said the agency team at the talks had turned down a last-minute offer for them to go to another site, in the region of Marivan, also mentioned in the IAEA report as it detailed research activities relevant for atomic bombs.

But that offer came “out of the blue” and the agency team was completely unprepared to go there, one envoy said.

The IAEA board was also expected to touch on North Korea’s announcement this week that it would suspend major elements of its nuclear weapons programme and allow U.N. inspectors back for the first time in three years.

On another sensitive nuclear issue, diplomats said Syria had once again made clear, in an exchange of letters with the IAEA, that it was not in a position to engage with the agency in its long-stalled investigation into Damascus’s atomic activity.

“I simply can’t imagine that there is any capacity in Syria at the moment to mobilise any sort of practical response on this,” the Western diplomat said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing campaign to stamp out a popular uprising.

Farrakhan’s ‘truth’: Jews own media, ‘Zionists’ pushing U.S. into Iran war


Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan decried what he called Jewish control of the media and accused “Zionists” of trying to push America into war with Iran.

Farrakhan spoke for three hours on Feb. 26 before a crowd of thousands at the 82nd annual Saviors’ Day celebration in Chicago.

In his address, along with the accusation about a war with Iran, Farrakhan asserted that Jews were responsible for a controversial 2008 cover of The New Yorker that depicted President Barack Obama in Muslim garb, according to the Religion News Service.

“I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just telling the truth,” he said. He also said that “in 100 years, they control movies, television, recording, publishing, commerce, radio, they own it all.

“Jewish people were not the origin of Hollywood,” he added, “but they took it over.” Farrakhan also reportedly attacked Israel’s policies.

Ross: Iran nukes pose danger of nuclear war


The greatest danger posed by a nuclear Iran would be the increased likelihood of a Middle East nuclear war, Dennis Ross said.

“If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically,” Ross, whojust retired as the White House’s top Iran policy official, said during his first post-Obama administration address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The danger, Ross said, lies in the complete lack of communication between Israel and Iran, as opposed to open lines between earlier nuclear antagonists, like the United States and the Soviet Union.

“You are not going to have a stable situation where anyone can feel that they are going to wait,” he said. “If there is the slightest indication that Iran is changing its readiness, can Israel wait? … The potential for miscalculation would be enormous.”

Ross said President Obama was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“The administration prides itself on a certain reality that it does what it says,” he said, referring to Obama’s making good on his promise to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Regarding Iran, Ross said, when Obama “says all options remain on the table, it doesn’t mean that force is his first choice, but it means that that’s an option that he intends to exercise.”

On Israeli-Palestinian peace, Ross said the psychological gap between the sides remains wide, although substantively they are close.

He said that absent talks, Israel should preserve a “political horizon” that “validates” Palestinians that favor nonviolence, such as the current Palestinian Authority leadership. He suggested allowing the Palestinian police to expand their presence in parts of the West Bank and increasing economic access for Palestinians to all of the West Bank.

Ross has returned to work at the Washington Institute, an influential Washington think tank where he served as a top scholar from 2001 to 2009.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei warns U.S., Israel on atom site attacks


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the United States and Israel on Thursday not to launch military action against its nuclear sites, saying it would be met with “iron fists,” state television reported.

Tension over Iran’s nuclear program has increased since Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a bomb and may still be conducting secret research to that end.

Speculation has heightened in the Israeli media that Israel may strike Iran’s nuclear sites and there is speculation in the Western press about a possible U.S. attack.

Iran denounced the United Nations watchdog’s report as “unbalanced” and “politically motivated.” There were concerns on the oil market that the standoff could escalate militarily.

In the strongest comments by the Iranian authorities in recent days, the country’s most powerful figure, Khamenei, said Iran would retaliate against any attack by “the enemies,” but added that Iran had no intention of starting a “bloody war.”

“Our enemies, particularly the Zionist regime (Israel), America and its allies, should know that any kind of threat and attack or even thinking about any (military) action will be firmly responded to,” Khamenei said on state television.

“The Revolutionary Guards and army and our nation…will answer attacks with strong slaps and iron fists,” he added.

Israel, which Iran refuses to recognize, and the United States say all options are on the table in confronting Tehran, including military if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.

Israel reacted to the report by urging the international community to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, saying its pursuit of such arms endangered “the peace of the world.”

A close strategic ally of Western powers, Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East region’s only nuclear arsenal, dating back decades. It has never confirmed or denied its existence under a policy of ambiguity designed to deter attacks.

Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak atomic reactor in 1981 and carried out a similar strike in Syria in 2007.

Khamenei said Iran would “respond to threats by threats.”

“The firm Iranian nation is not one to sit back and observe threats by fragile and material-minded powers,” Khamenei told a gathering at Iran’s Army Academy.

Western powers have called for heavier sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But gaining agreement on more U.N. Security Council sanctions appears difficult, with Russia saying it will not back new sanctions.

The United States and its European allies accuse Iran of trying to build bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear program. The major oil-producing state denies this, saying it needs nuclear technology to improve its electricity supply for a rapidly growing population.

So far, a world power strategy of increased diplomatic pressure and international sanctions has not induced Iran to halt its sensitive nuclear activities.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that Iran “will not pull back one iota from its (nuclear) path,” but expressed Tehran’s readiness for talks with major powers.

Talks between the P5+1 powers—a grouping of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—and Iran over its nuclear ambitions have failed in the past.

Iran’s announcement last year that it had escalated uranium enrichment from the low level needed for electricity production to 20 percent, alarmed many countries that feared it was a key step toward making material potent enough for a nuclear bomb.

Tehran says the fuel is needed to make isotopes for cancer treatment.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Roddy

UN watchdog: Iran nuclear program has ‘military dimensions’


A new report commissioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran’s nuclear energy program may contain “military dimensions.”

In other words, the report states that Iran may be working towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The report was issued just prior to the annual meeting of IAEA member states which is scheduled to convene next month in Vienna.

Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Assad puts Syria on war footing; Righteous Gentile is Poland’s Nobel nominee


Assad puts Syria on war footing
 
Syria’s president said his country was bracing for a possible attack by Israel.Bashar Assad told a Kuwaiti newspaper last weekend that, in the wake of the Lebanon War, he believed Israel had no intent of pursuing peace talks with Syria.
 
“Syria expects Israeli aggression at any time,” he told Al-Anba. “Naturally, in the absence of peace, war can happen. Therefore, we have begun making preparations within the framework of our capabilities.”
 
Jerusalem officials, in response, reiterated Israel’s stance that it sought no confrontation with Syria. In Israel, Assad is regarded as having been frustrated by Syria’s inability to win back the entire Golan Heights through diplomacy. Israel rules out such preconditions for talks, and has called on Damascus to stop supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups if it is sincere about peace.
 
Israel condemns North Korean nuclear test
 
Israel joined the global condemnation over North Korea’s nuclear weapons test. After Pyongyang stunned the world Monday by announcing it had conducted its first controlled atomic blast, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the move was “irresponsible and provocative” and “could pose a serious threat to the stability of Northeast Asia and to global and international security.”
 
Israeli officials noted that a nuclear-armed North Korea was likely to help Iran attain its own atomic arsenal. Army Radio quoted a senior Israeli diplomat as calling for tough Western action against North Korea, including, if necessary, resorting to military force.
 
Supreme Court docket piques Jewish groups’ interest
 
Jewish civil liberties groups are looking forward to a relatively quiet U.S. Supreme Court session in 2006-07, with none of the major church-state issues that have roiled the community in recent years. Instead, Jewish groups are focused on two cases about issues that don’t directly affect Judaism as a religion, but that traditionally have held the attention of Jewish civil libertarians: abortion and segregation. The court will hear two cases Nov. 8 in which federal courts struck down parts of the ban on partial-birth abortion, which President Bush signed into law in 2003. In Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pro-choice groups argue that the legislation does not have adequate health exceptions for women at risk, and bans such abortions as early as 13 weeks into gestation. Jewish groups opposed to the ban and filing friend-of-the court-briefs include the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Congress and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
 
The other case capturing Jewish interest involves attempts to desegregate districts in Seattle and Lexington, Ky. Groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs include the ADL, the American Jewish Committee and the NCJW. The Jewish groups favor the municipalities.In both instances, the municipalities are introducing desegregation measures because natural demographic trends have rolled back desegregation efforts from the 1970s. In some cases, schools have become more than 85 percent minority.
 
Jewish interest was piqued because the Bush administration is backing parental groups that oppose the desegregation measures in the cases, Parents Involved v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson County. The cases, which have been combined, will be heard in late November or early December.
 
New Jersey Federation as emergency training model?
 
New Jersey may become the first state to use its Jewish federation system to train citizens as emergency first responders. State police and homeland security officials met with representatives from each of New Jersey’s 12 federations on Oct. 4 to discuss how they could offer CERT training to their employees and others in the Jewish community.
 
The federation trainee programs, and those who pass through them, would join a network of trained citizen emergency first responders run out of the federal Office of Homeland Security, which has some 2,500 training programs nationwide.
 
The New Jersey training would be offered for free through county offices of emergency management, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the organization that facilitated the meeting. The group operates a communications network that keep tabs on the security of the Jewish community and helps Jewish organizations with security matters.
 
Goldenberg, who has been talking with representatives from the United Jewish Communities (UJC) federation umbrella about getting the training into all of UJC’s 155 federations, said the Jewish community needs to be prepared to respond to emergencies in the post-Sept.11 world, especially after a shooting this summer at the federation in Seattle.

Israel opens pious maternity ward
 
An Israeli hospital unveiled a maternity ward designed for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The five new delivery rooms at Jerusalem’s Bikur Cholim Hospital feature a special partition that allows the birthing mother to see her husband sitting beside her, but not for him to see her, Ma’ariv reported Monday. This provision satisfies Orthodox requirements of modesty. The rooms also have the options of stands for women’s wigs and piped-in Chasidic music.
 
According to the newspaper, the renovations cost Bikur Cholim some $1.3 million, most of it donated.
 
“The delivery rooms are the hospital’s flagship,” said hospital director Barry Bar-Tziyon.
 
Sukkot record crowd at Western Wall

A record number of Jews turned out for Sukkot services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. An estimated 65,000 worshippers attended Monday’s prayers at Judaism’s most important site, which included the traditional blessing of the Cohanim, or high priests.
 
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, director of the Western Wall and Holy Places authority, described it as the largest turnout in a quarter-century.
 
Righteous Gentile Is Poland’s Presidential Nobel nominee
 
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has nominated a Righteous Gentile for a Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Ha’aretz reported that Irena Sandlar, 96, was a member of the Polish underground group, Zegota, which was dedicated to saving Jews during the Holocaust. In 1965, she was recognized by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority for smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The children were either adopted by Christian families or sent to convents, but Sandlar recorded their real names so that they could eventually be reunited with their Jewish families, according to Ha’aretz. She would become the first Righteous Gentile to receive the prize.

 
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

The big con about Iran


Despite all the skepticism, the United States and Israel do have a military option in Iran: pre-emptive nuclear annihilation.
 
The United States and Israel, or the United States by itself, or maybe even Israel by itself, can destroy Iran and its 69 million people, probably in a matter of hours or even less, and then nobody in the world will have to worry about those crazy maniacs getting the bomb. Things would be sort of weird afterward, it’s hard to say what the consequences might be, but the Iranian threat would be behind us.
 
Other than that, though, there is no military option in Iran. If we didn’t learn this from the Americans’ ongoing experience in Iraq, we should have learned it from Israel’s recent experience in Lebanon.
 
Many people think it’s possible to wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least cripple them, from the air. But did Israel manage to wipe out or cripple Hezbollah’s weapons from the air? Incidentally, Iran is about 150 times the size of Lebanon. And Hezbollah’s underground military bunkers were built by the Iranians; imagine what they’ve built for themselves at home.
 
But I don’t want to misrepresent the case for an air attack on Iran’s nuclear works; those in favor allow that it might well require commandos and maybe small infantry units to ferret out the nukes and make sure they’re destroyed.
 
When I hear this, I think of American soldiers roaming around Iraq looking futilely for weapons of mass destruction, then I remember that Iran is four times bigger than Iraq, with more than twice the population, and a military that dwarfs what Iraq had when the United States invaded in 2003.
 
I think, also, of how small units of Israeli infantry went into south Lebanon at the start of this summer’s war, and how everyone soon realized that those soldiers wouldn’t be enough — which happened at about the same time everyone realized the Air Force wouldn’t be enough, either — and that instead, a massive ground invasion would be necessary.
 
And all that was just for tiny little Hezbollah and south Lebanon. How many troops and how big a war effort would be needed to take on Iran?
 
No one knows. How long would the soldiers have to stay in Iran before the nuclear threat were removed, if it could be removed? How would Iran fight back? Would it fire missiles at Israel? Would it use chemical and biological weapons? How far beyond Iran would the war spread? How many soldiers and civilians would die?
 
Again, nobody knows. And on the basis of what we’ve seen in Iraq and Lebanon, nobody can even make a decent guess, least of all the calm, confident generals and politicians who are so good at promising “victory.”
 
But I think people know by now that before a country goes to war, it has to be prepared to weather the worst possibilities, not just the most blissful ones. I don’t think anybody will believe the same sort of pie-in-the-sky predictions about fighting a war in Iran that they believed about fighting one in Iraq and in Lebanon. And I suspect the non-believers include George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert, no matter what they say publicly.
 
I figure they know that trying to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities by conventional means requires a huge military commitment and huge risks with no guarantee of success. It means being prepared for a much bigger war than the United States has been fighting in Iraq for the last three and a half years, and counting.
 
America won’t do it. No way on earth. With the United States so hopelessly out of its depth in Iraq, the American people will as soon let Bush start a war in Iran as they’d let him bring back the draft, which would be necessary to fight such a war. So forget it. America might be up for a quick little in-and-out operation, something like it did in Granada or Panama, but that’s not a military option with the likes of Iran.
 
And what is Israel going to do? It would be nice to have maps and satellite photos of a big, vulnerable Iranian nuclear reactor sitting out there on the ground in plain sight, so a few jets could fly over, bomb it to hell and fly back in time for dinner, just like they did in Iraq in 1981. But that isn’t an option this time, either. Iran’s nuclear facilities, wherever they all might be, are spread out, underground, thickly defended — and the element of surprise is long gone.
 
So with no quick, painless solution available, is Israel willing to start the kind of war necessary to even have a chance of getting rid of Iran’s nuclear potential — to start the kind of war America clearly won’t?
 
No, Israel isn’t willing. For a war of choice, this is too big and dangerous, and that’s what it would be — a war of choice. Israelis may have convinced themselves that Iran will nuke us once they get the chance, but while this is a possibility — a remote one, I think — it is by no means an inevitability, and to treat it as such is hysterical, which is what Israelis, inevitably, have become over Iran.
 
I’m not saying Iran, especially a nuclear Iran, is nothing to worry about. Iran is plenty to worry about, but as for what to do about Iran, how to stop it from getting nuclear weapons, neither the United States nor Israel nor anyone else has a conventional military way to go about it.
 
There are all sorts of diplomatic pressures that can be applied to Iran and its arms suppliers, but if Iran gets the bomb, which I think is likely, we are going to have to learn to live with it like we lived with Stalin and Mao having the bomb. They weren’t any less fanatical than the Iranians, and when it comes to genocide and conquest, the Iranians talk about it, but Stalin and Mao did it. So there’s good reason for worry, but not for hysteria.

Nation-World Briefs


U.N. Asks Israel to Stop Making Nukes
A U.N. commission recommended that Israel refrain from manufacturing any more nuclear weapons as a step to a nuclear-free Middle East. The United Nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by weapons inspector Hans Blix, released its 60 recommendations on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Blix recommended that most nations commit to not possessing any nuclear weapons. However, with Israel he recommended only that it commit to not manufacturing any more weapons. Israel is highly unlikely to agree to dismantle the 200 warheads it is believed to possess as the region’s sole nuclear power. Israel’s agreement would be a start, Blix said.

State Dept. Blasts Israel for Human Trafficking
Israel is on a U.S. State Department watch list of nations that fail to effectively prevent human trafficking. Israel was classified as being on the Tier Two watch list in the report released Monday. Tier Three is the worst classification, reserved for countries that fail to comply with minimum U.S. standards. Israeli law enforcement has made strides in cracking down on sex trafficking, the report said, but the same was not true of labor trafficking and “the estimated thousands of victims of forced labor were not provided with protection.” It described fees demanded of laborers ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, “a practice that often leads to debt bondage and makes these workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Israel,” it said.

FDA Approves Israeli Parkinson’s Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an Israeli drug that treats Parkinson’s, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled shaking and muscle stiffness. Marketed under the name Azilect, this is the first once-daily oral treatment for Parkinson’s to be distributed in the United States; it was developed by Technion professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg and is being manufactured by Tel Aviv-based generic pharmaceutical giant Teva. The drug is expected to become available by prescription in the United States by July or August.

While not a cure, the drug slows the progression of the disease. Azilect works by blocking the breakdown of dopamine, which tells the body how and when to move.

Parkinson’s currently affects 1 million people in the United States.

“This is a welcome development for the more than 50,000 Americans who are each year diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parkinson’s is a relentless disease with limited treatment options, and each new therapy is an important addition to the physicians’ treatment options.”

However, the FDA is warning that the drug could carry an increased risk of hypertensive crisis — a precursor to a stroke — if taken with tyramine-rich foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine), dietary supplements or cough/cold medicines. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Nazi Papers Declassified
The U.S. government declassified more than 8 million pages of files related to Nazi war crimes. The material including documents relating to the CIA’s employment of suspected Nazi war criminals after World War II. The members of the government’s Interagency Working Group said at a news conference Tuesday that the revelations pointed to the dangers of working with war criminals, as the United States did after World War II. Among other revelations, the papers show that former Nazis employed by the United States were more susceptible to recruitment as double agents by the Soviet Union. Additionally, the papers show that the United States had a strong lead on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in 1958, but did not pursue it because of fears that his capture would expose the Nazi past of high-ranking officials in the West German government, which was allied with the United States.

Trump Fires Jewish Contestant
An observant Jew failed in his bid to become Donald Trump’s next apprentice. Lee Bienstock was fired Monday on the season finale of “The Apprentice.” Bienstock and another Jewish contestant, New Jersey’s Dan Brody, observed Rosh Hashanah together early in the season missing the third episode’s task but only Bienstock, who grew up in the New York area, stayed in the show long enough to observe Yom Kippur, missing another task.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Old-Fashioned Solution to Iran Problem


John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona and presidential hopeful, is absolutely right about the gravity of the threat from a nuclear Iran.

But does anyone notice something strange?

McCain strongly backed President Bush in toppling Saddam Hussein and is an unabashed hawk in the war against militant Islamism. Presumably, he cheered when Bush launched his doctrine of regime change against rogue regimes — the famed “axis of evil,” of which Iran is a charter member.

Yet even McCain describes the Iran crisis as something separate from the fight against terrorism. How can this be?

Somehow the old, pre-Sept. 11 idea that fighting terrorism means hunting down groups like Al Qaeda, rather than confronting terrorist states, has crept back into the minds of even the most ardent supporters of Bush’s foreign policy. Perhaps McCain made a slip of the tongue, but if so, it was quite a slip. What he should have said was that preventing a nuclear Iran is the pivotal challenge facing the war against terrorism today.

But doesn’t everyone know that Al Qaeda is Sunni and Iran is Shiite, and never the twain shall meet? Iran supports Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad against Israel, but what do the mullahs have to do with Al Qaeda and Sept. 11?

In reality, the conventional notion of a chasm between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the Islamist jihad is mistaken.

The official 9/11 Report has a whole section titled “Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to Al Qaeda” that notes “we now have evidence suggesting that eight to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ [9/11 hijackers] traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”

The report states that Al Qaeda terrorists received “advice and training” from Hezbollah, and cites detainee testimony that “Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with Al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.”

The same source reports that Iranian border inspectors were instructed not to stamp the passports of Al Qaeda operatives, mainly to facilitate travel to Saudi Arabia.

On Dec. 18, 2005, The New York Times reported that after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, “Al Qaeda lost its sanctuary, and Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders scattered to Pakistan, Iran and other countries.”

There is, then, no shortage of direct connections between Iran and Al Qaeda, including specifically connections to the Sept. 11 hijackers. Sunni and Shiite terrorists, it turns out, are happy to work together toward a common cause such as killing Americans and Israelis. Still, it might be argued that Al Qaeda, regardless of any assistance it receives from Iran, is essentially an independent actor and so it is a stretch to claim that targeting Iran is an efficient way to fight Al Qaeda.

But this sort of thinking, although common, also misunderstands the war we are in. Putting terrorist groups at the center and their state backers on the periphery is the wrong way around. The whole progress of the war, in either direction, should be measured, as the terrorists do, in the coin of states, not groups.

Al Qaeda knows that no terrorist group can subdue the United States, let alone control the world. The militant Islamist theory of victory is simple: Take over as many states as possible, first in the Muslim world, then beyond.

Now that pro-terror regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan are gone and Libya has cried uncle and ostensibly abandoned the terror/nuke business, Iran is far and away the most important terrorist regime in the world. For Israel, Iranian nukes are obviously an existential threat. But for the world, as well, a nuclearized Iran would represent the pivot between a world with more terror states and one with fewer.

Make no mistake, if the mullahs fell, it would be a major, perhaps mortal blow, to Al Qaeda and to militant Islam worldwide. This is so because terrorists depend not on military power, which they lack, but on a sense of inevitability and despair, which they hope to create. They are either the wave of the future, or they are nothing. When the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, there was suddenly a surplus of Bin Laden T-shirts in Peshawar, Pakistan.

McCain said something else important in that same interview: “The Iranian people are not happy under these mullahs. They oppress and repress them. We’ve got to do much more to encourage the democracy movement in Iran.”

He’s right for two reasons: The fall of the Iranian regime would deal the greatest blow to Islamist terrorism, and it is the only sure way to protect against a nuclearized terror state.

As columnist Amir Taheri noted, the West should “acknowledge that the problem is not uranium enrichment but the nature of the Iranian regime. More than 20 countries, from Argentina to Ukraine, enrich uranium without anyone making a fuss. But who can trust the present leadership in Teheran not to embark upon some tragic mischief in the name of its ideology?”

The Iranian regime should be the subject of withering international isolation of the sort used to topple Somoza in Nicaragua, Marcos in the Philippines, the apartheid regime in South Africa and, most recently, to reverse the stolen election in the Ukraine. Indeed, the mullocracy is more deserving of pariah status than any of these other nasty regimes since it both oppresses its own people and poses a dire threat to international security.

The great irony is that though Iran’s aggression compounds its human rights sins, its support for terrorism has allowed it to escape the campaigns used to vanquish less-threatening dictatorships.

The most significant impact of economic, or even military, sanctions may not be their direct effects but their contribution to a comprehensive denial of legitimacy. Though the mullahs seem to revel in flouting the international community, it is such isolation and rejection — and their own people — that they fear most. The ultimate solution to the Iran problem is an old-fashioned one: revolution.

Saul Singer is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, where this first appeared.

 

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.