The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Iran
Iran and Turkey Join Syria Peace Envoy in Truce Call

Iran and Turkey Join Syria Peace Envoy in Truce Call

NYT's Anne Barnard and Rick Gladstone report on UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's attempt to secure a cease-fire between the government and rebels in Syria:

Both Turkey and Iran publicly endorsed Mr. Brahimi’s effort on Wednesday. Those endorsements were significant because Iran is the most influential regional supporter of Mr. Assad’s, while Turkey supports Mr. Assad’s armed adversaries, is host to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and has repeatedly called on Mr. Assad to resign.

In the past few weeks Turkey also has banned Syrian aircraft, moved armed forces close to its 550-mile border with Syria and engaged Syrian gunners in sporadic cross-border shelling, raising fears that the conflict in Syria could turn into a regional war.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who met this week with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at a regional summit meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, was quoted by Iran’s state-run news media on Wednesday as saying he supported the Syria truce proposal and “any group that derives power through war and means to continue war has no future.”

Sounds like the Egyptian initiative to engage Iran on Syria is fast becoming a Turkish initiative. 

Update — Also, this from the Turkish paper Zaman:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday he had suggested to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad three-way talks including Egypt on the Syria crisis, given the apparent Saudi objection to Iranian involvement in a current quartet.

So who's doing the leading here? Not sure Cairo would have so easily dismissed a Saudi role.

The Iranian rial and the price of Saudi chicken

Any connection here? 

The Iranian Regime Is In Trouble - World Report

The devaluation of Iran's currency, the rial, by as much as 40 percent in the last few days has made it very difficult for the average Iranian to afford everyday food stuffs. It is no surprise that protests have broken out in Tehran's central bazaar and its surrounding streets. The bazaar is a critical pillar of support for the Iranian regime. The loss of confidence among Iran's merchant and business classes could shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic.

Chicken price rises lead Saudis to tweet - FT.com

Saudi Arabians are forgoing one of their favourite foods as a Twitter campaign against high poultry prices spreads.

The “Let it Rot” campaign urges Saudis to refrain from eating chicken to punish traders who they say have raised prices by about 40 per cent in the past two weeks.

Saudi Arabia is a leading supplier of chicken, a staple in the country, to neighbouring countries and an export ban imposed this week in an effort to defuse the anger is likely to trigger regional shortages.

One would think not if Saudi chicken are domestically produced. Still, there's much schadenfreude about the troubles of the Iranian economy (which appear not to target regime officials, as "smart sanction" advocates argued, but ordinary people in the hope that this will put pressure on the government — something that led to a disaster in Iraq) and much less about Saudi Arabia's.  

Here's an argument that the rial's devaluation is not as serious as might appear, because the government itself is the main foreign currency earner. The conclusion:

Does all this mean that Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse, as Israel’s Finance Minster reportedly said?  The answer is no, because most of the economy is shielded from this exchange rate, though not from the ill effects of the sanctions, which will continue to bite for a while. Would it cause sufficient economic pain that would push the Iranian government to make concessions in its nuclear standoff with the West?  The answer is not likely.  The multiple exchange rate system, as inefficient as it is, will protect the people below the median income, to whom the Ahmadinejad government is most responsive.

Update: Paul Mutter has a round-up of the issue of the Iranian rial at PBS' TehranBureau

The delisting of the MEK

Years of hard work by the MEK, their lobbyists, parts of the Israel lobby (esp. when it overlaps with the anti-Iran lobby and the neocons) have finally borne fruit. A rather strange, cultish organization that once bombed Iran's parliament is no longer on the US list of designated terrorist organizations. It comes at the time of the most concerted effort to put pressure on the Iranian republican regime since its creation, and with much talk of war as background chatter.

There's an aspect of the delisting of the MEK that may have some merit: the refugee issue, i.e. where resident of Camp Ashraf might end up because they're no longer welcome in Iraq (as they were under Saddam Hussein, and ironically aren't under the Iran-leaning Iraqi government that the US overthrow of Saddam made possible.) But it shouldn't overshadow the many other reasons the MEK — a fundamentalist guerrilla movement, essentially — will now make a handy recipient of US (and other) funding should things continue to heat up with Iran. Or indeed the story of how this was possible: perhaps not so much because geostrategic calculations as intense lobbying and a lot of money.

Selected links: 

  • On US decision to delist MEK | The Back Channel
  • MEK decision: multimillion-dollar campaign led to removal from terror list | World news | guardian.co.uk
  • US takes Iranian MEK group off terror list - FT.com
  • Iranian Group M.E.K. Wins Removal From U.S. Terrorist List - NYTimes.com
  • By Delisting the MEK, the Obama Administration is Taking the Moral and Strategic Bankruptcy of America’s Iran Policy to a New Low « The Race for Iran
  • MEI Editor's Blog: The MEK is Delisted
  •  

    Iran to Egypt: "You complete me"

    Iran to Egypt: "You complete me"

    From Al-Monitor's Iran Pulse:

    Khabar Online, close to Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani reports Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s comments in his meeting with Foreign Minister Salehi that “no problem exists between Iran and Egypt”. During their meeting in Cairo Salehi expressed the “warm greetings” of President Ahmadienajd, and thanked Morsi for his attendance of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran. Salehi also congratulated the president on the “victory of the revolution of the Egyptian people”. According to the report, Morsi reciprocated and asked the Iranian Foreign Minister to offer his “warm greetings” to the Supreme Leader and President Ahmadinejad.

    Salehi also expressed Iran’s readiness for cooperation with the Egyptian government on the development of Egypt’s industrial infrastructure, adding that the two countries “complement one another”.

    Friedman: Shame on Egypt's president

    Friedman: Shame on Egypt's president

    Thomas Friedman writes (in the NYT, of course, although link above is a free access syndication):

    I find it very disturbing that one of the first trips by Egypt's newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi, will be to attend the Nonaligned Movement's summit meeting in Tehran this week. Excuse me, President Morsi, but there is only one reason the Iranian regime wants to hold the meeting in Tehran and have heads of state like you attend, and that is to signal to Iran's people that the world approves of their country's clerical leadership and therefore they should never, ever, ever again think about launching a democracy movement — the exact same kind of democracy movement that brought you, Mr. Morsi, to power in Egypt.

    I was not aware Morsi made a ringing endorsement of the Iranian system of government while in Tehran. Does this attitude mean that Friedman believes heads of states who call themselves democrats should not visit autocracies? I don't remember him making a fuss, say, when President Obama visited Cairo in 2009 when some of Morsi's friends were in prison. Or when Obama visited China. Or Russia. Or Saudi Arabia.

    Also, why is he singling out Morsi out of all the NAM leaders? Why not the representatives of the other 118 countries attending? This wouldn't have anything to do with Israel and the nuclear weapons program issue, would it?

    Update: A good reaction on Twitter:

    Iran Said to Send Troops to Bolster Syria

    Iran Said to Send Troops to Bolster Syria

    Not just the FSA's foreign fighters in Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal report from Farnaz Fassihi in Beirut:

    A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, appeared to offer Iran's first open acknowledgment of its military involvement in Syria.

    Reuters Syrian Speaker Mohammed Jihad al-Laham, left, and Alaeddin Boroujerdi of the Iran parliament's national security committee Saturday in Damascus.

    "Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria and a cultural one as well," Gen. Salar Abnoush, commander of IRGC's Saheb al-Amr unit, told volunteer trainees in a speech Monday. The comments, reported by the Daneshjoo news agency, which is run by regime-aligned students, couldn't be independently verified. Top Iranian officials had previously said the country isn't involved in the conflict.

    I am slightly amazed that the WSJ has these sources:

    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word in all state matters, has appointed Qasim Solaimani, the commander of the elite Quds Forces, to spearhead military cooperation with Mr. Assad and his forces, according to an IRGC member in Tehran with knowledge about deployments to Syria.

    The Quds Forces are the IRGC's operatives outside Iran, responsible for training proxy militants and exporting the revolution's ideology. The U.S. blames the Quds Forces for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    "Solaimani has convinced Mr. Khamenei that Iran's borders extend beyond geographic frontiers, and fighting for Syria is an integral part of keeping the Shiite Crescent intact," said the IRGC member in Tehran. The so-called Crescent, which came together after Saddam Hussein's fall, includes Shiites from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

    Iran is now sending hundreds of rank-and-file members of the IRGC and the basij—a plainclothes volunteer militia answering to the guards—to Damascus, said two people in the IRGC familiar with the movements.

    Many of the Iranian troops hail from IRGC units outside Tehran, these people say, particularly from Iran's Azerbaijan and Kurdistan regions where they have experience dealing with ethnic separatist movements. They are replacing low-ranking Syrian soldiers who have defected to the Syrian opposition, these people said, and mainly assume non-fighting roles such as guarding weapons caches and helping to run military bases.

    Iran is also deploying IRGC commanders to guide Syrian forces in battle strategy and Quds commanders to help with military intelligence, Mr. Sazegara and the current IRGC members said.

    Sadjapour on sex and the Iranians

    With all the commotion about Mona El-Tahawy's "Why do they hate us?" article, many might have overlooked some of the other fare in FP's sex issue — such as this hilarious piece by Karim Sadjapour on sex in the Islamic Republic of Iran:

    In his 1961 religious treatise A Clarification of Questions(Towzih al-Masael), Khomeini issued detailed pronouncements on issues ranging from sodomy ("If a man sodomizes the son, brother, or father of his wife after their marriage, the marriage remains valid") to bestiality ("If a person has intercourse with a cow, a sheep, or a camel, their urine and dung become impure and drinking their milk will be unlawful"). As a young boy growing up in the American Midwest, I remember being both horrified and bewildered after coming across these precise passages in a translated volume of Khomeini's sayings I found in our Persian émigré home. 

    [Thanks, AS]

    The childishness of Gulf geopolitics

    The visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the island of Abu Musa has caused quite a stir among the GCC states. Iran occupies the island (and other nearby ones) but the UAE says they were acquired by Iran illegally and belong to the Emirates. 

    The picture on the right shows a Google Earth screengrab of football pitch built near an airport on Abu Musa. I guess the Iranians decided to send a message about the Gulf being theirs. One only wonders why they had to do so in English rather than, say, Farsi or Arabic.

    [Thanks, PM]

    Israel vs. Iran: the lolcats wars

    The cat pictures are the newest permutations of a social media campaign started over the weekend by two Israeli graphics designers that is called “We Love Iranians,” aimed at raising public awareness against the steady march to war the Likud government has been taking Israel on towards Iran.

    The meme has “gone viral” in Israel, and while it’s spawned a number of sensible parodies (such as noting that the same tone was on display for Iraqis to hear - if they could hear over the ack-ack - by George W. Bush in 2003) and is inevitably going to lead to a “slacktivism” discussion, at least it’s demonstrating that public opinion against war with Iran in Israel is growing. Israel is ostensibly a democracy, so the best case outcome is that all those national security specialists and “cultural icons” who have been keeping quiet realize there is a base of domestic support for them to tell Bibi to can the Holocaust references.

    More comforting, though, has been news that 1) Mossad once again concludes with the U.S’s intelligence services that Iran has neither the capability nor political will to pursue weaponization now, 2) some Iranian leaders are saying they’re willing to make concessions at the new P5+1 roundtable, and 3) Netanyahu has failed to convince his kitchen cabinet that he knows what he is talking about on Iran, and considering some of the people in that cabinet, that is saying something — not least because one of the skeptics is in fact the Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister, a post Netanyahu’s Likud party established in 2009 to have a kind of go-to-guy looking over Shin Bet and Mossad, a la Dick Cheney.

    Still, no one is out of the woods yet, Mossad assessment and grinning Israeli couples’ pinterest tags aside. Netanyahu has deliberately set the bar for Iranian concessions so high it’s difficult to believe progress can be made in talks1 - i.e., asking the Iranians to do things no other NPT signatory is expected to do when Israel itself isn’t even an NPT signatory - and the U.S. has made it pretty clear it will take military action if it feels “compelled” to do so in the region by either an Israeli or Iranian “action.”


    1. Worse, he is now trying to play the 2005 Gaza withdrawal card against what passes as the Israeli political left over Iran - clearly, he wants to shut their tepid criticism down by any means at his disposal.  ↩

    Sanctions on Iran banking get much tighter

    Swift, a Banking Network, Agrees to Expel Iranian Banks - NYTimes.com:

    It is the first time that Swift, a consortium based in Belgium and subject to European Union laws, has taken such a drastic step, which severs a crucial conduit for Iran to electronically repatriate billions of dollars’ worth of earnings from the sale of oil and other exports.

    Advocates of sanctions against Iran welcomed the action by Swift, which takes effect on Saturday, according to a statement on the network’s Web site. The statement said that Swift had been “instructed to discontinue its communications services to Iranian financial institutions that are subject to European sanctions.”

    Lázaro Campos, Swift’s chief executive, said in the statement that “disconnecting banks is an extraordinary and unprecedented step for Swift. It is a direct result of international and multilateral action to intensify financial sanctions against Iran.”

    After the closure of a major bank doing business with Iranians in Dubai, the financial sanction noose is tightening... This is a major step, which will make all sorts of transactions (not just oil related ones) very difficult.

    Will Fox News fire Tucker Carlson for calling for genocide?

    No, I doubt it will. But this video is a good occasion to revisit the whole Ahmedenijad "wipe Israel off the map" debacle (i.e. that he did not say that, although he may have meant it), reflect on the fact that thus far it is Israel and the United States where talk of a strike on Iran is routine, as well as the sorry state of television discourse in the United States. In France, for instance, Carlson would be almost certainly sued and perhaps could even face prison. In the US this will probably be defended under the First Amendment (which I actually prefer), but many respectable news organizations have fired contributors for much less. Too bad Fox News probably doesn't fit that description.

    Update: HM sends me via Twitter a link to an exchange of emails between Carlson and Gleen Greenwald of Salon on this. Carlson says he was actually talking about the dangers of a strike on Iran to the US economy. Watch for yourselves, seems pretty unambiguous.

    Israel is bad for the US, part 2342345

    Mark Perry in Foreign Policy:

    Buried deep in the archives of America's intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives -- what is commonly referred to as a "false flag" operation.

    The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

    . . .

    "The report sparked White House concerns that Israel's program was putting Americans at risk," the intelligence officer told me. "There's no question that the U.S. has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against the Iranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we're not in the business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians."

    Wonder if that's still true. Juan Cole has more commentary reminding us that is part of a bigger pattern:

    Israeli right wing governments have often been perfidious “allies.” Their political agent in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has assiduously spied on America, garnering military, technological and trade secrets. The spying is so normal that when AIPAC fired the longtime head of its Mideast bureau, Steven Rosen, was caught passing classified Pentagon documents to the Israeli embassy, he sued AIPAC on the grounds that he was only acting as AIPAC operatives routinely did, given the long history of domestic espionage conducted by that organization.

    Likewise, the assassination by Mossad operatives in Dubai of alleged Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh involved massive identity theft by Israeli agents of names, passports and other information of nationals from countries considered friendly to Israel such as Australia and the UK. 1) Identity theft is wrong. 2) Stealing another person’s identity to commit murder is wrong, both because murder is a crime and because the consequences of the murder would then fall on an innocent. 3) Israel was clearly attempting to deflect a) international blame and b) any Hamas retaliation onto the innocent citizens of countries that supported Israel. That’s about as sleazy as you can get.

    Links on the Iran war drumbeat

    There is an avalanche of articles suggesting the possibility of war with Iran, either because the sanctions that the Obama administration (and perhaps the European Union) seek to impose will be perceived in Tehran as an act of war, for which the retaliation could be the closing of the Straits of Hormuz, or because of an attempt to destroy or set back Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program by either Israel or the US or both. The call for sanctions — overwhelmingly approved by Congress despite the hardline nature of the sanctions — comes as the P5+1 were about to resume negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue, and only a month before Iran is set to have elections. Here's a few links — the best one being the first by Gary Sick:

    More on Dennis Ross

    The praise keeps coming in!

    Rashid Khalidi, in a piece really worth reading entirely:

    Dennis Ross has finally left the building. Since the Carter administration, Ross has played a crucial role in crafting Middle East policies that have prolonged and exacerbated the more than six-decade conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. His efforts contributed significantly to the growth in the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories from well under 200,000 in the 1980s to nearly 600,000 today. It is in no small measure due to him that the two-state solution is all but dead.

    Ross’s tenure during the administrations of five presidents over parts of five decades was marked by a litany of failures. And yet he went from success to bureaucratic success in Washington. His ability to flourish despite these failures reflects the degree to which obsequious support for Israel has become the norm in American politics, even when it contradicts U.S. national interests.

    Max Blumenthal:

    When Ross announced his resignation this week, he chose to do so before the board members of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank founded by Israel’s Jewish Agency to develop prescriptions for combating threats to “Jewish demographics” in Israel and abroad. Ross directed the think tank for several years before entering the Obama administration. By the time Ross revealed his plans to retire from government, he had already arranged for a golden parachute with one of the key arms of the Israel lobby. In December, Ross will return to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a hawkish think tank that he founded in collaboration with AIPAC. After nearly three decades of advancing Israel’s interests from the inside, Ross’s career had come full circle.

    Tony Karon:

    The abrupt resignation, late last week, of the Obama Administration’s senior Middle East adviser Dennis Ross poses more of a problem for the President’s reelection campaign than it does for prospects of securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The “peace process”, after all, has long been dead; President Obama’s Special Envoy Sen. George Mitchell’s resignation last May suggesting he saw no good purpose served by pretending otherwise. And nobody in the Middle East – or anywhere else – believed that it could be revived by Ross, whose signature approach is to avoid  the U.S. pressuring Israel to take steps its government is unwilling to take. (It’s precisely the absence of such pressure that prompted the Palestinians to walk away from U.S. peace efforts and go to the U.N.) But the Israeli-Palestinian issue wasn’t Ross’ priority concern on joining the Obama Administration, and it’s unlikely to have been a major determinant of his decision to quit.

    Ross clearly plans to make an impact on U.S. policy towards the region from outside the Administration, and it’s safe to assume that his top priority, like WINEP’s, is Iran. As debate over how to handle Iran intensifies in the wake of the latest IAEA report on that country’s nuclear program, amid intensified Israeli saber-rattling, political pressure on the White House to toughen its stance looks likely to intensify. Right now, it’s hard to see the White House putting much behind the slogan of keeping the option of military force on the table. The U.S. military appears to be opposed to military action, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week reiterating the view of his predecessor, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that the cost-benefit analysis weighs heavily against bombing Iran. But such reserve is not necessarily shared by much of the pro-Israel establishment, many of whose members may make Iran a key litmus test for their own 2012 political choices.