Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at events marking the 19th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a new threat to Israel, saying the Jewish state would "disappear":
You should know that the criminal and terrorist Zionist regime which has 60 years of plundering, aggression and crimes in its file has reached the end of its work and will soon disappear off the geographical scene," he said.
Ahmadinejad also called the United States a "satanic power" whose "countdown of destruction has begun."
His timing for these comments is chilling. Israel has been celebrating its 60th birthday over the past few weeks, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is hosting its annual policy conference starting today in Washington.
Speakers at the three-day conference include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and presidential hopefuls John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg has a good interview with John McCain about Iran, Barack Obama, Israel, and the Holocaust. Here's an excerpt:
JG: What do you think motivates Iran?
JM: Hatred. I don't try to divine people's motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don't pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You'll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.
JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?
JM: I'm amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I've seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don't sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.
Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I've forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?
Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.
President Bush's Knesset speech is getting a lot of attention today for what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Barack Obama, implying that those who suggest negotiations with Iran are repeating the mistakes made during the lead-up to World War II: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.'' Leaving aside whether the remark was aimed at Obama, (and Obama certainly thinks it was) is it really necessary for politicians to constantly invoke the Holocaust when speaking about international affairs with Jewish audiences, as if that's the only analogy through which they can understand security threats? For the record, some Israeli politicians are just as guilty of this.
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.''
Leaving aside whether the remark was aimed at Obama, (and Obama certainly thinks it was) is it really necessary for politicians to constantly invoke the Holocaust when speaking about international affairs with Jewish audiences, as if that's the only analogy through which they can understand security threats? For the record, some Israeli politicians are just as guilty of this.
Anyway, Bush may claim to be horrified at the idea of negotiating with terrorist-supporting regimes, but his administration actually appears to have dropped its opposition to once-taboo negotiations between Israel and Syria in recent weeks. This would seem to support the view that Bush's remarks had more to do with U.S. politics than the reality of Israel's security.
Laura Rozen has much more on Bush's last chance to advance the peace process in her FP web-exclusive this week and today's photo essay explores Israel and Syria's continuing conflict over the Golan Heights.
Former Iranian president and leading moderate Mohamad Khatami is taking some heat from the hardliners over some intriguing comments he made last week:
What did the imam (Khomeini) mean by exporting the revolution?" he asked in the speech Friday to university students in the northern province of Gilan, according to the Kargozaran newspaper.
"Did he mean that we take up arms, that we blow up places in other nations and we create groups to carry out sabotage in other countries? The imam was vehemently against this and was confronting it," he added.
As you might expect, Khatami is being branded as a traitor for these remarks, notwithstanding his (dubious) claims about Khomenei's views:
It is obvious that Mr Khatami must answer for his anti-patriotic comments and explain why he has taken such a stance," said [hardline Iranian newspaper] Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [...]
"Mr Khatami has to make it clear whether using fervent martyrdom-seeking young men to combat occupiers is an ugly and violent act or a fully human and admirable one?" demanded [one conservative] MP.
No word yet on whether the former president has been regularly sporting the flag of the Islamic Republic on his tunic.
Political appointees who are forced to resign tend to go quietly, thanking their boss for an opportunity to serve the nation and vowing to spend more time with their families.
Not so Danesh Jaafari (left), the ousted Iranian economy and finance minister. In stepping down from his post on Tuesday, he slammed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration in terms that, per the AFP, had "until now been almost unknown in Iranian politics."
During my time, there was no positive attitude towards previous experiences or experienced people and there was no plan for the future," he said in the speech quoted by the Fars news agency.
"Peripheral issues which were not of dire importance to the nation were given priority.
"For example, changing the nation's time took months of our time," he complained.
What is it with authoritarian regimes and clocks? Anyway, this is the best part:
For example the deputy in charge of the economy... is a veterinarian and he does not know much about economy," he added.
Iran's inflation is running at nearly 18 percent and unemployment could be as high as 30 percent, according to the Associated Press. Ahmadinejad has pushed infrastructure spending and handouts to the poor that have only added inflationary fuel to the fire, policies that Jaafari says he opposed while in office. It should be interesting to watch what happens next, with Ahmadinejad up for reelection in 2009.
Even undeniably "puerile" debates can sometimes cough up interesting tidbits, and, on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton proposed an interesting way to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions: Extend nuclear deterrence to "those countries [in the region] that are willing to go under the security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear [weapons] ambitions." Unfortunately, moderator George Stephanopolous did not ask any follow-up questions, even though Sen. Clinton’s idea certainly merits a closer look.
The concept of a "nuclear umbrella" has been around almost since the Cold War and the nuclear arms race began. At the most basic level, it involves a nuclear- weapons state promising to use its nukes to respond if non-nuclear ally is attacked with nuclear weapons. Cold War strategists hoped that "extending" nuclear deterrence like this would cement important alliances and, crucially, eliminate the need for those countries to develop their own nukes. A nuclear umbrella is thus a tool of both diplomacy and of nonproliferation.
The key question here is credibility. How, for instance, would you convince the
Unfortunately, even in Gulf regimes that are friendly to America
However, the idea is still worth exploring as a contingency plan, and new ways of establishing credibility and commitment might be possible -- for instance, extending a missile-defense "umbrella," even one that doesn't work very well yet. But although technical measures like these may be part of the solution to
More than three years after a massive car bomb in Beirut killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, there's been scant progress on the U.N. investigation into the culprits behind the assassination. Conspiracy theories abound. One popular among Lebanese political leaders is that notorious Hezbollah leader Imad Mougniyah was killed in Damascus in February in exchange for cooling the pressure on the Hariri tribunal, which has implicated top Syrian leaders.
Now, a key witness who implicated pro-Syrian generals in the Hariri assassination has gone missing. The family of Mohammed Zuheir al-Siddiq, a Syrian intelligence officer who had been living under house arrest in France, accuses the French government of being involved in his "liquidation." It's no wonder that the new head of the U.N. investigation is saying that he needs his June deadine extended.
And on a side note: Mougniyah is getting his own postage stamp in Iran. First-class postage.
I think the Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon is overselling this story of increasing criticism of Sen. Barack Obama's alleged "radical departure from standard U.S. doctrine" regarding negotiating with rogue leaders, but Karim Sadjadpour makes a good point here:
If Obama comes into office in January 2009, I wouldn't advise him" to hold talks with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad quickly, said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who said he is generally supportive of Sen. Obama's agenda. "Only two things can rehabilitate Ahmadinejad politically: bombing Iran or major efforts to engage" him ahead of the vote.
My hope is that Obama doesn't literally mean he will sit across the table from Ahmadinejad, but rather that he won't be afraid to negotiate with Iran and will drop preconditions that only ensure that talks will go nowhere. But it's worth pointing out that the United States has tried in the past to ignore Iran's power dynamics and negotiate with its preferred interlocutors. That approach simply doesn't work, because the hardliners will work to torpedo any deal that doesn't include them. Plus, they've got Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on their side, and he's the big boss. There will be no deal without his approval.
Is the U.S. State Department really backing plans that would make Iran Europe's next major source of natural gas?
According to John Rosenthal in World Politics Review, the answer, surprisingly, is yes.
Starting last month, the State Department began to openly and enthusiastically back plans for the Nabucco pipeline, a largely European-owned line that will bring gas through
The problem with all this enthusiasm, however, is that if Nabucco does indeed "make sense," the virtually universally held and more or less openly expressed opinion of the key European decision-makers is that it precisely does not make sense without the inclusion of Iranian gas supplies."
And he could be right. The Nabucco pipeline, as originally planned, would draw on Azeri gas from the Shah Deniz fields in the
Which leaves us with
The U.S. intelligence community has taken a beating in some quarters for its National Intelligence Estimate (pdf) on Iran's nuclear program, which was released to the public last December. CFR.org recently got a hold of Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the body that produced the NIE in question.
Fingar says they would have framed the NIE differently had they known it was going to be made public:
There's been talk that the Iran NIE was narrowly written, excluding the civilian capabilities, excluding ballistic missile testing or capabilities, and I wonder if you can respond to those claims. And to follow, do you think it was poorly written? Would you have done it differently if you could?
No, we dealt at length with the centrifuge enrichment, and dealt with the missile program. It was not a narrowly crafted [document] — people are reacting to a two-and-a-half-page summary of a 140-page document with almost 1,500 source notes. And believe it or not, you can't fit the whole book on the book jacket. Was it badly written? The [still classified] estimate itself is very well written. The key judgments, knowing what we do now about the way in which they were spun, perceived, used by folks when released — if we thought for a minute they would be released, which we didn't, we would have framed them somewhat differently. The judgments would be the same. But we would have framed them somewhat differently that says: “Dear readers [not] following this: You can't have a bomb unless you have fissile material, [and] the Iranians continue to develop fissile material. A weapon is not much good if you can't deliver it—they have a missile-development program. But you don't have a bomb unless you can produce a device and weaponize it. That's what's stopped."
On the day of Iran's parliamentary elections, The Economist's correspondent runs into some cynical folks in Tehran:
"I have voted once in 30 years, and that was for the creation of an Islamic Republic" says an old gentleman who deals in real estate. "I'm not going to get [expletive] again."
Driving back to the hotel late at night, my taxi driver is clearly drunk. As we careen along the near-empty expressway, he belts out made-up lyrics to "Old McDonald", ending in a refrain that has something to do with getting a visa to France and drinking viski. Pointing at a billboard of a senior bearded cleric he shouts, "Shaitan!" (Satan) and draws a finger across his throat. Somewhat timidly, I ask in my limited Farsi about the elections. He cackles with laughter, then clutches his head in mock-dismay.
(Editor's note: Please see update at bottom.)
If you were gay and your country hanged your partner for homosexuality, wouldn't you be justified in fearing that your government would be coming for you next?
That's the position that a young Iranian is in. Nineteen-year-old Mehdi Kazemi came to Britain to study. While there, he learned that his boyfriend back in Iran had been executed after confessing to being in a relationship with Kazemi. Officials had also visited Kazemi's parents' house with an arrest warrant for him.
Kazemi did the logical thing. He applied for asylum. Britain denied it on the grounds that gay people in Iran aren't systematically persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation. Since then Kazemi has made it to the Netherlands, but his asylum petition there was recently rejected on the grounds that people can plea for asylum in only one European Union country.
Currently, Kazemi risks being deported back to Britain, which may send him back to Iran, a country that has executed at least 4,000 gay people since 1979's Islamic Revolution, according to one estimate. Sixty members of the European Parliament have signed a petition requesting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to overturn the decision to deny asylum.
Kazemi isn't the only gay person in this predicament. An Iranian lesbian in Britain, Pegah Emambakhsh, was also denied asylum and faces deportation to Iran, where Iranian gay-rights groups say her partner has been sentenced to death by stoning.
These cases are rather ironic. Iran pays for sex-change surgery for transgender people. Additionally, the first rock group it officially approved was Queen, which was headed by Freddie Mercury, a gay man of
Iranian Persian ancestry (by way of his Parsi roots). More importantly, though, if the facts of these cases are correct, it's utterly shameful that Kazemi and Emambakhsh were denied asylum.
UPDATE (March 17): Britain has stopped deportation motions against Medhi Kazemi. His case is being reconsidered.
Does Adm. William J. Fallon's resignation mean the United States is closer to a war with Iran? The White House has called that suggestion "just ridiculous." But it's still what everyone seems to be asking today. Over at the Washington Post, Dan Froomkin concludes, "It's still not really beyond Bush and Cheney to order a full-scale preemptive attack on Iran." Meanwhile, Terry Atlas at U.S. News offers up "6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed for War In Iran." And on Capitol Hill, Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel said he was, "very concerned to see [Fallon] go."
Given the military realities at the moment, Froomkin's suggestion that "full-scale" war against Iran is possible seems a little off to me. When Foreign Policy recently surveyed more than 3,400 retired and active duty officers at the highest levels of command, 80 percent told us that it was "unreasonable" to believe that, given current deployments, the U.S. could engage in another major combat operation at this time. And the officers put America's preparedness for war against Iran at just 4.5 on a 10-point scale, where 10 meant the U.S. was fully prepared for such a mission.
Atlas's "6 Signs" taken as a whole and in the context of regional events don't worry me too much. Still, Fallon's departure may point to trouble, particularly in light a just-released assessment by the Israeli intelligence community, summarized today in a piece by TNR's Yossi Klein Halevi:
According to a just-released strategic assessment by the Israeli intelligence community, 2008 will be the 'Year of Iran.' The Lebanese government, warns the assessment, could collapse in the coming months, allowing Hezbollah to take power. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Hamas are considering a coordinated rocket assault on Israeli population centers, almost all of which are within rocket range of either group. And, according to the strategic assessment, sometime within the coming year, or by early 2009 at the latest,
With Dick Cheney departing for the Middle East next week, this assessment is worrisome. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently said that the Israelis would not consider unilateral action against Iran. But they would likely leap at the chance to conduct coordinated strikes with the U.S. And Cheney's ear is reportedly sympathetic to the argument that diplomacy with Iran is futile. "Full-scale" war with Iran is probably militarily out at this stage, but strikes conducted by air and sea -- with the Navy taking the lead -- are still a very real possibility before the Bush administration is through. And that does make Admiral Fallon's departure worthy of concern.
Think Eliot Spitzer is having a bad week? Imagine what this guy is going through right now:
Tehran's police chief, Reza Zarei, has been arrested after he was found nude in a local brothel with six naked prostitutes, the Farda news website reported Wednesday.
Zarei stepped down from his post following the raid, the report said. According to another popular Iranian website, Gooya, the order to raid the brothel was given directly by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, chief of the judicial authorities.
Over the past year Zarei was in charge of enforcing the Islamic dress code on Iranian women with the purpose of "moralizing of the city."
(Hat tip: Elijah Zarwan)
In 2006, Thomas Friedman argued in an FP cover story that "the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions." The price you pay at the pump is another matter. In a column for the Guardian, Julian Borger examines the excessive fuel subsidies that allow Iranian drivers to enjoy gas at about 12¢ per liter. There are, of course, numerous side effects to contend with -- clogged roads, air pollution, forced rationing, and less incentives to build refineries -- but Iranians remain stubbornly attached to their cheap gas. Borger sees a limitation on Tehran's political power:
Everyone I talk to, including officials, realises that the petrol subsidies make no sense, but no government since the 1979 revolution has had the political courage to cut them. If Condoleezza Rice was right about Iran being a totalitarian society, popular opinion would not matter, but it clearly does.
Venezuela's Hugo Chávez could probably sympathize. Chávez has succesfully extended his control over the country's judiciary, legislature, and media, but Venezuelans have made it quite clear that he shouldn't even think about touching the subsidies that let them fill up their SUVs for about $1.50:
The link between social peace and gasoline so cheap it is almost given away is evident to many motorists. "If you raise gasoline, the people revolt,” said Janeth Lara, 40, an administrator at the Caracas Stock Exchange, as she waited for an attendant to fill the tank of her Jeep Grand Cherokee at a gas station here on a recent day. "It is the only cheap thing."
Chávez, correctly for once, sees the subsidies as an unfair tax on the non-car owning poor, but politically he can do little more than grumble that he didn't take power to lead a "Hummer revolution."
It's incredible to me that these governments are not shy about attempting massive feats of social engineering, but are afraid to raise gas prices for fear of getting people riled up. Despite all the enormous economic and environmental consequences, both regimes are essentially forced to bribe their middle class with cheap gasoline. It doesn't seem like a very stable arrangement.
At today's Carnegie Endowment event on Iran, analyst Karim Sadjadpour had this to say about his experience of pouring through hundreds of pages of the "cynical and highly conspiratorial" writings of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:
It was the antithesis of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
UPDATE: You can read the fruits of Sadjadpour's labors here (pdf).
At today's White House press conference touting his endorsement of John McCain, U.S. President George W. Bush gave this tantalizing, if garbled, hint at his remaining foreign-policy priorities:
I'm focusing on, you know, protecting America, and succeeding in Iraq, and dealing with the North Korea, and dealing with the Iranian, and dealing with the issues around the world where we're making a difference in terms of keeping peace.
So, how might the United States go about "dealing with the Iranian"? John W. Limbert, an international relations professor, retired U.S. diplomat, and a former hostage in Tehran, has penned a handy guide to negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Check it out.
And if you want to dig a little deeper, read Limbert's 15-page report on the same topic for the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Everybody has understood that Iran is the number one power in the world," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to families who lost loved ones in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
"Today the name of Iran means a firm punch in the teeth of the powerful and it puts them in their place," he added in the address broadcast live on state television.
Last fall, Passport noted that more sex-change surgeries are performed in Iran than in any other country except Thailand. Ayatollah Khomeini approved them for "diagnosed transsexuals" 25 years ago, and today the Iranian government will pay up to half the cost for those in financial need. Former FP researcher David Francis wrote, "In a country that shuns homosexuality, this makes perverse sense, as after a sex-change operation, one technically isn't attracted to one's own sex and therefore isn't gay."
Now, Iranian-born, American-raised, director Tanaz Eshaghian has made a provocative documentary, Be Like Others, about young Iranian men who undergo sex-change surgery. It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Check out some clips here, including one of a 20-year-old man who laughingly remarks, "It's so difficult," in reference to wearing a head scarf outside.
The gleeful spin from Tehran ahead of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear activities, due any day now, is that the IAEA will declare Iran "clean." In other words, the agency will say that Iran has answered all the tough questions and that, as per the controversial U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the country has no secret weapons program. Such predictions can be fairly dismissed as Persian bluster coming from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but no less a figure than powerful Iranian cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani seems confident the IAEA will exonerate his country.
There have been rumors of a dispute within the IAEA over the technical findings of the report, though the organization denies any serious internal disagreements. If anything, the dispute is likely to come from the United States and its European allies, who want to see a third round of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran. A clean bill of health would obviously undermine that push. TFB, one anonymous IAEA offical told Reuters:
If the facts are at odds with the policy objectives of some people who are keen to impose further sanctions on Iran, that's too bad.
In all likelihood, the IAEA's forthcoming report will not clear up all the remaining issues, especially when it comes to weaponization. But that won't stop the Iranians from declaring victory.
The liberal blogosphere is all in a tizzy over John Bolton's endorsement of John McCain, leading some to speculate that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would be tapped to serve as secretary of state in a McCain administration.
I doubt it. Is McCain a neocon? Maybe. Maybe not. Supporting the surge does not a neocon make, friends. It's true that since the late 1990s, McCain has increasingly surrounded himself with foreign policy minds sympathetic to the neocon cause, including Bill Kristol, Mark Salter, Daniel McKivergan, Marshall Wittmann, and Randy Scheunemann. His closeness to Kristol, in particular, has been well documented. But McCain casts a wide net. He also seeks advice from Henry Kissingers and Brent Scowcrofts, and occasionally -- gasp -- Democrats, too. And any way you slice it, McCain and Bolton don't exactly see eye to eye.
Here was McCain's answer to a question posed in 2006 by the New Republic's John Judis on a preemptive strike against Iran:
We haven't taken the military option off the table, but we should make it clear that is the very last option, only if we become convinced that they are about to acquire those weapons to use against Israel.... I think that if they are capable with their repeatedly stated intention, that doesn't mean I would go to war even then. That means we have to exhaust every possible option. Going to the United Nations, working with our European allies. If we were going to impose sanctions, I would wait and see whether those sanctions were effective or not. I did not mean it as a declaration of war the day they acquired weapons."
That doesn't exactly sound like John Bolton to me.
Recent reports from European diplomats have revealed a worrisome development: Iran is testing a new, more sophisticated type of centrifuge for enriching uranium. On a technical level, this demonstrates the skills of Iran's engineers, who appear to have applied "considerable technical creativity" to solve problems caused by manufacturing limitations along with export controls and sanctions. Politically, it demonstrates that Iran has, for now, no intention of bowing to U.N. Security Council demands and ceasing its enrichment activities.
Dubbed the IR-2, Iran's new centrifuge model is an Iranian-designed variant of the P-2 centrifuge used in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. The original P-2 design, obtained by
Even though the IR-2 appears to be easier for
While not proof that
That said, relatively little concrete information on this development is in the public domain. Watch this space for more detailed commentary when the IAEA releases its next report, hopefully at the end of the month.
A couple years ago, FP published an article about an Iranian magazine called Zanan ("Women," in Farsi). Written by Haleh Esfandiari of the Wilson Center, who was imprisoned in Tehran for several months last year, "Iranian Women, Please Stand Up" told the tale of Shahla Sherkat, who bravely courted controversy as the founder of a glossy women's magazine that covered topics both political and personal. Esfandiari wrote:
Zanan has run articles on the latest theories of feminism in the West, the unjust treatment of women in Islamic societies, and the significance for Iranians of international conventions on human rights and the rights of women and children. ... Not all articles in Zanan incite such strong reactions. The glossy has [also] published stories about Iran's first woman pilot, its first female cab driver, and the country’s first woman racing car ace.
Despite harassment from government officials, periodic censorship, and budget woes, Sherkat managed to keep the magazine open for 16 years. But last week the government shut down Zanan, this time for good. Iranian authorities, according to an editorial in the New York Times, claim "the magazine was a 'threat to the psychological security of the society' because it showed Iranian women in a 'black light.'"
A "black light"? Give me a break! Zanan was one of the very few media outlets in Iran dedicated to women's issues, and one of the only places where women could actually be heard. Because of numerous run-ins with the government in the past (past contributors to Zanan had been jailed at various times for their writing) Sherkat was always very careful to toe the line with the magazine's editorial content. The shuttering of the magazine is an outrage, it's a tragedy, and most of all, it's a crime against Iranian women. Tehran should realize that by closing down Zanan, it's only displaying its own weakness and fear.
What was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing last month when he donned these funkadelic shades?
UPDATE: And the winning entry, sent in by reader LHE—
The press awaits Ahmadinejad's review of "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour in 3D."
Thanks to all those who participated. Good stuff!
Lots of bloggers have already commented on this New York Times story about how U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad is catching flak for—the horror!—sitting next to an Iranian in Davos. But the Iranians have their own demons to exorcise:
When Timothy Garton-Ash, an Oxford professor, arrived at a lunch on the theme of "Political Islam and Democracy," he was seated where Samare Hashemi Shajareh [the close personal advisor of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] was originally supposed to sit. But Samare Hashemi Shajareh had refused to be seated opposite an Israeli journalist.
It's stupid when Iran plays these kinds of games, and it's stupid when the United States does, too.
UPDATE: I see that the FT's Gideon Rachman has a similar Iran anecdote from Davos:
Eventually I struggled downstairs and sat through the press conference. But a nap might have been a better use of my time. [Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr] Mottaki said almost nothing. The only amusing moment came when he said, gallantly, that he would like to take a question from one of the ladies. Unfortunately, the woman he motioned to turned out to be an Israeli journalist - so he refused to answer the question. Refusing to talk to people usually makes you look silly, I think - which is perhaps a lesson the White House should bear in mind, when thinking about Khalilzad's appearance in Davos.
Commenting on U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the Persian Gulf, Shibley Telhami argues that the Arab governments are essentially using the Iran issue to pressure the United States to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front:
Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran's nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently. They use the Iran issue to lure Israel and the United States into serious Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, having concluded that the perceived Iranian threats sell better in Washington and Tel Aviv than the pursuit of peace itself. [...]
Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about Iran's growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that undermines their own popularity and stability.
I think that's right, but it raises the question: Who's fooling whom? Very few analysts expect much forward progress on Middle East peace during the last year of Bush's presidency. Why shouldn't both the Israelis and Palestinians wait him out to see if they can get a better deal from the next U.S. leader? That also goes for Gulf states' relations with the Iranians. The next American president might well be less confrontational toward Tehran. Why risk Iranian retaliation now by going along with the U.S. containment approach, only to have to reverse course in 2009?
What's more, the strategy of punishing Iran works against the pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. An isolated Iran has a major incentive to lash out and disrupt the peace process via its local allies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Olmert's governing coalition is shaky, and a few well-timed terrorist attacks within Israel could throw even the most promising negotiations off course. And with Olmert now saying that there will be no peace unless Hamas-ruled Gaza ceases to be a threat, you have a recipe for paralysis.
In the U.S. Navy's footage of the Iranian speedboat incident in the Strait of Hormuz, the video cuts off at the end, the screen goes black, and a voice comes on in accented English "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes."
For the crews onboard the U.S. vessels, it must have been a pretty chilling thing to hear. But now, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet says nobody's sure where the voice came from:
We're saying that we cannot make a direct connection to the boats there," said the spokesperson. "It could have come from the shore, from another ship passing by. However, it happened in the middle of all the very unusual activity, so as we assess the information and situation, we still put it in the total aggregate of what happened Sunday morning. I guess we're not saying that it absolutely came from the boats, but we're not saying it absolutely didn't."
As the New York Times noted this morning, the recording doesn't include the kind of noises you might expect to hear in the background as someone gallivants around in a speedboat. Iran released its own video, in which a voice says in English, "Coalition warship number 73 this is an Iranian patrol." So the situation has gotten murky, which makes for great political theater.
And yet, the dispute over the warning is kind of beside the point. Threatening voice aside, the Iranian patrols shouldn't have been messing around the way they did (if anything, the U.S. Navy crews showed admirable restraint, given what was going on), but nor should the U.S. military and President Bush have made such a big deal of this incident without knowing all the facts. At first, the Iranian Foreign Ministry was quick to downplay the incident, which ought to have been a clear enough signal of the regime's intentions. But now that national pride is on the line, hardliners in the Republican Guard—whose local allies may have deliberately provoked this incident—are the only ones who will benefit from continued confrontation. Don't feed the beast.
Radio Free Europe has the scoop on an announcement from the government of Kyrgyzstan that they are holding radioactive material seized from a train that was headed to Iran. A small amount of Cesium-137—which experts say can be used in the production of dirty bombs—was detected by Uzbek border guards on Dec. 31st. Despite the fact that radiation levels were so high within the car that officers of Kyrgyzstan's Emergency Situations Ministry wore hazmat suits to remove it, the material manage to pass through three checkpoints in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan before being discovered on the Uzbek border and sent back. The train is owned by a Tajik company but the cargo was loaded within Kyrgyzstan.
The train's ultimate destination inside Iran could be a coincidence, but that's unlikely to quell fears in the West. It's also unclear why the Kyrgyz government waited nine days to make the announcement. The story is a troubling reminder of just how difficult this type of material can be to police.
CNN is reporting that, according to U.S. officials, "5 Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats harassed, provoked 3 U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday." There's no story yet, but I think it's a safe bet that hardliners in the Guard are seeking to create an incident on the eve of U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the region. Why would they do that? Well, it makes for good distraction from their sinking popularity ahead of March's legislative elections. It forestalls the admittedly dim prospects of a U.S.-Iran rapprochement. It complicates Bush's efforts to buck up the United States' Arab allies (though depending on how they react to this news, it may simplify his mission). And as an added bonus, it'll probably send oil prices upwards for a short while. We can't exclude the possibility that some Guard higher-ups are speculating in the oil markets and turning a tidy profit from these sorts of incidents.
UPDATE: Reuters has more:
A radio transmission from one of the Iranian ships said, "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes," CNN reported, citing a U.S. official.
Much more here from Mike Nizza at the NYT's Lede blog.
UPDATE2: Iran's Foreign Ministry is playing down this encounter:
That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party, and it (the problem) is settled after identification of the two parties," he told the state news agency IRNA.
The incident was "similar to past ones" that were resolved "once the two sides recognized each other."
As blogger "Cernig" notes, this explanation doesn't pass the smell test, but it does indicate that the provocation was not official Iranian policy.
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