Introducing 'Iran Watch'

These days, news about the international crisis over Iran's nuclear program is coming at us at a rapid and often bewildering pace. In the last month alone, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called Israel a "cancer tumor" that "should be cut off," vowed to never sway from Iran's nuclear course, dismissed nuclear weapons as a "sin," and, just today, welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's call for toning down all this war talk. It's enough to give any observer a good case of whiplash.

That's why we're taking a step back from the flurry of breaking news and introducing a regular Passport feature to track the drumbeats to war and take the temperature of the major players in the drama. For each post, we'll choose one or more data points or news stories and assign a score based on the following scale:

1. All Quiet on the Eastern Front

2. Natanz to Worry About

3. Nukes of Hazard

4. Seeing Red Lines

5. Bombs Away!

Two stories dominated the news cycle today on Iran. For starters, the United States reportedly offered to give Israel arms that could help in a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities (though the White House denied it):

In particular, it would offer bunker-busting bombs more powerful than those currently possessed by Israel, which would allow the Jewish state to target Iranian facilities even under solid rock.

An Israeli official also claimed that new satellite images provide fresh evidence that Iran is trying to conceal its development of a nuclear weapon:

On Wednesday, pictures provided by unspecified member countries to the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. nuclear agency -- appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at Iran's Parchin military site. Diplomats said the images suggested the trucks could be carting away radioactive material created in nuclear testing.


Verdict: In the end, Isaac's Newton's Third Law applied today -- for every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. AFP reported that the United States had offered to supply Israel with advanced weaponry in exchange for Israel committing to not attack Iran this year. But other Israeli officials are denying that there were any conditions attached to the deal. The satellite imagery of activities at Parchin put a damper on the news that Iran had decided to let inspectors visit the military installation. And even as Israel cautiously welcomes a resumption of big-power nuclear talks with Iran, Iran's envoy to France declared that Iran will not negotiate on its right to enrich uranium -- a critical sticking point. For all these reasons, we're going with Nukes of Hazard.

Feel free to nominate any Iran Watch stories you think we should be highlighting. E-mail Uri [dot] Friedman [at]

IIPA via Getty Images


Chinese state media thanks women for being hot

In an attempt to highlight the role of women in Beijing's annual National People's Congress, China's party newspaper the People's Daily published "Beautiful female journalists at two sessions," consisting of women asking questions and "beautifying" China's legislative session.  It's hard to think of a more awkward way for a media outlet to celebrate International Women's Day, except maybe last year's offering from China's state news wire Xinhua: "Attractive females at NPC, CPCC sessions."

A few points here: Surprisingly for staid state media, Xinhua and the People's Daily publish a lot of click bait in the form of near naked women: See for example today's "Bikini Parade in Panama to set Guinness Record," and "Seductive leg models in China." A few days ago People's Daily published a precursor article about the meetings' "beautiful service staff" (h/t to James Fallows and Adam Minter), as well as  "Versatile Tibetan beauties" and "Seven stunning beauties from Xinjiang," in questionable taste considering the persistent government crackdown in both those places. 

In a blog post, The Economist answers the question of why Western media describes the NPC as "rubber stamp" (because it accepts every law put before it). The patronizing media coverage of women and minorities smiling at the joy of being a part of China doesn't help, either. 

Porn remains illegal in China (though it's readily available), and even in state media, sex sells, and is far less sensitive than politics. The Chinese media website Danwei coined the term Skinhua to describe this practice. The sole commenter on the People's Daily journalist article, who aptly goes by Mr. Dong, snidely hints at this unexpected identity of state media: the JC Penny catalog of the internet age.