Entries Tagged as 'Iran'

Will Iran Face Real Sanctions?

David Frum January 1st, 2012 at 6:09 am 29 Comments

On the last day of 2011, President Obama “with reservations” signed the authorization for the 2012 defense budget.

The president said he objected to language in the bill that granted him powers to detain terror suspects indefinitely – but forbade him to transfer detainees to the mainland US. Unmentioned in the signing statement was another section of the bill his administration had fought even harder than the detainee language: new sanctions on the central bank of Iran, an amendment pushed hard by Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

According to one knoweldgable observer:

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Who is Killing Iran’s Currency?

David Frum December 21st, 2011 at 8:14 am 23 Comments

Something – or somebody – is destroying Iran’s currency. Steady decline over the past two months has turned into a “panic” over the past 72 hours.

[T]he rial fell to unprecedented lows against the dollar Tuesday, amounting to a 15 percent loss in value over the past three days, the Fars News Agency reported.

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How Cyber Warfare Can Stop Iran

David Frum November 17th, 2011 at 1:11 pm 47 Comments

Eli Lake at the Daily Beast posts another of his amazing reports on super-secret spy stuff, this time on Israel’s campaign of electronic sabotage of Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Watching Eli pile up these scoops is starting to be like watching the New York Yankees pile up World Series titles.

U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attackon hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.

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Al-Qaeda’s Iranian Presence Should be a Greater Concern

July 29th, 2011 at 2:58 pm 6 Comments

Yesterday, drugstore the U.S. government formally announced what many of us have known for sometime: there is a direct connection between al-Qaeda and Iran.  The Treasury Department sanctioned “six members of a terrorist network based in Iran” for serving as “the core pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money, medical facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia,” principally meaning Pakistan and Afghanistan. The leader of the group, Ezedin Abdul Aziz Khalil, is a Syrian who has been operating from Iran under an agreement signed in 2005.”

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Iran’s Nuke Double-Talk

June 11th, 2011 at 1:41 pm 21 Comments

In an exercise straight out of the political  theater of the absurd, Iran this Sunday will convene a two-day conference on “International Nuclear Disarmament.” According to Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhoundzadeh, the conference will discuss the “doctrines of nuclear powers”, “practical measures to have a world free of weapons of mass destruction” and review “regional as well as international disarmament commitments”. I wonder what’s next — maybe Syria can hold an international conference on Effective Crowd Dispersion Methods and Saudi Arabia could convene a conference on the Advancement of the Status of Women & Minorities?

Should Israel Come Clean on Its Nukes?

May 21st, 2011 at 11:07 am 6 Comments

As the 1967 border discussions are placed at the media forefront again, viagra Israel must once again consider questions on how best to deter foreign aggression. One issue which has not been raised in the recent discussions is Israel’s opaque handling of its nuclear weapon capabilities. Has choosing not to publicly admit that it has the bomb been a mistake?

In military terms, general deterrence is successful when it prevents state leaders from issuing military threats and actions that could escalate into a crisis or militarized confrontation. Keeping in mind the multiple wars Israel has been involved in, it’s obvious that Israel’s silence on its nuclear deterrence has not proven effective.

Michael Karpin a renowned Israeli investigative journalist argues that the Israeli bomb provides self-confidence for the Israeli people in the face of security challenges. Recent polls conducted on national security issues including the “Vox Populi: Trends in Israeli Public Opinion on National Security” study conducted by the Tel Aviv Institute for National Security Studies indicate that the policy of ambiguity regarding Israel’s nuclear capability, enjoys massive public support; 80% of the respondents supported Israel’s handling of the nuclear issue, while only 19% believe that Israel should go public in order to deter its enemies. Only a mere 1% believes that Israel should give up its nuclear arsenal entirely.

Despite this overwhelming domestic support for Israel’s ambiguous nuclear policy there are clear advantages to bringing the bomb out of the basement. To put Israel’s current problem in frank terms, everybody already knows they possess the bomb. Therefore admitting to its “nuclear policy” would be a mere formality. The implications it would have on the negotiating table however would be substantial.

Deterrence strategies encounter two basic problems. The first is the aggressor’s mindset. To be effective, a deterrent threat has to be believed. One state must believe that the other can deliver the threatened punishment and that under certain circumstances it may do so. The second problem is posed by the actions that a threatened state might take. Confronted with a strong defense, a would-be aggressor may act first to overcome it. Confronted with a powerful deterrent, a would be aggressor may seek to reduce its effect by taking aggressive measures to protect its own population or by striking first to destroy a large part of the adversary’s deterrent force.

Clarity plays an extremely vital role in nuclear deterrence. This fact is exemplified by the 1999 Kargil crisis between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region in, which, “open” nuclear deterrence prevented the Kashmir crisis from escalating into a war. But clarity can also play a role in nuclear non-proliferation talks. Observing the rapid and unexpected toppling of the autocratic regimes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali or Hosni Mubarak it should be in Israel’s security interests to move forward and put an end to its policy of nuclear ambiguity. Doing so could open the door to talks on a nuclear non-proliferation treaty between Israel, Iran and the Middle East in general.

Israel’s silence about its nuclear program may even have accelerated nuclear development in Iran and convinced many small states that they too could acquire nuclear weapons.  Even Libya tried to get into the nuclear game, although they dropped their program in 2003. By not coming clean on its program, Israel may have created a security vacuum in the Middle East, which has been filled by irrational regimes such as Iran, working to acquire their own nuclear capability. Although Israel’s strategy has succeeded in preventing existential attacks, it has not worked as a deterrent against conventional attacks, nor as a warning to rivals against developing nuclear weapons.

Did Iran Kidnap Dissident in Paris?

May 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm 1 Comment

It seems that Iranian agents may have kidnapped a dissident in Paris and taken him to Tehran a few days ago.

While there are few details out now, here are the main elements: The story was first reported yesterday by the Metula News Agency (MENA), a French-language Israeli news service that usually provides reliable, and sometimes hard to find, information.  So far, they are the only news agency to have reported this story.

Mohammad-Reza (Arash) Fakhravar, an Iranian student who is the brother of Amir-Abbas Fakhravar, the president of the Confederation of Iranian Students, seems to have been kidnapped on April 29th by personnel from the Iranian embassy in Paris

According to MENA, he was then taken to Orly airport and put on Iran Air 732 flight en route to Tehran. During the kidnapping, Fakhravar managed to alert his brother in Washington, DC about his situation.

His brother then alerted both the FBI and his mother in Tehran, who ran to the Khomeini airport in order to look for her son. A member of the airport staff told her confidentially that her son had been taken to Evin prison, where many political prisoners are detained.

And that’s all that’s been reported thus far.  There isn’t much mention of it in the mainstream French media, nor anywhere else as far as I can see.  And there’s been absolutely no reaction from French authorities.

If the story is true, and MENA’s record tends to make it plausible, it’s possible the French government wants to keep things quiet and try to find some sort of solution.

While silencing the press and letting the guy rot in jail could have been an option before the Internet, that seems unlikely now and Sarkozy’s policy doesn’t seem to mesh with that approach. We can only suppose that more details will emerge in the coming days.

The story, in French, is on the MENA website. They may provide an English version later on, as they sometimes do.

Is Iran Helping Assad Crush the Syrian Revolt?

March 28th, 2011 at 12:04 pm 5 Comments

According to Israeli sources, Syrian dissidents have reported some of the gun- and baton-wielding security personnel unleashed on anti-regime activists in recent days have been speaking in Farsi.

This is not in and of itself conclusive evidence of Iranian involvement. Syria has a large population of native Farsi speakers. So, for that matter, does Israel.

Still: “Syria is an Iranian acquisition, and it is clear that Iran is afraid that its investments will go down the drain.  So it has allowed for greater involvement than in other Arab countries,” Israeli Army Radio reported Foreign Ministry officials as saying.

The alliance with Iran has allowed Damascus to fight above its weight as a regional power player.

Assad, like his father and predecessor, has played a double-game with both his neighbors and the U.S., suggesting at times Syria could be “flipped” given the right inducements.

As Middle East expert Michael Doran has noted, “Syria has played this game of being both the arsonist and the fire department.”

All the while Syria has been extending — and capriciously yanking away — the olive branch, it has been calibrating the use of its client terrorist political organizations Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories according to immediate exigencies and longer range goals.

All the while it has been attempting to destabilize U.S. allies including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia by way of lower-key intriguing and subversion,

All the while it has been hosting and training al-Qaeda recruits from throughout the Arab world and allowing the country to be used as a land-bridge for infiltrating them into Iraq.

And all the while Iran has looked on and nodded approvingly.

Syria has acted as Tehran’s reliable sword-edge in pursuing greater Shi’ite/Persian aspirations in a largely Sunni, largely hostile Arab world.

The loss of its only Arab ally would be more than just a temporary setback to the mullahs’ plans for redrawing the regional boundaries of power. A destabilized Syria or one where the regime is changed by the will of a people could administer a death-blow to Iran’s current strategic gamesmanship in the Middle East.

Which is why Israel’s warnings about possible Iranian participation in efforts to quell the Syrian uprising carry the ring of conviction.

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What Does Bahrain’s Turmoil Mean for Iran?

David Frum February 19th, 2011 at 8:16 am 10 Comments

Bahrain is an island nation in the Persian Gulf, connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain has been swept by protests against the ruling family — protests that have been met by lethal repression.

Bahrain looks a modern, prosperous country. Relatively poor in energy resources, Bahrain has diversified into refining, services, banking. Yet oil still provides 60% of the state budget: A revenue source that has enriched the Sunni ruling class, even as the country’s Shiite majority struggles with chronic underemployment.

Bahrain also happens to be the base of the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

The obvious thing to worry about in Bahrain is that the current unrest could invite meddling by fellow Shiites across the Gulf in Iran. (And in fact Iran has meddled in Bahrain since the days of the shah.)

But let’s try some thoughts that are less obvious.

- People should be careful about assuming that Arab speaking Shiites will cheerfully submit to domination by Persian-speaking Shiites. Especially when the particular Arab-speaking Shiites live in a country that is freer, richer and generally more fun than Persia.

Bahrain is a rich place, GDP per capita of over $28,000 according to the World Bank. That figure puts Bahrain in the same neighborhood as Israel. Bahrain is seven times richer than Iran.

Bahrain educates its women: women are almost exactly as likely as men to finish high school, according to the UN Human Development Index. (In Iran, women are only about two-thirds as likely as men to finish high school.)

- By the numbers, Bahrain meets more of the preconditions for democracy.

Bahrain is 12 times richer than Egypt. One in seven Egyptians cannot read. In Bahrain literacy is virtually universal. According to the Pew survey of Muslim belief, 84% of Egyptians believe that apostates from Islam should be killed, 82% believe that adulterous women should be stoned to death, and 77% believe that thieves should have their hands cut off. The only other major Muslim country to report anything like such fundamentalist attitudes is Pakistan.

In Bahrain, women vote and drive. Hijab is not required. Alcohol may be legally sold. Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States is a Jewish woman who previously served in the country’s elected legislature and headed the local branch of Human Rights Watch. OK, that last part is probably just a stunt. Still–an interesting stunt.

- Bahrain’s royal form of government opens the way to compromise: more representation and power to the elected legislature, while reserving national security issues to the hereditary executive. You might call this the “French” constitutional model. Such a model could help resolve a lot of concerns in Egypt too, where the Muslim Brotherhood could conceivably win the largest block of seats in a freely elected Parliament — but likely lacks the clout to defeat an incumbent president backed by the Egyptian military.

- Precisely because Bahrain is so closely tied to the West, the West cannot keep quiet about violent repression in Bahrain. This is not Egypt: An ally, but ultimately a country at an arm’s-length relationship to the western world. An entire American carrier battle group is based in Bahrain — there is no way the United States can avoid being implicated in the actions of the Bahraini government.

And given that the West is pressing so hard for democracy in the Shiite-majority country across the water, indifference in Bahrain invites damaging accusations of opportunism and hypocrisy.

Always and ever: Iran is the big play in the Middle East. A democratic Iran may not be an entirely congenial presence. Persia was once a great world empire, and many Iranians might well vote for nationalist politicians in a free election. But a more democratic Iran would be a less dangerous place for everyone, including its own people, than today’s theocratic, terrorism-supporting Iran. Every regional decision has to be measured against the test: Is this moving us closer to — or further from — a positive change in the Iranian political system?

That test should guide decisions about Bahrain, and about a lot more than Bahrain.

Originally published in the National Post.

Obama Heads for Foreign Policy Disaster

David Frum September 17th, 2009 at 1:26 pm 19 Comments

Ernest Hemingway offered a memorable description of the experience of going broke: It occurs at first very slowly, then all at once. The Obama foreign policy remains as yet in the “very slowly” stage. But the ultimate destination to which it is trending has already come into sight.

AFGHANISTAN. George W. Bush took a lot of criticism for cutting taxes at the beginning of the prior administration’s wars. What are we to say about President Obama cutting military spending at the beginning of his? Senior military commanders are pressing for more troops. The civilian overseers of the Department of Defense are resisting. And Democrats in Congress are already eyeing the exits. The president initiated this commitment for campaign purposes in his candidate days, to allow him to balance hawkish themes in Afghanistan against his dovishness on Iraq. The commitment was not connected in any organic way to the rest of his foreign policy, the grand theme of which is conciliation through moral and practical concession. Nobody thinks a surge in Afghanistan is the policy he would have chosen if he had expressed his own mind back in 2007 and 2008. Nor was it supported by any effective constituency within his party. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a commitment that the president avoids talking about—and whose costs are being massaged and messaged rather than explained and defended. This is a formula for a credibility gap down the road, and political failure a little further after that.

IRAN. Averting its eyes from the rigging of the presidential election and the suppression of dissent, the Obama administration will begin mid-level talks with Iran on Oct. 1. The Iranians have already announced that no nuclear concessions will be forthcoming. There’s good reason to believe them—they followed this same tactic in talks with Europeans in the mid-2000s, buying time for themselves as the nuclear clock ticked down. Iran is the most conspicuous and most important test of the president’s conciliation policy. On its present course, the likeliest result is the creation of a new and very dangerous nuclear state—established over only the most nominal American resistance.

EUROPE. The release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi showed an amazing disregard of U.S. sensibilities by the governments of the United Kingdom and Scotland. Despite the affront, the Obama administration murmured only the most tepid of complaints. Likewise, the governments of France and Germany buzzed off the new president’s dubious calls for huge fiscal stimulus. So much for the restoration of cooperation supposedly achieved by Obama’s election. The cowboy Bush got worse press but better results from our European allies than the Euro-favorite Obama.

WESTERN HEMISPHERE. One of the Bush administration’s great achievements was the quiet success of Plan Colombia, which has helped pacify the Venezuelan-aided narco-insurgency in Colombia. Democrats opposed the plan at the time—and evidently haven’t learned anything from the experience. They now show amazingly little interest in the even more serious crisis of law and order in Mexico. Under Obama, the U.S. could face a threat not experienced since the very earliest days of the republic: violent instability on the nation’s border, unless this self-certain president bends enough to learn some lessons from his predecessor. But can he? Obama’s reaction to the power struggle in Honduras, admittedly a non-strategic country, reveals a depressing, knee-jerk partiality to the Latin American left-wing, even at its most anti-constitutional and authoritarian.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE. The jury is still out, but the early indications—the insertion of Buy-American provisions in the stimulus package; tariffs imposed upon Chinese tires—are disturbing to put it mildly. The Democrats’ campaign-season denunciations of NAFTA were charitably disregarded by domestic and international observers as cynical but meaningless pandering. It remains hard to believe that the sophisticated Obama can have much personal sympathy for trade protection. But what the whole world must worry about is whether a president who let Congress write his stimulus package and his health-care plan lacks the clout to tell a Democratic Congress “no” on protectionism.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE. Here, for once, the administration is exerting some muscle. But to what end? President Obama has swiftly plunged into the great time sink that so uselessly consumed the last weeks of the Clinton presidency. The U.S. is applying pressure to Israel, because Israel is susceptible to U.S. pressure, in hopes of gaining concessions from the Palestinians, who are not. The process is the diplomatic equivalent of a drunk searching for his key under the streetlamp—because it’s brighter there. The approach has never worked before, but repeated failure does not seem to have discouraged Obama from trying yet again.

Not everything that goes wrong in the world is the president’s fault, of course. Vladimir Putin’s Russia would behave aggressively no matter who was president, just as any president would confront the same unappealing range of options in Pakistan. But the very intractability of such problems makes it more important to do right what can be done right.

Despite the domestic focus of these early months of his presidency, Barack Obama thinks of himself as a foreign policy thinker above all, according to those who know him best. His confidence is undiminished by his lack of experience and credentials. That confidence continues to flourish despite a lack of positive results. Given present trends, it is unlikely to bow to lessons even from seriously negative consequences. The president is committed to his path. So, ominously, is the country.

Originally published in The Week.