The Syrian response to Sunday’s Israeli air strike on Damascus, which killed 42, was twofold. Beleagured President Bashar al-Assad announced that soldiers manning the country’s anti-aircraft batteries may now fire at will (the Baath Party system is slow because subalterns have to ask permission for every battle action, and initiative on the ground is usually discouraged.). Translation: Civilian airliners should now stay far from Syrian airspace, lest they be mistaken by trigger happy soldiers manning the anti-aircraft batteries for Israeli jets. Al-Assad also encouraged Palestinian guerrilla groups to attack Israel from Syrian soil (this is bluster). Syrian forces appear to have lobbed mortars into the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights in reprisal on Monday.
In my view, the Israeli strikes are opportunistic and tactical, not a game changer. Tel Aviv has long been frustrated that Iran supplies munitions to lebanon’s Hizbullah through Syria, but was stymied from doing much about it by Syria’s extensive air defenses. Now Syria’s army is distracted by the civil war, and the Israelis are taking advantage. Hence the Israeli military assurance that ‘there are no winds of war’ — i.e. no larger Israeli war against Syria is in the offing.
Meanwhile, a top Iranian military official denied that the Israelis had hit an Iranian missile storage site in Damascus or that the missiles were intended for Hizbullah. He also threatened reprisals against regional powers de facto aligned with Israel against the Baath government of Syria (Turkey? Jordan? Saudi Arabia, Qatar?)
The USG Open Source Center translates:
FYI — Army Official Denies Existence of Iranian Weaponry at Israeli Strike Site in Syria
Monday, May 6, 2013
Document Type: OSC Summary
Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic at 1808 GMT on 5 May reported that Major General Mas’ud Jazayeri, the assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, has condemned the recent Israeli strikes on locations inside Syria and denied that the sites contained weapons provided from Iran.
Speaking in a 47-minute n interview with Al-Alam TV during its “From Tehran” program, Jazayeri said there was “no doubt about the Zionist entity’s aggressive trend” and added that “some countries in the region were (also) involved and one of these days will be held to account”.
Continuing to express little surprise over the strikes, he added: “We do not expect any different from Israel.”
The military official said that Israel was “intervening” in Syria and had previously “intervened in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, against Hamas of course.”
Speaking in Farsi with simultaneous Arabic translation, Jazayeri added that “unfortunately, there is a war between Arabs and Arabs, between Muslims and Muslims, under direction from the Americans and international Zionism”, adding that this was specifically occurring in Syria.
Asked about “Israeli and Western sources’” claims that the Syrian site targeted in Jamraya stored Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles, Jazayeri said that the Syrian government and people currently had sufficient capability of their own “in terms of military, security, intelligence and psychological ability.”
He added that the Syrians “are not in need of Iranian weapons support, and therefore such news is denied.”
He also appeared to deny further reports that Iranian Fateh-110 missiles were supplied to Hezbollah, saying that groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah had also reached “self-sufficiency and do not need weapons from other countries.”
Jazayeri said that “the US and the other hostile countries, including some in the region, have done all they can against Syria… as well as to organize, fund and equip the opposition factions.”
He added: “Currently our region is unfortunately facing the largest kind of governmental terrorism in history”, saying that “the leader of this terrorism is the USA”.
Asked what the reaction to the strikes might be and if it may come from Hezbollah or the Syrian army, Jazayeri said that “the resistance (reference to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas) will not allow the progression of the Zionist entity in the region”.
Answering a question about Western military exercises and mine-sweeping operations in the region, he said that “the administration of the Straight of Hormuz is in the hands of Iran and measures of this kind are made by the Americans to reassure their friends,’ and igniting what he called “Iranphobia” and “Shiitephobia”. He said the exercises included nothing new, adding that Iran was monitoring the issue and possessed “very notable information about the exercises”, while stressing that it was “a very ordinary exercise.”
Remaining on the topic of the Strait of Hormuz, he said that Iran has repeatedly announced that the Strait will remain open but that at the same time, the presence of foreign troops “has often led to tension and violations in this crucial case.”
On regional differences, Jazayeri said that in Syria “we are not seeing a war between the Sunnis and Shiites; there are groups that in reality are not Sunni, or Shiite, or even Muslim”.
More generally, he said that there were efforts to “exploit differences” between societies that came back to “sedition with a historic precedent,” saying that “the specialist in enflaming this sedition and prompting differences and tensions between states and societies is actually Britain.”
Jazayeri added that the US was now “stepping into this position,” before continuing to sharply criticize some regional states and accusing them of allying themselves with Israel and the US.
(Description of Source: Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic — 24-hour Arabic news channel, targeting a pan-Arab audience, of Iranian state-run television, officially controlled by the office of the supreme leader)
Michael McShane writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, Jay Solomon highlighted the disproportionate attention President Obama has paid to Iran’s nuclear program since coming to office compared to thediplomatic engagement the United States has pursued vis-à-vis North Korea’s own steadily growing nuclear weapons program.
“This gap between North Korea and Iran, which is widely recognized in Washington, is exposing what many Western diplomats and security analysts believe has been the U.S.’s muted response to Pyongyang’s nuclear advances in recent years, as compared with Iran’s.”
While the piece offers cursory explanations – “direct confrontation with North Korean ally China” and “Israel’s concerns” – for the uneven U.S. responses to the respective nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, it simply provides general background information and a binary breakdown of the differing stages of each state’s nuclear progress, i.e., the overwhelming weaponization realities of North Korea’s program in contrast to the non-existent capabilities of a purported Iranian nuclear threat.
In 2003, Pyongyang withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As Solomon details in his report, the North Koreans have managed to push forward with their nuclear program, conducting three nuclear tests since 2006; yet the U.S., until recently, has handled North Korean provocations with much less hostility – diplomatically and coercively – compared to Iran.
China has certainly been a major factor in U.S. decision-making. Nevertheless, Beijing is just as interested in a nuclear-free Korean peninsula as the U.S.The United States also provides security guarantees to two of its closest allies, South Korea and Japan, which are dangerously close to finding themselves within range of a North Korean nuclear payload; yet despite the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the de-stabilizing regional environment for its allies, there hasn’t been the same sense of urgency for the U.S. when it comes to dealing with North Korea.
Why has U.S. policy ultimately diverged with respect to North Korea and Iran? Quite simply, North Korea’s neighborhood – though quickly evolving into a much more important focal point (Asia “pivot”) for Washington – has not been nearly as strategically important to U.S. interests as the Middle East, whereinmaintaining Israel’s regional military superiority and safeguarding Persian Gulf hydrocarbons remain critical national security interests.
The United States is required by law not only “to provide Israel the military capabilities necessary to deter and defend itself by itself against any threats” but also “to help Israel preserve its qualitative military edge amid rapid and uncertain regional political transformation.”
The U.S. asserts that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent:
“A development that would fundamentally threaten vital American interests, destabilize the region, encourage regional nuclear proliferation, further empower and embolden Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provide it the tools to threaten its neighbors, including Israel.”
Israeli officials have expressed concerns to their U.S. counterparts that a nuclear-armed Iran presents a threat to Israel’s military position within the region. While senior government officials and policymakers won’t openly discuss the fear of losing Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, based on public statements, it’s apparent Israel’s primary concern is its diminished ability to act unilaterally – not an existential threat – if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated:
“From our point of view […] a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations.”
The strategic importance of the Middle East and its stability arguably lies in the foundation and engine of U.S. strength and eventual global hegemony – oil. U.S. power and global dominance, past and present, increased through its industrial economic growth, which was driven by access to cheap oil. Once domestic oil supplies reached its peak in the 1970’s, the oil-rich Persian Gulf became an immensely important strategic interest for the U.S, an interest that would need to be protected to maintain U.S. power.
During the 1970’s, as a friendly ally and relatively powerful client of the U.S., the Shah of Iran helped secure the U.S.’s primary interest (oil), thus maintaining U.S. influence in the Middle East. In fact, at this time, Israel and Iran served to militarily check any challenges emanating from within the region. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the new Iranian regime proved to be virulently anti-American and had no intention of catering to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.
Israel has been a staunch ally of the U.S. for decades, helping to preserve U.S. interests within the Middle East. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told an audience in 2011,“Israel is a vital ally and serves as a cornerstone of our regional security commitments.” He quoted former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, saying, “For Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Israel’s nuclear weapons capability affords it an unmatched edge in military power within the region; and this historical and current regional balance of power serves and protects the interests of Israel’s closest ally and patron, the United States.
U.S. (and Israeli) fear of the potential shift in the balance of power due to a nuclear Iran threatens regional stability and thus the U.S.’s most important interest in the Persian Gulf – the secure flow of oil. Hence, for the past decade, Iran’s nuclear program –not North Korea’s – has garnered the lion’s share of U.S. attention.
Michael McShane is an intern with the EastWest Institute’s China Program and a recent graduate of The Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, where he earned his Masters in International Affairs.
Farhang Jahanpour writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
The next crucial round of Iranian presidential elections will be held on 14 June 2013. It has just been officially reported that Hassan Rowhani has declared his candidacy for the election. Rowhani is an influential reformist politician and cleric. He was the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator under President Mohammad Khatami, who negotiated successfully with the Troika of European countries, UK, France and Germany. Under his supervision, his team agreed to temporarily suspend nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities for two years during the course of the negotiations. Uranium enrichment was resumed after his successor, Ali Larijani, who was appointed Iran’s nuclear negotiator on August 14, 2005 by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad shortly after assuming power, said that European countries had not lived up to their promises to help Iran with peaceful nuclear technology. Khatami’s government had threatened to resume enrichment if there was no progress in negotiations with the West, but the resumption of enrichment took place under Ahmadinejad’s government.
So far, the long, lackluster list of the candidates who have officially declared their candidacy is made up largely of the so-called Principlist wing of the Iranian politics. This term applies to the diehard conservatives who are staunch supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, who are close to the senior clerics and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), who are on the whole opposed to rapprochement with the West and particularly with the United States, and who favor a militant, confrontational attitude towards the outside world. The main candidates of the Principlists are Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a former Majles speaker whose daughter is married to Ayatollah Khamene’i’s influential son Mojtaba who is sometimes mentioned as his father’s possible successor; Ali-Akbar Velayati, who served as Iran’s foreign minister for 13 years and who has been the Supreme Leader’s foreign policy advisor since leaving office; and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran who spent a few years as the Commander of the IRGC.
However, an intense rivalry has broken out between the Principlists and President Ahmadinejad, who is not going to leave office quietly. During the past few weeks he has campaigned furiously in favor of his handpicked candidate Esfandiar Rahim Masha’i, his son-in-law, whom he appointed as his first vice-president. After Ayatollah Khamene’i ordered him to remove Masha’i from that post, Ahmadinejad immediately appointed him as his chief of staff. This set the stage for four years of open warfare between Ahmadinejad and Khamene’i, although the Supreme Leader stuck his neck out in supporting Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president, despite persistent reports that he had lost the election. During the past few years, Ahmadinejad and Masha’i have portrayed themselves as champions of Iranian culture and nationalism, and even Iranian Islam, trying to undermine the role of the clerics. They have even declared a willingness to hold direct talks with the United States. As the result of their controversial policies, the hardliners have referred to Masha’i and his supporters as the “Deviant Movement” which has departed from the path of Islam. Some clerics have even accused him of blasphemy for declaring that the return of the Hidden Imam is imminent.
From the reformist camp, Mostafa Kavakebian, leader of the Democratic Party, has declared his candidacy, but it is unlikely that he will receive the backing of the Guardian Council that has to approve the credentials of the candidates. Kavakebian has stated that he will obey the dictates of Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, hoping that this will soften rightwing opposition, but this has given rise to the displeasure of some reformers who mistrust him and accuse him of being too ready to compromise with the conservatives.
Under these circumstances, Rowhani’s candidacy is of great importance. Although a reformer and close to former Presidents Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami, the Guardian Council would find it very difficult to disqualify him because he is a Shia mujtahid or senior cleric. He has been a member of the Assembly of Experts that is in charge of selecting the Supreme Leader since 1999, a member of the Expediency Council that arbitrates between the Majles and the Guardian Council since 1991, and he has also served as a member of the Supreme National Security Council as one of Ayatollah Khamene’i’s two representatives since 1989. He was elected for five terms to the Majles, or Iranian parliament, for a total of 20 years, and served two terms as the deputy speaker of the Majles. He also served as the member of the defense committee and foreign policy committee (for eight years in each committee). Currently, he heads the Centre for Strategic Research, a center established in 1989 to draw up and compile Iran’s strategies in various fields, especially in international, political, economic and cultural fields.
Rowhani has been an open critic of President Ahmadinejad’s nuclear and economic polices and has argued that the president’s provocative comments have turned many countries against Iran and have made it more difficult for her to pursue her policies. He stated that Ahmadinejad’s “careless, uncalculated and unstudied remarks and slogans have imposed many costs on the nation and the country.” He criticized Ahmadinejad’s frequent statements dismissing the effect of U.N. sanctions on Iran, pointing out “the economic impact is felt in the life of the people.”
Nevertheless, Rowhani has also criticized Western approaches to the Iranian nuclear program. In an interview with Iranian television, Rowhani said that European countries had agreed that Iran could have the full nuclear fuel cycle provided that they had sufficient guarantees that Iran would not move towards nuclear weapons. In an article in Time Magazine, he stated that Iran would join the Additional Protocol and would bring its entire nuclear program under the IAEA inspection if her right to enrichment were recognized.
He has criticized the reports issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under Yukiya Amano, saying: “At a time when all Iran’s nuclear activities are under the supervision of the IAEA, the agency’s suspicion about the purposes of our country is meaningless.” He dismissed what he termed the “West’s cruel and unjust pressures on Iran”, adding that Tehran would persist in its nuclear efforts.
Rowhani bravely supported the demonstrations that were staged in Iran after the rigged 2009 presidential election and criticized the government for suppressing peaceful marches. In an article in the reformist daily Mardom Salari in February 2010, he said that not only did people have the right to protest if they felt that their vote had been stolen, but that such protest was a beautiful thing because it showed that people attached importance to their vote. He wrote: “Not only political protest is permissible, it is a political and social duty of everyone to do so.” Stressing that it was people’s natural duty to protest against what they perceived to be the stealing of their votes, he added: “If they are right, you have to accept their views, if wrong, you should show by proofs that they are wrong not by violence. But some people do not have the tolerance to listen to opposing views.”
Rowhani is an intelligent and well-educated man. In addition to his clerical studies, he also attended the University of Tehran in 1969 and received a bachelor’s degree in judicial law in 1972. He continued his studies in the West and received his master’s degree in public law followed by a doctorate degree from the University of Glasgow. He is fluent in English and Arabic and has published a large number of books in Persian, as well as in English and Arabic.
Under the present circumstances when nuclear negotiations with the West have dragged on for so long and have seemingly reached an impasse with neither side able or willing to take the extra step to reach an overall agreement, the election of Rowhani as president could unlock the door to serious negotiations. He is a tried and tested politician, and he is trusted by the West as he was able to reach agreement with the West over the thorny nuclear issue. He also enjoys Ayatollah Khamene’i’s support as a safe pair of hands as well as being a loyal executive. In the absence of any other viable reformist candidate running for the presidency (although former President Khatami has also been urged to put his name forward) Mr. Rowhani may receive the enthusiastic backing of most Iranian reformers. If one were to rule out a violent regime change favored by the Neoconservatives, the election of a relatively moderate cleric who is familiar with the West and who has had a successful track record in dealing with it, particularly on the nuclear issue, would be the best possible option.
Farhang Jahanpour is a tutor at the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, and a TFF Associate
The Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will attempt to strong-arm President Barack Obama, during his visit to Israel, into attacking Iran. (In part this noise about Iran is to deflect attention from the vast Israeli land grab in the Palestinian West Bank). It is now often forgotten, and even denied, that the then Israeli leadership was also a huge cheering section for the disastrous Iraq War. Netanyahu in particular wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in late 2002 entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.” The Israeli officials of the time were unanimous that Saddam Hussein was within months of having a nuclear weapon (Iraq’s nuclear enrichment program was mothballed in 1991). President Obama should keep in mind, while in Israel, these passages from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s Israel Lobby:
“On August 16, 2002, eleven days before Vice President Cheney kicked off the campaign for war with a hard‐line speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Washington Post reported that “Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.140 By this point, according to Sharon, strategic coordination between Israel and the U.S. had reached “unprecedented dimensions,” and Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq’s WMD programs.141 As one retired Israeli general later put it, “Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq’s non‐conventional capabilities.”142
Israeli leaders were deeply distressed when President Bush decided to seek U.N. Security Council authorization for war in September, and even more worried when Saddam agreed to let U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, because these developments seemed to reduce the likelihood of war. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in September 2002 that “the campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must. Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors.”143
At the same time, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote aNew York Times op‐edwarning that “the greatest risk now lies in inaction.”144 His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, published a similar piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Case for Toppling Saddam.”>145 Netanyahu declared, “Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do,” adding that “I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre‐emptive strike against Saddam’s regime.” Or as Ha’aretz reported in February 2003: “The [Israeli] military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.”146 But as Netanyahu suggests, the desire for war was not confined to Israel’s leaders. Apart from Kuwait, which Saddam conqueredin 1990, Israel was the only country in the worldwhere both the politicians and the public enthusiastically favored war.147 As journalist Gideon Levy observed at the time, “Israel is the only country in the West whose leaders support the war unreservedly and where no alternative opinion is voiced.”148 In fact, Israelis were so gung‐ho for warthat their allies in America told them to damp down their hawkish rhetoric, lestit look like the war wasfor Israel.
140 Jason Keyser, “Israel Urges U.S. to Attack,” Washington Post, August 16, 2002. Also see Aluf Benn, “PM Urging U.S. Not to Delay Strike against Iraq,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002; Idem, “PM Aide: Delay in U.S. Attack Lets Iraq Speed Up Arms Program,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002; Reuven Pedhatzur, “Israel’s Interest in the War on Saddam,” Ha’aretz, August 4, 2002; Ze’ev Schiff, “Into the Rough,” Ha’aretz, August 16, 2002. 141 Gideon Alon, “Sharon to Panel: Iraq is Our Biggest Danger,” Ha’aretz, August 13, 2002. At a White House press conference with President Bush on October 16, 2002, Sharon said: “I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the friendship and cooperation. And as far as I remember, as we look back towards many years now, I think that we never had such relations with any President of the United States as we have with you, and we never had such cooperation in everything as we have with the current administration.” For a transcript of the press conference, see “President Bush Welcomes Prime Minister Sharon to White House; Question and Answer Session with the Press,” U.S. Department of State, October 16, 2002. Also see Kaiser, “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”
142 Shlomo Brom, “An Intelligence Failure,” Strategic Assessment (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University), Vol. 6, No. 3 (November 2003), p. 9. Also see “Intelligence Assessment: Selections from the Media, 1998‐2003,” in ibid., pp. 17‐19; Gideon Alon, “Report Slams Assessment of Dangers Posed by Libya, Iraq,” Ha’aretz, March 28, 2004; Dan Baron, “Israeli Report Blasts Intelligence for Exaggerating the Iraqi Threat,” JTA, March 28, 2004; Greg Myre, “Israeli Report Faults Intelligence on Iraq,” New York Times, March 28, 2004; James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), pp. 72‐73.
143 Marc Perelman, “Iraqi Move Puts Israel in Lonely U.S. Corner,” Forward, September 20, 2002. This article begins, “Saddam Hussein’s surprise acceptance of ‘unconditional’ United Nations weapons inspections put Israel on the hot seat this week, forcing it into the open as the only nation actively supporting the Bush administration’s goal of Iraqi regime change.” Peres became so frustrated with the UN process in the following months that in mid‐February 2003 he lashed out at the French by questioning France’s status as a permanent member of the Security Council. “Peres Questions France Permanent Status on Security Council,” Ha’aretz, February 20, 2003. On a visit to Moscow in late September 2002, Sharon made it clear to Russian President Putin, who was leading the charge for new inspections, “that the time when these inspectors could have been effective has passed.” Herb Keinon, “Sharon to Putin: Too Late for Iraq Arms Inspection,” Jerusalem Post, October 1, 2002.
144 Ehud Barak, “Taking Apart Iraq’s Nuclear Threat,” New York Times, September 4, 2002.
145 Benjamin Netanyahu, “The Case for Toppling Saddam,” Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2002. The Jerusalem Post was particularly hawkish on Iraq, frequently running editorials and op‐eds promoting the war, and hardly ever running pieces against it. Representative editorials include “Next Stop Baghdad,” Jerusalem Post, November 15, 2001; “Don’t Wait for Saddam,” Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2002; “Making the Case for War,” Jerusalem Post, September 9, 2002. For some representative op‐eds, see Ron Dermer, “The March to Baghdad,” Jerusalem Post, December 21, 2001; Efraim Inbar, “Ousting Saddam, Instilling Stability,” Jerusalem Post, October 8, 2002; Gerald M. Steinberg, “Imagining the Liberation of Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2001.
146 Aluf Benn, “Background: Enthusiastic IDF Awaits War in Iraq,” Ha’aretz, February 17, 2002. Also see James Bennet, “Israel Says War on Iraq Would Benefit the Region,” New York Times, February 27, 2003; Chemi Shalev, “Jerusalem Frets As U.S. Battles Iraq War Delays,” Forward, March 7, 2003.
147 Indeed, a February 2003 poll reported that 77.5 percent of Israeli Jews wanted the United States to attack Iraq. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, “Peace Index: Most Israelis Support the Attack on Iraq,” Ha’aretz, March 6, 2003. Regarding Kuwait, a public opinion poll released in March 2003 found that 89.6 percent of Kuwaitis favored the impending war against Iraq. James Morrison, “Kuwaitis Support War,” Washington Times, March 18, 2003.
148 Gideon Levy, “A Deafening Silence,” Ha’aretz, October 6, 2002. 149 See Dan Izenberg, “Foreign Ministry Warns Israeli War Talk Fuels US Anti‐Semitism,” Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2003, which makes clear that “the Foreign Ministry has received reports from the US” telling Israelis to cool their jets because “the US media” is portraying Israel as “trying to goad the administration into war.” There is also evidence that Israel itself was concerned about being seen as driving American policy toward Iraq. See Benn, “PM Urging U.S. Not to Delay Strike”; Perelman, “Iraq Move Puts Israel in Lonely U.S. Corner.” Finally, in late September 2002, a group of political consultants known as the “Israel Project” told pro‐Israel leaders in the United States “to keep quiet while the Bush administration purses a possible war with Iraq.” Dana Milbank, “Group Urges Pro‐Israel Leaders Silence on Iraq,” Washington Post, November 27, 2002.”
Iranian expatriates don’t agree on much. But as this video interview with a range of high-powered thinkers by the National Iranian-American Council shows, they all agree that the very severe US sanctions, which amount to a kind of financial blockade, are harming ordinary Iranians and not the regime.
The United States has threatened unilateral third-party sanctions against companies and countries initiating big economic enterprises with Iran. The Pakistani stock market lost a few points on fears that the US Department of the Treasury will come after Pakistan for its defiance.
Pakistan, a country of 180 million, is the sixth largest in the world and it faces a severe energy crisis. It has few hydrocarbons of its own. It has enormous potential for solar and wind, but has not developed alternative energy sources– and lacks both the investment capital and the know-how to make quick strides in that area. The energy crisis is so bad that major urban populations suffer with frequent electricity outages (try running a factory that way) and brown-outs. In the punishing summers, the brown-outs or ‘load shedding’ can be deadly to certain populations, including the elderly and infirm. There have actually been electricity riots in large cities such as Lahore.
The original plan for the pipeline had an Indian leg. Whether India will in fact join in is now in doubt. But Iran may calculate that energy-hungry India won’t be able to resist hooking into the pipeline once it reaches Lahore, only 60 miles from the Indian border. Because severe US sanctions on Iran are just made up by the US congress and the Department of the Treasury and have little international backing, it is likely that they will increasingly be defied by an energy-hungry world– I.e. Pakistan’s defection on this issue, and China’s refusal to cooperate, are probably bellwethers for other countries not deeply beholden in some way to the US.
That Pakistan needs the gas, and can’t get it on such favorable terms elsewhere, is inarguable. But the two countries are calling the pipeline the ‘Peace Pipeline’ and it seems likely that the Zardari government is seeking it in part in hopes of improving relations with Iran at a time when America is disentangling itself from the region. Pakistan may want Iran’s help with stabilizing Afghanistan as the US leaves, and may want to avoid an India-Iran (Shiite-Hindu) alliance against (Sunni) Pakistan. Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party is facing elections soon, and he may want to signal his independence from the US, which is extremely unpopular in Pakistan, in part because of its drone strikes and violation of Pakistani sovereignty. It is also possible that the civilians around Zardari are attempting to firm up relations with Iran as a way of offsetting the alliance of some hard liners in the officer corps with Saudi Arabia and with elements of the Taliban.
The USG Open Source Center translates an interview on the issues around the pipeline by Ikram Sehgal (former military officer and now head of a private security firm), appearing on the Geo TV satellite station in Urdu:
“(Begin live relay) (Unidentified anchor) The Iran-Pak (IP) gas pipeline project has been formally inaugurated by the presidents of Pakistan and Iran. We have been joined by analyst Ikram Sehgal to discuss the project. Sehgal, do you think the project will help Pakistan overcome the energy shortage?
(Sehgal) It is a major as well as positive development because Pakistan is an //energy-starved// country. Due to the shortage of energy, our factories were getting closed and services were being suspended. Unemployment and price-hike were increasing, which could lead to eruption of anarchy in the country. I had been a critic to this government but it is their //very brave// and //courageous// decision. It was also necessary. Also, Iran is our good neighbor. We have got the gas at good rate. It is necessary that the project has positive effects on other areas as well. Obviously, the United States is not happy with it, but we will have to convince it that we direly needed the project for being an energy-deficient country. India imports oil from Iran but there are no sanctions against it. The United States has also signed energy pact with India, under which the later can import nuclear equipment from several countries. The United States must realize that if anarchic situation develops in Pakistan and peace and stability is disturbed within the country, it will have effect on the region. Hence, the United States should take long-term view of the project.
(Unidentified anchor) Sehgal, do you think the upcoming government would also be able to bear the US pressure on the project?
(Sehgal) Since the entire nation is united on the project, there would be no issue for the coming government. Also, the next government will not have to face such level of pressure. The incumbent government should be lauded for initiating the project. (end of live relay)”