• 16 January 2009
  • Posted By Daniel Robinson
  • Diplomacy, Neo-Con Agenda, Nuclear file, Persian Gulf

Could Covert Op’s in Iran Be Obama’s Bay of Pigs?

The following is a special guest post by former NIAC associate Dan Robinson:

January 16, 2009

The New York Times’ recent leak of President Bush’s denial of Israel’s request for aid in a covert air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is another example of how national security information is just like water in a cracked seal–it’s going to get out.

The rest of the story, if accurate, has the potential to wreck the Obama team’s initiative to engage Iran directly on the nuclear issue: the Bush administration’s acknowledgment to Israeli PM Olmert that the US has been conducting covert intelligence missions inside Iran to deter, possibly sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program.

However, it should come as no surprise that the United States has been conducting covert intelligence operations in Iran. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker broke the story about the administration asking for additional money to expand the program of intelligence gathering and to destabilize the country’s religious establishment.

This new wrinkle could complicate the delicate policy of engagement Obama wishes to press with Iran. Last week, in a This Week exclusive with George Stephanopoulos, Obama reiterated that he wanted to work directly with Iran to improve relations and halt the nuclear program that Iran describes as peaceful, but about which the West has its suspicions.

This situation is pretty similar to the one John F. Kennedy faced when he took office in 1961. An existing covert plan to overthrow Castro’s regime in Cuba with Cuban American paramilitaries and CIA officials was in place and given the go-ahead by Kennedy, to disastrous results.

The danger for Obama, like the one Kennedy faced, is the risk of blowback from a decision made by his predecessor that leaves little room to get out.

Obama faces nearly the same challenge. An ongoing covert program while the two sides are negotiating can’t give the Iranians much confidence that the US is negotiating in good faith. At the same time, Obama has to leave his options open in case negotiations fail, and due to the lack of diplomatic relations, ancillary intelligence and on-the-ground information is a valuable commodity.

With Obama’s experienced team and the young president’s eagerness to get things done, there are two options to salvage things if diplomacy breaks down before talks start:

First, Obama, since he has proposed low-level preparations for negotiations, could also authorize back channel communication between government officials (say, the respective national security advisers of both countries) to keep the lines open and clarify intentions before crises escalate (this happens a lot more than even analysts can predict like the Iran patrol boat incident last January).

Second, although full disclosure of the intelligence program is impossible and operationally not viable, an intrusive inspections regime of suspected sites (unannounced and includes civilian and military) by impartial third party actors like Sweden or the IAEA could lower suspicion, conditioned on an agreement for ‘no suspension’ or a freeze of activities for a temporary period.

Although this leak could limit the options Obama has before he even has a chance to use them, the lesson provided by Kennedy’s example, pragmatism, and principled resolve can save the first comprehensive effort by an American president to change the stultifying status quo that hasn’t safeguarded the interests of our friends and allies, has emboldened our enemies, and leaves another generation disenchanted with America’s promise.

Posted By Daniel Robinson

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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