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  • 16 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Israel, US-Iran War

Graham proposal pledges support for Israeli strike

Americans don’t want to be dragged into war with Iran by Israel.  According to recent polls:

  • 59% of Americans oppose the United States getting involved if Israel strikes Iran according to the 2012 Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey.
  • 55% of Americans say an Israeli strike on Iran would worsen the U.S. military and strategic position in the Middle East according to an October 8 poll released by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
  • 53% of Americans say Washington should maintain a neutral stance if Israel strikes Iran according tothe PIPA poll.  29% said the U.S. should discourage such action and only 12% said the U.S. should encourage Israel to strike Iran.

But in the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a different agenda.  This November he is planning to introduce a resolution providing unconditional backing for Israeli military actions against Iran.  As NIAC’s Jamal Abdi writes in the Huffington Post, “Graham’s planned measure would outsource the decision about whether the U.S. goes to war to the Israeli prime minister, pledging that if Bibi decides to act — regardless of the consequences and our own calculations — the U.S. will provide money, troops, and political leverage”

Graham, who already used a Congressional resolution to endorse Netanyahu’s redline for war over the President’s, is now attempting to undercut the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staffs, General Martin Dempsey, who has warned, “I don’t want to be complicit if [Israel] chooses to [bomb Iran.]”

But Graham’s not stopping there.  He has suggested that, in 2013, he is lining up plans to pass a formal authorization for the use of military force against Iran.  And the supporters of such action are already setting that plan in motion.  A September 27 Washington Post op-ed advocates that an “explicit congressional mandate authorizing the use of force unless Iran meets specified requirements would demonstrate to all our resolve to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.”  The twist? It was written by Jeffrey Smith and John Bellinger III, two lawyers who work for Arnold and Porter, a registered foreign agent serving as Israel’s largest and longest serving lobbying firm in United States. The firm received over $1.2 million from the Israeli government in 2010 alone.

Barely two weeks later, according to Philip Weiss, there is speculation that Israel’s U.S. embassy may have planted a false story suggesting that the U.S. and Israel had agreed on a plan for limited strikes on Iran.  In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, the magazine’s CEO David Rothkopf quotes an unnamed source describing collaborative discussions between the U.S. and Israeli governments regarding a possible joint strike on Iran. The source describes the discussed strike in detail, saying that it would last between “a couple of hours” and a “day or two,” and that it would have a “transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”

But the “scoop” immediately triggered broad skepticism in Washington and accusations that it was planted by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.  According to the Philip Weiss, U.S. and Israeli military officials have denied the entire conversation about joint strikes.  Weiss notes that, following the publication of the story, Israel’s #2 diplomat in the U.S.–Baruch Bina, whom the White House preferred to deal with over Oren–was transferred to Denmark.  Weiss speculates that the “joint strikes” story was planted against Bina’s objections. Allegedly, Bina argued “that it was inappropriate of the ambassador to feed such a line to Rothkopf, because it could only damage U.S.-Israeli relations.”

  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Panel Discussion, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Why is the pro-war crowd lying about their own studies?

Within 45 minutes of the release of the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s (BPC) report, “The Price of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran,” pro-war pundits were  spinning its results.

The neoconservative Washington Free Beacon breathlessly announced, “REPORT: Nuclear Iran would ‘double’ oil prices, cost millions of U.S. jobs.”

The problem here is that the BPC report doesn’t say this.  It says that if there were a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil prices would double.  Yes, it is shocking–if a nuclear war broke out in the Middle East it would likely cost more to fill up your tank.

Given the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s track record of pro-war hyperbole on all things Iran, its stunning to see neoconservative rags spinning the BPC’s message even further.  But the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo  ignores the report’s findings and instead fabricates his own conclusions in an attempt to rebut warnings about the significant economic costs of military strikes on Iran (including $7 gas).

*Update: Now the Drudge Report has gotten into the act, reposting the Free Beacon piece with the same erroneous headline*

  • 9 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions, UN

UN Report: Sanctions worsen human rights problems in Iran

In a recently released report to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon updated the body on the dismal human rights situation in Iran.  The report paints a bleak picture of the Iranian government’s attitude and actions towards its own people, concentrating on the extensive human rights violations of the Islamic Republic, but also finds that sanctions are creating additional human rights concerns for ordinary Iranians.

The critical sections of the document report “torture, amputations, flogging, the increasingly frequent application of the death penalty (including in public and for political prisoners), arbitrary detention and unfair trials” within Iran. Other violations noted include infringements against the rights of women, against  opposition political figures and the general electorate.  The report notes that “authorities have taken certain positive steps such as the decision to omit stoning as a method of execution,” but that judges do still retain the discretion to order such a sentence.  Another section  observes that, “the revised Islamic Penal Code, which is yet to be approved…establishes new measures to limit the juvenile death penalty,” but cautions that the new code fails to end juvenile executions.

In the midst of all of the findings of Iranian government sponsored repression, the Secretary General also examines the impact of western sanctions, under the title “Economic, social, and cultural rights”:

“The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine.”

The report notes rising concerns about the sanctions among civil society groups:

“A number of Iranian non-governmental organizations and activists have expressed concerns about the growing impact of sanctions on the population and have noted that inflation, rising prices of commodities, subsidy cuts and sanctions are compounding each other and having far-reaching effects on the general population. They report, for instance, that people do not have access to lifesaving medicines.”

Sanctions also worsen current humanitarian problems by hindering relief efforts and basic medical care in the country, according to the report:

“Even companies that have obtained the requisite licence to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions. Owing to payment problems, several medical companies have stopped exporting medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to a reported shortage of drugs used in the treatment of various illnesses, including cancer, heart and respiratory conditions, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that ordinary people in Iran are being squeezed by human rights violations–between the repression of their own government on one side, and the indiscriminate pressure of U.S.-led sanctions on the other.  These sanctions are not helping to alleviate the suffering among ordinary Iranians, they are actively making the situation even worse.

  • 9 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions

Food shipments halted as Maersk bows to U.S. Iran sanctions

Iran’s civilian population is already reeling from sanctions that, according to the United Nations, are cutting access to medicine and humanitarian goods.  But today, Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping container company, announced it will end port service in Iran.

In Maersk’s statement, they declared that their cargoes had been limited to goods for the welfare of the general population:

“To date, Maersk Line’s business in Iran has involved transporting foodstuffs and other goods, for example vehicles, for the benefit of the general civilian population. It is with regret that it is ceasing these activities.”

Maersk’s spokeswoman cited concerns about the possibility of penalties from the U.S. government, despite the fact that food is supposedly exempt from current U.S. sanctions:

“This is a pragmatic decision based on an assessment of balancing the benefits of doing limited business in Iran against the risk of damaging business opportunities elsewhere particularly the U.S.”

Maersk’s shutdown can only make basic foodstuffs more scarce for Iran’s civilian population, a trend we are likely to see continue as sanctions escalate.  As the UN reported in August:

“Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions.”

Because of the litany of broad economic sanctions in place, there are increasingly limited channels for legal humanitarian transactions regarding Iran, and fewer and fewer banks and companies willing to take the risk of violating the myriad sanctions.  Last week, a dozen U.S. lawmakers called on the President to take steps to ensure banking sanctions differentiate between blocked transactions and legally allowed transactions, such as food and medicine.

Iran is turning to unorthodox methods of securing food for its population. Traditionally a wheat exporter that allowed the private sector to manage food imports, Iran’s government has recently made large wheat purchases from Australia, Russia and the EU, as well pushing for a barter deal with Pakistan (Iran would send Pakistan pig iron and fertilizer in exchange for wheat).

  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian American activism, MEK, Uncategorized

Media dupes lump entire Iranian-American community in with MEK

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations, a large rally took place near the United Nations building. This participants were described as “Anti-Ahmadinejad protesters” (AFP), “anti-Iranian regime protesters” (CNN), merely “protesters” (NY Daily News, USA Today), “sponsored by groups including the Association of Iranian-Americans in New York & New Jersey” (CBSNewYork), and “a coalition of Iranian-American groups” (AP).

Let me show you a few pictures.

(c) Marcus Santos/New York Daily News

(c) Robert Deutsch/USAToday

(c) GaryofNYC/CNN

It may be subtle, but these are not actually pictures of an unaligned rally. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that when you spell out a message in giant mylar balloons, that’s probably the most important message of your rally.

  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Israel, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Shredding the NPT

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gets bandied about on both sides of the Iran negotiations. Iranian officials often use the fact that Israel is not a signatory of the treaty to question Israel’s nuclear arsenal while defending their own right to a civilian enrichment program.  At the same time, U.S. and Israeli politicians use it much like Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat did today, at an Atlantic Council event, Rethinking Policy Toward Iran:

“[If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon it] would shred what remains of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. If a country can ignore a half-dozen UN resolutions with impunity and continue down this road then there is very little left of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

This position is certainly not wrong. A treaty that continues to be left or broken on a regular basis will shortly lose its meaning. But there’s yet another side to this coin, which Ali Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst at the International Crisis Group, illuminated later in the event:

“I often hear this argument in Washington, that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it would be disastrous for the integrity of the NPT. But another thing that would be disastrous for the NPT is actually attacking Iran. Because just imagine that a country that is not an NPT member, and has nuclear weapons attacking a country that is an NPT member and does not have nuclear weapons. I think that would equally undermine the NPT. And my biggest fear is the day that the Iranians, in the aftermath of an attack, just turn off the lights, and start building a nuclear weapon, and weld on it the same thing that the Israelis wrote on their first nuclear warhead, which is ‘Never Again.’”

  • 19 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Sanctions contribute to rising unemployment in Iran

The negative effects of sanctions on average Iranians are growing clearer and clearer. The latest piece on the issue, from Reuters, highlights the fact that the unemployment rate is still rising throughout the Iranian economy.

At the beginning of the year, the Iran Census Centre statistics pointed to an urban unemployment rate of 12.5%. Among the young, the official rate was much higher, at 29.1%. These numbers, like the reported inflation rate, are judged by most experts to be far below the true figures. Abbas Vatanpour, a former Iranian representative at the International Labor Organization, thinks youth unemployment could be as high as 50 per cent, while Mehrdad Emadi, an Iranian-born economic adviser to the European Union, believes the headline unemployment figure is above 20 percent.

According to The Telegraph, “rising joblessness is being fuelled by Iran’s exclusion last March from the Swift banking system, preventing businessmen from carrying out international transactions.” In some cases, this measure has led to factory closure due to an inability to obtain components. In others, the costs of components have soared, driving up the final price to a point that consumer demand drops. These mechanisms have reduced production in the automotive sector by 30% in the past six months, a figure reported by Iranian media.

In raw numbers, “Iran-based economists and members of parliament critical of the government, estimate that 500,000-800,000 Iranians have lost their jobs in the past year.” In September 2011, former Minister of Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami declared that university graduates were 10 times more likely to be unemployed than those with less education.  Indeed, while these losses are hitting all job sectors, they are disproportionately punishing the educated sector and undermining the Iranian middle class “that has been at the center of the democracy movement.”

  • 18 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 1 Comments
  • Election 2012, Nuclear file

Romney confused about “dirty bombs”


It’s hard to know where to begin when pointing out flaws in Mitt Romney’s recent comments on Iran’s nuclear program. A secretly recorded video, which was released by Mother Jones early this morning, portrays Mr. Romney channeling his inner role-playing geek, playing the part of Iran:

If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.” I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

As many have pointed out, “fissile material,” or the uranium that Iran is enriching, is an incredibly poor material for a dirty bomb. It released its radiation incredibly slowly, meaning that you’d need to vaporize well over one thousand metric tons to contaminate Manhattan. To put that in perspective, according to the latest IAEA figures, in the past decade Iran has accumulated less than 7 metric tons of LEU, or .4% of what they’d need.  Clearly Mr. Romney is confusing the science.

  • 11 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Israel, US-Iran War

Does Netanyahu have moral right to drag US into war?

In a not so-subtle jab at the United States, Bibi Netanyahu stridently announced today that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red line before Israel.”

Mr. Netanyahu made the claim following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public commitment to continuing sanctions and negotiations without setting a deadline.

Now, let’s unpack this. First, Mr. Netanyahu says he believes that were Iran to build a nuclear weapon–something that most agree is not possible within the next 12 months–it would pose an existential threat to Israel and thus the situation requirer a preventive military response.  Netanyahu insists no other entity–not Israel’s closest allies, not the Israeli and US national security establishments, not the Israeli people, nor international law–can place restrictions on his freedom to preventively deal with this threat.

But there’s a serious bit of Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, in Mr. Netanyahu’s lashing out at the US. The Obama administration has never placed red lines in front of Israel and has indeed placed redlines in front of Iran. Contrary to Netanyahu’s claim, when asked, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that “we respect their sovereignty and their ability to make decisions with their own security.”

US officials have, however, made statements discouraging Israeli military action, characterized by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dempsey’s comment that he “doesn’t want to be complicit” if Israel chooses unilateral military action against Iran.  But that is because Israel is not operating in a vacuum–Netanyahu’s decisions regarding Iran would have significant impact on US security, not to mention detrimental impacts on Israel’s security.

Without going into them in significant detail, several Israeli officials believe that military action would push Iran towards nuclear weapons. Additionally, Pentagon simulations predict that the US would be forced into a conflict with Iran very quickly following an Israeli strike.

  • 11 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Uncategorized, US-Iran War

Majority of Americans oppose Iran war in all circumstances, support direct talks

A new survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that Americans oppose war against Iran under just about every circumstance. This includes military action with UN support (51% against), unilateral U.S. attacks (70%), and even joining military action with Israel if Iran retaliated to unilateral Israeli strikes (59%). Given that Pentagon simulations predict that the US would be quickly drawn into such a conflict, noting public opposition is important.

Interestingly, support for direct talks between the US and Iran is on the rise, with 67% support, up from 61% support in the 2010 survey.

All of this is in spite of the survey’s findings of significant levels of misinformation about the status of Iran’s nuclear program:

In a new question respondents were asked what they thought was “the most recent assessment by the U.S. intelligence services, including the CIA,” of Iran’s nuclear program. When presented four options, only 25 percent of respondents choose the correct answer: “Iran is developing some of the technical ability necessary to build nuclear weapons, but has not decided whether to produce them or not.” The most common answer, chosen by 48 percent, is that, “Iran has decided to produce nuclear weapons and is actively working to do so, but does not yet have nuclear weapons.” Another 18 percent go even further, choosing the position that “Iran now has nuclear weapons.” Just 4 percent say intelligence sources think that “Iran is producing nuclear energy strictly for its energy needs.

Even so, a majority of Americans would support a bargain allowing Iran to enrich for peaceful uses if inspectors were allowed permanent and full access to facilities (52%).

The majority favoring such a bargain is greater among participants who are accurately informed about the status of Iran’s current program (64%).  The numbers against military action are similarly affected–with those who have correct information opposing military action in greater numbers:

Not surprisingly, those who say that intelligence sources think Iran has nuclear weapons or that Iran is actively working to build them are more likely to see Iran’s nuclear program as a critical threat (72% and 68%, respectively) and to support authorization of a military strike through the UN Security Council (each 52%). Among those who say intelligence sources think Iran is gaining the technical ability but has not decided whether to produce nuclear weapons, many fewer see Iran’s program as a critical threat (53%) or support UN authorization of a military strike (35%).

This is perhaps the most important message of the survey: when people have accurate information, they tend to oppose war with Iran and support diplomacy.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 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.

Sincerely,

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