Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Clashes expected in Iran tomorrow amid latest nuclear crisis

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Update from AIJAC

February 10, 2010
Number 02/10 #03


It is widely being predicted that tomorrow, February 11, which is the anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution, there will be  widespread clashes in Iran between the regime and opposition demonstrators, with both sides reportedly mobilising their forces onto the streets of Iranian cities, especially Teheran.

The expected clashes would occur just as the crisis over Iran's illegal nuclear program reaches a new crescendo, as Iran yesterday moved ahead and begun enriching uranium to a 20% level, moving closer to weapon's grade, just as Iranian President Ahmadinejad said it would a few days ago. This has sparked a new flurry of activities related to possible sanctions - see here, here and here. An informative video about this latest crisis is here.

First up in this Update is a preview of the predicted crashes by American scholar Michael Ledeen, who has long had close links with dissident forces within Iran. He reports on the moves of both sides - including unprecedented efforts by the regime to shut down virtually all internal communications to keep the opposition from organising, and bring in huge numbers of paid demonstrators and rural enforcers. He also looks at the apparently determined stance that opposition is taking, quoting at length from key "green movement" leader and former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. For interpretation of what is likely to happen from someone with excellent sources within the Iranian dissident movement, CLICK HERE. Michael Ledeen also just published some possible interpretations of the reported comment by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that he has is about to deliver a "punch"that will stun the West.

Next up, noted Iran scholar Abbas Milani of Stanforrd University takes on the argument coming from the regime that the opposition movement is effectively dissipating and its leaders are now backing down and seeking compromise. He points out that while it would be convenient for the regime to convince people of this before the expected clashes tomorrow, there are many signs the green movement can still command the active support of millions. Moreover, he points out, the claim that green leaders have backed down relies largely on misrepresentation or taking out of context statements they have made. For Milani's assessment of where the green movement currently is, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Iran expert Ali Alifoneh says the Basiji militia may be Iran's weak spot in any clash with the opposition. Further, Reza Molavi and K. Luisa Gandolfo, also academic experts on Iran, argue that recent events show that Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad, remains very much in charge in Iran.

Finally, Jeffrey  and Loring White of the Washington Institute for Near East policy offer some important lessons from "war-gaming" attempts to use diplomacy and sanction to stop the Iranian program. Looking at three serious  and significant attempts to simulate the diplomacy surrounding the nuclear crisis, they point out that the Iranians have essentially won in all of them, with the US having great difficult getting other players to punish Iran for its defiance. They also offer some ideas about what to do to avoid the Iranian victory indicated as likely in the war-gaming attempts made. For this important warning about how efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program could turn out badly if not handled very intelligently, CLICK HERE.

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The Iranian Revolution Devours Its Young

Michael Ledeen

Pajamas Media
February 5th, 2010 4:59 pm

It looks like February 11th will be the most violent confrontation to date.  The regime is taking unusual measures to put down the promised demonstrations.  In many ways it resembles the “Chinese solution.”  First, an unprecedented mobilization: 120 trains and something like a thousand buses have been deployed from as far away as 250 kilometers from the capital.  They will be used by the Revolutionary Guards and Basij to bring tens of thousands of paid “volunteers” to Tehran.  These will consist of entire families (dependent on the regime) to counter the Green Wave.  Each family gets $80 for the day, plus free food.  The regime is aiming at 300,000 thugs in the streets.  The Greens don’t think the numbers will be that high, and in any event they expect ten times that number of protesters, upwards of three million increasingly angry people, demanding freedom and justice.

Their resolve has undoubtedly been hardened by the very tough interview released earlier this week by Green leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.  As before, Mousavi put himself on the line, defying the regime to move against him as the mullahs have moved against his friends, allies, and family members.  It’s quite a challenge:
Today, the prison cells are occupied with the most sincere and devoted sons of this nation: students, professors and others. [Security forces] are trying to prosecute them with espionage or charges related to financial or sexual misconduct – charges based on expired formulas – while the real criminals and thieves who steal public money are free. Instead of looking for the real spies, they accuse decent religious people. I should take this opportunity to express my regret that all of my advisors, who are decent, honest and educated individuals, have been arrested; that I am not with them. These days, there is not a [single] night that I do not think of Imam [Khomeini], martyr Beheshti and others. I whisper to them that what was achieved is far from what they sought…
Khamenei has still not mustered the courage to strike directly at Mousavi or Karroubi, which everyone sees as a sign of weakness.  They see it as I do, as evidence that he is not prepared for a real showdown, fearing the vastly greater numbers of the Greens, and the unreliability of his armies.  He knows that the recent Green video, appealing to the armed forces to join the revolution, is having an effect.

Still, I don’t think there has been anything in recent history that compares to the regime’s planned actions.  All internal communications are supposed to be shut down: internet, cell phones, SMS, you name it.  Since this would in any case paralyze the country, offices, factories, banks and practically everything else will be shut down until the 14th;  thus they can afford to shut down the internet.  The Chinese have reportedly provided essential services (including internet) for key security offices and Khamenei’s residence.

This does not look to me like a strategy for a “final solution;” it’s more like a desperate throw of the dice with fighters of unproven courage and reliability.  We know, after all, that considerable numbers of trained police have been fired of late, that their replacements are “country boys” with little experience and probably poor discipline, and that the ex-police are likely to have become (if they weren’t already) Green recruits.

While exact numbers have not been secured, Fox News is reporting that sources within Tehran are reporting that 20 to 30 percent of the police force are being let go. That equates to roughly 5,000 officers and more that have been dismissed throughout the country.

Meanwhile the officers that have been let go are being replaced by 700 to 900 civilians during times of protests and those numbers falling during times of peace.

A former police officer told NewsCore that the police are bring replaced by village people who desperately need money and would [use] violence without hesitations.

Forces are typically under the control of the Revolutionary Guard, and they are responsible for keeping local peace. Now sources report that they will be much less organized and possibly have much less control.

One former officer was reported saying, “Many of us are being replaced by bus loads of people from villages who are willing to do anything for a piece of bread instead of protecting the ideas of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.”

What, then, to do?  Khamenei has ordered the massacre of the country’s youth, especially journalists, academics and activists, especially women.  Their treatment is atrocious, as you can see from this tweet:  “Ordinary prisoners are protesting, saying screams, noises, sobbing & crying of injured from Sepah (intelligence forces) section keep the entire prison awake.”

On the other hand, every night the doors of Evin Prison open, and ten or twenty battered citizens emerge to a waiting crowd of relatives, praying that this will be the night for their own loved ones to be released.  Inevitably, this has turned into an ongoing protest that the Basiji themselves have been unable to quell.  On Friday night, more than a thousand people gathered at Evin, and the Basiji tried unsuccessfully for more than three hours to drive them away.

The leaders are even spooked by the color green, which is inconvenient, since it’s in the flag.  Ahmadinejad recently appeared on television with the flag in the background…and the green had become blue(!).  Just as poor Captain Hook lived in dread of the sound of the ticking clock, so Ahmadinejad dreads the sight of green.  This is not a sign of great resolve.  If you want great resolve, listen to Mousavi:
The people know that these executions are only [carried out] so that a brutal, ruthless leader of Friday prayers – one who has constantly defended corruption, violence and deception – can applaud them. It matters not to him that there are abundant [instances of] forced confessions, and he does not care that [those executed] have had nothing to do with the election. For him, what matters is the power of the executions to generate fear. He is ignorant of the power of innocent blood. He doesn’t know that it was the blood of martyrs that caused the Pahlavi regime to collapse. From the revolution onwards, people have believed in freedom, independence and the Islamic Republic. The courageous resistance and the strength of our people and our soldiers during the eight year war was a sign of the fundamental changes that had taken place in our society…parts of our country were lost in the wars, crises and political games present during the time of the shahs [kings]. The courageous resistance of our people during the eight-year war ended this vicious cycle. And now, in the courageous, defiant and green rows of people who demand their rights, we see a continuum of the very struggle we saw during the war and the revolution.
He’s telling Khamenei what he least wants to hear:  We Greens are the true revolutionaries and we cannot be intimidated.  We will keep fighting until you are gone.

It’s astonishing and sad to see how our “intelligence community” persists in believing that the protests are merely a blip on the screen of the Islamic Republic, a momentary phenomenon that will shortly go away.  The “experts” are nothing if not foolishly consistent:  they failed to predict the results of the June “elections;” they failed to anticipate the aftermath;  they thought the demonstrations would diminish and then end;  they seem not to comprehend the depth of the regime’s crisis, and they expect the regime to triumph.  As Eli Lake tells us,
Despite political turmoil that has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets since the June 12 presidential elections, Iran’s decision-making process would remain the same, [Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair] said.

Overall…he gave he protesters little chance for success. “Strengthened conservative control will limit opportunities for reformers to participate in politics or organize opposition,” he stated. “The regime will work to marginalize opposition elites, disrupt or intimidate efforts to organize dissent, and use force to put down unrest.”

To which Eli permits himself the obvious retort:
The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to foresee political events in Iran. For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution. That prediction proved wrong within five months.
He could have added that CIA was positive that Gorbachev was firmly in control just before the fall of the Soviet Empire.  Revolutions aren’t easy to see;  you need a good nose to sense it, and the sense of smell is frowned upon at institutions of higher learning and deep thinking.

Still and all, this revolution is the biggest we’ve seen in a long time.  Lenin, who thought such things were led and organized by a tiny, conspiratorial vanguard, would be astonished to see that tens of millions of Iranians, from all classes, tribes, ethnic groups and sexes, are defiantly putting their lives on the line.

Anyone think the good Admiral will resign when the regime comes down?  He should.


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Green Energy

Have the leaders of the Green Movement really sold out?

Abbas Milani

The New Republic
February 2, 2010

Is the Green Movement finished? That is what the Iranian government wants the world to believe. And it has recently been trumpeting a few pieces of evidence to make its case.

First came a statement by Mir Hossein Mousavi on New Year’s Eve, which offered five conditions for ending the current impasse. But because it did not directly repeat Mousavi’s oft-quoted notion that the June elections were rigged, Kayhan and Rajanews—the two news outlets closest to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad—tried to claim the statement as a major victory for the regime.

Then in late January came reports of a “confidential” letter of repentance written by former Iranian president (and leading reformer) Mohammad Khatami, addressed to Khamenei. The letter supposedly recognizes the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Again, Kayhan and Rajanews reported on the letter, construing it as a sure sign of the Green Movement’s defeat.

Finally, there was the alleged coup de grace: a statement reported by Fars News Agency, the government-run Iranian news service, from Mehdi Karroubi—known as an uncompromising and defiant leader of the reform movement. In the statement, Karroubi seemed to accept Ahmadinejad’s presidency. “Karroubi: I recognize the president-elect of the Iranian people,” the Fars article was headlined.

These reports come at a sensitive moment for the regime. That’s because February 11, the official anniversary of the 1979 revolution and the date of the next big government-sponsored demonstration, is quickly approaching. As it has with other official celebrations in the past, the Green Movement plans to transform this event into a peaceful show of force by the opposition. The government, of course, is desperate to stop this from happening—which is why it wants to convince Iranians that the Green Movement is on its last legs.

But, unfortunately for the government, this simply isn’t true. For one thing, as Mousavi, Khatami, and Karroubi have repeatedly said, they are only the nominal leaders of the movement. If all three leaders were to compromise and “make peace” with the regime, it would certainly be a blow to the movement—but it would hardly be its death knell. As long as there are millions of Iranians who remain frustrated with the regime, the Green Movement is not going away.

And we know that the Green Movement retains mass appeal—even if, these days, it sometimes has to resort to oblique ways of showing it. Consider an unusual event that happened four weeks ago on, of all places, an Iranian soccer show (and which I learned about from reports on the normally reliable Roozonline and other Persian websites, as well as conversations with people who had seen the program). The show, called “Navad”—which means “90” in Persian, for the 90 minutes of a soccer game—features questions that the audience can vote on through text messages. About an hour before the program began, Green Movement advocates urged supporters via the web to vote for option three regardless of the question. As it turned out, the third option was probably the least reasonable response to the soccer question being posed—yet, by the end of the program, at least two million people had voted, and approximately 80 percent had voted for option three.

Moreover, the allegedly conciliatory statements by Green Movement leaders may not have been what they at first appeared to be. The hype surrounding Mousavi’s supposedly conciliatory gesture, for example, was recently punctured when his wife—considered by many to be Mousavi’s top adviser—made the following unambiguous statement: “I want to emphasize that we neither recognize the Ahmadinejad government nor will make any backroom compromises.” And yesterday, Mousavi himself launched a broadside against the regime, saying on his website, “Dictatorship in the name of religion is the worst kind. … I don’t believe the revolution achieved its goals.”
Just this week, Khatami lambasted media reports about his alleged letter. While he did not deny the letter’s existence, he made clear that there were no words of contrition in it. We want Khamenei to be “a leader for the entire nation” and not “just for a faction,” he said pointedly.

As for Karroubi, he was, in essence, trapped by the regime. His office and his son both subsequently made clear what really happened: As Karroubi emerged from a meeting of a reformist group, regime reporters-cum-interrogators from Fars News Agency asked whether he accepted the constitution and Khamenei’s leadership. Though Karroubi has never been known for his eloquence, he came out with perfectly parsed words to escape the legal trap: “I still hold my previous position that this government has come to power through a fraudulent election and amongst many doubts and ambiguities. … I still believe there was widespread rigging of the election but since Mr. Khamenei has approved [Ahmadinejad] I recognize him as the head of the current government.” Needless to say, the original Fars report did not include the less conciliatory parts of the quote.

More importantly, every statement Karroubi has made since that time has left no doubt that he is still very much a staunch supporter of the Green Movement. In fact, only four days ago, he and Mousavi held a well-publicized meeting and issued a statement afterwards, condemning recent acts of violence by the regime—particularly the execution of two men on charges of “fighting God”—and inviting their supporters to participate in the February 11 demonstrations.

Even Hashemi Rafsanjani—a pragmatic politician whose caution and opportunism make him the most likely candidate to compromise with the government—appears to be holding steady. Khamenei declared two weeks ago, in what seemed to be a thinly disguised threat directed at Rafsanjani, that the days of sitting on the fence and of ambiguous declarations have now ended. The Khamenei statement was followed by a blistering attack on Rafsanjani by Ayatollah Yazdi, a notoriously conservative cleric. But Rafsanjani soon shot back, reiterating that the demands he laid out in July at a Friday prayer—where, among other things, he argued for the release of all political prisoners—remain the only way out of the crisis. He also let it be known that he would soon publish a letter exposing Yazdi’s past—in particular, his attempt to block Khamenei’s appointment years ago in the Assembly of Experts.

Top clerics in the regime soon got involved and asked both sides to step back. Yazdi has accepted the ceasefire, but there is no sign that Rafsanjani has done the same. (The back and forth was detailed by the Iranian outlet Aftab News.) If even Rafsanjani is declining to cave, that is good news for the Green Movement. Which, in turn, is very good news for the people of Iran.

Abbas Milani is a contributing editor for The New Republic, the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, and the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is Eminent Persians: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979.

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Serious Play: War Games Explore Options on Iran

By Jeffrey White and Loring White

February 4, 2010
PolicyWatch #1626

What if Iran's hardline leadership emerges from the current confrontations at home strengthened and emboldened? If so, the nuclear issue will be back with a vengeance. And three recent war games focused on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue suggest that the prospects for halting the regime's progress toward nuclear weapons are not good.

The games -- conducted by highly respected Western think tanks -- explored various strategies for preventing the Iranian nuclear threat from becoming real. The results, unfortunately, were uniformly negative. Given that these were serious games played by serious people, officials who deal with the nuclear problem as a matter of real policy would be wise to seriously consider their implications.

Purpose and Utility of War Games

Games are strategic planning tools that have proven especially useful in international conflict situations. A war game begins with a defined scenario and evolves through a series of actions to a final situation or outcome. Individuals or teams simulate key decisions by national leaders in a role-playing environment. Meanwhile, an objective, independent team acts as a referee, setting up the initial scenario and adjudicating the play turn by turn. The result is not a prediction of the future but rather a plausible, perhaps even likely, outcome that can be of great value in planning and forecasting.

Wargaming is an alternative to the standard paper assessments fashioned by subject-matter experts, and its unique characteristics convey certain advantages. Games can be highly effective at emulating the dynamic and competitive nature of real-world situations. They also replicate the uncertainty (misunderstanding, miscommunication, misperception, and misrepresentation) that characterizes actual situations. In addition, the compelling and immersive nature of war games often leads to revelatory moments for the participants. All in all, the process of testing complex strategies and decisions in a competitive human gaming environment may be the best we can do short of the real world.

Some caveats are in order. This article is based on limited reporting and data regarding the three games, and certain elements of game play may therefore be missing. Nevertheless, drawing some conclusions from the available information is useful given the important and pressing nature of the Iran nuclear issue.

Iran Games


In December 2009, experts at Harvard University, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institution conducted three separate war games to analyze various Iranian nuclear scenarios. In each, players were organized into teams representing the key countries and leaders. The participants were drawn from a mix of former senior civilian and military policymakers as well as regional subject-matter experts (e.g., academics, analysts, journalists).

The Harvard war game. Organized by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, this game explored how the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program might evolve in the coming year. Reported results included:
  • The United States could not get any meaningful support for sanctions.
  • Russia and China -- both of which will be key players if sanctions are to work -- conducted secret negotiations with Iran.
  • The U.S.-Israeli relationship deteriorated dramatically during the game, leading to a deep diplomatic crisis.
  • Iran saw itself in a strong position and played accordingly.
  • Iran emerged better off at the end of the game than it had been at the beginning. By December 2010, it had doubled its supply of low-enriched uranium and was proceeding to weaponization.
According to one participant, Iran "never felt seriously threatened" and could "win" the game easily. Indeed, most observers would probably characterize the outcome as a win for Iran and a defeat for the United States and Israel.

The Tel Aviv war game. Organized by the Institute for National Security Studies, the Tel Aviv simulation explored U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations and potential Israeli responses. Reported results included:
  • Iran assumed a strong position in the game based on a clear objective: obtaining nuclear weapons.
  • Israel and the United States lacked clear goals and strategies for dealing with Iran's program.
  • The Iranians saw the United States as weak and indecisive but viewed their own position as strong.
  • Israel was perceived as being unhelpful to the United States.
  • At game's end, Iran continued its nuclear program, neither persuaded nor deterred.

The Brookings war game. Conducted at the institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, D.C., this game explored how Israel, Iran, and the United States might respond to an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Reported results included:
  • The United States was unhappy with Israel over the attack.
  • The United States tried to talk tough with Iran but also sought direct negotiations.
  • The United States attempted to stay out of the conflict.
  • The U.S. response was limited and defensive.
  • Iran interpreted U.S. behavior as weak and was emboldened by this perception.

Importance of Multiple Games

Based on available information, the games seemed to be well done -- they added to the insights obtained through standard analytical methods, and more such games would appear to be in order. Any one of them would have been worthwhile on their own, but taken together they are even more valuable. Using similar issues and agents, they yielded some of the same negative outcomes:
  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

Insights

The games provide several insights into why the Iranian nuclear problem is so intractable and how it might develop in the near to mid term. Iran "won" the games at least in part because it had a strong hand, coherent strategy, clear goals, and determined leadership. In contrast, it faced an array of opponents who were divided on objectives and strategies and who exhibited uncertain, if not vacillating, leadership. Among these opponents, only Israel was willing to use military force, while the United States appeared to play its hand weakly in all three simulations.

The games also indicated that, as the nuclear issue escalates, dealing with Israel could become as big a challenge for the United States as dealing with Iran, at least in some ways. U.S. and Israeli threat perceptions, goals, and strategies diverged in the face of Iranian progress toward nuclear weapons. The United States eschewed military action to avoid the attendant risks, while Israel was more willing to take the risks to avoid, or at least postpone, the nuclear threat. Game play suggests that an eventual U.S.-Israeli crisis is likely.

Conclusions

All three games have the ring of truth: they are plausible, credible, and consistent, and they reinforce other analyses suggesting that diplomacy and sanctions will not work. This leads to certain conclusions.

First, the United States must "play" differently in the coming months than the participants who represented it in these simulations. Current U.S. policy seemed to fail in each game, leaving the situation worse in several dimensions: Iran was undeterred (even strengthened), relations with Israel were in crisis, and international support was lacking. Accordingly, the United States and others must conceive and develop new, more robust initiatives (e.g., strong support for regime change).

Second, the United States must plan for military action, either by itself, with others, or in the wake of unilateral Israeli strikes. Both the military and the public should be prepared for the consequences of these scenarios. These preparations must be carried out with the full understanding that the military option is practicable -- and, at the end of the day, may well be the required course of action.

Third, the results of these games are likely disturbing for Israel, indicating that its leaders should prepare both diplomatically and militarily to go it alone. A decision to strike could be the most fateful since the state's founding. Israel needs to ready its military not just for a raid or operation, but also for an extended war on multiple fronts and deep within the homeland. Likewise, the civilian population should prepare itself for the disruption and casualties of such a conflict. Israel already appears to be moving in this direction, and that course seems wise given the outcome of the war games. Time is running out.

Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in the military and security affairs of the Levant, Iraq, and Iran. Loring White has had a long private- and public-sector career in the fields of mathematical modeling and scientific data analysis, specializing in the evaluation of high-uncertainty information.

All three games have the ring of truth: they are plausible, credible, and consistent, and they reinforce other analyses suggesting that diplomacy and sanctions will not work. This leads to certain conclusions.

First, the United States must "play" differently in the coming months than the participants who represented it in these simulations. Current U.S. policy seemed to fail in each game, leaving the situation worse in several dimensions: Iran was undeterred (even strengthened), relations with Israel were in crisis, and international support was lacking. Accordingly, the United States and others must conceive and develop new, more robust initiatives (e.g., strong support for regime change).

Second, the United States must plan for military action, either by itself, with others, or in the wake of unilateral Israeli strikes. Both the military and the public should be prepared for the consequences of these scenarios. These preparations must be carried out with the full understanding that the military option is practicable -- and, at the end of the day, may well be the required course of action.

Third, the results of these games are likely disturbing for Israel, indicating that its leaders should prepare both diplomatically and militarily to go it alone. A decision to strike could be the most fateful since the state's founding. Israel needs to ready its military not just for a raid or operation, but also for an extended war on multiple fronts and deep within the homeland. Likewise, the civilian population should prepare itself for the disruption and casualties of such a conflict. Israel already appears to be moving in this direction, and that course seems wise given the outcome of the war games. Time is running out.

Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in the military and security affairs of the Levant, Iraq, and Iran. Loring White has had a long private- and public-sector career in the fields of mathematical modeling and scientific data analysis, specializing in the evaluation of high-uncertainty information.


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