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Pressuring Iran/The Hamas-Fatah National Unity Agreement

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Update from AIJAC

February 9, 2007
Number 02/07 #05

The crisis over Iran's nuclear program is going through a strangely anomalous time at the moment- there are increasing signs that elements of the regime are rattled by the level of confrontation Ahmadinejad has initiated and seeking to pull back somewhat, while the actions of the regime in deploying centrifuges to enrich uranium without IAEA monitoring seems to ensure that pressure on Iran will escalate. This Update looks at the means and strategy of successfully pressuring Iran.

First, Iranian exile author and editor Amir Taheri writes that ending Iran as a threat means recognising the distinction between Iran as a national state, and Iran as the embodiment of the 1979 Islamic revolution. He says Teheran is currently preparing a small climb-down in the face of the pressure over its nuclear program, but that this is unlikely to blunt Iran's overall nuclear drive, and to actually do this will require Iran to return to being a normal nation state with normal interests, and cease to embody the expansive aims of the revolution. For this analysis, CLICK HERE.

Next, Israeli pundit Saul Singer argues that a system of sanctioning Iran solely for its nuclear program leaves a "gaping hole" in the international position. He argues that unless one also sanctions and isolates Iran for the other activities that make it a rogue actor and thus make its nuclear program extraordinarily dangerous, efforts to punish it solely for its nuclear defiance will always ring a bit hollow. He follows up with some suggestions about how to punish Iranian support for terrorism, incitement to genocide, meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. To read his ideas in full, CLICK HERE.

Readers will probably be aware that Fatah and Hamas have reportedly reached agreement in Mecca, after months of trying, on a government of national unity. We'll have more detailed analysis in future Updates, but in the meantime, here is a good explanation by Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post of what the agreement is designed to achieve, and its shortcomings in meeting the Quartet principles for recognition and renewed direct aid. To read it, CLICK HERE.


Between State and Revolution

By AMIR TAHERI

Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2007

"Mizanan, ya na?" (Will they hit or not?) In Tehran these days, this question is the talk of the town. The "they" is seldom spelled out. Yet everyone knows that it refers to the United States.

The question is wreaking havoc on Iran's fragile economy by fomenting an atmosphere of uncertainty even before the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council start to bite. Many in Tehran expect the Security Council to decree even tougher sanctions in March when the ultimatum for the Islamic Republic to halt its uranium enrichment program will end.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The Khomeinist leadership is divided over the reality of the threat, and over ways of dealing with it. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that the U.S. is in no position to do much damage, and counts on the new Democratic majority in Washington -- he calls them "the wise people" -- to restrain George W. Bush.

The bulk of the Khomeinist leadership, including the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, however, take the threat seriously and are preparing public opinion for a climb-down by the Islamic Republic. The American naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, the new U.S. offensive against Iran's agents and armed clients in Iraq, Tehran's failure to seize power in Beirut through its Hezbollah proxy, and plummeting oil prices are all cited by Ayatollah Khamenei's entourage as reasons why a climb-down might be necessary.

Sometime in the next few weeks, Iran is likely to offer a "compromise formula" under which it would suspend its enrichment program, as demanded by the Security Council, in exchange for a suspension of sanctions. This will be accompanied by noises from Tehran about readiness to help the U.S. in Iraq, plus possible concessions in Lebanon and over the Palestine-Israel issue.

The expected climb-down is sure to bring back the Baker-Hamilton "realists" with fresh calls for offering the mullahs a seat at the high table. It would also prompt the guilt-ridden "idealists," who blame the U.S. for whatever goes wrong in the world, to urge "Bush the warmonger" to engage the Islamic Republic in a constructive dialogue, whatever that might mean. The French and the Russians would applaud the mullahs and urge the Americans to be "reasonable."

So, what should the Bush administration do when, and if, the mullahs unveil their compromise formula? First is to see the mullahs' move as deja vu all over again. Each time the mullahs are in trouble they become the essence of sweet reasonableness. They deploy their traditional tactics of taqiyah (obfuscation), kitman (dissimulation) and ehtiat (caution) to confuse the "infidels" and divide their ranks. The Iranian leadership did this in the early days of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979 by persuading the clueless Jimmy Carter that the ayatollah was the only force capable of preventing Iran from falling into communist hands. In 1984 and '85, they seduced the Reagan administration with an offer of releasing the American hostages in Beirut in exchange for the secret U.S. arms deliveries Iran needed to stop the Iraqi advance. In 1987 they stopped their attacks on Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf after an American task force sunk the Revolutionary Guard's navy in a 10-hour battle.

In 1988, fear of an even bigger U.S. military attack persuaded Ayatollah Khomeini to "drink the cup of poison" by agreeing to end his eight-year war with Iraq. In 1998, the mullahs offered a "grand bargain" to the Clinton administration as a means of averting U.S. retaliation for the Iranian-sponsored killing of 19 American soldiers in an attack in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

The second point to bear in mind is that a suspension of uranium enrichment will cost the Islamic Republic nothing. Iran does not have any nuclear power plants, and thus does not need enriched uranium anyway. Even if the country does not have secret parallel nuclear facilities, it could always resume weapons-making activities once it is no longer under pressure.

Successive U.S. administrations have assumed that the problem with the Khomeinist regime lies in its behavior, which they hoped to modify through traditional carrot-and-stick diplomacy. The problem with the regime, however, is its nature, its totalitarian ambitions and messianic claims. Being an enemy of the U.S., indeed of all democracies, is in its political DNA. A scorpion stings because it is programmed by nature to do so. A regime that is the enemy of its own people cannot be a friend of others.

The threat that Khomeinism poses to stability in the Middle East and, beyond it, to international peace, will not be removed until Iran once again becomes a normal nation-state with the interests and ambitions of normal nation-states.

For more than a quarter of a century, Iran has suffered from an affliction faced by most countries that experience revolution. The conflict between state and revolution makes the development and practice of moderate domestic and foreign policies difficult, if not impossible. Leading a revolution is like riding a bicycle: One keeps going for as long as one continues to pedal, regardless of the destination. To stop pedaling means to fall.

As a nation-state, Iran may be a rival and competitor for other nations. But it would not be an existential threat. As a revolution, however, Iran can, indeed must, be such a threat not only to its neighbors but also to a world that it regards as "the handiwork of Jews and Crusaders."

The Khomeinist revolution has not succeeded in destroying the plurimillennial idea of Iran as a nation-state. But each time the Khomeinist revolution found itself on the defensive, the Western powers, including the U.S., helped it restore its legitimacy and regain its breath. The same illusions that produced the détente, which arguably prolonged the life of the Soviet Union, have also helped the Khomeinist revolution survive long after its sell-by date.

Today, Iran is once again facing the schizophrenia imposed on it through the conflict between state and revolution. A majority of Iranians, including many in the ruling elite, wish Iran to re-emerge as a nation-state.

The U.S. has no interest in helping the Khomeinist revolution escape the consequences of its misdeeds. This does not mean that there should be no diplomatic contact with Tehran or that pressure should be exerted for the sake of it. Nor does it mean that military action, "to hit or not to hit," is the only question worth pondering with regard to the Islamic Republic.

No one should be duped by a tactical retreat in Tehran or a temporary modification of the regime's behavior. What is needed is a change in the nature of the regime. The chances of setting such change in motion have never been as good, and the current showdown should be used to communicate a clear message: As a nation-state, Iran can and will be a friend. As a revolution, it would always remain a foe.

Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).


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Who Isolated Whom?

Iran and the West.

By Saul Singer

National Review, February 5, 2007

There is a gaping hole in the international position on Iran, and Gambia, of all countries, has pointed it out. After the presidents of the two countries exchanged visits, Gambia is openly wondering why the world is upset about Iran building a bomb. The Gambians are asking: So long as other countries are allowed to have these weapons, and they are not illegal, why shouldn't Iran join the club?

While the official answer is that Iran has violated its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, this still dodges the question. Why does the NPT lock in existing nuclear powers, ignore countries that choose not to sign (like Israel), and then treat Iran as an outlaw?

There is no good legal answer to this, but there is a good practical one: because Iran is an outlaw state. But then the astute Gambians might ask another question: Who determined that Iran has violated international law? Where is it written that Iran is a rogue state, aside from its pursuit of nuclear weapons?

With this, the Gambians will have stumbled onto a strange paradox. Iran is in trouble for its nuclear program, but not for the behavior that makes its nuclear program unacceptable — its rampant international aggression.

Sure, Iran has for years topped the U.S. State Department's list of states that support terrorism. President George Bush recently noted that Iran's client, Hezbollah, has killed more Americans than any group except al Qaeda. Iranian officials were recently caught red-handed in Iraq with plans for planting explosives. Hizbullah has been paying Palestinians to shoot missiles at Sderot. And so on.

Everyone knows these things. But what steps has the international community taken against Iran as a terror state? Why has no nation demanded that the U.N. Security Council investigate Iranian support for terrorism and aggression?

One might argue that such an investigation would be toothless. But notice the lengths that Syria is going to escape from the U.N. investigation launched into the Hariri and Gemayel assassinations. Many observers estimate that Hezbollah is working to topple the Lebanese government at Syria's behest and for this purpose.

Though pariah states pretend they don't care about being isolated, they obviously do. Why else would Iranian President Ahmadinejad travel to South America and Africa looking for leaders who will receive him? Why would the Iranian New Agency trumpet its extensive trade with European nations?

Why would Sunday's front page of Iran Daily, published in Tehran, lead with the headline, "Kerry: US A Sort of International Pariah," and a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting that she "supports the transfer of responsibility to Iraqi forces"?

Tehran is clearly at pains to show that it is George Bush, not Iran, who is isolated. This is why the recent U.N. resolution condemning Holocaust denial, which did not mention Iran by name, but to which Iran was the only nation to voice an objection, was a step in the right direction.

But it is not nearly enough.

Iran is legally vulnerable on three fronts, in addition to the existing sanctions track aimed at its nuclear program. First, Iran is in violation of the Geneva Convention's prohibition of incitement to genocide. Article III of that treaty establishes such incitement as a "punishable offense." Second, the Iranian regime rampantly violates human rights. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed eight children in 2005, and was the only country that executed children in that year. In May 2006, a 17-year-old boy was executed for allegedly engaging in homosexual acts. Tens of thousands of political prisoners languish in Iran's jails.

Iranian human-rights lawyer Lila Mazhery charges that Iran "has established a system of legalized prostitution ... [in which] men are free to enter into as many temporary 'marriages' as they desire... only to use the women and children that they 'marry' as sexual objects and slaves. ... This legalized system of slavery and oppression has led to a growing sex-trafficking industry that is partially operated by government officials and mullahs themselves."

Third, Iran has become a factory for international aggression. The mullahs are sowing mayhem in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan, and stoking attacks against Israel. If the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister is worthy of a massive U.N. investigation, why not Iran's violent efforts to destabilize an entire region?

It would be natural for Iran to take the absence of such an investigation, let alone sanctions that such wholesale aggression should trigger, as a measure of Western weakness in general, and American isolation in particular.

American soldiers are dying almost daily at the hands of Iranian-supported militias. Israel is under constant attack by Iranian-supported terrorists. Yet neither nation has had the temerity to demand that the U.N. Security Council act against such aggression, presumably because they think they don't have the votes.

So who is isolated: the West or Iran?

Western diplomats presumably estimate they are hiding the true balance of diplomatic forces by avoiding the issue. But who are they kidding? Like Stalin's famous dismissal of the pope's lack of divisions, why should Iran take Western opposition to terrorism seriously if the U.S. and others are unable to employ the diplomatic playing field that Western nations supposedly control? The U.S. and Europe are acting like a police chief who has lost control of most of his city to organized crime and is pretending that confrontation can be avoided and law and order maintained. But terrorism, like crime, does not disappear when one pretends it has — it increases.

The West cannot afford to forfeit the Security Council to Iran's protectors. Democracies must join together to finger and sanction terror states even if it means forcing a Russian or Chinese veto. Even if Iran is defeated by going around the Security Council, there will ultimately be more Irans if free nations are unable to rally the international system to punish rogue states.

— Saul Singer is editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle & the World After 9/11. This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted here with permission


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Abbas's top concern is avoiding civil war, not compliance'

Herb Keinon

THE JERUSALEM POST, Feb. 9, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas wanted a national unity government agreement in Mecca to stave off a Palestinian civil war, even if it meant antagonizing Israel, the US and the EU, according to Western diplomatic assessments.

Israel has articulated its concern in recent days to international leaders that if Abbas were to accept a government that did not denounce terrorism, accept existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and recognize Israel, then it could fundamentally alter Israel's relationship with him.

The US and Israel have clarified to various international interlocutors that they could not accept a formula whereby only one of the international community's three principles - recognition of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements - would be included in the unity government's framework.

According to these assessments, however, the international community is in a bind: On the one hand it does not want to water down the three principles, yet on the other it is concerned that if Abbas does not compromise with Hamas there would be no unity government, something that would prolong intra-Palestinian violence and undercut the prospects of renewed Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic efforts.

The widespread feeling in Jerusalem is that the US, along with Britain and Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, would remain adamant about the need for the three Quartet principles to be upheld, while some other states - led by Russia - would push to recognize the unity government even if it did not fully meet the requirements.

The issue is expected to be discussed among world leaders at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy that will convene Friday and run until Sunday. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will be there pressing the international community not to be flexible on these principles. Among the other world leaders at the event will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, new US Defense Minister Robert Gates, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani has said he intended to attend the conference, while The Daily Star in Lebanon reported that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora would not attend because Livni would be there.

The negotiations in Mecca, according to Western diplomatic sources, were based on an "informal paper" presented as a basis for a unity government. This paper called for the establishment of the unity government to "lift the [international] siege" of the PA. Under this informal paper, the new government would commit itself to the resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO, various Arab summits, and UN resolutions.

As such, recognition of Israel would be implicitly included in acceptance of the 1993 exchange of letters of recognition between Israel and the PLO. There would also be an understanding that the new unity government would not object to negotiations or agreements with Israel.

The informal paper, however, stipulated that the factions in the unity government would not be bound by its commitments. What this means is that while Hamas would be free to continue to deny recognition of Israel, the government - when asked about the issue - would refer questions on this matter to Abbas.

The only "Quartet principle" that was directly addressed in the "informal paper" was the acceptance of previous agreements, and this was the focus of a great deal of the debate between Abbas and Hamas.

This argument centered around whether the Arabic iltasama (commit to) or ihtarama (respect) would be used when discussing previous agreements. Abbas wanted Hamas to commit to the previous agreements, but according to initial reports from Mecca Thursday night, Hamas prevailed on this issue.

Hamas, meanwhile, wanted to insert into the document a caveat stating that the previous agreement would be honored "as long as they respect" or "as long as they do not oppose" the higher Palestinian interest, something to which Abbas was opposed.

Regarding the international demand that the new government renounce terrorism, what was discussed instead was the need to maintain the tahdia or cease-fire with Israel in Gaza, and to extend it to the West Bank.

According to Western diplomatic assessments, the Palestinians themselves have no illusions this document would satisfy the Quartet principles.

However, according to these assessments, there was a feeling among the Palestinians that this was the most that could be gotten from Hamas at the present time, and that it was the closest thing available to a Palestinian consensus. Nobody expected that Hamas would change its fundamental positions.

The Western diplomats said that the importance of the agreement was that by accepting the PLO and UN agreements and resolutions, Hamas gave Abbas something they always refused to give Yasser Arafat - a mandate to negotiate with Israel over the establishment of a Palestinian state and a solution to the refugee issue.

Were Hamas to stay outside the government, the assessments continued, any agreement reached between Abbas and Israel would be attacked by Hamas and be the possible foundation for a Palestinian civil war.

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