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Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #450 on: January 17, 2012, 08:51:29 AM »

Baraq's weakness in bugging out of Iraq bears its inevitable fruit.

Iran, the U.S. and the Strait of Hormuz Crisis

By George Friedman | January 17, 2012

The United States reportedly sent a letter to Iran via multiple intermediaries last
week warning Tehran that any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz constituted a red
line for Washington. The same week, a chemist associated with Iran's nuclear program
was killed in Tehran. In Ankara, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani met with
Turkish officials and has been floating hints of flexibility in negotiations over
Iran's nuclear program.

This week, a routine rotation of U.S. aircraft carriers is taking place in the
Middle East, with the potential for three carrier strike groups to be on station in
the U.S. Fifth Fleet's area of operations and a fourth carrier strike group based in
Japan about a week's transit from the region. Next week, Gen. Michael Dempsey,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Israel to meet with senior
Israeli officials. And Iran is scheduling another set of war games in the Persian
Gulf for February that will focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps'
irregular tactics for closing the Strait of Hormuz.

While tensions are escalating in the Persian Gulf, the financial crisis in Europe
has continued, with downgrades in France's credit rating the latest blow. Meanwhile,
China continued its struggle to maintain exports in the face of economic weakness
among its major customers while inflation continued to increase the cost of Chinese

Fundamental changes in how Europe and China work and their long-term consequences
represent the major systemic shifts in the international system. In the more
immediate future, however, the U.S.-Iranian dynamic has the most serious potential
consequences for the world.

The U.S.-Iranian Dynamic

The increasing tensions in the region are not unexpected. As we have argued for some
time, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the subsequent decision to withdraw created a
massive power vacuum in Iraq that Iran needed -- and was able -- to fill. Iran and
Iraq fought a brutal war in the 1980s that caused about 1 million Iranian
casualties, and Iran's fundamental national interest is assuring that no Iraqi
regime able to threaten Iranian national security re-emerges. The U.S. invasion and
withdrawal from Iraq provided Iran an opportunity to secure its western frontier,
one it could not pass on.

If Iran does come to have a dominant influence in Iraq -- and I don't mean Iran
turning Iraq into a satellite -- several things follow. Most important, the status
of the Arabian Peninsula is subject to change. On paper, Iran has the most
substantial conventional military force of any nation in the Persian Gulf. Absent
outside players, power on paper is not insignificant. While technologically
sophisticated, the military strength of the Arabian Peninsula nations on paper is
much smaller and they lack the Iranian military's ideologically committed manpower.

But Iran's direct military power is more the backdrop than the main engine of
Iranian power. It is the strength of Tehran's covert capabilities and influence that
makes Iran significant. Iran's covert intelligence capability is quite good. It has
spent decades building political alliances by a range of means, and not only by
nefarious methods. The Iranians have worked among the Shia, but not exclusively so;
they have built a network of influence among a range of classes and religious and
ethnic groups. And they have systematically built alliances and relationships with
significant figures to counter overt U.S. power. With U.S. military power departing
Iraq, Iran's relationships become all the more valuable.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces has had a profound psychological impact on the
political elites of the Persian Gulf. Since the decline of British power after World
War II, the United States has been the guarantor of the Arabian Peninsula's elites
and therefore of the flow of oil from the region. The foundation of that guarantee
has been military power, as seen in the response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in
1990. The United States still has substantial military power in the Persian Gulf,
and its air and naval forces could likely cope with any overt provocation by Iran.

But that's not how the Iranians operate. For all their rhetoric, they are cautious
in their policies. This does not mean they are passive. It simply means that they
avoid high-risk moves. They will rely on their covert capabilities and
relationships. Those relationships now exist in an environment in which many
reasonable Arab leaders see a shift in the balance of power, with the United States
growing weaker and less predictable in the region and Iran becoming stronger. This
provides fertile soil for Iranian allies to pressure regional regimes into
accommodations with Iran.

The Syrian Angle

Events in Syria compound this situation. The purported imminent collapse of Syrian
President Bashar al Assad's regime in Syria has proven less imminent than many in
the West imagined. At the same time, the isolation of the al Assad regime by the
West -- and more important, by other Arab countries -- has created a situation where
the regime is more dependent than ever on Iran.

Should the al Assad regime -- or the Syrian regime without al Assad -- survive, Iran
would therefore enjoy tremendous influence with Syria, as well as with Hezbollah in
Lebanon. The current course in Iraq coupled with the survival of an Alawite regime
in Syria would create an Iranian sphere of influence stretching from western
Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. This would represent a fundamental shift in the
regional balance of power, and probably would redefine Iranian relations with the
Arabian Peninsula. This is obviously in Iran's interest. It is not in the interests
of the United States, however.

The United States has sought to head this off via a twofold response. Clandestinely,
it has engaged in an active campaign of sabotage and assassination targeting Iran's
nuclear efforts. Publicly, it has created a sanctions regime against Iran, most
recently targeting Iran's oil exports. The later effort faces many challenges,

Japan, the No. 2 buyer of Iranian crude, has pledged its support, but has not
outlined concrete plans to reduce its purchases. The Chinese and Indians -- Iran's
No. 1 and 3 buyers of crude, respectively -- will continue to buy from Iran despite
increased U.S. pressure. In spite of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's
visit last week, the Chinese are not prepared to impose sanctions, and the Russians
are not likely to enforce sanctions even if they agreed to them. Turkey is unwilling
to create a confrontation with Iran and is trying to remain a vital trade conduit
for the Iranians regardless of sanctions. At the same time, while the Europeans seem
prepared to participate in harder-hitting sanctions on Iranian oil, they already
have delayed action on these sanctions and certainly are in no position politically
or otherwise to participate in military action. The European economic crisis is at
root a political crisis, so even if the Europeans could add significant military
which they generally lack, concerted action of any sort is unlikely.

Neither, for that matter, does the United States have the ability to do much
militarily. Invading Iran is out of the question. A nation of about 70 million
people, Iran's mountainous geography makes direct occupation impossible given
available American forces.

Air operations against Iran are an option, but they could not be confined to nuclear
facilities. Iran still doesn't have nuclear weapons, and while nuclear weapons would
compound the strategic problem, the problem would still exist without them. The
center of gravity of Iran's power is the relative strength of its conventional
forces in the region. Absent those, Iran would be less capable of wielding covert
power, as the psychological matrix would shift.

An air campaign against Iran's conventional forces would play to American military
strengths, but it has two problems. First, it would be an extended campaign, one
lasting months. Iran's capabilities are large and dispersed, and as seen in Desert
Storm and Kosovo against weaker opponents, such operations take a long time and are
not guaranteed to be effective. Second, the Iranians have counters. One, of course,
is the Strait of Hormuz. The second is the use of its special operations forces and
allies in and out of the region to conduct terror attacks. An extended air campaign
coupled with terrorist attacks could increase distrust of American power rather than
increase it among U.S. allies, to say nothing of the question of whether Washington
could sustain political support in a coalition or within the United States itself.

The Covert Option

The U.S. and Israel both have covert options as well. They have networks of
influence in the region and highly capable covert forces, which they have said
publicly that they would use to limit Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons without
resorting to overt force. We assume, though we lack evidence, that the assassination
of the Iranian chemist associated with the country's nuclear program last week was
either a U.S. or Israeli operation or some combination of the two. Not only did it
eliminate a scientist, it also bred insecurity and morale problems among those
working on the program. It also signaled the region that the United States and
Israel have options inside Iran.

The U.S. desire to support an Iranian anti-government movement generally has failed.
Tehran showed in 2009 that it could suppress demonstrations, and it was obvious that
the demonstrators did not have the widespread support needed to overcome such
repression. Though the United States has sought to support internal dissidents in
Iran since 1979, it has not succeeded in producing a meaningful threat to the
clerical regime. Therefore, covert operations are being aimed directly against the
nuclear program with the hope that successes there might ripple through other more
immediately significant sectors.

As we have long argued, the Iranians already have a "nuclear option," namely, the
prospect of blockading the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly 35 percent of
seaborne crude and 20 percent of the world's traded oil passes daily. Doing so would
hurt them, too, of course. But failing to deter an air or covert campaign, they
might choose to close off the strait. Temporarily disrupting the flow of oil, even
intermittently, could rapidly create a global economic crisis given the fragility of
the world economy.

The United States does not want to see that. Washington will be extremely cautious
in its actions unless it can act with a high degree of assurance that it can prevent
such a disruption, something difficult to guarantee. It also will restrain Israel,
which might have the ability to strike at a few nuclear facilities but lacks the
force to completely eliminate the program much less target Iran's conventional
capability and manage the consequences of that strike in the Strait of Hormuz. Only
the United States could do all that, and given the possible consequences, it will be
loathe to attempt it.

The United States continues, therefore, with sanctions and covert actions while Iran
continues building its covert power in Iraq and in the region. Each will try to
convince the region that its power will be supreme in a year. The region is
skeptical of both, but will have to live with one of the two, or with an ongoing
test of wills -- an unnerving prospect. Each side is seeking to magnify its power
for psychological effect without crossing a red line that prompts the other to take
extreme measures. Iran signals its willingness to attempt to close Hormuz and its
development of nuclear weapons, but doesn't cross the line to actually closing the
strait or detonating a nuclear device. The United States pressures Iran and moves
forces around, but doesn't cross the red line of commencing military actions. Thus,
each avoids triggering unacceptable actions by the other.

The problem for the United States is that the status quo ultimately works against
it. If al Assad survives and if the situation in Iraq proceeds as it has been
proceeding, then Iran is creating a reality that will define the region. The United
States does not have a broad and effective coalition, and certainly not one that
would rally in the event of war. It has only Israel, and Israel is as uneasy with
direct military action as the United States is. It does not want to see a failed
attack and it does not want to see more instability in the Arab world. For all its
rhetoric, Israel has a weak hand to play. The only virtue of the American hand is
that it is stronger -- but only relatively speaking.

For the United States, preventing the expansion of an Iranian sphere of influence is
a primary concern. Iraq is going to be a difficult arena to stop Iran's expansion.
Syria therefore is key at present. Al Assad appears weak, and his replacement by a
Sunni government would limit -- but not destroy -- any Iranian sphere of influence.
It would be a reversal for Iran, and the United States badly needs to apply one. But
the problem is that the United States cannot be seen as the direct agent of regime
change in Syria, and al Assad is not as weak as has been claimed. Even so, Syria is
where the United States can work to block Iran without crossing Iran's red lines.

The normal outcome of a situation like this one, in which neither Iran nor the
United States can afford to cross the other's red lines since the consequences would
be too great for each, would be some sort of negotiation toward a longer-term
accommodation. Ideology aside -- and the United States negotiating with the "Axis of
Evil" or Iran with the "Great Satan" would be tough sells to their respective
domestic audiences -- the problem with this is that it is difficult to see what each
has to offer the other. What Iran wants -- a dominant position in the region and a
redefinition of how oil revenues are allocated and distributed -- would make the
United States dependent on Iran. What the United States wants -- an Iran that does
not build a sphere of influence, but instead remains within its borders -- would
cost Iran a historic opportunity to assert its longstanding claims.

We find ourselves in a situation in which neither side wants to force the other into
extreme steps and neither side is in a position to enter into broader
accommodations. And that's what makes the situation dangerous. When fundamental
issues are at stake, each side is in a position to profoundly harm the other if
pressed, and neither side is in a position to negotiate a broad settlement, a long
game of chess ensues. And in that game of chess, the possibilities of
miscalculation, of a bluff that the other side mistakes for an action, are very

Europe and China are redefining the way the world works. But kingdoms run on oil, as
someone once said, and a lot of oil comes through Hormuz. Iran may or may not be
able to close the strait, and that reshapes Europe and China. The New Year thus
begins where we expected: at the Strait of Hormuz.
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #451 on: January 17, 2012, 11:01:52 PM »

Very interesting piece, not all sunshine and roses.


Mark Helprin:

Iran will be able to sea launch nukes from off our coasts or detonate in our harbors, Obama should take them out.


To assume that Iran will not close the Strait of Hormuz is to assume that primitive religious fanatics will perform cost-benefit analyses the way they are done at Wharton. They won't, especially if the oil that is their life's blood is threatened. If Iran does close the strait, we will fight an air and naval war derivative of and yet peripheral to the Iranian nuclear program, a mortal threat the president of the United States has inadequately addressed.

A mortal threat when Iran is not yet in possession of a nuclear arsenal? Yes, because immediately upon possession all remedies are severely restricted. Without doubt, Iran has long wanted nuclear weapons—to deter American intervention in its and neighboring territories; to threaten Europe and thereby cleave it from American interests in the Middle East; to respond to the former Iraqi nuclear effort; to counter the contiguous nuclear presences in Pakistan, Russia and the U.S. in the Gulf; to neutralize Israel's nuclear deterrent so as to limit it to the attrition of conventional battle, or to destroy it with one lucky shot; to lead the Islamic world; to correct the security imbalance with Saudi Arabia, which aided by geography and American arms now outclasses it; and to threaten the U.S. directly.

In the absence of measures beyond pinpoint sanctions and unenforceable resolutions, Iran will get nuclear weapons, which in its eyes are an existential necessity. We have long known and done nothing about this, preferring to dance with the absurd Iranian claim that it is seeking electricity. With rampant inflation and unemployment, a housing crisis, and gasoline rationing, why spend $1,000-$2,000 per kilowatt to build nuclear plants instead of $400-$800 for gas, when you possess the second largest gas reserves in the world? In 2005, Iran consumed 3.6 trillion cubic feet of its 974 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves, which are enough to last 270 years. We know that in 2006—generation exceeding consumption by 10%—Iran exported electricity and planned a high-tension line to Russia to export more.

Accommodationists argue that a rational Iran can be contained. Not the Iran with a revered tradition of deception; that during its war with Iraq pushed 100,000 young children to their deaths clearing minefields; that counts 15% of its population as "Volunteer Martyrs"; that chants "Death to America" at each session of parliament; and whose president states that no art "is more beautiful . . . than the art of the martyr's death." Not the Iran in thrall to medieval norms and suffering continual tension and crises.

Its conceptions of nuclear strategy are very likely to be looser, and its thresholds lower, than those of Russia and China, which are in turn famously looser and lower than our own. And yet Eisenhower and Churchill weighed a nuclear option in Korea, Kennedy a first strike upon the U.S.S.R., and Westmoreland upon North Vietnam. How then can we be certain that Iran is rational and containable?

Enlarge Image

Associated Press
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Inexpert experts will state that Iran cannot strike with nuclear weapons. But let us count the ways. It has the aerial tankerage to sustain one or two planes that might slip past air defenses between it and Israel, Europe, or the U.S., combining radar signatures with those of cleared commercial flights. As Iran increases its ballistic missile ranges and we strangle our missile defenses, America will face a potential launch from Iranian territory.

Iran can sea-launch from off our coasts. Germany planned this in World War II. Subsequently, the U.S. completed 67 water-supported launches, ending as recently as 1980; the U.S.S.R. had two similar programs; and Iran itself has sea-launched from a barge in the Caspian. And if in 2007, for example, 1,100 metric tons of cocaine were smuggled from South America without interdiction, we cannot dismiss the possibility of Iranian nuclear charges of 500 pounds or less ending up in Manhattan or on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The probabilities of the above are subject to the grave multiplication of nuclear weapons. Of all things in respect to the Iranian nuclear question, this is the most overlooked. A 1-in-20 chance of breaking a leg is substantially different from a 1-in-20 chance of dying, itself different from a 1-in-20 chance of half a million people dying. Cost drastically changes the nature of risk, although we persist in ignoring this. Assuming that we are a people worthy of defending ourselves, what can be done?

Much easier before Iran recently began to burrow into bedrock, it is still possible for the U.S., and even Israel at greater peril, to halt the Iranian nuclear program for years to come. Massive ordnance penetrators; lesser but precision-guided penetrators "drilling" one after another; fuel-air detonations with almost the force of nuclear weapons; high-power microwave attack; the destruction of laboratories, unhardened targets, and the Iranian electrical grid; and other means, can be combined to great effect.

Unlike North Korea, Iran does not yet possess nuclear weapons, does not have the potential of overwhelming an American ally, and is not of sufficient concern to Russia and China, its lukewarm patrons, for them to war on its behalf. It is incapable of withholding its oil without damaging itself irreparably, and even were it to cease production entirely, the Saudis—in whose interest the elimination of Iranian nuclear potential is paramount—could easily make up the shortfall. Though Iran might attack Saudi oil facilities, it could not damage them fatally. The Gulf would be closed until Iranian air, naval, and missile forces there were scrubbed out of existence by the U.S., probably France and Britain, and the Saudis themselves, in a few weeks.

It is true that Iranian proxies would attempt to exact a price in terror world-wide, but this is not new, we would brace for the reprisals, and although they would peak, they would then subside. The cost would be far less than that of permitting the power of nuclear destruction to a vengeful, martyrdom-obsessed state in the midst of a never-subsiding fury against the West.

Any president of the United States fit for the office should someday, soon, say to the American people that in his judgment Iran—because of its longstanding and implacable push for nuclear weapons, its express hostility to the U.S., Israel and the West, and its record of barbarity and terror—must be deprived of the capacity to wound this country and its allies such as they have never been wounded before.

Relying solely upon his oath, holding in abeyance any consideration of politics or transient opinion, and eager to defend his decision in exquisite detail, he should order the armed forces of the United States to attack and destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons complex. When they have complied, and our pilots are in the air on their way home, they will have protected our children in their beds—and our children's children, many years from now, in theirs. May this country always have clear enough sight and strong enough will to stand for itself in the face of mortal threat, and in time.

Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, is the author of, among other works, the novels "Winter's Tale" (Harcourt) and "A Soldier of the Great War" (Harcourt).
« Last Edit: January 18, 2012, 10:45:13 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #452 on: January 18, 2012, 11:13:16 AM »

If I read Helprin correctly, he is calling for the President to war upon Iran without a declaration of war.   

One notes that getting a declaration of war would ruin the element of surprise , , ,
Power User
Posts: 7833

« Reply #453 on: January 19, 2012, 04:10:25 PM »

Does Iran have torpedos which could seriosly threatened US ships?  This is old but may be applicable.  Torpedo fast but sub would have to get close and also the missile is not guidable:

Iran's High Speed Torpedo Scam
April 4, 2006: Iran recently announced the successful test of a new, high-speed torpedo, one that could move through the water at speeds of up to 100 meters a second. This is four times as fast as conventional torpedoes, and is thus  nearly "unavoidable" by its intended target.

The new Iranian weapon is apparently based upon Russia's VA-111 Shkval (Squall) torpedo. The Shkval is a high-speed supercavitating rocket-propelled torpedo originally designed to be a rapid-reaction defense against US submarines. Basically an underwater missile, the solid-rocket propelled torpedo achieves its speed by producing an envelope of supercavitating bubbles from its nose and skin, which coat the entire weapon surface in a thin layer of gas. This drastically reduces metal-to-water friction. The torpedo leaves the tube at nearly a hundred kilometers an hour, then lights its rocket motor. In tests in the 1990s the Shkval reportedly had an 80 percent kill probability at a range about seven kilometers, although steerability was reportedly limited.

The reliability of such rocket-propelled torpedoes remains uncertain. The much publicized loss of the Russian submarine "Kursk" was, according to some sources, likely due to an accidental rocket motor start of such a torpedo while still aboard the boat.  News of this new Iranian weapon was accompanied by the announcement that Iran had also tested a new ballistic missile, the Fajr-3, which employs some stealth technology and carries several warheads.

Iran's possession and successful testing of this weapon is troublesome for several reasons. One is Iran's increasing belligerence, especially towards nuclear-armed Israel (which is estimated to have at least 200 nuclear weapons and the missiles and submarines to deliver them) as well as an almost equal antipathy towards the US. Another reason to worry is Russia's apparent intent to continue close economic ties with Iran and the resulting transfer of its technology to this Islamic state run by fanatics and others who are apparently just plain nuts.

Iran is believed to have three late-model Kilo class SSKs bought from Russia, eight mini-subs purchased from North Korea, and several older boats of unknown type. The navy has several dozen fast attack boats that might carry the new torpedo but whose capabilities are in other ways modest. Its small fleet of P-3K "Orion" aircraft could conceivably also carry such a torpedo although it is unknown if Iran plans to arm its Orions with the new torpedo. Iran's navy is the smallest of its armed forces.

However, there is also the matter of credibility and capability. For decades, Iran has continually boasted of new, Iranian designed and manufactured weapons, only to have the rather more somber truth leak out later. Iran's weapons design capabilities are primitive, but the government has some excellent publicists, who always manage to grab some headlines initially, before anyone can question the basic facts behind these amazing new weapons. Take, for example, the new wonder torpedo. The Russians have not had any success convincing the world's navy that their rocket propelled torpedo is a real threat. For one thing, the attacking sub has to get relatively close (within seven kilometers) to use it. Modern anti-submarine tactics focus on preventing subs from getting that close. For that reason, the Russians themselves tout the VA-111 Shkval torpedo as a specialized anti-submarine weapon for Russian subs being stalked by other subs. This is also questionable, because  Shkval is essentially unguided. You have to turn the firing sub and line it up so that the  Shkval, on leaving the torpedo tube and lighting off its rocket motor, will be aimed directly at the distant target. Do the math, and you will see that there is little margin for error, or chance of success, with such a weapon. If the Iranians bought the  Shkval technology from Russia, they got the bad end of the deal.


Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #454 on: January 20, 2012, 12:24:37 AM »

I gather they also claim mines that lurk on the bottom which are then released to float up as a ship passes overhead.
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #455 on: January 21, 2012, 07:33:37 PM »

Japan on Thursday became the first country to officially inform Washington that it
would seek a waiver from pending U.S. sanctions on foreign institutions doing
business with Iran's central bank. Japanese officials delivered the message to a
visiting U.S. government delegation. Other importers of Iranian crude, including
India, China and South Korea, have either waffled in their commitment to support the
U.S.-led sanctions or expressed an outright dismissal of them.

Washington passed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran as part of a larger defense
authorization bill Dec. 31. Nations that agree to abide by the sanctions have a
six-month window to comply, during which time they can continue buying crude from
Iran. This is similar to proposed EU sanctions that will be discussed Jan. 23. As
with the 2010 U.N. sanctions banning gasoline sales to Iran, these sanctions are
unlikely to have the desired effect of crippling Iran's economy to the point of
Iranian capitulation. The same goes for the European Union's planned embargo, which
will be replete with loopholes for objecting states. Beyond trying to financially
strain Iran, the sanctions rhetoric is designed to keep Iran and its nuclear
ambitions in the headlines and to demonstrate publicly that action is being taken
against Iran, while quieter clandestine efforts are in play.

The last three months have seen the latest round of a cycle that has played out
repeatedly over the last several years: Israel escalates claims that Iran is close
to attaining a bomb that could threaten the existence of the Jewish state. The
United States and Europe then propose hardened sanctions aimed at deterring that
activity -- while Washington makes sure to note that military options remain on the
table -- and Iran responds by threatening to disrupt the shipment of oil through the
Strait of Hormuz, enervating global energy markets. The rhetoric in this
circumstance belies the actors' capabilities. Israel knows it has limited ability to
launch a successful airstrike on Iran, while the United States wants to avoid a new
war with a Persian Gulf state, and Tehran does not want to incur the economic cost
of shutting down the Strait of Hormuz.

Israeli rhetoric markedly shifted Wednesday. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told
Israeli Army Radio that an attack on Iran by his country is not soon forthcoming,
and he downplayed the immediacy of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear efforts.
Barak's comments came the day before U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen.
Martin Dempsey traveled to Israel. An article published Thursday in Israeli media,
written by a journalist with close ties to Barak, claimed that Dempsey would be
briefed on an Israeli intelligence assessment indicating that Iran has not yet tried
building a deliverable nuclear device. The assessment also implies that the Iranian
regime is more preoccupied with the potential for unrest following parliamentary
elections in March than it is with moving forward with its nuclear program.

A visit by a high-level U.S. defense official to Israel was already guaranteed to
capture Iran's attention, especially coming on the heels of Iranian military
maneuvers centered on the Strait of Hormuz. Israel and the United States could have
hinted at a possible attack in an effort to further their psychological warfare
campaign against Iran. Instead, Israel has done essentially the opposite, choosing
to de-emphasize the urgency of the Iranian nuclear threat. Notably, this follows
revelations that the United States reached out to Iran amid tensions over the Strait
of Hormuz. Israel's recent rhetoric on the Iranian nuclear program in many ways
takes the wind out of an already tottering sanctions campaign. The question is why
Israel would do this.

Israel could be employing psychological warfare tactics, lowering Iran's guard in
preparation for an attack. But Israel could not carry out such an attack
unilaterally, and the United States is giving no indication it is ready for a
military confrontation in one of the world's most vital energy thoroughfares. Israel
seems pleased with the progression of its covert military campaign against Iran (the
recent death of an Iranian chemist associated with the nuclear program could serve
to bolster that confidence), and thus does not seem motivated to push Washington
toward a military campaign the United States wants no part of. Israel may be willing
to see what comes out of the United States' latest attempt at dialogue with Iran.
Israel is even doing its part to create an atmosphere more conducive to those talks,
while relying on its covert capabilities to address Iran's nuclear threat.

And so, after a months-long buildup in tensions that again raised in the media the
possibility of a looming regional war, it appears rhetoric is cooling for now. U.S.
sanctions will likely leave space for allies of the United States to continue buying
Iranian crude (albeit at reduced levels); Washington is reportedly reaching out to
Iran for a diplomatic dialogue, while Iran has temporarily dialed down its bellicose
rhetoric regarding the Strait of Hormuz; and the Israelis, through the conduit of
Barak, have indicated that they are content for now with this course of action.
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #456 on: January 24, 2012, 08:54:17 AM »

Considering a U.S.-Iranian Deal

By George Friedman | January 24, 2012

Last week, I wrote on the strategic challenge Iran faces in its bid to shape a
sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to Beirut on the eastern
Mediterranean coast. I also pointed out the limited options available to the United
States and other Western powers to counter Iran.

One was increased efforts to block Iranian influence in Syria. The other was to
consider a strategy of negotiation with Iran. In the past few days, we have seen
hints of both.

Rebel Gains in Syria

The city of Zabadani in southwestern Syria reportedly has fallen into the hands of
anti-regime forces. Though the city does not have much tactical value for the
rebels, and the regime could well retake it, the event could have real significance.
Up to this point, apart from media attention, the resistance to the regime of
President Bashar al Assad has not proven particularly effective. It was certainly
not able to take and hold territory, which is critical for any insurgency to have

Now that the rebels have taken Zabadani amid much fanfare -- even though it is not
clear to what extent the city was ceded to their control, much less whether they
will be able to hold it against Syrian military action -- a small bit of Syria now
appears to be under rebel control. The longer they can hold it, the weaker al Assad
will look and the more likely it becomes that regime opponents can create a
provisional government on Syrian soil to rally around.

Zabadani also gives outside powers something to help defend, should they choose to
do so. Intervening in a civil war against weak and diffused rebels is one thing.
Attacking Syrian tanks moving to retake Zabadani is quite another. There are no
indications that this is under consideration, but for the first time, there is the
potential for a militarily viable target set for outside players acting on behalf of
the rebels. The existence of that possibility might change the dynamic in Syria.
When we take into account the atmospherics of the Arab League demands for a
provisional government, some meaningful pressure might actually emerge.

From the Iranian point of view, this raises the risk that the sphere of influence
Tehran is pursuing will be blocked by the fall of the al Assad regime. This would
not pose a fundamental challenge to Iran, so long as its influence in Iraq remains
intact, but it would represent a potential high-water mark in Iranian ambitions. It
could open the door to recalculations in Tehran as to the limits of Iranian
influence and the threat to their national security. I must not overstate this:
Events in Syria have not gone that far, and Iran is hardly backed into a corner.
Still, it is a reminder to Tehran that all might not go the Iranians' way.

A Possibility of Negotiations

It is in this context that the possibility of negotiations has arisen. The Iranians
have claimed that the letter the U.S. administration sent to Iranian supreme leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that defined Iran's threats to Strait of Hormuz as a red line
contained a second paragraph offering direct talks with Iran. After hesitation, the
United States denied the offer of talks, but it did not deny it had sent a message
to the Iranian leadership. The Iranians then claimed such an offer was made verbally
to Tehran and not in the letter. Washington again was not categorical in its denial.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a meeting with the
German foreign minister, "We do not seek conflict. We strongly believe the people of
Iran deserve a better future. They can have that future, the country can be
reintegrated into the global community ... when their government definitively turns
away from pursuing nuclear weapons."

From our perspective, this is a critical idea. As we have said for several years, we
do not see Iran as close to having a nuclear weapon. They may be close to being able
to test a crude nuclear device under controlled circumstances (and we don't know
this either), but the development of a deliverable nuclear weapon poses major
challenges for Iran.

Moreover, while the Iranians may aspire to a deterrent via a viable nuclear weapons
capability, we do not believe the Iranians see nuclear weapons as militarily useful.
A few such weapons could devastate Israel, but Iran would be annihilated in
retaliation. While the Iranians talk aggressively, historically they have acted
cautiously. For Iran, nuclear weapons are far more valuable as a notional threat and
bargaining chip than as something to be deployed. Indeed, the ideal situation is not
quite having a weapon, and therefore not forcing anyone to act against them, but
seeming close enough to be taken seriously. They certainly have achieved that.

The important question, therefore, is this: What would the United States offer if
Iran made meaningful concessions on its nuclear program, and what would Iran want in
return? In other words, forgetting the nuclear part of the equation, what did
Hillary Clinton mean when she said that Iran can be reintegrated into the
international community, and what would Iran actually want?

Recall that in our view, nuclear weapons never have been the issue. Instead, the
issue has been the development of an Iranian sphere of influence following the
withdrawal of the United States from Iraq, and the pressure Iran could place on
oil-producing states on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran has long felt that its natural
role as leader in the Persian Gulf has been thwarted, first by the Ottomans, then
the British and now by the Americans, and they have wanted to create what they
regard as the natural state of things.

The United States and its allies do not want Iran to get nuclear weapons. But more
than that, they do not want to see Iran as the dominant conventional force in the
area able to use its influence to undermine the Saudis. With or without nuclear
weapons, the United States must contain the Iranians to protect their Saudi allies.
But the problem is that Iran is not contained in Syria yet, and even were it
contained in Syria, it is not contained in Iraq. Iran has broken out of its
containment in a decisive fashion, and its ability to exert pressure in Arabia is

Assume for the moment that Iran was willing to abandon its nuclear program. What
would the United States give in return? Obviously, Clinton would like to offer an
end to the sanctions. But the sanctions on Iran are simply not that onerous with the
Russians and Chinese not cooperating and the United States being forced to allow the
Japanese and others not to participate fully. But it goes deeper.

Iran's Historic Opportunity

This is a historic opportunity for Iran. It is the first moment in which no outside
power is in a direct position to block Iran militarily or politically. Whatever the
pain of sanctions, trading that moment for lifting the sanctions would not be
rational. The threat of Iranian influence is the problem, and Iran would not trade
that influence for an end to sanctions. So assuming the nuclear issue was to go
away, what exactly is the United States prepared to offer?

The United States has assured access to oil from the Persian Gulf -- not only for
itself, but also for the global industrial world -- since World War II. It does not
want to face a potential interruption of oil for any reason, like the one that
occurred in 1973. Certainly, as Iran expands its influence, the possibility of
conflict increases, along with the possibility that the United States would
intervene to protect its allies in Arabia from Iranian-sponsored subversion or even
direct attack. The United States does not want to intervene in the region. It does
not want an interruption of oil. It also does not want an extension of Iranian
power. It is not clear that Washington can have all three.

Iran wants three things, too.

First, it wants the United States to reduce its presence in the Persian Gulf
dramatically. Having seen two U.S. interventions against Iraq and one against
Afghanistan, Iran is aware of U.S. power and the way American political sentiment
can shift. It experienced the shift from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, so it knows
how fast things can change. Tehran sees the United States in the Persian Gulf
coupled with U.S. and Israeli covert operations and destabilization campaigns as an
unpredictable danger to Iranian national security.

Second, the Iranians want to be recognized as the leading power in the region. This
does not mean they intend to occupy any nation directly. It does mean that Iran
doesn't want Saudi Arabia, for example, to pose a military threat against it.

Third, Iran wants a restructuring of oil revenue in the region. How this is formally
achieved -- whether by allowing Iranian investment in Arabian oil companies
(possibly financed by the host country) or some other means -- is unimportant. What
does matter is that the Iranians want a bigger share of the region's vast financial

The United States doesn't want a conflict with Iran. Iran doesn't want one with the
United States. Neither can be sure how such a conflict would play out. The Iranians
want to sell oil. The Americans want the West to be able to buy oil. The issue
really comes down to whether the United States wants to guarantee the flow of oil
militarily or via a political accommodation with the country that could disrupt the
flow of oil -- namely, Iran. That in turn raises two questions. First, could the
United States trust Iran? And second, could it live with withdrawing the American
protectorate on the Arabian Peninsula, casting old allies adrift?

When we listen to the rhetoric of American and Iranian politicians, it is difficult
to imagine trust between them. But when we recall the U.S. alliance with Stalin and
Mao or the Islamic republic's collaboration with the Soviet Union, we find rhetoric
is a very poor guide. Nations pursue their national interest, and while those
interests are never eternal, they can be substantial. From a purely rhetorical point
of view it is not always easy to tell which sides' politicians are more colorful. It
will be difficult to sell an alliance between the Great Satan and a founding member
of the Axis of Evil to the respective public of each country, but harder things have
been managed.

Iran's ultimate interest is security against the United States and the ability to
sell oil at a more substantial profit. (This would entail an easing of sanctions and
a redefinition of how oil revenues in the region are distributed.) The United
States' ultimate interest is access to oil and manageable prices that do not require
American military intervention. On that basis, Iranian and American interests are
not that far apart.

The Arabian Factor and a Possible Accommodation

The key point in this scenario is the future of U.S. relations with the countries of
the Arabian Peninsula. Any deal between Iran and the United States affects them two
ways. First, the reduction of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf requires them to reach
an accommodation with the Iranians, something difficult and potentially
destabilizing for them. Second, the shift in the financial flow will hurt them and
probably will not be the final deal. Over time, the Iranians will use their
strengthened position in the region to continue pushing for additional concessions
from them.

There is always danger in abandoning allies. Other allies might be made
uncomfortable, for example. But these things have happened before. Abandoning old
allies for the national interest is not something the United States invented. The
idea that the United States should find money flowing to the Saudis inherently more
attractive than money flowing to the Iranians is not obvious.

The main question for the United States is how Iran might be contained. The flow of
money will strengthen Iran, and it might seek to extend its power beyond what is
tolerable to the United States. There are potential answers. First, the United
States can always return to the region. The Iranians do not see the Americans as
weak, but rather as unpredictable. Challenging the United States after Iran has
achieved its historic goal is not likely. Second, no matter how Iran grows, it is
far behind Turkey by every measure. Turkey is not ready to play an active role
balancing Iran now, but in the time it takes Iran to consolidate its position,
Turkey will be a force that will balance and eventually contain Iran. In the end, a
deal will come down to one that profits both sides and clearly defines the limits of
Iranian power -- limits that it is in Iran's interest to respect given that it is
profiting mightily from the deal.

Geopolitics leads in one direction. Ideology leads in another direction. The ability
to trust one another is yet a third. At the same time, the Iranians cannot be sure
of what the United States is prepared to do. The Americans do not want to go to war
with Iran. Both want oil flowing, and neither cares about nuclear weapons as much as
they pretend. Finally, no one else really matters in this deal. The Israelis are not
as hardline on Iran as they appear, nor will the United States listen to Israel on a
matter fundamental to the global economy. In the end, absent nuclear weapons, Israel
does not have that much of a problem with Iran.

It would not surprise me to find out that the United States offered direct talks,
nor to discover that Clinton's comments could not be extended to a more extensive
accommodation. Nor do I think that Iran would miss a chance for an historic
transformation of its strategic and financial position in favor of ideology. They
are much too cynical for that. The great losers would be the Saudis, but even they
could come around to a deal that, while less satisfactory than they have now, is
still quite satisfactory.

There are many blocks in the way of such a deal, from ideology to distrust to
domestic politics. But given the knot that is being tied in the region, rumors that
negotiations are being floated come as no surprise. Syria might not go the way Iran
wants, and Iraq is certainly not going the way the United States wants. Marriages
have been built on less.

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« Reply #457 on: January 30, 2012, 09:37:02 AM »

Gotta secure the Jewish vote eh Brock?  I can hear the liberals defending, "oh he has been an ardent of Israel from day one".

The sudden turnaround.  Similar to his STOTSU speech when he suddenly is a champion of natural gas. Same BS rolleyes

***Pentagon chief sees Iran bomb potential in year
Jan 29 07:14 PM US/Eastern
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, pictured on January 26. Iran could devel...

Iran could develop a nuclear bomb in about a year and create the means for delivery in a further two to three years, the US defense chief said Sunday, reiterating President Barack Obama's determination to halt the effort.
"The United States -- and the president's made this clear -- does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the CBS program "60 Minutes."

"That's a red line for us. And it's a red line obviously for the Israelis so we share a common goal here."

Panetta maintained that US officials "will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it" if Washington receives intelligence that Iran is proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon.

Asked if that meant military action, he said: "There are no options that are off the table."

Panetta told the interviewer that "the consensus is that, if they (Iran) decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon."

In a report issued in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said intelligence from more than 10 countries and its own sources "indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device."

It detailed 12 suspicious areas such as testing explosives in a steel container at a military base and studies on Shahab-3 ballistic missile warheads that the IAEA said were "highly relevant to a nuclear weapon program."

Iran rejected the dossier as based on forgeries.

The Islamic Republic has come under unprecedented international pressure since the publication of the report, with Washington and the European Union targeting its oil sector and central bank.

In his State of the Union message Tuesday, Obama said a peaceful outcome was still possible with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, but he declined to rule out the military option.

"The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent," Obama said.

"Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal," the president declared, triggering a standing ovation.***

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« Reply #458 on: January 30, 2012, 07:54:48 PM »

Email Print Save ↓ More .
.smaller Larger  Efforts to impose tough sanctions on Iran have gathered momentum in the last month, first with bipartisan legislation in the U.S. that targets Iran's central bank, then with the European Union's embargo (joined by signs of import reductions from Japan and South Korea) on Iranian oil. But there are always loopholes. The art of making sanctions effective consists in knowing how to close them.

Consider the case of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, better known as Swift. The Belgium-based, member-owned cooperative provides a secure network to exchange financial messages and transactional data to over 10,000 financial institutions throughout the world.

That makes Swift one of the most critical access cards Iran still holds to the global financial system. Swift's annual report notes that 19 Iranian banks and 25 Iranian institutions use Swift, and that in 2010 they "sent 1,160,000 messages and received 1,105,000 messages." Primary Iranian users of Swift's services include Banks Mellat, Sepah, Saderat, Post and Iran's central bank—all of them designated by the U.S. Treasury as affiliates of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, involved in aiding Iran's nuclear programs, or sponsoring terrorism.

Swift is also Iran's gateway to a financial clearing mechanism (known as TARGET 2 and equivalent to the FedWire in the U.S.), through which it conducts much of its $35 billion in trade with Europe. Swift "offers more than mere technical assistance," says Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has done most of the spadework on the issue. "They provide the prerequisite codes that allow you to process a transaction." Without Swift, much of that $35 billion in trade couldn't happen.

If Swift were an ordinary financial institution, sanctions would likely have already put an end to the services it provides Iran. But Swift insists its activities fall beyond the remit of current law. A Swift spokeswoman says its system "is only a secure messaging service," and that "all decisions on the legitimacy of financial transactions under applicable regulations, such as sanctions regulations, rest with financial institutions and the competent international and national authorities."

That may be true in a narrow sense, though we have our doubts. European law governing sanctions includes in its definition of a proscribed fund "documents showing evidence of an interest in funds or financial resources," which is the kind of documentation Swift provides. The European Central Bank has its own guidelines governing access to TARGET 2, which also give it the authority to bar Revolutionary Guard banks.

Under its own bylaws, Swift has the authority to expel any user of its products who "has adversely affected, or may adversely affect . . . SWIFT's reputation, brand, or goodwill, for instance if the prospective or existing user is subject to sanctions." If Swift's Board of Directors—including Chairman Yawar Shah of Citi and Deputy Chairman Stephan Zimmermann of UBS—think Revolutionary Guard-connected institutions don't adversely affect Swift's reputation, they should say so on the record.

Illinois Republican Mark Kirk had written an amendment on Swift to offer the Senate Banking Committee before his recent stroke, and it deserves to become part of the broader Iran sanctions bill due out this week. The amendment imposes sanctions on foreign financial institutions that employ "a member of the board of directors of an entity that. . . provides services relating to secure communications, electronic funds transfers, or cable transfers" that do business with designated Iranian banks. Unless Swift's directors act on Iran, sanctions may come swiftly to them.

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Posts: 42498

« Reply #459 on: February 01, 2012, 10:50:21 AM »

because he might be right this time.


Remember that bizarre story from last fall about an Iranian agent based in Texas who allegedly sought to conspire with Mexican drug gangs to blow up Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. in a crowded Washington, D.C., restaurant? The Justice Department insisted the story was true. Yet the Administration's reaction was otherwise muted, and the press corps went out of its way to cast doubt on the story. The Iranians can't be that crazy?

Well, yes, they can be, at least according to President Obama's top intelligence adviser. In testimony yesterday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that Iran's leadership, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, "have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States as a response to real or perceived actions that threaten the regime."

Translation: Not only is Iran prepared to use terrorism in retaliation for any military strikes against it, they're also prepared to get their retaliation in first. "There is more to unfold here," he said. "They're trying to penetrate and engage in this hemisphere."

Mr. Clapper, a former Air Force general, is not given to flights of exaggeration. That should give his warnings some weight, especially among those who believe that, for all the aggressive rhetoric, Iranian leaders conduct foreign policy in a prudent and rational way and are amenable to negotiations.

Mr. Clapper's testimony comes as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is warning that Iran is about a year away from having a nuclear bomb. So here's a question to those who oppose military strikes on Iran: If the regime is prepared to stage terrorist strikes in America when they don't have a bomb, what will they be capable of when they do have one?

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« Reply #460 on: February 01, 2012, 10:54:50 AM »

Will Iran strike first....
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Posts: 7833

« Reply #461 on: February 01, 2012, 12:47:40 PM »

Do NOT be surprised that if this does occur as in some form of assasination of a specific target (a Saudi) that Obamster will try to cover it up - or at least down play it.  Just like his administration did after Ft. Hood.

I seriously doubt Iran would be so foolish to hit public citizens in the US like WTC or anything like remotely like that.

An Iranian attack like that in the US would be the best thing that ever happened to Israel.

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« Reply #462 on: February 04, 2012, 11:13:56 AM »

Lessons About Iran from Hitler

February 3, 2012 - 5:29 am - by David P. Goldman

Will sanctions persuade Iran to stop building nuclear weapons? No such question can be answered with finality, but it is more likely that the Obama administration’s graduated sanctions will accelerate Tehran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The Obama administration, according to news accounts, is aghast that Israel might take preemptive action rather than give sanctions time to work. Sanctions, though, are more likely to prompt Iran to stake everything on the nuclear card. The last time the West dealt with a similar case, the prospect of economic collapse and the fear of regime change motivated the outbreak of World War II.
Iran is planning to double its defense budget even though its currency is collapsing. These are related events: in the medium term, the free-fall of Iran’s rial constitutes a transfer of wealth to the government from what remains of Iran’s private sector. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, “The government, which receives oil revenue mostly in dollars and euros, is profiting from the rial’s decline, analysts said. ‘Their income is in dollars, so a strong dollar helps them to buy more rials to pay their bills,’ said one prominent economist, who asked not to be identified, for fear of reprisals.” At least for the time being, sanctions strengthen the relative position of the regime, while undermining its long-term staying power — unless, of course, Tehran begins a new set of regional wars under a nuclear umbrella.
An important insight into the character of the Iranian leadership can be gained from Adolf Hitler’s speech to the German army’s top commanders at Obersalzberg on Aug. 22, 1939, a week before the invasion of Poland. Hitler began by explaining that he initially had wanted to attack the Allies in the West but that circumstances compelled him to take Poland out first. The question, then, was why begin war at that particular moment. And the answer had two parts: economic weakness and the threat of regime change.


We have nothing to lose, but much indeed to gain. As a result of the constraints forced upon us, our economic position is such that we cannot hold out for more than a few years. [Hermann] Goering can confirm this. We have no other choice, we must act. … At no point in the future will Germany have a man with more authority than I. But I could be replaced at any moment by some idiot or criminal. … The morale of the German people is excellent. It can only worsen from here.
Hitler, by his own account, acted out of fear: fear that the German economy would collapse under the burden of his military expansion, and fear that he “could be replaced at any moment.”  I quoted this speech in a 2005 essay, adding, “Within a generation, both Iran’s oil and demographic resources will be exhausted. Impending demographic collapse, I have argued in the past, impels Iran towards an imperial design (Demographics and Iran’s imperial design, September 13). Iran’s elderly dependent population will soar to nearly 30% from just 7% today by mid-century, the consequence of the country’s collapsing birth rate. The demographic disaster will hit just as oil exports dry up during the 2020s. To break out of the trap, Iran must make an all-or-nothing bet during the present generation.”
Just like Hitler, Iran has nothing to lose. Hitler was convinced that the Aryan race was doomed to corruption and extinction unless he restored its preeminence by force; Ahmadinejad knows with certainty that Persian will become an extinct language in a few generations given the present fertility trend. The UN’s “medium variant” forecast for Iran puts the present fertility rate at just 1.59 (which means about 1.35 for Persian-speakers given the higher fertility of Iran’s minorities), and the “low variant” at just 1.34. That’s as low as the baby-bust European countries. Iran is dying a slow death. In my book (How Civilizations Die) I report the horror and panic among Iran’s rulers over its prospective extinction.
What Hitler imagined in his nightmares, Ahmadinejad fears in the full light of day. Hitler told his commanders in August 1939 that they had nothing to lose; Ahmadinejad knows with certainty that he has nothing to lose.
In 2005, surgical strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity would have been comparatively easy. After seven years of deep digging, the logistical requirements are quite different. Senior planners at the Pentagon say privately that it would be very difficult to destroy centrifuges in bunkers, and that aerial attacks would concentrate on killing the political and military leadership as well as destroying command and control. Perhaps there is a covert capability that could put suitcase bombs into the tunnels leading to the bunkers; I know nothing about such things. It seems likely, however, that stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons would be a messy and bloody business rather than a well-defined surgical operation. It is too bad the West did not have the good sense to correct the problem in 2005. However much it costs in Iranian blood and well-being, it’s still worth it.
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« Reply #463 on: February 08, 2012, 04:15:30 PM »

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama declared, "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon." Yet Iran is fast approaching the nuclear threshold, despite new, tough international sanctions.

The clock must be stopped. The best hope for doing so is a triple-track strategy of diplomacy, sanctions and a more credible threat of force by the U.S. and Israel. The time has come for American leaders to begin preparations for, and a robust public debate about, military action against Iran.

From its inception, the Islamic Republic has terrorized its citizens, killed American soldiers, supported terrorist groups, and repeatedly undermined the stability of our Arab allies. Last October, American authorities uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on U.S. soil. And just last month, Iranian military leaders threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a critical energy shipping lane. An Iran with nuclear weapons capability, overconfident behind its own nuclear deterrent, would act even more aggressively, threatening our allies and vital interests.

President Obama entered office pledging "to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon." We applaud his sincere diplomatic outreach and support for stricter sanctions passed by Congress. But it is now time to engage other elements of our power.

Though Iran's economic condition may be worsening, its centrifuges continue to spin, unimpeded. International Atomic Energy Agency reports indicate that in the last two years Iran's nuclear program advanced dramatically—doubling its uranium enrichment rate, enriching uranium to ever higher levels, testing advanced centrifuges, beginning enrichment at a fortified facility, and continuing its weaponization program.

While important, recent sanctions—a European oil embargo to possibly take effect July 1 and U.S. measures designed to limit Iran's oil exports by targeting firms dealing with its Central Bank—are unlikely to suffice on their own. China, which buys over a quarter of Iran's oil exports, has refused to cooperate. Other top buyers of Iranian crude, like India, South Korea and Japan, have promised to lower their Iranian imports but are unlikely to do so in significant quantities soon. We support additional tough sanctions but believe that as Congress considers further measures it must also regularly assess the effectiveness of sanctions in bringing a halt to Iran's nuclear program.

Enlarge Image

CloseDavid Klein
 .Contrary to public perception, Iran's reported interest in resuming talks is not an indication of the sanctions' success. Historically, Tehran has used negotiations to stall and defuse pressure before international consensus for more drastic action can be reached. Both the reluctance of other nations to wean themselves from Iranian oil and Iran's latest diplomatic gambit are evidence of the need for much greater pressure.

As we argue in a new Bipartisan Policy Center report, "Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock," to prevent a nuclear Iran the U.S. needs to demonstrate its resolve to do whatever is necessary, including military action. Gaining international support for tougher sanctions and convincing Iran to accept a diplomatic solution requires making clear that military conflict is the only other outcome.

Additional pressure needs to come from the credible threat of military action—whether by the U.S. or Israel—against Iran's nuclear program. Such threats can enable peaceful, diplomatic solutions. After U.S. and coalition forces toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, fear of military action apparently led Iran, briefly, and Libya, permanently, to halt their nuclear programs.

Making credible the military threat will require strengthening our declaratory policy, making clear our willingness to use force rather than permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, and requiring all U.S. officials to adhere to that policy publicly. Congressional hearings on the viability of the military option would further underscore our seriousness.

Also, while we do not advocate an Israeli military strike against Iran, we believe that enhancing Israel's military capabilities—by providing it with 200 advanced GBU-31 bunker-busting munitions and three KC-135 refueling tankers to extend the range of its jets—would improve Israeli credibility and help convince the Iranians to pursue a diplomatic solution. The Obama administration, under a prior commitment from President Bush, already delivered less-advanced GBU-28 bunker busters to Israel.

If more pressure is needed, a quarantine could block refined petroleum imports into Iran, sending a clear signal and ensuring the effectiveness of sanctions on gasoline imports. Should even that fail to persuade Iran's leadership, the U.S. military is capable of launching an effective surgical air strike against Iran's nuclear program and its military installations. Such action would set back Iran's nuclear program, but continued monitoring and vigilance would remain necessary for an extended period.

We recognize the risks of this approach. We are also aware that our country is war-weary and saddled with economic challenges. But we cannot wish this problem away, nor should we fall prey to the inertia of resignation. It is time to begin a serious public debate about what it will take to prevent a nuclear Iran. Avoiding hard choices today can only lead to significantly greater costs in blood and treasure tomorrow.

Mr. Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia, and Mr. Wald, a retired general and air commander in the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, are co-chairs of a new Bipartisan Policy Center report on Iran, "Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock."

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« Reply #464 on: February 09, 2012, 03:43:58 PM »

Since President Obama came to office, unconditional engagement with Iran has been official U.S. policy and total rejection of engagement has been official Iranian policy. The president has sent several letters to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proposing various types of engagement, but all these ideas have been rebuffed. In March 2010, when the president said "Faced with an extended hand, Iran's leaders have shown only a clenched fist," the ayatollah accused him of deceitfully offering a "metal hand inside a velvet glove." It's time to acknowledge that engaging Iran's supreme leader is hopeless.

The reason for Khamanei's refusal to engage is simple: As the strategic architect and ultimate defender of Iran's nuclear program, his political standing depends on the survival of the program and on the perception that he can reject all pressure. His persistence amid rising U.S. sanctions determines the credibility of his claim to be "the leader of Muslim world." Any flinching would strengthen his rivals inside the country, because they were aggressively sidelined by him when they advocated a more moderate nuclear policy. Holding firm is an issue of life and death for him.

In this regard, Iran is very different from Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Saddam was able to survive more than a decade of sanctions because the regime was run by a single, ruthless megalomaniac who could eliminate any dissent with a bullet to the back of the head. There was no such thing as a "political crisis" in Saddam's Iraq because such a regime has no politics. By contrast, Iran is a den of political intrigue, with sophisticated and nuanced maneuvering among factions, albeit within an increasingly narrow element of the elite. In such a system, the leader's position is much more vulnerable than in a state of iron-fisted, one-man rule.

Enlarge Image

CloseAssociated Press
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking at a military university in Tehran in November.
.Specifically, Khamenei's decision to crack down on the protests provoked by the rigged presidential election in 2009 created deep fissures within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the vanguard of the regime. Recently retired Gen. Hossein Alai, founder of the Revolutionary Guard Navy and its commander during the Iran-Iraq War, wrote an article for Tehran's Ettelaat newspaper that implicitly compared the situation in Iran today with the year prior to the revolution. He suggested that if Khamenei did not reach a political compromise with the reformist leaders of the protest movement, he would be making the same mistake that the Shah made a generation ago.

After Gen. Alai was attacked by the government-run media, some Revolutionary Guard commanders sent him an unsigned letter of support. Already there are signs that some within the Guard may not support Khamenei's preferred candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled for March.

What has really stoked the Revolutionary Guard's anger at Khamenei is that they see him as responsible for the tougher Western sanctions that have hurt their economic interests. The Revolutionary Guard has been a major player in the Iranian economy for more than two decades. Today, even most private businesses cannot function without some "special arrangement" with the Revolutionary Guard. Veterans are prominent in industries ranging from oil, mining and banking to cinema and sports. Most of them have changed from idealist revolutionaries to pragmatic money-lovers.

These cash-happy Islamists have been the main targets of the U.S.-led sanctions. Contrary to claims of anti-sanction activists in the West, the Guard's vast economic concerns have been badly bruised by the oil and banking sanctions implemented by Western nations.

To keep the nuclear program afloat and maintain their many business interests, the Revolutionary Guard's money men are forced to sell oil below international rates. Khamenei's adamant refusal to reach a compromise over the nuclear program has boxed Iran into a corner and cost them billions of dollars.

In Tehran's political circles, knowledgeable people are divided as to whether the nuclear crisis will lead to war or find a peaceful resolution. But the latter is only possible if the Revolutionary Guard sidelines Khamenei and forces a compromise. So far, Khamenei has retained the upper hand.

In addition to stymieing the Revolutionary Guard, Khamenei will sabotage any effort by other factions of the Islamic Republic to engage diplomatically with the West. The clerical establishment, which is deeply disaffected from Khamenei, is so economically dependent on the government that it cannot affect Iranian politics in a meaningful way. The old merchant class, equally disaffected, no longer plays a significant economic or political role.

Reformists like onetime president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani are gradually being pushed out of the political arena. In March, Mr. Rafsanjani may lose his only remaining position of influence—as head of the regime's Expediency Council, which advises the supreme leader.

In this environment, any further effort to engage Khamenei would be futile. A wiser course would be to prepare now to open channels of communication with Revolutionary Guard leaders, who are surely busy planning ways to address the mounting pressure of international sanctions. These are the people who will determine Khamenei's successor and whose anger may even lead them to take the reins of the country before he dies. While they are not closet liberals ready for a Tehran Spring, in the aftermath of Khamenei's regime they will have their own legitimacy crisis that may compel them to open up abroad in order to consolidate power, popularity and credibility at home.

The Revolutionary Guard, guilty of acts of terror at home and abroad, is by no means a natural partner for the West. But its leaders, with their myriad economic interests and sensitivity to sanctions, are far more inclined than Khamenei to strike a deal on Iran's nuclear program. Considering the alternatives, it's an opportunity worth pursuing.

Mr. Khalaji is a fellow at the Washington Institute.

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« Reply #465 on: February 10, 2012, 09:26:25 PM »

Iran government cuts off internet access as hardline regime makes a stand
By John Hutchinson

Last updated at 9:01 PM on 10th February 2012

 Holds all the cards: It seems a crackdown on cyber-opponents of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken place after the internet outage in Iran
Iran has demonstrated further evidence of its strict regime after the government cut internet links leaving millions without email and social networks.
Interestingly, the shutdown comes at a time when inhabitants are preparing to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, with rumours of anti-government protests also planned.

But some internet boffins are rising above the crackdown, and accessing the web by using proxy servers over VPN connections.
Gmail, Google and Yahoo are all thought to have been restricted, and users have been unable to log in to their online banking.
'The interesting thing is that when asked, they deny the fact that all these services are all blocked,' an Iranian contacted by CNET said.
'I don't know the the infrastructure that they will use but I don't think we have a way out of that one.
 More...Muslim fanatics who called for execution of gays and wanted to set up a 'medieval state' under Sharia law in Derby are jailed for up to two years

'We are getting closer and closer to North Korea.'
 Blanket ban: Internet users in Iran are again facing an outage as the government tries to crack down on any opposition
Only last month, Mail Online reported how two Iranian bloggers had been captured and set to be executed, accused of 'spreading corruption' ahead of the parliamentary elections.
Four journalist were also arrested as Tehran cracked down on freedom of expression - much to the dismay of the Western world.
Also last month, the country's Information Minister announced plans for a goverment-run intranet, giving the state the upper hand in its cyber-battle with opponents.

Read more:
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« Reply #466 on: February 15, 2012, 01:03:17 PM »

I'm not alone suggesting we should not use force in Iran.  Like myself, an overwhelming number of Americans want us to stay out of any military intervention.

"A CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday indicates that only 17% of the public wants the U.S. to use force, with 60% saying diplomatic or economic action against Iran is the right response, and 22% saying no action should be taken at this time."
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« Reply #467 on: February 15, 2012, 01:04:36 PM »

I'm not alone suggesting we should not use force in Iran.  Like myself, an overwhelming number of Americans want us to stay out of any military intervention.

"A CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday indicates that only 17% of the public wants the U.S. to use force, with 60% saying diplomatic or economic action against Iran is the right response, and 22% saying no action should be taken at this time."

Howabout after they strike the US?
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« Reply #468 on: February 15, 2012, 04:20:40 PM »

On the other hand, some practical Constitutional questions arise-- in particular there is that pesky matter of declaring war or not.  Given the political landscape noted by JDN I'd say the chance of that is not much greater than that of Ahmahdinejad proposing to Fran Drescher.
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« Reply #469 on: February 15, 2012, 04:28:32 PM »

On the other hand, some practical Constitutional questions arise-- in particular there is that pesky matter of declaring war or not.  

Then again, much to my chagrin, that pesky matter hasn't stopped President after President from starting wars.  And, as months/years go on, never has anyone it seems asked Congress for a Declaration of War.  I like the concept of checks and balances.

"The last time Congress passed joint resolutions saying that a "state of war" existed was on June 5, 1942, when the U.S. declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania.[14] Since then, the U.S. has used the term "authorization to use military force", as in the case against Iraq in 2003.

Sometimes decisions for military engagements were made by US presidents, without formal approval by Congress, based on UN Security Council resolutions that do not expressly declare the UN or its members to be at war. Part of the justification for the United States invasion of Panama was to capture Manuel Noriega (as a prisoner of war) because he was declared a criminal rather than a belligerent."
« Last Edit: February 16, 2012, 10:20:26 AM by JDN » Logged
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« Reply #470 on: February 16, 2012, 10:13:58 AM »


Stratfor sources have indicated that Iranian naval exercises scheduled to take place by Feb. 19 have been delayed or possibly canceled. Given other recent moves both by the United States and Iran aimed at reducing bilateral tensions, the apparent delay may have been motivated by a desire to facilitate talks on Iran's nuclear program, among other issues.


Iranian military exercises scheduled to take place by Feb. 19 in the Strait of Hormuz appear to have been delayed, with one Stratfor source reporting that the exercises have been canceled outright. Another Stratfor Iranian source indicated Iran's leadership is currently leaning toward canceling the exercises as a reciprocal gesture after the United States on Jan. 15 delayed military exercises with Israel.

A move to delay the war games would be very unusual, as Iran has typically followed through on its announced military exercises or at least provided a reason for their delay. The apparent delay notably comes after Iran stepped back from its threats on closing the Strait of Hormuz made during a previous set of war games in late December 2011 and early January 2012. Though these exercises may still take place at a later date, an Iranian decision to to wait to conduct them combined with other moves to reduce tensions may indicate Tehran is interested in facilitating backchannel talks with the United States.

The Great Prophet VII war games were to be organized by the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and coincide with parallel exercises organized by the Artesh, Iran's regular armed forces. The Great Prophet war games have become more or less annual events for Iran and have usually been accompanied by a great deal of Iranian media attention because new weapons systems are often featured during the exercises. (And given this history, some sort of technical delay with a new weapon that was intended to be featured cannot be ruled out.) However, unlike previous years, this year's events have been mentioned very little since they were announced during the Iranian navy's exercises in late December.

The potential delay (or cancellation) of the exercises is especially significant because of the timing. In late December and early January 2012, as the United States was preparing to levy sanctions on Iran's ability to engage in financial transactions and to export oil, Iran retaliated by threatening to close down the Strait of Hormuz, arguably raising tensions between the two countries to the highest level in years. Since that point, both the United States and Iran have made moves to ease tensions -- Iran backed off its rhetoric on the strait and the United States delayed its planned joint ballistic missile defense exercises with Israel (which are now slated to take place in October).

Delaying the Great Prophet VII military exercises in the strait would be a significant step by the Iranians toward reducing tensions in the hope of advancing backchannel negotiations between the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office. These issues include not only Iran's nuclear program, but also international efforts to oust the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, the balance of power in the Persian Gulf as well as Iraq and the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of communication between the United States and Iran, and numerous U.S. officials have issued statements about the need to pursue diplomacy amid increasing speculation about a potential Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. In addition, the P-5+1 Group headquartered in Brussels has acknowledged receipt of a letter from the Iranian national security chief on Tehran seeking to revive talks regarding its controversial nuclear program.

Since the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan -- Iran's western and eastern neighbors, respectively -- Tehran has intensified its rhetoric and military maneuvers, with the IRGC and the Artesh (Iran's army) conducting regular drills on both Iranian soil and in the Persian Gulf waters several times each year. Their chief purpose has been to ensure the highest state of military preparedness in the face of potential threat of an attack as well as sending a message to the United States and its allies that the cost of war would be very high.

Any military exercise entails both opportunity and risk. The exercises can strengthen a potential adversary's perception of Iran's military capabilities, but they can also expose vulnerabilities or weaknesses that could degrade that perception. There are numerous factors entailed in deciding to hold or cancel an exercise, not all of which reach all the way up to Iran's supreme leader. But given the circumstances and the curious silence that has surrounded the Great Prophet exercises, there is considerable potential that the apparent delay is part of Iran's effort toward reducing tensions with the United States that it has apparently decided are doing the country more harm than good.
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« Reply #471 on: February 18, 2012, 08:59:18 AM »

Drudge reporting "sources" in the WH now saying military action against Iran now "more" likely.

Give me a break.  If this is not now the tail wagging the dog!

After all this suddenly the WH has decided sanctions are not working.

Throw the Jews/Israel under the bus.  Now he needs them and their donations.   Suddenly the picture has changed.

I am all for helping Israel.  But at the expense of another four years of this guy....

Democrats will stop at nothing.
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« Reply #472 on: February 19, 2012, 07:36:44 AM »
As the pros and cons of attacking Iran's nuclear installations are debated, Americans are confronted by equally confident but contradictory assertions about the possible scope of Iran's retaliation or the impact on the stability of the regime. Some hope the possession of nuclear weapons will moderate Tehran's fanatics. They argue that's what happened with China under Mao Zedong. Others note that extremism has never been reduced by empowerment.

And so the debate continues inconclusively while Iran's nuclear efforts persist—along with daily threats of death to America, Israel, Britain, Saudi Arabia's rulers, and more.

Yet everyone seems to assume the scope of the attack itself is a fixed parameter—a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that some fear to take and others dread to leave undone. That, by all accounts, is exactly how the issue was framed when the debate started in the last years of the second George W. Bush administration. This is misleading. The magnitude and intensity of an attack is a matter of choice, and it needs to be on the table.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and their planners offered President Bush only one plan, a full-scale air offensive with all the trimmings—an air war rather than an air strike. While the plan was never publicly disclosed, its magnitude was widely known, and I have learned some of the details. Instead of identifying the few critical nodes of a nuclear-weapon program, the target list included every nuclear-related installation in Iran. And to ensure thorough destruction, each target was accorded multiple aiming points, each one then requiring a weapon of commensurate power, with one or more to follow until bomb-damage assessment photos would show the target obliterated.

That plan elevated the attack to a major operation, with several hundred primary strike sorties and many more support sorties for electronic suppression, refueling, air-sea rescue readiness, and overhead air defense. Given all those aiming points and the longest possible target list, casualties on the ground could run to the thousands.

And this was only the lesser part of the suggested air war, with many more targets, sorties and weapons justified by preliminary "Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses" attacks. In the name of not risking the loss of even one aircraft, planners put every combat airplane in the Iranian air force on the target list.

There was no distinction between operational aircraft and those in inventory and long immobilized by the lack of replacement parts. All 45 venerable F-14s, the youngest delivered in 1979, made the list, even though at least half have not flown in years. The same was true of geriatric F-4s mostly without engines, ex-Iraqi Mirages, and HESA Saeqeh, a clumsy local modification of the F-5. Some 2,000 antiaircraft guns were also on the list although most are mere machine guns, as well as some dozens of antiaircraft missiles, only a few of which could be operational given their great age.

The overall bill for this assault was thus hugely inflated into a veritable air armada that would last weeks rather than hours, require more than 20,000 sorties, and inevitably kill thousands of civilians on the ground.

With this, the Joint Chiefs made quite sure they would not be thrust into a third war as Iraq and Afghanistan were already consuming American military strength and burning through the Pentagon's budget.

But this war planning denied to the president and American strategy the option of interrupting Iran's nuclear efforts by a stealthy overnight attack against the handful of buildings that contain the least replaceable components of Iran's uranium hexafluoride and centrifuge enrichment cycle—and which would rely on electronic countermeasures to protect aircraft instead of the massive bombardment of Iran's air defenses.

That option was flatly ruled out as science fiction, while the claim that Iran's rulers might be too embarrassed to react at all—they keep telling their people that Iran's enemies are terrified by its immense might—was dismissed as political fiction.

Yet this kind of attack was carried out in September 2007, when the Israeli air force invisibly and inaudibly attacked the nuclear reactor that Syria's Assad regime had imported from North Korea, wholly destroying it with no known casualties. To be sure, an equivalent attack on Iran's critical nuclear nodes would have to be several times larger. But it could still be inaudible and invisible, start and end in one night, and kill very few on the ground.

The resulting humiliation of the regime might be worthwhile in itself—the real fantasy is a blindly nationalist reaction from a thoroughly disenchanted population. In fact, given the probability that an attack could only delay Iran's nuclear efforts by several years, the only one worth considering at all is the small, overnight strike.

Mr. Luttwak, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the author of "Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace" (Belknap, 2002).
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« Reply #473 on: February 20, 2012, 10:58:19 AM »

The only thing new about Iran and nuclear weapons is the US election.   Nothing has changed.  All along it is obvious they are hell bent on getting them and nothing can stop them short of military force or some unexpected miracle.

The Republicans have sided with Israel on this.  Apparantly Obama is feeling the heat before his election and now he must decide what to do for his own skin - not Israel's.
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« Reply #474 on: February 25, 2012, 09:01:00 AM »
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« Reply #475 on: February 25, 2012, 03:21:34 PM »

There was an oddly timed NIE leak back during the Bush administration too , , ,
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« Reply #476 on: February 25, 2012, 03:28:42 PM »

"Mr. Hitler only wants peace"-N. Chamberlain

"Iran only wants nuclear energy"-Buraq Obozo
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« Reply #477 on: February 26, 2012, 12:16:58 PM »

Authors conclude that at best bombing Iran would delay their program 10 years and risks them becoming even more determined to get one later.  Additionally all the other problems that might arise, increasing nationalism among those who are disenchanted with the present regime, terrorism around the world, missles fired from Gaza, Lebanon, etc. 

I disagree with the analysis.  Israel will have no choice what to do.   And waiting this long has not changed anything except allow the Iranians to dig in their defenses against any attack.  A prospect of a middle East with several nuclear capable countries is worse.  If not for the US than certainly for Israel which can easily be wiped out with just a few bombs.

****Bombing Iran
Nobody should welcome the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. But bombing the place is not the answer
Feb 25th 2012 | from the print edition
FOR years Iran has practised denial and deception; it has blustered and played for time. All the while, it has kept an eye on the day when it might be able to build a nuclear weapon. The world has negotiated with Iran; it has balanced the pain of economic sanctions with the promise of reward if Iran unambiguously forsakes the bomb. All the while, outside powers have been able to count on the last resort of a military assault.

Today this stand-off looks as if it is about to fail. Iran has continued enriching uranium. It is acquiring the technology it needs for a weapon. Deep underground, at Fordow, near the holy city of Qom, it is fitting out a uranium-enrichment plant that many say is invulnerable to aerial attack. Iran does not yet seem to have chosen actually to procure a nuclear arsenal, but that moment could come soon. Some analysts, especially in Israel, judge that the scope for using force is running out. When it does, nothing will stand between Iran and a bomb.

The air is thick with the prophecy of war. Leon Panetta, America’s defence secretary, has spoken of Israel attacking as early as April. Others foresee an Israeli strike designed to drag in Barack Obama in the run-up to America’s presidential vote, when he will have most to lose from seeming weak.

A decision to go to war should be based not on one man’s electoral prospects, but on the argument that war is warranted and likely to succeed. Iran’s intentions are malign and the consequences of its having a weapon would be grave. Faced by such a regime you should never permanently forswear war. However, the case for war’s success is hard to make. If Iran is intent on getting a bomb, an attack would delay but not stop it. Indeed, using Western bombs as a tool to prevent nuclear proliferation risks making Iran only more determined to build a weapon—and more dangerous when it gets one.

A shadow over the Middle East

Make no mistake, an Iran armed with the bomb would pose a deep threat. The country is insecure, ideological and meddles in its neighbours’ affairs. Both Iran and its proxies—including Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza—might act even more brazenly than they do now. The danger is keenly felt by Israel, surrounded by threats and especially vulnerable to a nuclear bomb because it is such a small land. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently called the “Zionist regime” a “cancerous tumour that must be cut out”. Jews, of all people, cannot just dismiss that as so much rhetoric.

Even if Iran were to gain a weapon only for its own protection, others in the region might then feel they need weapons too. Saudi Arabia has said it will arm—and Pakistan is thought ready to supply a bomb in exchange for earlier Saudi backing of its own programme. Turkey and Egypt, the other regional powers, might conclude they have to join the nuclear club. Elsewhere, countries such as Brazil might see nuclear arms as vital to regional dominance, or fear that their neighbours will.

Some experts argue that nuclear-armed states tend to behave responsibly. But imagine a Middle East with five nuclear powers riven by rivalry and sectarian feuds. Each would have its fingers permanently twitching over the button, in the belief that the one that pressed first would be left standing. Iran’s regime gains legitimacy by demonising foreign powers. The cold war seems stable by comparison with a nuclear Middle East—and yet America and the Soviet Union were sometimes scarily close to Armageddon.

The dream of pre-emption

No wonder some people want a pre-emptive strike. But military action is not the solution to a nuclear Iran. It could retaliate, including with rocket attacks on Israel from its client groups in Lebanon and Gaza. Terror cells around the world might strike Jewish and American targets. It might threaten Arab oil infrastructure, in an attempt to use oil prices to wreck the world economy. Although some Arab leaders back a strike, most Muslims are unlikely to feel that way, further alienating the West from the Arab spring. Such costs of an attack are easy to overstate, but even supposing they were high they might be worth paying if a strike looked like working. It does not.

Striking Iran would be much harder than Israel’s successful solo missions against the weapons programmes of Iraq, in 1981, and Syria, in 2007. If an attack were easy, Israel would have gone in alone long ago, when the Iranian programme was more vulnerable. But Iran’s sites are spread out and some of them, hardened against strikes, demand repeated hits. America has more military options than Israel, so it would prefer to wait. That is one reason why it is seeking to hold Israel back. The other is that, for either air force, predictions of the damage from an attack span a huge range. At worst an Israeli mission might fail altogether, at best an American one could, it is said, set back the programme a decade (see article).

But uncertainty would reign. Iran is a vast, populous and sophisticated country with a nuclear programme that began under the shah. It may have secret sites that escape unscathed. Even if all its sites are hit, Iran’s nuclear know-how cannot be bombed out of existence. Nor can its network of suppliers at home and abroad. It has stocks of uranium in various stages of enrichment; an unknown amount would survive an attack, while the rest contaminated an unforeseeable area. Iran would probably withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which its uranium is watched by the International Atomic Energy Agency. At that point its entire programme would go underground—literally and figuratively. If Iran decided it needed a bomb, it would then be able to pursue one with utmost haste and in greater secrecy. Saudi Arabia and the others might conclude that they, too, needed to act pre-emptively to gain their own deterrents.

Perhaps America could bomb Iran every few years. But how would it know when and where to strike? And how would it justify a failing policy to the world? Perhaps, if limited bombing is not enough, America should be aiming for an all-out aerial war, or even regime change. Yet a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan has demonstrated where that leads. An aerial war could dramatically raise the threat of retaliation. Regime change might produce a government that the West could do business with. But the nuclear programme has broad support in Iran. The idea that a bomb is the only defence against an implacable American enemy might become stronger than ever.

Get real

That does not mean the world should just let Iran get the bomb. The government will soon be starved of revenues, because of an oil embargo. Sanctions are biting, the financial system is increasingly isolated and the currency has plunged in value. Proponents of an attack argue that military humiliation would finish the regime off. But it is as likely to rally Iranians around their leaders. Meanwhile, political change is sweeping across the Middle East. The regime in Tehran is divided and it has lost the faith of its people. Eventually, popular resistance will spring up as it did in 2009. A new regime brought about by the Iranians themselves is more likely to renounce the bomb than one that has just witnessed an American assault.

Is there a danger that Iran will get a nuclear weapon before that happens? Yes, but bombing might only increase the risk. Can you stop Iran from getting a bomb if it is determined to have one? Not indefinitely, and bombing it might make it all the more desperate. Short of occupation, the world cannot eliminate Iran’s capacity to gain the bomb. It can only change its will to possess one. Just now that is more likely to come about through sanctions and diplomacy than war.****

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« Reply #478 on: February 27, 2012, 04:51:22 AM »

Well written and well reasoned piece.

GM:  I'm curious.   Your take?
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« Reply #479 on: February 27, 2012, 07:06:17 AM »

Like most serious problems, there are no quick and easy answers and any action that might be taken has the potential for unintended negative consequences. There was an opening in 2009 for the popular uprising to remove the mullahcracy, but Buraq couldn't be bothered to support them.

The Europeans have been trying "soft power" with Iran for years, with no results except giving Iran precious time to build and bury their nuclear infrastructure. Russia and China will continue to keep the mullahs afloat despite "sanctions", which never have any real effect in removing dictators from power.

We know that since 1979, Iran has been waging jihad against the great satan through covert and not so covert means. Anyone who has paid attention to Iran since 1979 will note that the Iranian leadership doesn't make it's policy decisions based on the western cost/benefit paradigm, but instead on the shia islam jihad/martyrdom worldview. Thus, typical concepts of deterrance do not apply, and we know that it's reasonable to expect that Iran has suffered to go nuclear for a reason, meaning nuclear jihad.

As mentioned, a sunni/shia nuclear faceoff will quickly emerge once Iran goes openly nuclear, creating a new nexus for nuclear smuggling and geopolitical instability.

So, we can kick the can down the road and hope for the best despite no reasonable expectation of that happening or deal with the crisis with all the negatives mentioned in the article knowing it's the least worst of all the options.
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« Reply #480 on: February 27, 2012, 09:13:26 AM »

Of course we don't know what the truth is behind all these analyses.  Does Israel really know what is going on in Iran or the US or is what they know what we are reading?  This analyses includes what Israel can and cannot do conventionally.  Their air power is somewhat limited.   Waiting HAS allowed Iran to dig deeper.  According to this article US airpower would be better but it sounds like the long term is to go after the scientists as well as the sites.  This would require hitting civilian sites and some sort of ground game.

The world kept kicking the can down the road (I agree with GM) constantly avoiding the military option hoping for a peaceful solution.   Now that that choice has led us to here we can either choose to accept a nuclear Iran or not.

It is worth noting that in one of the articles I posted it was pointed out that after the US bombed and invaded Iraq Iran actually may have backed away from their nuclear program suggesting that they may well have feared a forceful intervention and THAT THAT had a desired affect.   Maybe there is a lesson in that.

****Attacking Iran
Up in the air
The probability of an attack on Iran’s nuclear programme has been increasing. But the chances of it ending the country’s nuclear ambitions are low
Feb 25th 2012 | from the print edition

THE crisis has been a long time coming. Iran started exploring paths to nuclear weaponry before the fall of the shah in 1979. Ten years ago the outside world learned of the plants it was building to provide “heavy” water (used in reactors that produce plutonium) and enriched uranium, which is necessary for some types of nuclear reactor, but also for nuclear weapons. The enrichment facilities have grown in capability, capacity and number; there has been work on detonators, triggers and missile technology, too.

Iran wants, at the very least, to put itself in a position where it has the expertise and materials with which to build deliverable nuclear weapons quickly. It may well want, at some point, to develop the bombs themselves. This is deeply worrying to Israel, which is threatened by Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Gaza and disgusted by the anti-Semitic rants of Iran’s leaders. It also alarms Arab states, which fear Iranian power (and their own Shiite minorities). That alarm could lead some of them—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, perhaps Turkey—to seek nuclear weapons of their own. Many fear that this would make the region even less stable than it is. Even if it did not, it would make the possible consequences of instability much more terrible.

In this section
»Up in the air
From half-hearted to harsh


Related topics
United States
Armed forces
Nuclear proliferation
Nuclear weapons
International relations
Outside powers, especially America, would give a great deal to avoid the prospect of an emboldened, nuclear-armed Iran. Hence ever-stronger sanctions designed to get Iran to cease enrichment and content itself with reactor fuel made elsewhere. Hence, also, a willingness by America and others to keep open the option of military strikes.

In Israel that willingness has hardened close to the point of commitment. Israel has nuclear weapons itself, including submarine-based weapons that could posthumously annihilate any aggressor who destroyed the country. But this deterrent is not enough to stop Israelis from seeing a nuclear Iran as the precursor to a second holocaust. The problem is that military action will not necessarily bring about what Israel wants—and could, in the medium to long term, make matters worse.

Short fuses

The possibility of an Iranian bomb comes closer with every revolution of the centrifuges in its underground enrichment plants (see article). Israel’s director of military intelligence, Major-General Aviv Kochavi, says that Iran has obtained 4 tonnes of uranium enriched to 3.5% and another 100kg enriched to 20%, which the Iranians say is for a research reactor in Tehran. If further enriched to 90% (which is not that hard once you have got to 20%) the more enriched uranium would be enough for up to four nuclear weapons. General Kochavi says that from the moment Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave the order, it would take the Iranians a year to make a crude device and another year or two to put together a nuclear warhead that would fit on a ballistic missile. American analysts, who imagine a broader-based approach to developing a nuclear capability, rather than a crash programme, think it would take a bit longer.

Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, talks of the Iranian programme entering a “zone of immunity” well before any bombs are built. This year some of Iran’s centrifuges have been moved to a previously secret facility near the holy city of Qom. This site, Fordow, is buried deep within the bowels of a mountain; hence Mr Barak’s talk of Iran reaching a stage “which may render any physical strike as impractical”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Fordow has room for 3,000 centrifuges, compared with the 9,000 Iran claims at its first enrichment plant, Natanz. Mr Barak fears that once Fordow is fully equipped Iran will leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That would bring the IAEA’s inspections to an end, as well as its safeguard procedures aimed at tracking nuclear material. North Korea left the NPT in 2003, two years before announcing that it had the bomb and three years before testing one.

Not all Israeli security officials agree with Mr Barak. Some think that the time may already have passed when Israel on its own could carry out such a strike; others reject the idea that Fordow is a uniquely difficult target. Many of their American peers see a focus on Fordow as too narrow. There are less well defended facilities that are also critical to Iranian nuclear ambitions: sites that make centrifuges and missiles, for example.

Iran’s decreasing vulnerability is not the only reason for thinking that, after talking about it for many years, Israel might actually be about to strike. It has been building up its in-air refuelling capacity, and thus its ability to get a lot of planes over targets well inside Iran. And the Arab spring has reduced Iran’s scope for retaliation. The plight of the beleaguered Assad regime in Syria removes Iran’s only significant Arab ally from the fray. A year ago both Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza might have been relied on to rain missiles on Israeli targets after a strike against Iran. Now Hamas is realigning itself away from Iran and towards Egypt, and the situation in Syria means that Hizbullah cannot be certain that, if it fires at Israel, its Iranian-supplied arsenal will be replenished.

Awkward allies

Then there is the American presidential election. Like the Bush administration before it, Barack Obama’s White House sees Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a huge concern. But it worries that the consequences of an attack on Iran, whether by Israel or America, are unpredictable and scary: oil prices would rocket—at least for a while—endangering the economic recovery; allies in the Gulf already shaken by the Arab spring could be further destabilised; jihadist terrorism could be re-energised; America could be deflected from its primary goal of balancing the power of a rising China in the western Pacific.

Leon Panetta, America’s secretary of defence, says an Israeli attack might delay the advent of an Iranian bomb by “maybe one, possibly two years”, which looks like too little reward for such risks. Mr Obama has insisted that the Israelis give more time for diplomacy, an ever-tightening sanctions regime and intelligence-led efforts to sabotage Iran’s progress. In the period between September last year and January this year Mr Panetta and the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, both warned Israeli leaders that if they attacked they would be on their own.

But the election may give Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, something to bargain with. In the face of a hawkish Republican rival and in front of an electorate that is in parts fiercely pro-Israel, Mr Obama may feel he has to welcome, or even build on, an Israeli fait accompli in a way he would not have done earlier and might not do after his re-election, should it come about. In March Mr Netanyahu is planning a trip to Washington. He is likely to remind a broadly sympathetic Congress where America’s duty lies in confronting the “existential threat” to Israel. Although Mr Netanyahu is a more cautious character than some suppose, it would be a mistake to think he is bluffing when he says privately that on his watch Iran will not be allowed to take an irreversible step towards the possession of nuclear weapons.

In early February Mr Panetta appeared to reflect the sense that an Israeli attack was becoming increasingly likely when sharing his thoughts with a journalist from the Washington Post. He said he now believed there was a “strong likelihood” that Israel would attack Iran between April and June this year. Other sources put the odds of an attack this year a bit over 50%.

Such an attack would be a far more complex undertaking than the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and Syria’s reactor near al-Kibar in 2007. The Iranian nuclear programme looks as if it has been set up with air strikes in mind. Its sites are spread across more than a dozen supposedly well-defended locations.

Israel would probably pay particular attention to the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow; after them would come the facility at Isfahan that turns uranium into a gas that the centrifuges can work with and the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, both of which are above the ground. The larger Russian-built reactor at Bushehr would probably escape unscathed; it is less relevant to weapons work and damage to it could spread contamination across the Gulf.

Israel’s main attack force would consist of two dozen F-15Is and 100 F-16Is, variants of American fighter bombers that have been adapted for long-range missions, along with tankers for aerial refuelling, perhaps supplemented by armed drones and submarine-launched cruise missiles. The planes’ most likely route would be over Jordan and then Iraq, which has almost no air defences. Iran is defended, but mainly by Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles of a kind the Israelis have dealt with before. Iran has fighter aircraft, too, but the Israelis are not too concerned about them.

Plans of attack

Israel has at least 100 two-and-a-quarter tonne (5,000-pound) GBU-28s precision-guided bunker-busting bombs and even more of the smaller GBU-27s. Natanz would be vulnerable to these if they struck with sufficient accuracy and in sufficient numbers.

The biggest question is whether an Israeli strike would have any impact on the centrifuge chamber at Fordow, said to be buried 80 metres deep. According to Austin Long, an academic who used to work for the RAND Corporation, if every one of the F-15Is aimed the GBU-28 it was carrying, along with both its GBU-27s, at a single point, there would be a 35-90% chance of over half the weapons arriving at just the right place and at least one bomb would penetrate the facility. So if carried through with impeccable precision an attack on Fordow would have a reasonable chance of inflicting a bomb’s worth of damage.

But even if things went off without a hitch Iran would retain the capacity to repair and reconstitute its programme. Unless Israel was prepared to target the programme’s technical leadership in civilian research centres and universities the substantial nuclear know-how that Iran has gained over the past decades would remain largely intact. So would its network of hardware suppliers. Furthermore, if Iran is not already planning to leave the NPT such an attack would give it ample excuse to do so, taking its entire programme underground and focusing it on making bombs as soon as possible, rather than building up a threshold capability. Even a successful Israeli strike might thus delay Iran’s progress by only three or four years, while strengthening its resolve.

An American attack might gain five years or even ten; it could drop more bombs on more of the sites, and much bigger bombs—its B-2s carry GBU-57 “Massive Ordnance Penetrators”, weighing almost 14 tonnes. Mindful of its greater capability, in May 2008 Israel’s then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, asked George Bush whether America would, if needed, finish the job that Israel had started and stand by its friend no matter what the consequences. Mr Bush, preoccupied with Iraq, turned him down.

 What are friends for? .
Mr Obama, whose relations with Mr Netanyahu are much cooler than were Mr Bush’s with Mr Olmert, says he is “leaving all options on the table”. An American attack thus remains a possibility, and will continue to be one up to the day Iran fields weapons. But America is unlikely to rush into a strike following an Israeli mission. Administration officials suggest that America would aim to stay firmly on the sidelines, though they are resigned to the fact that, however strong its denials, its complicity would be widely assumed. America would, however, respond vigorously to any attack on its own forces, the oil installations of its allies, or shipping.

Despite a lot of huffing and puffing from Iranian commanders about closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 35% of the world’s seaborne oil passes, Iran lacks the ships and firepower with which to mount a conventional blockade. Mines, torpedo-carrying mini-submarines and anti-ship missiles would still allow the Iranians to damage poorly defended tankers. But a spate of such attacks would probably bring an overwhelming response from the carrier groups of America’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain. Iranian action that managed to be more than a nuisance while not provoking a decisive counter-attack by America would require finely judged and innovative tactics.

Wars at home

Nevertheless, to maintain its credibility the Iranian government would feel compelled to retaliate. As well as threatening shipping, it has also said that it will strike back at any Gulf state from which attacks on it are launched. America has bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; those countries could become targets if Iran chooses to see America as directly implicated in any attack. Iranian strikes on the Gulf states could, in turn, lead America to retaliate against non-nuclear targets in Iran.

Then there are attacks on Israel proper. Although Hizbullah and Hamas may not launch attacks as fiercely as they might have done a year ago, they could still do damage. Iran may also try to hit Israel with its own ballistic missiles, though this would come up against the obstacle of Israel’s missile defences, and could also spur a forthright American response.

A regional conflagration cannot be ruled out. But the biggest downside of an attack on Iran may be the possibility of revived patriotic support for an unpopular and incompetent regime. Even the most virulently anti-regime Iranians today fear that an attack on the country’s nuclear installations could rekindle the revolutionary Islamic patriotism of the Iran-Iraq war, validating decades of paranoid regime propaganda and cementing the Revolutionary Guard’s increasingly firm hold on politics and the economy.

Although such fears may be overdone, so too may be the hopes of some outside Iran that an attack could have the opposite effect, with Iranians turning against the regime. It is true that Iran is embroiled in a power struggle (see article). Parliamentarians have summoned the president for questioning for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Given the level of public disaffection with the regime following a post-election crackdown in 2009 and the economic downturn caused by sanctions (see article), the government can expect only limited sympathy from the public. If retaliatory strikes against shipping, or Gulf oil terminals, or Israel, brought on a subsequent wave of American attacks it might lose even that. This is a reason to expect a relatively restrained reaction to any raid, or one expressed through terrorist attacks far away—such as those mounted last week on Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok.

But discontented though they may be, Iranians are for the most part quite proud of their nuclear programme, seeing no reason why so ancient and grand a nation should not have nuclear weapons. They point out that Pakistan is a far less stable and more dangerous member of the nuclear club than Iran would be, and that Western powers are hypocritical in their tacit acceptance of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Iran, they say, has not launched a war since the 19th century; Israel has never been completely at peace.

This adds to the case that, although bombing could delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it stands little chance of diminishing them; further entrenching them looks more likely. Perhaps, in the time gained by an attack, today’s regime might fall, its place taken by one less committed to nuclear development. But it is also possible that reinvigorated sanctions might convince even today’s regime that the cost of becoming a nuclear power was too high. Coupling sanctions with the threat of an attack may make them yet more convincing—even if, paradoxically, an actual attack would lessen their force.

The sanctions have become so tough, though, only because the world takes the risk of an Israeli attack seriously and it needs an alternative. Sword-rattling can sometimes have its place. But the swords are sharp—and double-edged.

 Nearing a point of no return***
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« Reply #481 on: February 27, 2012, 06:59:59 PM »

Strategic ambiguity for fun and profit

posted at 5:45 pm on February 26, 2012 by J.E. Dyer

The US intelligence community is having a very difficult time interpreting the signals from Iran’s nuclear program.   This isn’t that unusual in historical context; US intelligence tends to be surprised by nuclear detonations.  But it is of grave concern that our national leadership at all levels seems to be so shortsighted about what is at stake.  Our biggest problem in dealing with Iran today is framing the issue – and at the moment, we’re doing it wrong.
If we frame the issue as a question of how close Iran is to getting the bomb, as if all other things are equal – as if Iran could get the bomb in a vacuum, with nothing else mattering or changing along the way – then it makes a sort of sense to focus exclusively on the potential ambiguity of our various data points; e.g., computer files from 2003; Iran’s connections with Pakistan, North Korea, and the A.Q. Khan network; persistent attempts to import suspect materials in defiance of sanctions.
In this extremely narrow, simplistic construct – one or zero, Iran is about to get the bomb or isn’t – analysts can justify incessantly splitting the distance from here to a bomb.
“Well, they’re closer than they were, but that’s a technicality – we still don’t know if they want one. “
“Well, they’re closer than they were, and they’re being less cooperative with the IAEA, but we still don’t have direct indications that they are designing and testing a warhead.”
“Well, they’ve offered their Middle Eastern neighbors a ‘missile umbrella’ as a defense against outside powers, which is something that would only work if the missile umbrella were nuclear, but we just don’t have the evidence that they are working on a warhead right now.”
I’ve compared this approach in the past to Zeno of Elea’s famous paradox.  Zeno proposed, as a basis for a reasoning exercise, that because the distance between an arrow and its target can theoretically be divided in half an infinite number of times, the arrow can never actually reach the target.  US intelligence seems determined to operate on this basis, biasing its estimates with an emphasis on the remaining distance to the target.

But this is a posture, not an intelligence conclusion, and it’s based on an assumption that we can afford to focus on whatever Iran doesn’t seem to have done yet.  A different, less complacent posture – e.g., from the Oval Office – would require a different emphasis from intelligence.
The disconnect with reality is rather startling.  Perhaps the strongest clue that America’s intelligence community misreads the historical moment is its officials’ use of the expression “strategic ambiguity.”  According to the New York Times:

[Intelligence officials] say that Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call “strategic ambiguity.” Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions.
Well, sure.  And the point here?  “Strategic ambiguity” is what Iran has now, which is why we’re in a scramble – arms build-ups, sanctions, economic insecurity, regional realignments, the spread of Iranian-backed terror incidents, threats of “World War III” from Russia and China – and the situation is getting steadily worse.  This is what strategic ambiguity looks like, Iranian-nuclear-intentions-wise: destabilization of the Eastern hemisphere.  It’s no way for any of us to live.
And it certainly isn’t going to get better with age.  The Iranian mullahs are one of several entities jockeying for leadership of the Islamist vision for the Middle East.  Conflict and uncertainty are on their side, and that’s what strategic ambiguity over Iran is ideal for promoting.   The longer it goes on, the more likely it is that at least some of the power relationships affecting the region (and Iran’s prospects in it) will be realigned.  Indeed, the entire region is already changing, even as the US strategic focus seems to narrow to an absurd concept of waiting to prevent Iran from getting the bomb at the precise, Unassailable Moment when no one could claim she wasn’t trying to.
An extended period of strategic ambiguity for Iran means strategic discontinuity for the rest of us.  There is no steady state in which the only thing that changes is how many seconds closer to a bomb Iran is.  “Strategic ambiguity” over Iran’s nuclear intentions isn’t some intermediate future condition that might be less of a problem than Iran having the bomb; it’s the condition of today, and it is the problem.
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« Reply #482 on: February 27, 2012, 08:58:02 PM »

What if we finally imposed an embargo on Iran's central bank?  I gather that this is considered likely to have powerful consequences and that we hold back because of the chance of it triggering Iran into seeking to close the Straits of Hormuz with its attendant disruptions and political consequences.
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« Reply #483 on: March 01, 2012, 09:05:33 AM »

Iran's Conservatives Grapple for Power
March 1, 2012
An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters in Tehran on Feb. 27


Iran's parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 2. With most of the reformist politicians banned from participating, the elections are shaping up to be a competition between Iran's two dominant conservative camps: the populists, led by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and candidates supporting the clerical establishment, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Though it is unlikely that even a large win for Ahmadinejad's faction would threaten the nature of the clerical regime in the near term, Ahmadinejad is trying to build a movement that can eventually wrest more control from the clerical elite. This election may indicate whether Ahmadinejad has made progress toward that goal.


Iran will hold elections for its parliament, known as the Majlis, on March 2. These will be the first nationwide elections since the disputed 2009 presidential contest that saw the rise and swift fall of the reformist Green Movement. With many reformist leaders under house arrest or imprisoned and with the majority of the reformist parties barred from participating, the upcoming elections will be a political competition fought among Iran's conservatives.

The populist conservatives, led by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been challenging the clerical elite, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, since the 2009 election for ultimate control of the state. While the supreme leader's pre-eminent role in the government does not appear to be at risk in the near term -- even if Ahmadinejad's populist faction manages to take the majority of parliamentary seats -- Ahmadinejad hopes to build a movement that can sustain his push for a government less captive to an unelected clerical elite, and the Majlis has become a key battleground for this effort.

Intra-Conservative Rift

Iran's conservatives can be roughly divided into two camps: those who believe the supreme leader has "faslol khatab," or final say in all matters, and those who do not. Ahmadinejad is leader of the latter camp, having used his two terms to establish the presidency as a position in competition with the supreme leader for executive authority.

Ahmadinejad initially had a good relationship with Khamenei and had his support during the contested 2009 presidential election. This began to deteriorate before the regime crushed protests by the Green movement, with Ahmadinejad demonstrating that he would not quietly follow all Khamenei's mandates.

His independent streak was most visible during his firing of intelligence chief Heidar Moslehi on April 18, 2011, against the direct wishes of the supreme leader, his dismissal of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Dec. 13, 2010, while Mottaki was on an official trip abroad, and his encouragement of the resignations of several Cabinet members. The impetus for the firings was Khamenei's order to Ahmadinejad to dismiss his closest associate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, from the post of first vice president shortly after Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009. Ahmadinejad refused and abstained from his official duties for 10 days in protest when the supreme leader ultimately forced his hand. Ahmadinejad then appointed Mashaei as presidential chief of staff in a clear attempt to countermand the intent of Khamenei's order.

Ahmadinejad and his supporters present a serious threat to the current clerical regime and its key stakeholders and beneficiaries. A populist conservative who draws his support from the rural poor, Ahmadinejad has said that power should be vested in the elected government, while the clerics should have a guidance role. This implicitly criticizes the Islamic republic's principle of Velayat-e-Faqih, or rule by Islamic jurists, on which the clerical elite stakes its legitimacy. (Explicitly challenging the principle would not be tolerated, especially from a sitting president.) The conflict stems from the contradiction in the institutional nature of Iran, being both a parliamentary democracy and a clerical theocracy headed by the supreme leader, who is not popularly elected. Khamenei and the clerical elite, along with their allies in the judiciary and the parliament, are hoping to use the elections to slow the momentum of this emerging class of non-clerical politicians and prevent the further erosion of their authority.

Election Stakes

Although some districts have more than 10 different parliamentary lists vying for seats, there are only two different potential parliaments for which the Iranians will be voting. Beyond the potential to clearly cement a certain faction within the legislative body, these elections will also serve as a referendum on Ahmadinejad's policies and his practice of rejecting the preferences of the supreme leader. With the president scheduled to appear for questioning before the Majlis by March 20 and several of his associates being indicted by the judiciary on claims of corruption, the clerical elite sense an opportunity to reverse the conservative populists' momentum.

Ahmadinejad's current term will end in 2013, and he will be ineligible to run for his third and final term until 2017. (Under Iranian law, an individual may run for three presidential terms but only two may be consecutive.) Khamenei's chances for having a pro-clerical presidential candidate win and potentially hold the seat for the next eight years will be much improved with Ahmadinejad unable to run himself. This is of great importance as the 72-year-old supreme leader's health is rumored to be declining. Ahmadinejad's goal is to elect a populist presidential candidate without much of his own power base, enabling Ahmadinejad to run again in 2017 as the populists' favored candidate. Regardless of whether Ahmadinejad's candidate wins, he will spend the next four years building a political movement that can carry him to a third term, though having an ally in the presidency would help this effort, as would taking a large share of the parliamentary seats up for election on March 2.

There are several structural obstacles Khamenei can put in Ahmadinejad's way. The Guardian Council, half of whom are clerics appointed by the supreme leader, must approve all candidates for public office. The council has already moved to disqualify several of Ahmadinejad's most visible supporters, including Mashaei and former IRNA chief Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who was banned from politics for five years after his appeal was denied Feb. 29. He was initially arrested for implying that Khamenei's statements were more suggestions than orders. These disqualifications forced Ahmadinejad to quietly back provincial hopefuls and others out of the political spotlight. The supreme leader has also allowed the judiciary -- headed by Sadeq Larijani, the brother of current Majlis speaker and Khamenei ally Ali Larijani -- to indict several figures within Ahmadinejad's circle in an ongoing corruption and embezzlement scandal. Even Ahmadinejad has been summoned by the Majlis to be questioned on this issue. Several key supreme leader appointees, such as the secretary-general of the Expediency Council, publicly have placed blame on the current government rather than on international sanctions for Iran's ongoing economic woes, including a 40 percent drop in the value of Iran's currency since sanctions began.

This is not to imply that Ahmadinejad is without advantages of his own. Ahmadinejad still enjoys significant support from the rural poor, veterans and those outside the patronage circles of the clerical elite or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Even among the clerical elite, Ahmadinejad has some level of support, and the IRGC is more or less divided. The president or his allies within the government have visited rural regions several times in the past months to announce various construction projects or government aide programs. The populist direct payment project implemented by Ahmadinejad to replace the previous subsidy program all but guaranteed the support of the poor.

Also helping Ahmadinejad is that, while Khamenei holds the paramount leadership post in the country as supreme leader, he lacks the type of religious credentials possessed by the previous supreme leader and founder of the republic, Ruhollah Khomeini. Khamenei lacks support from influential theologians, and even within the wider clerical community, the Velayat-e-Faqih concept is not universally agreed upon. If candidates supporting Ahmadinejad are able to take control of the Majlis, Ahmadinejad may be able to exploit these divisions within the clerical body to bring more clerics to his side. This will require a nuanced approach. Whatever issues the clerical elite might take with Khamenei in the role of supreme leader, they will still want a governmental system that places them at the top of the power structure.

Unexpected Victors

Any discussion on the future of Iranian politics must take into account the growing political influence of the IRGC. The IRGC played a key role in supporting Ahmadinejad's 2009 victory, and Khamenei relied on its support early in his career to establish himself in his role as supreme leader after heated opposition from such clerical figures as Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri. The IRGC's increased role in the Iranian military and economy through business deals have expanded its political influence, but the biggest boon to the IRGC's increased role has been the intra-conservative rift.

As both sides vie for power, the IRGC has slowly risen to fill the void in the middle. Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran and candidate in the March 2 elections, is a former commander of AFAGIR, the IRGC's air force, and a potential future presidential candidate. Iranian media also reported that Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the IRGC's Quds force, might soon be replaced in order to allow him to run in the 2013 presidential election. Suleimani is in a stronger position than Ghalibaf, who the clerics view as too liberal. But it should be noted that no retired IRGC commander has ever been elected president in Iran.

Ahmadinejad would also make history in Iran if he were able to win the 2017 election. No two-term president has ever been able to win the constitutionally permitted third term. Further, it is unlikely that Ahmadinejad will have any official post in the government in the intervening four years. Retaking the presidency is central to furthering the populists' movement to reduce the authority of the clerical establishment. To a large degree, the parliamentary elections will be a referendum on what Ahmadinejad has done thus far and what he will be allowed to do going forward.
Second the New York Times reports that Iran’s main religious leader says that the production, possession, use or threatend use of nuclear weapons is a “great sin“:
Echoing sentiments expressed in speeches by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, [Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar] Salehi denied that the nuclear program had a military purpose, saying Iran would be a stronger country without nuclear arms.
“We do not see any glory, pride or power in the nuclear weapons — quite the opposite,” he said. He added that on the basis of a religious decree by Ayatollah Khamenei, “the production, possession, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegitimate, futile, harmful, dangerous and prohibited as a great sin.”
Mr. Salehi said the existence of nearly 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world posed “the gravest threat” to sustainable international security.
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« Reply #484 on: March 01, 2012, 11:50:56 AM »

Iran is consistently marching towards nuclear weapons.  I don't see any ambiguity.

"Sources at the WH, generals, etc one come out and say the military option  is not viable .

The next day we hear that there is no alternative to military force in stopping Iran.

Another day we hear absurd proclomations that military force is "on the table".

The next day we hear people railing against the Israelis to not take action into their own hands.

The following day we hear that we are not abandoning the Jews.

Every day we hear some talking joker on cable proclaiming that the best choice is diplomacy.

Today Cogressman Ellison is on the MSNBC station saying we simply need to talk more with the Iranian leadership and that is more or less are only option.

Iranians are not stupid.  They can see the waffling just as I can.
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« Reply #485 on: March 02, 2012, 11:30:31 AM »
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« Reply #486 on: March 05, 2012, 07:16:38 AM »

As White House U-turns go, President Obama's hawkish rhetorical shift on Iran in the last week has been remarkable. The question now is whether Israel, and especially Iran, will believe that he means it after three years of trying to woo the mullahs to the bargaining table with diplomacy.

Mr. Obama opened the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Sunday with a keynote whose strong talk on Iran kept the audience coming to its feet. The President took credit for isolating the Islamic Republic diplomatically and imposing a de facto oil embargo that has sent the Iranian rial tumbling.

His speech follows an interview last week with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in which Mr. Obama went out of his way to call a nuclear Iran "unacceptable." He referred to the "military component" of U.S. policy and said that "I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as President of the United States, I don't bluff." As startling, he added that containing a nuclear Iran wouldn't work because of near-certain proliferation in the region and that "the risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound."

The timing of all this is no accident as Benjamin Netanyahu meets Mr. Obama in the White House today amid intense speculation about an imminent Israeli strike on Iran. In an interview with Journal editors on Friday, Eyal Gabbai, the former director general of the Israeli Prime Minister's office, said Mr. Netanyahu's meeting with Mr. Obama "will be the last time they can speak face-to-face before a decision is taken."

Enlarge Image

CloseAssociated Press
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.
.The Israeli military calculus toward Iran is driven largely by the perception that the regime's nuclear programs will soon enter a "zone of immunity," beyond which they may be effectively invulnerable to a non-nuclear Israeli strike. But also driving Israeli fears is the sense that the Obama Administration isn't prepared to use military means if diplomacy, sanctions and covert acts don't persuade Iran to stand down.

Those fears are far from groundless. Though Mr. Obama now takes credit for sanctions, his Administration fought Congress tooth-and-nail on sanctioning Iran's central bank. The President only reluctantly signed the sanctions into law as part of a larger defense bill. His aides also worked to stop legislation to cut off Iran from making financial transactions via the Swift banking consortium.

As for military strikes, senior Administration officials have repeatedly sounded as if their top priority is deterring Israel, rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

As recently as November, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said a military strike would have "unintended consequences" and wouldn't necessarily result in "deterring Iran from what they want to do." In the last two weeks, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said an Israeli strike would be "destabilizing," while Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that the Iranians haven't decided to build a bomb. Little wonder the Israelis are nervous about U.S. resolve.

It's welcome news if Mr. Obama is now trying to put those fears to rest, but he is also more outspoken than ever in trying to avert Israel from acting on its own. "Do we want a distraction in which Iran can portray itself as a victim, and deflect attention from what has to be the core issue, which is their pursuit of nuclear weapons?" Mr. Obama told Mr. Goldberg—the "distraction" here meaning an Israeli attack.

If the President's contention is that an Israeli strike would be less effective and have more unpredictable consequences than an American strike, he's right—and few Israelis would disagree. Israelis don't have the same military resources as the U.S.

The question Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli leaders have to ponder is whether Mr. Obama now means what he says. The President has built up an immense trust deficit with Israel that can't be easily dispensed in a week. All the more so when Israelis know that this is an election year when Mr. Obama needs to appear more pro-Israel than he would if he is re-elected.

It's good to hear Mr. Obama finally sounding serious about stopping a nuclear Iran. But if he now finds himself pleading with Israel not to take matters in its own hands, he should know his Administration's vacillation and mixed signals have done much to force Jerusalem's hand. More fundamentally, a President who says he doesn't "bluff" had better be prepared to act if his bluff is called.

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« Reply #487 on: March 05, 2012, 12:13:03 PM »

Sledge hammer ordinance may just not work.

I notice small tactical nuclear weapons are never mentioned.

This must contribute to reluctance on our military's part and the rather slim confidence Israel could do serious damage to Iran's nuclear capabilities.   Well we did give them years to dig in all the while they knew we were a paper tiger.
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« Reply #488 on: March 05, 2012, 12:23:21 PM »

I notice small tactical nuclear weapons are never mentioned.

And I hope/expect never will be...
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« Reply #489 on: March 05, 2012, 01:25:14 PM »

"And I hope/expect never will be..."

But Obamster said no options off the table. 

"We" have your back (till he no longer needs Jewish votes and dollars and media support).

Well what if that IS what it takes?

Don't wring your hands JDN.

I am thinking out loud.

The first ones to use nucs won't be Israel or the US.
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« Reply #490 on: March 05, 2012, 02:16:40 PM »

Already covered in this thread, but there is quite a news story going around about how Pres. Obama is now talking tough about Iran.  I can't justify the time to read or analyze his words because he so seldom means what he says, especially in 'prepared' remarks.  Iran has been emboldened by weakness.  This didn't start under Obama's watch but it has festered and grown.  It could be argued under Bush that a) we were busy in Iraq and b) still had time to act.

After all that was wrong in other intelligence, it is impossible to know what is right in Iran, but at this point it is very possibly the legacy of Barack Obama that Iran went nuclear under his watch.  Now admitting the danger of that makes it even worse for his legacy if he fails to act.

In related matters, there was a string of negative global security news stories this morning (Iran, China military expenditures, Yemen rebellion) with the same central theme IMO, adversaries and enemies are emboldened around the world by American weakness. 

Where were we when the Iranians rose up in 2009-2010 against the theocratic, military dictatorship? AWOL 

While he was learning and growing into the office, opportunities were lost and dangers escalated.
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« Reply #491 on: March 05, 2012, 02:20:06 PM »

I think it was Bill Kristol that pointed out the other night that the US use to speak out on behalf of Russian dissidents; nary a peep from President Baraq about his fellow Christian who is about to be executed in Iran for converting to Christianity.
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« Reply #492 on: March 06, 2012, 10:51:26 AM »

"...nary a peep from President Baraq about his fellow Christian..."

You are kind to give him the benefit of the doubt on his religion but the phrase 'his fellow Christian' has a dissonance to it.  I hesitate to call myself a Christian around real Christians if I attend only a few times a year as a non-member of a church.  The point is valid though, what is the supposed leader of the free world going to say or do about the most horrific violations of freedom of religion around the globe.  Nothing. 

Nothing that sounds like: 'Mr. Ahmadinejad, if you seek peace, tear down this wall!'
More cognitive dissonance and glibness on Iran: Pres. Obama has been clarifying his policy toward Iran this week.  Now that it's clear can someone please explain it to me.

We are committed to pursuing patience while Iran perfects its nuclear arsenal OR we are committed to taking action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power?  I heard him say both but which is it?

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« Reply #493 on: March 06, 2012, 11:15:12 AM »

'Mr. Ahmadinejad"

Speaking of which...   He has been going around for years tipping Iran's intention of wiping the Jews out of the middle east.

If he was not doing this the real intent of Iran vis a vis Israel would not be so obvious and thus almost no chance of stopping them from nucs.
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« Reply #494 on: March 06, 2012, 02:14:08 PM »

"If he was not doing this the real intent of Iran vis a vis Israel would not be so obvious and thus almost no chance of stopping them from nucs."

His constant saber rattling always raises up oil prices, but you hit a good point: if going nuclear and wiping out Israel was his intention, why wouldn't he hide it?  He has always looked like he was inviting attack and I don't understand why.  Maybe we can get some insane people who relate better to analyze his logic and motives.

Pakistan was far more secretive about their nuclear program IIRC.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 02:23:39 PM by DougMacG » Logged
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #495 on: March 06, 2012, 03:45:09 PM »

"if going nuclear and wiping out Israel was his intention, why wouldn't he hide it?  He has always looked like he was inviting attack and I don't understand why.  Maybe we can get some insane people who relate better to analyze his logic and motives."

Given that I was a lawyer who went for the big bucks in stickfighting, I certainly qualify on the "insane" part  cheesy so allow me to take a stab at this:

He did it for the votes and as part of his power struggles with the Ayotollahs.

Power User
Posts: 15533

« Reply #496 on: March 06, 2012, 04:24:15 PM »

Don't forget the psychosocial aspect of sacred martyrdom amongst the shia.
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Posts: 42498

« Reply #497 on: March 06, 2012, 11:15:20 PM »

Somehow I don't pictures A-man as doing the martyr (shahid?) thing , , ,
Power User
Posts: 15533

« Reply #498 on: March 07, 2012, 06:53:37 AM »

Somehow I don't pictures A-man as doing the martyr (shahid?) thing , , ,

You should read up on his bio then. I think he's a true believer.
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #499 on: March 07, 2012, 07:40:37 AM »

That he does appear to be, but somehow the leaders of the Islamic Fascist movements don't seem to choose martrydom. 
with logic that eludes me, that is for the young.
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