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Threatened, Isolated Iran Sends FM to Beirut

Iran, caught in a tornado of its own unpopularity, dispatched Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Beruit last weekend to meet with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.  This, while Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon was in Damascus for the first time since his father's assassination in 2005 for ice-breaking talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Many view Hariri's Damascus visit as formal acquiescence to Syrian influence in Lebanese politics.  However, the trend in the broader international context offers a different narrative:  One that shows a concerted effort by the international community to isolate Iran and its hegemonic pursuits from the Middle Eastern dialogue (see November 18 post).

In recent weeks the King of Saudi Arabia, the President of France and the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain have all sat down with the Syrian President after years of publicly ostracizing Damascus.

Each visitor to Damascus brings its own encouragement: the prospect of substantial foreign investment from Saudi Arabia; open borders with Turkey; the signing of a long-delayed association agreement with the European Union.

US President Barack Obama says he wants to normalize relations with Syria and will name an ambassador to Damascus very soon. In July, the Obama administration took the first step, ending some of the sanctions it had imposed in 2003. The arrival of a new US ambassador is expected to help restart peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Said one western diplomat, “we want Syria to stop playing with the bad guys and start playing with the good guys.”

Iran wants to be perceived as the Middle East's chess master however global currents are pushing the Islamic Republic off the board.  In an effort to save face after months of protests at home in the wake of fraudulent elections, the death of beloved reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, broken defense deals, and the most recent outmaneuver by Hariri in Damascus, the Islamic Republic is trying to frame the context of current events on its own terms.  

A few quotes by Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki during his Beirut visit...

Reacting to PM Hariri's visit to Damascus, Mottaki tries to frame the visit as an effort to build Arab consensus against Israel:

“The regional nations have realized today how to resist against the criminal acts of the Zionist regime and how to impose new humiliating defeats against that regime.”

Making nice with Saudi Arabia, a nation incensed with Iran over Hezbollah's support of Houthi insurgents in Yemen and southern Saudi, Mottaki offered the following words:

“The developments in Yemen are the internal concern of Sana'a, we should not interfere in internal affairs of other countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran fends for Yemen’s territorial integrity and national solidarity, believing that the emerged difficulties there can be solved resorting to negotiations.” 

And referring to the French foreign minister’s comments regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities, Mottaki offered the following in typical passive aggressive fashion:

“The French should not echo the defeated remarks and policies of the British and the Americans during the past couple of years.”

He added, “They had better preserve the prestige of France and act independently.”

Tehran is scrambling and bumbling across the Middle East hoping to dissuade potential air strikes against its nuclear facilities and/or the likelihood of crippling sanctions.  The US has given the Iranian mullahs until the end of the year to capitulate on the nuclear issue.  When the last minute overtures and phony embraces to the Arab world have been exhausted and the dust settles under Tehran's crazy feet, the reality remains that no country in the Middle East wants a nuclear arms race, especially one pitting Arab v. Persian.  Of this the mullahs are fully aware.



Moscow Launches on Eve of Nobel/SOFA

On the eve that President Obama was to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, Moscow decided to fire one of its submarine-launched Bulava missiles over Oslo, lighting up the night sky with a curious blue streak (see VIDEO). The Bulava-30 is Russia's most advanced SLBM, capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear MIRV warheads.  

The launch was a clear statement of defiance to NATO's Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which was slated to be signed today, December 10, between the US and Poland.

The theatrics come two weeks after a November 26 meeting in Berlin between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, where the Secretary General voiced concerns about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Tehran: 

"It might of course eventually become NATO business as well, because then it is a question of protecting our territories and our populations against a potential threat.  To that end, we are right now considering the possibility to establish missile defense which also covers Europe."

In September, Obama shelved the previous administration's plans to place 10 long-range ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and a fixed-site radar station in the Czech Republic.  

The SOFA deal was a prerequisite to setting up a US ground-to-air missile base in Poland. (US officials say deployment should start in 2010). The new U.S. plan would place ship-based SM-3s in the North and Mediterranean seas in 2011, and mobile land-based SM-3s in Central Europe by 2015.

In contrast to the previous system which was strongly opposed by Russia, the new multidirectional radars and missiles would not be able to penetrate deep into Russia's territory.  

Nonetheless, Moscow has a flare for making its displeasures known. 


...but you said i could have the S-300  :(

"If Tehran obtained the S-300 [surface to air missile], it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran." says long-time Pentagon advisor Dan Goure. (Pictured: Not the S-300).

Little attention has been focused on the situation in Yemen where internal fighting between Shia Houthis and the Sunni central government has been escalating since August.  Amir Taheri explains the situation in his article Tehran’s Tricks for Squeezing Saudis:

"Iran has been trying to create a branch of the pan-Shiite Hezbollah movement [in Yemen]. The aim is to control a chunk of territory along the Saudi border and use it to destabilize the kingdom while exerting pressure on the Yemeni government."

However, the world took notice on November 4 when Houthi insurgents, with Hezbollah support, attacked the border areas of Jebel al-Dukhan and Al-Khubah on the Saudi side, killing a border guard and injuring 11 others.  The Saudis responded with air and expeditionary forces, pushing the Houthi insurgents back across the border into Yemen. 

On November 10, Al Jazeera reported that Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki threatened Saudi’s interference in the conflict, stating that regional nations should "seriously hold back from intervening in Yemen's internal affairs."  Adding that, "those who pour oil on the fire must know that they will not be spared from the smoke that billows."

The following day Mottaki reversed course:  "Iran is prepared to co-operate with the government of Yemen and other nations in order to restore security."

Yemen's response, Thanks but no thanks.

It is interesting to note the growing chorus of critics of the Iranian regime...

"What business does Iran have stating what it has stated?” asked Hossein Shobokshi, a columnist with the Arabic Asharq Alawsat newspaper.  "But it also falls in sync with what Iran has been doing. Interfering in other countries' affairs - we have seen it in Jordan, Sudan, Palestine, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq - creating pockets of influence and trying to control its puppets in every part of the Arab world." 

In an audio recording posted on an Islamist website, Mohamed bin Abdul Rahman al-Rashid, one of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted terrorists and head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said:

"Shiite Iran poses an extreme danger to Sunnis of Yemen and Saudi Arabia [more so] than [the] Jews or Christians."  Al-Rashid continued, "driven by a greed to take over Muslim countries, Shiite Iran has long been plotting to install a Hezbollah-like group to occupy areas at the joint-border of Yemen and Saudi Arabia," inciting the Saudi-Yemeni Sunni Muslims to "fight Iran-backed Shiite rebels."

Jameel Theyabi writing in Dar al Hayat on November 9 explains:

"Iran is attempting to sow discord and to destabilize the security of the countries in the region, especially in the Arab Gulf States, after having had their way in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine."  

The Kuwait government also condemned the Yemeni rebels' attack on Saudi Arabia, saying Gulf countries' national security was one and could not be divided. 

And in early October, prior to the Houthis cross border attack, Ayman al-Zawahiri lambasted Hezbollah in his eulogy to Baitullah Mehsud as representing a model of “turning jihad into a national cause.”  A model which “must be rejected by the umma, because it is a model which makes jihad subject to the market of political compromises and distracts the umma from the liberation of Islamic lands and the establishment of the Caliphate.”

Sunni v. Shia.  Al Qaeda v. Hezbollah.  Arabs v. Persians.  P5 + 1 v. Iran.

In an effort to enhance its dismal Cold War reputation as a weapons supplier to the Middle East, Russia has pursued a marketing campaign to brand itself as a reliable manufacturer of quality arms and technologies. “Russia is trying to restore some of its power in the Middle East, but its capability is limited because of the doubts about Russian technology,” Mustafa Alani, the director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Centre, recently said.

For instance, when Mikhail Kalashnikov turned 90 years old on November 10, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev used the occasion as an opportunity to promote its image as global arms supplier, awarding him the Hero of the Russian Federation medal at a ceremony in the Kremlin. "The Kalashnikov is today one of the best-known Russian words... Such shining creative achievements move our country forward," Medvedev said during the ceremony. 

Another Russian shining achievement is the S-300 surface to air missile (SAM).  The S-300 is comparable to the American Patriot system and has been aggressively sought by the Iranian regime to protect its nuclear sites. 

During negotiations over the past two years, Russia and Iran came close to signing a deal for the S-300 (depending on the source, “close” could mean "a done deal" or just "close"). In an effort to counter Russia’s public diplomacy campaign and motivate a deal in Tehran's favor, Iran’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Russia had a ‘contractual obligation’ to provide Iran with the system. “We have made a deal with the Kremlin to buy S-300 defense missiles,” he said, referring to a contract signed between Tehran and Moscow in 2007.  “We don’t think Russian officials would want to be seen in the world as contract violators.”

According to CBS News, two days prior to Obama’s decision to scrap the US missile shield in Europe, Medvedev indicated that Russia’s stance on Iran may be changing and cited the concerns on the part of the League of Arab countries about too close a rapport between Russia and Iran. 

"If Tehran obtained the S-300, it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran." says long-time Pentagon advisor Dan Goure

Russia has since decided to instead sell its more advanced S400 to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archrival, in a deal that could be worth as much as $7 billion. “We are working in this direction, we can confirm this,” said a government spokesman in Moscow where local media are reporting that an agreement could be signed before the end of the year.

All this brings us back to Yemen. 

Russia is Yemen’s largest creditor and closely allied with the Saudis.  Clearly Russia would not benefit from a destabilized Yemen unable to repay its debt.  But much more significant is that Russia, currently the world’s largest oil producer, would be in a position to work with the Saudis to maximize oil profits in the midst of a concerted economic squeeze on Tehran.

Roger Stern and Bernard Hayke in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, The National, have some creative suggestions for the Saudis:

“The kingdom should reprise its greatest peacemaking performance: the 1986 oil price collapse. Saudi Arabia has been given little credit for this effort, which secured western victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Here’s the story: while some other Opec members cheated on their quotas by overproducing in the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia cut its production to defend the price of oil. In 1985, after years of sacrifice, the Saudis reversed course and opened the taps to regain market share. The consequent price collapse bankrupted the Soviet Union, which relied on oil for its only hard-currency earnings.

Iran’s situation now is like the Soviet Union’s then. If it does not comply immediately with international demands for transparency on weapons development, Saudi Arabia could force a drastic reduction of Iran’s revenue by producing some or all of its four million barrels a day of spare capacity. Iran’s Opec production quota violations have approached historic highs, so there is a strong precedent for such a Saudi production increase.

Of course, Saudi Arabia relies on oil earnings just as Iran does, but it has nearly half a trillion dollars of currency reserves, more than enough to defend its budget even if revenues decline for a while. Most Gulf states enjoy comparable finances. Iran, by contrast, spends almost all its revenue trying to buy off dissent. Any revenue decline is a threat to the emerging Iranian police state.”

Sanctions and pressure come in different colors.  But this time they’re green and white.



Iranian Propaganda Video