Archive for December, 2008:
By: Meir Javedanfar
Accepting the French plan to start a 48 hour ceasefire would be a tactical victory for Israel, for a number of reasons.
The ceasefire would be used as an ultimatum as well as a face saving option for Hamas to accept a permanent ceasefire. If Hamas does not accept, international backing and understanding for Israel’s actions would increase. This would provide the Israeli Defense Forces with more justification for its actions. In the post 2003 Iraq invasion world order, international backing and credibility is as important, if not more, than the operational radius and weapons load of F-16 fighter jets.
However if Hamas does accept the ceasefire, it would provide both parties with a win-win situation. Israel could say that its military operation achieved its objective, while Hamas could say it did not sign any agreement under fire.
A ground operation in Gaza will be a difficult operation, not just militarily, but also politically.
From the military point of view, judging by the Jenin battles of 2002, one can assume that Hamas has booby trapped houses and road leading into Gaza, and is prepared to use its population as human shield. This could cause heavy casualties for Israel and Palestinian civilians. Israel would also allow Hamas to use the opportunity to create a PR disaster for Israel, just as Arafat tried with the false claim that there had been a massacre in Jenin.
Politically it will be even more difficult. It is accepted across the board in Jerusalem that Israel does not want to reoccupy Gaza for a long period or even permanently. This is why Israel withdrew in 2006.
However once a ground invasion is launched, Israel will become hostage to Hamas’s willingness to accept a ceasefire. Under this scenario, as long as Hamas refuses to accept a ceasefire, Israel would have to stay in Gaza. This would mean that Israel could again become stuck in a long drawn out guerrilla warfare. It would also have to look after Gaza’s 1.5 million population. There would always be the option of unilateral withdrawal. However this would provide Hamas with a political victory.
By: Meir Javedanfar
As the world watches the flare-up in fighting between Israel and Hamas, it is important to analyze the wider goals of the IDF’s operation in Gaza.
To read the full article click here
By: Meir Javedanfar
Mohammad Reza Arian, an Iranian military official with the rank of colonel, has defected to Turkey.
By: Meir Javedanfar
With less than six months to go before the Iranian presidential elections, Channel 4 handed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad what could be one of his biggest foreign policy achievements by allowing him to address the people of the UK on Christmas Day.
By: Meir Javedanfar
This morning I was interviewed by BBC Persian about the recent Israeli response to reports that Russia may be about to sell advanced S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. The interviewer, asked a very valid question: “These weapons are for defensive purposes only. They can not be used to attack Israel. So why is Jerusalem against their sale?”.
This is a valid point and a very fair question to ask. Iranians have every right to know why a foreign government opposes the sale of a weapons system, which is to be used for the defense of their country.
One of Israel’s concerns is that the system would make it much more dangerous for Jerusalem to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, if it decides to. Although the prospect of a military strike is the last and worst option, its still an important tool in the carrots and sticks package which is being offered to Iran. What must be noted however, that this is a long term problem.
The more immediate problem presented by the sale of the S-300 is that it could boost the confidence of Ayatollah Khamenei to the point that he will not take negotiations with the EU, and more importantly with the US seriously. For Israel, the best outcome is if Obama solves the nuclear crisis through negotiations. But if Ayatollah Khamenei knows that there is little which Obama and Israel can do economically, and now militarily thanks to the missiles, then he will be less inclined to take up Obama’s offer for talks, and to reciprocate American gestures. And this would make pre and post nuclear Iran, a much more difficult country to deal with, not just for Israel, but for the Western world.
In Iran, we used to see Russia as a bigger enemy than the US, because over the centuries, Moscow has been responsible for so many land grabs which have cut the size of Iranian territory by thousands of kilometres. Today, some Iranians can be forgiven for thinking that Russia wants to sell these missiles to Ayatollah Khamenei’s government, precisely because it does not want US – Iran talks to succeed. Because if they do, it could come at a cost to Russia’s influence over Iran. An influence, which many Iranians find unfair, and harmful.
By: Meir Javedanfar
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran has the world’s highest rate of brain drain. Every year, more than 150,000 highly educated Iranians leave their country. The majority emigrate to the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia. The damage caused by this phenomenon is estimated to be $40 billion a year.
The rates of Iran’s brain drain are reaching such astronomical figures that the Iranian press is beginning to suspect that a conspiracy is involved, schemed and carried out by the West with the help of Iran’s neighbors. This was indicated recently in an article published by Tabnak, which is Iran’s most popular online news agency. Its owner, Mohsen Rezai, has close connections to government officials such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and senior officers within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
One event which has strengthened this conspiracy theory is the defection of Ali Reza Asgari, a top IRGC general, in March 2007. According to Western media reports, he was lured away by the promise of millions of dollars and a better future. His defection is believed to have caused considerable damage to Iran’s intelligence network and nuclear program. Another is a CIA-engineered nuclear brain drain from Iran, which was carried out in 2005 with limited success.
Some pro-government elements in Iran now suspect that the West wants to weaken Iran’s economic infrastructure to the point of collapse by luring away its top graduates and professionals. The methods applied in such cases to lure away Iran’s top talent are much less cloak and dagger, as was the case with Asgari. They include an increase in the number of issued student visas and work permits. And many of those who are moving abroad are succeeding. One only has to look at top technology companies and universities in the U.S. One successful Iranian among many is Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist and leading telecommunications entrepreneur. There is also Firouz Naderi, NASA director of the Mars project, as well as many others.
Those blaming the West for this phenomenon may be getting carried away with their conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, the Iranian government has every reason to be concerned. One example is Iran’s airline sector. Already beset by maintenance problems due to sanctions, it now has to deal with the new phenomenon of pilot shortages. Increasing numbers of Iranian pilots are leaving their $450-a-month jobs in Iran for $7,000 monthly salaries paid by newly established Persian Gulf airlines. This phenomenon is damaging Iran’s struggling tourism and transportation sector.
Other impacted sectors are Iran’s oil and gas. Iran relies on these sectors for 80% of its export receipts. Decaying infrastructure, corruption, and low wages are forcing some of Iran’s top oil engineers to look for new jobs. Increasing numbers of such engineers are finding it easier to get work abroad for higher wages and better conditions due to an increase in investment by oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf.
Perhaps one area which is worrying the Iranian government the most is Iran’s nuclear program. For years, the best and the brightest within Iran have been recruited by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Its top scientists are reported to receive Western-style salaries and benefits. More importantly, this organization has been the only sector in Iran which benefited from a brain gain by recruiting Iranian engineers and scientists from places such as the United States. With runaway inflation figures and increasing risk against the lives of such scientists, more may now be tempted to defect. Meanwhile, top graduates that the AEOI wants to recruit may now decide to look elsewhere, thus causing further damage to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Proportionally, graduates from Tehran’s Sharif University, dubbed “Iran’s MIT,” seem to make up the largest proportion of graduates who leave the country. The parliament (Majlis) has decided to take the unprecedented step of summoning Saeed Sohrab, the head of the university, to see why so many graduates from Iran’s top university prefer to live and work abroad. This alone will not be enough to stop this damaging phenomenon. What is needed is urgent and concrete action by Iran’s leaders.
However, some officials, such as Ahmadinejad, have no interest in tackling this problem. Unlike some government officials, President Ahmadinejad does not even believe that the brain drain phenomenon exists. During a trip to the UAE in April 2007, he openly stated that there is “no brain drain in Iran.” He even said that he fully supports Iranians “traveling abroad.” Ahmadinejad, who prides himself on being a staunch follower of Imam Khomeini, belongs to a group of right-wing extremists who believe in Khomeini’s teachings, declared publicly in 1980 by the founder of the revolution:
The enemies of the Islamic revolution say that the country’s best brains are escaping. I don’t care that they are escaping. These university-educated people who are always concerned about Western science and civilization should be allowed to leave. We don’t want Western science and know-how. If you think that this is not your place, you are free to go.
The fact that Ahmadinejad and his supporters do not want to address Iran’s brain drain problem is likely to cause more divisions within the Iranian government. This is because more moderate politicians see this phenomenon as severely damaging, and they are right. If unchecked, this phenomenon could contribute to factors which could cause the eventual downfall of the regime. A country of 70 million cannot afford to see its important economic infrastructure fall apart due to a shortage of skills. Especially not Iran, because stability is of utmost importance to its rulers. With oil prices falling and Iran needing to develop its non-oil sector, it is very likely that the extremists will be cornered. It’s either them or the economic progress of the country. One of them will have to win. For the sake of his government, Ayatollah Khamenei should make sure it is the latter.
This article originally appeared in PJM Media
By: Meir Javedanfar
The recent hijacking of ships by pirates in the Red Sea is raising alarm in Iran, for two reasons:
- The pirates have hijacked Iranian ships. This has had an economic and security impact for Iran. So much so, that Tehran has threatened to use force to free its crew and ships.
- Tehran sees the hand of foreign powers, especially Israel, behind the hijackings.
We in the West may dismiss such thought as yet another conspiracy theory, but the Iranians are not. In this morning’s edition of Sobhe Sadegh, which belongs to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), an editorial is dedicated to Israel’s influence in the horn of Africa and how Israel is using this to its advantage. Special emphasis is placed on Israel’s relations with rebels in Somaliland, and reports that the Israeli navy has a presence in some of the Eritrean owned islands in the Bab Al Mandeb strait. The islands in question are the Dahlak and Hunaish islands, and claims that Israel and Eritrea have cooperated militarily in these islands were also made by the Yemeni government and the Saudis.
What strengthened such beliefs was the Karine A affair, in which a Palestinian Authority ship, laden with weapons was captured in the Red Sea in 2002. The fact that the Israeli navy captured the ship 300 miles south of Eilat, and that it had been able to track its docking in Yemen, strengthened these suspicions.
The fact that the pirates of the hijacked Iranian ship, suddenly died of mysterious circumstances afterwards, created more panic. Especially since there were reports which were not confirmed nor denied by the US government, that Washington had offered the pirates $US 7 million just to inspect the vessel.
What the report in Sobhe Sadegh indicates is that Iran is becoming convinced that a silent war is being waged against its interests, at home and abroad. Last week, there was yet another report about the death of an individual working for Iran’s nuclear program. This time a Russian nuclear scientist had frozen to death, during a trip to mountains of Tehran. Previous cases included accidental death by suffocation caused by gas leakage.
Tehran‘s concerns are understandable. Overt wars can be condemned in the UN and can cause damage to America and Israel. But covert wars are more difficult to fight, because unlike Iraq and Lebanon, in this case, Iran is at a disadvantage. That is not to say that Tehran won’t try in the future.
By: Meir Javedanfar
This morning, Haaretz newspaper reported that:
“U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration will offer Israel a nuclear umbrella” against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran, a well-placed American source said earlier this week. The source, who is close to the new administration, said the U.S. will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran”.
The article goes to address one of Jerusalem’s major concerns which is “Granting Israel a nuclear guarantee essentially suggests the U.S. is willing to come to terms with a nuclear Iran”.
This is not necessarily true. The US is still committed to using diplomacy and sanctions in its efforts to stop a nuclear Iran, not only for Israel’s sake, but also for the security of its won interests and allies in the region. What is being suggested here is that contingency plans are in place, for the worst case scenario.
And there is nothing wrong with talking about the possibility of a nuclear Iran, if all else fails. If our scenario planning is worth the paper it’s written on, in fact it must plan for this option. Refusing to talk about this prospect is not by some kind of black magic going to reduce its chances of realization.
Worryingly for Tehran what this report does suggests is that Iran’s nuclear program has managed to bring the US and Israel closer together. It shows that thanks to Ahmadinejad’s posturing, Israel will enjoy the benefits of NATO countries (ie US nuclear umbrella), without Israel having to commit any troops or resources to the alliance.
What it also shows is that the Iranian nuclear program is likely to create problems for Iran and the US to reach a broad understanding, as part of which “the West and Iran that recognizes Tehran’s role in the region and gives it (Iran) the power, the prestige, the influence”, as Mohammad El Baradei suggested in an interview with LA Times this week. Tehran will find America’s increased support for Israel unacceptable, especially since Jerusalem is likely to be protected by America’s nuclear umbrella. This was pointed out in a recent article in Tabnak, a semi official news agency based in Tehran. In an article entitled “Iran and a Grand Bargain with Obama”, one of the preconditions suggested by Dr Ostadyar, an Iranian political expert is that the US reduces its support for Israel, as part of the “Grand Bargain”. Based on what we can see, the opposite of what Tehran wants is happening, and this will be unacceptable to Iranian hard liners.
Sooner or later, with or without nuclear weapons, Ayatollah Khamenei should realize that it is sound foreign policy and internal economic stability and cohesion which will determine the success of his administration, and Iran’s ambitions to become a regional power. Iran did not increase its influence in Iraq and Lebanon with a nuclear bomb. Its soft power played a major part. This is what Iran needs more than a bomb. Because even if Tehran does become a nuclear power, as long as it continues its current domestic and foreign policies especially in its relations with the West, it will weaken itself and embolden its rivals. The former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would be a good person to consult. He ruled over a nuclear country, which still lost to India in the Kargil war, and he was removed from power.