Archive for February, 2009:
By Meir Javedanfar
When Iran completed a successful test run of its nuclear power station in the city of Bushehr on February 25, it raised the level of concern in some Western countries, particularly in Israel. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert even went as far as issuing a threat, which many believe was directed at Iran: “We are a strong country, a very strong country, and we have at our disposal [military] capacities, the intensity of which are difficult to imagine,” Olmert told public radio.
Technically, Bushehr is not a real danger to Israel. In fact, it is no danger at all. Bushehr is a nuclear power plant just like any other. None of the nuclear fuel it will use will come from Iran. It will all be supplied by Russia. Furthermore, all the spent fuel, some of which can be used for weapons purposes, will be taken away by Russia. The Russian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will count every drop of nuclear fuel entering and leaving Iran. Therefore Iran cannot use any of the equipment at Bushehr for its military nuclear program.
By raising such a hue and cry over Bushehr, the Israeli government is distracting the world’s attention from the real danger: the Iranian uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. That is where the danger lies and that is where the U.S. and Israel need to focus their attention. By crying “foul” every time Iran embarks on any nuclear activity, no matter how harmless (such as the case in Bushehr), both Israel and the U.S. could damage their credibility. They could also wear out the patience of the international community. After America’s inability to find WMDs in Iraq, Israel will have to be very careful how it portrays the Iranian threat. Overdoing it could damage its legitimate claims, and could turn it in to the boy who cried wolf too many times.
If Israel wants to legitimately direct its anger, it should be towards Moscow. It is the Russian government that has been hampering international efforts to impose tough sanctions against the Iranian government and its illegal enrichment activities in Natanz. For years, Moscow used its contract with the Iranians for Bushehr as leverage, in order to pressure Iran to not antagonize the West. Moscow used every excuse, and in some cases outright lies, to drag its feet over the completion of Bushehr. The Russians even went as far as citing lack of funds from Iran as an excuse. In reality, everyone knows that the Iranians had paid. However, Tehran couldn’t do much. It was dependent on Russia for this power plant, and all it could do was sit and watch the scheduled date for the completion of the plant slip by 10 years.
However, now that Russia has agreed to complete the contract, Moscow and the West have lost an important leveraging mechanism over Tehran. It will now be even more difficult to pressure Iran to halt its enrichment activities at Natanz. The only danger Bushehr poses is a political one. And this will boost Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s position greatly. As presidential elections near, he could say that under his presidency, Natanz expanded and the West could not do much about it. This will come at a great time for the Iranian president. With the economy’s performance worsening every year, advances in the nuclear program will be a useful distraction.
One important question to ask is: why did Russia go ahead and complete Bushehr? Why now? These days, the Russian economy is suffering greatly, due to the falling price of oil. Furthermore, its once powerful weapons industry is facing ruin. According to a recent Reuters report, “One third of Russia’s weapons makers are on the verge of bankruptcy.” Iran is a very important market, and the Russians know that Iran could soon be negotiating with the U.S. Should Iran and the West mend fences and improve their relations, the Iranians could take revenge over Russia’s feet dragging in Bushehr by signing massive economic deals with the West. This could be a major blow to Russia’s economy and is probably why Russia decided to improve its relations with Tehran now rather than after the negotiations between Iran and the U.S., as it could be too late by then.
In the bid to garner international support for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, the loss of Russian support could have a negative impact. However, this is the new reality that President Obama has to deal with. This is not the first warning shot by Moscow. The recent closure of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan was seen as a Moscow-backed effort against Washington which will impact U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. It won’t be the last either. More than ever, the EU and the U.S. will have to apply their credibility and economic power to withstand the competition from Moscow.
This article originally appeared in PJM Media.
According to the Tehran based Parsine News Agency, Ayatollah Rafsanjani is preparing to embark next week on a seven day foreign trip. This is the longest foreign trip taken by any senior Iranian official. What is even more interesting is the destination: Iraq.
To read the rest, click here
The recent decision by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to release Ayman Nur has several implications.
By releasing Ayman Nour, Mubarak is sending Washington the following message: “We know that your pressure on our government will ease now that you need our help. You have stopped making demands of us, and we will give you something you want. Now, what will you do for us?”
The Foreign Policy article entitled “Mubarak flexes his muscles”, explains more:
To read, click here
The first round of privatization of Bank Mellat, which is Iran’s second largest bank was not a particularly successful one. This was due to Tehran Stock Exchange suffering a 35% decline recently, due to falling price if oil, and high inflation rate which reduce the value of share dividends. The article below from Press TV explains more:
And this is in the middle of a world economic crisis.
By: Meir Javedanfar
Since becoming president in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become one of the most widely known Iranian politicians. In direct contrast, his wife has been one of the most discreet spouses in Iranian political history. The world got its first glimpse of her in 2005, after she accompanied her husband on a trip to Malaysia. However, she did not speak any words and has hardly ever appeared in front of cameras since then. What was even more mysterious was her identity. She was only referred to as Mrs. Ahmadinejad in the very few reports which mentioned her. Her real identity was strongly protected.
But on January 18, 2009, the world suddenly met Azam Al Sadat Farahi, who until that day was known as Mrs. Ahmadinejad. The encounter was brought about by a letter she wrote on behalf of Gazans to Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In it she wrote:
The people of Gaza have been subjected to aerial, ground and sea attacks and have been living under siege for a long time. Witnessing the bombardment of mosques, hospitals and houses and the mutilation of women and children brings pain to the heart of any human being. …I ask you to do whatever is in your capacity to help the people of Gaza and to help them from the oppression that they are suffering from, so that your name is placed alongside the name of worthy and peace seeking women.
One could doubt whether Mrs. Ahmadinejad’s letter would have any impact, because these days Egypt is trying its best to isolate Iran. This was seen by the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on several occasions asked for Mubarak’s help. Nothing ever came of it.
Nevertheless, the symbolic value of the letter should not be ignored. Many people around the world believe that Iranian women, especially conservative ones, are confined to the boundaries of the kitchen. This may be true about wives of conservative clergy. However when it comes to non-clergy conservatives, the opposite is true. Quite a few are very vociferous in their political thinking and beliefs.
One of the most notable is Fatemeh Rajabi, the journalist wife of Gholam Hossein Elham, a government spokesman and one of Ahmadinejad’s most trusted confidants. Rajabi sometimes appears in the press more often than her husband. Furthermore, she has openly attacked Rafsanjani’s allies for being corrupt and Ayatollah Khatami for being too liberal and friendly toward the West. She even called for the defrocking of Khatami. Although many male members of Iran’s political elite have done the same, Rajabi is the first female critic in Iran’s post-revolution history to go so far in her criticism of senior politicians. This has earned her several nicknames. One is “Fatti Arreh,” meaning “Fatemeh the hacksaw.” The other is “Shamsi Pahlevoon,” a nickname given to physically rough women in Iran.
Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad’s wife has been camera shy until recently, she too has had a strong influence on her husband. Although the president of Iran is no feminist, compared to other conservatives in Iran he has championed more rights for women. One of them was his public call to allow women to attend soccer matches as spectators. Soon after, he was subjected to fierce criticism from senior clergy from the city of Qom because they saw it as un-Islamic. Ahmadinejad did not back down until he was forced to by Iran’s supreme leader. Furthermore, during his tenure as mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad opened many leisure areas for women, including parks and libraries. Although segregation of men and women is frowned upon in the West and by many Iranians, it must be noted that some women in Iran welcome segregation in buses and parks due to problems such as unwanted physical contact and approach by strangers. Right-wing movements have also increased their recruitment of women for their campaigning and demonstrations. A great number of Baseej (people’s militia) who demonstrated against Israel and Egypt were women.
As the Iranian presidential elections near, we are going to hear more from the female members of Iran’s political arena. Their appearance is not solely for the betterment of human kind. Jealousy and self-interest are also at play. It is believed that one of the reasons why Ahmadinejad’s wife wrote to Suzanne Mubarak is because she did not want to be outdone by Zohre Sadeghi, the wife of Ayatollah Khatami (Ahmadinejad’s chief rival), who two days earlier had written a similar letter to the wife of the emir of Qatar.
Conservative clergy may wish to keep Iran’s women quiet and at home. However, it looks like the conservative non-clergy politicians who should back them are actually turning against them.
Sixty percent of Iran’s university graduates are women. It’s only a matter of time before they can slowly claim their deserved place in the government and society of their country.
This article originally appeared in PJM Media