..CENTER FOR WAR, PEACE, AND THE NEWS MEDIA, January 11 - 18, 2006
Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University





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Iran's nuclear research facility at Natanz, where IAEA seals were broken this week in order to resume research into uranium enrichment, triggering a diplomatic crisis

Iran Provokes a Crisis
By scrapping the voluntary suspension of nuclear fuel-cycle activities that had been a cornerstone of its negotiations with the European Union, Iran this week threw down the gauntlet to the West over its nuclear program. The move marks the culmination of a steadily more aggressive approach Tehran has adopted towards the negotiations since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad last summer. Tehran is insisting on exercising its right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium to create fuel for civilian nuclear reactors, but the EU and the U.S. suspect that Iran plans to use a civilian nuclear energy program to develop the essential infrastructure for building a bomb -- a suspicion underscored by Iran's concealment of certain enrichment activities, as well as by recent reports that Iran is pursuing the development of long range missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads -- and they insist that Tehran accept a more limited version of its NPT rights, in which its nuclear reactor fuel is supplied by Russia and that it refrains from developing its own enrichment capability (which can be used to make both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material). Tehran has insisted on exercising all its NPT rights, and the decision to resume research work on enrichment at the Natanz facility marks a rejection of the EU framework.

By opting for confrontation, President Ahmedinajad may be, in part, pursuing his domestic political agenda which is based on rekindling a confrontation with the West in order to put his own power center, the security forces, in the dominant position in Tehran's power struggles. But the insistence on developing all aspects of the fuel cycle has been a consensus position among the contending factions, and it may also be that Iran is hoping to capitalize on what it perceives as a favorable geopolitical climate. Some of the factors working in its favor may be the growing extent to which the U.S. will need Iranian cooperation to secure its goals in Iraq; the unlikelihood of military confrontation being considered a viable response by the U.S. and even more so by its European allies; and the fact that China's growing dependence on Iranian oil and natural gas exports make sanctions an intolerable outcome for Security Council veto-wielding Beijing. But the belligerent tone adopted by Ahmedinajad, and Iran's summary rejection of the negotiating framework, now challenges the Europeans to respond. They're likely to push for Security Council action despite the limited enthusiasm of China and Russia, perhaps hoping to walk the Iranians back to some form of compromise. (BBC, January 10, 2006)

  • Simon Tisdall warns that the issue is complicated by Ahmedinajad's domestic agenda, because punitive action may play into the hardline president's hands . Not only is he confident that the reluctance of China to back sanctions and the limited appetite of the Europeans for confrontation will resolve the issue in Tehran's favor, Tisdall writes that Ahmedinajad "has deliberately sought confrontation with the west (and particularly Israel) to strengthen his position and advance his 'revivalist revolutionary' policies at home and in the region. While any UN sanctions may have limited economic impact, a high-profile political showdown may serve his purposes." (The Guardian, January 10, 2006)
  • Before Ahmedinajad's shock election victory, Western leaders had hoped that the pragmatic conservative Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani would become president, and that he would seek a compromise on the nuclear issue in order to pursue the priority of reintegrating Iran into the world economy. Rafsanjani remains close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who in the wake of the election actually elevated him in the power structure to counteract the more radical Ahmedinajad, who has, in turn been goading Israel and the West partly to sabotage the efforts of pragmatic conservatives to repair relations with the West. Against that background, Rafsanjani's comments on the current escalation bear close scrutiny. While he echoed the party line denouncing Western double standards and demanding Iran's rights, he notably added that “to settle the nuclear issue both parties are required to show wisdom and if they take an unwise move, they have done injustice to the region and the world and they cannot resolve the problem through sanctions and so on." His emphasis on "both sides" showing wisdom suggests that the path of confrontation may not have the backing of the Supreme Leader. (IRNA, January 10, 2006)
  • Dariush Zahedi and Ali Ezzatyar provide further evidence of a split between the Supreme Leader and the President. Khameini, they argue, has become increasingly alarmed at the confrontation provoked by Ahmedinajad, fearing it will have catastrophic consequences for the economy and the prospects for the Islamic regime's survival. But given the broad national consensus in Iran behind its nuclear demands, the key to making the split between pragmatic and militant wings of the conservative regime work to resolve the crisis, the Western powers -- they argue -- will have to offer a mechanism that will allow the Iranians to back down while saving face. (LA Times, January 8, 2006)
  • Zahedi writing with Omid Memarian warns that Ahmedinajad has misread the international balance of forces, but that this in itself produces a great danger because one of his key assumptions is that the U.S. will be restrained by Iran's ability to wreak havoc in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. (LA Times, January 8, 2006)
  • David Hirst argues that the Iran crisis is a symptom of a wider regional crisis initiated by the Iraq invasion. (Guardian, January 11, 2006)
  • Offering an Indian perspective on the stand-off, Beryl Anand of New Delhi's Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies argues that the vicious cycle at the heart of the crisis is the reason Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons in the first place as a deterrent, rather than a means of projecting power. Which is why, Anand reasons, the greater the external pressure on Tehran, the more desirable nuclear weapons become. (ICPS, January 3, 2006)
  • Tehran University political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam argues that Iran may eventually accept the Russian-fuel deal, but only if it is accompanied by other concessions to its security and economic needs. (Daily Star, January 9, 2006)
  • Ray Tayekh argues that the U.S. is ill-served by outsourcing Iran diplomacy to Europe, and should instead initiate a new negotiating framework in which Washington is a participant -- and also hold bilateral talks with Tehran combining incentives with penalties to change Iran's behavior. (Council on Foreign Relations, December 29, 2006)
  • Abbas William Samii of the U.S. Navy War College explores in fascinating detail the individuals and networks of the Iranian regime that could be targeted by diplomatic and intelligence initiatives to resolve the nuclear crisis. (Navy War College Review, Winter 2006)
  • Jack Boureston and Charles D. Ferguson argue that the best way to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear program is to remain engaged, and even offer the Iranians technical assistance. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November-December 2005)
  • Russia looks set to play an increasingly central role in the Iran nuclear crisis, and Andrei P Tsygankov explains why even if it echoes political criticism of Tehran, Moscow's positions will be guided by its growing economic ties with Iran . (Asia Times, January 9, 2006)
  • Doing What Sharon Would Do
    The first order of business for Israel's acting prime minister Ehud Olmert has been the issue of Palestinians voting in East Jerusalem. Although Israel had previously indicated it would prevent them casting ballots because of participation by Hamas in the election, Olmert now looks set to allow balloting to go ahead. The move is vintage Sharon, and not simply because it accommodates the Bush administration's request: Many leaders of Fatah, the Palestinian ruling party, had prevailed on President Mahmoud Abbas to use the Israeli position as a pretext to cancel elections in which Hamas looks set to match, or even eclipse Fatah's share of seats in the legislature. But while preventing voting in Jerusalem risks casting Israel as the reason for the election's postponement, allowing it to go ahead may even suit Israel's agenda. Sharon had certainly maintained even during the year that Abbas has been in power that "there is no Palestinian partner" for talks and that Israel therefore had to make unilateral decisions. An election in which Hamas emerges as a significant factor in the Palestinian Authority will certainly do nothing to diminish that claim. (Haaretz January 10, 2006)

  • Mona Eltahawy makes the case that the reason Sharon was so widely hated in the Arab world was not his harsh record in dealing with them; it was the fact that they recognized in Sharon the qualities of the quintessential Arab nationalist leader. (Asharq al-Awsat, January 9, 2006)
  • Aluf Benn warns that the chaos in Palestinian areas will prevent Ehud Olmert from evacuating parts of the West Bank as a Phase 2 of last year's Gaza withdrawal. Rejectionists led by Likud's Bibi Netanyahu will win the day as long as Israelis see a vacuum across the security wall. The only alternative, Benn argues, is for Israel to demand that the international community directly administer former the former occupied territories, in the way that it does in parts of former Yugoslavia. (Haaretz, January 10, 2006)
  • Danny Rubinstein reports that the authors of much of the violence that has recently seized the West Bank and Gaza are leaders of Fatah, fueling suspicion on the Palestinian street that the chaos is part of a strategy by the party's entrenched powers to avoid an election that could unseat them. (Haaretz, January 10, 2006)
  • Amos Harel notes that the Israeli security establishment believes an al-Qaeda claim that it ordered a recent rocket attack from Lebanon, and sees the emergence of a direct Qaeda threat to the Jewish State as a product of the Iraq insurgency creating a training ground for new weapons and fighters. (Haaretz, January 9, 2006)
  • Shiites Threaten U.S. Iraq Strategy
    The U.S. endgame in Iraq is premised on the democratic political process ultimately accommodating sufficient sectors of the Sunni population to neutralize the insurgency, or co-opt its largest constituency. But the fundamental problem facing Washington's point man, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, is that the Shiite coalition that looks to have won last month's election is flatly rejecting the sorts of concessions to the Sunnis being proposed by the U.S. The leader of the largest Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq has warned that no substantial changes will be permitted to the Iraqi constitution, even though it was the promise of such changes -- particularly in respect of federalism -- that was an important part of the deal offered to draw Sunni parties in to participate in the election. Hakim has also begun accusing Sunni political leaders who contested the election of being fronts for "terrorism," adopting a hostile posture and dismissing the suggestion of drawing these elements into a unity government. Thus the dilemma facing the U.S. that the concessions necessary to draw in the Sunnis are unacceptable to the Shiites. And given Washington's quickly waning ability to influence events in Iraq in light of the clear limits on its military and financial commitment there, the Shiite ruling party is more likely to have the decisive say. (Asia Times, January 9, 2006)

  • Previously Noted: Endgame in Iraq
  • A Qaeda Detainee Pakistan Won't be Touting
    Usually (typically before General Musharraf is due to meet top U.S. officials) Pakistan broadcasts news of new Al Qaeda detainees, and inflates their importance. But, as Syed Saleem Shahzad reports, they seem to be doing the opposite in the case of Ghulam Mustafa, the 38-year-old head of Qaeda operations in Pakistan. Captured late last year, Shahzad suggests Mustafa is likely to "disappear down a dark hole" because although he is a mine of information on Qaeda operations in Pakistan, not all of it is information the Pakistani security establishment would be comfortable sharing with the U.S. His story, says Shahzad, reveals the complex relationship between the jihadi community and the security forces, which makes Pakistan an inconsistent ally in the U.S. "war on terror." (Asia Times, January 9, 2006)

  • Bin Laden biographer Peter Bergen shares rare insights into the Qaeda leader's personal psychology derived from eight years of research among those who have been close to him. (The Sunday Times, January 3, 2006)

  • Long-term damage: An Iraq war amputee

    Cost of Iraq Could Top $2 Trillion
    Properly calculating the cost to the U.S. of the Iraq war requires tabulating not only the weekly budget expenditure on maintaining the U.S. force in Iraq, but also the long-term costs such as those of providing health care to wounded Americans, rebuilding an over-stretched military and other unforeseen expenditures. Using this broader approach, economist Joseph Stiglitz has calculated that the total long-term cost of the Iraq war to the U.S. could top $2 trillion. Stiglitz presented his findings on a panel hosted by Economists for Peace and Security at the American Economic Association/Allied Social Sciences Association annual conference in Boston. "Predicting overall costs when no one knows how long the war will last, or how many US troops will remain deployed and for how long, is an imprecise exercise," writes the Boston Globe on Stiglitz's findings. "But the range of some future expenses can be assessed, such as the likely medical bills and disability payments for the soldiers who have been wounded in the conflict. Twenty percent of them, for example, have serious brain or spinal injuries that will require life-long care. The cost of death benefits to military families and bonuses being paid to soldiers to reenlist and to sign up new recruits can also be tallied. So can secondary costs such as the interest on the rising budget deficit as a result of war spending." On the basis of those and other expenses, Stiglitz suggests $2 trillion may be a conservative estimate. (Boston Globe, January 8, 2006)

    Improvised Explosive Device, as described by Globalsecurity.org

    Dealing with Iraq's IEDs
    The insurgent weapon that has claimed the most American lives in Iraq is also one of the simplest: The Improvised Explosive Device or IED. Recognizing that these homemade charges assembled from a variety of easily accessible munitions poses a grave threat to U.S. forces not only in the current war in Iraq, but as insurgents share knowledge across borders it will likely become the norm in anti-American insurgencies elsewhere, the U.S. military has called for the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to counter the danger. But, says Center for Defense Information researcher Hannah Levine, that may be the wrong approach. The IED threat is always evolving as insurgents adapt their technology to U.S. responses, she notes. The only effective counter must be similarly adaptive. The analogy, she suggests, is combatting a mutating flu virus. If vaccine programs are based on an earlier version of the virus, they are ineffective. (Center for Defense Information, January 4, 2006)

    East Timor: A peacemaking success story

    Peace Breaking Out All Over?
    You'd never know it to read the headlines, argues David Mack, but "the reality is that, since the end of the Cold War, armed conflict and nearly all other forms of political violence have decreased. The world is far more peaceful than it was. Why has this change attracted so little attention? In part because the global media give far more coverage to wars that start than to those that quietly end, but also because no international agency collects global or regional data on any form of political violence." So Mack, of the University of British Columbia, and a group of international colleagues spent five years collating the Oxford University-backed Human Security Report. Its conclusions show conflict in decline since the end of the Cold War, and a level of success for diplomatic efforts to avoid war quite remarkable in light of popular perceptions. (Washington Post via Winston Salem Journal, January 2, 2006)

    Artist's rendering of a hypothetical 'bullet hitting a bullet' scenario

    It Doesn't Work, But That's No Reason Not to Deploy It: Missile Defense Update
    The Pentagon's multibillion dollar missile defense program is in full swing, with the tenth interceptor missile having been deployed in California last month. Soon, the U.S. will begin seeking a European host for parts of the system, currently confined to California and Alaska. One small problem, writes Victoria Sampson, is that so far, the system has failed to prove itself viable. "The interceptors fielded in Alaska and California are part of a weapons system that suffered two flight test failures within three months. In December 2004 and February 2005, the interceptor rockets not only failed to intercept their test targets -- they could not even leave the launch pad. The United States has been launching rockets for decades now; while missile defense requires an accuracy that has been likened to 'hitting a bullet with a bullet,' rocket launches should be well within our capabilities.

    "Following these recent setbacks, MDA officials took a hard look at their testing program and scaled things down. On Dec. 13, 2005, a test of the interceptor rocket was held, and finally it managed to get off the ground. No target was used; nor will a live target be incorporated in the tests for some time.

    "Yet somehow, the Pentagon argues with a straight face that this system can provide a 'limited' defense for the United States against missile attack. It is theoretically possible that it may do so in the future, but missile defense, as it stands today, tomorrow, and really, for the next few years, does nothing more than divert funding and resources from programs that actually do work. Still, it continues to grow." (Center for Defense Information, January 4, 2006)

    U.S. Central Command's website and Newsletter
    Updating Info on Iraq, Afghanistan. the Middle East and the Horn of Africa