Thursday, January 31, 2008

Silencing Zanan Condemned

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a decision by Iran’s Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance on 28 January to suspend the feminist monthly Zanan, Iran’s leading women’s magazine, for “publishing information detrimental to society's psychological tranquility.”

“The Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance is the judiciary's right arm in its crusade against news media that stray from the official line,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It has been responsible for the suspension of many publications which the courts subsequently close down for good, often imprisoning their journalists. In Iran, the right to information is still seen as a threat to national security.”

Iran: Production of New Weapons

Iran’s Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced in Tehran today that Iran has mass produced new weapons, including an eight-barreled anti-aircraft gun with a firing rate of over 4,000 bullets per minute. The heavy machinegun was said to have the capability of hitting mobile command stations, different kinds of drones, low-flying aircraft and cruise missiles. Najjar said Iran has been designing and producing over 40 weapon systems locally.

In another military-related development, US today banned the sale of any F-14 aircraft components. The move was to prevent Iran from getting parts necessary to keep its F-14 fleet operational. All F-14 and F-4 components must now be destroyed.

It is believed that Iran has been able to restore at least three of its F-14’s jets. Jane Defense Weekly reported last August that the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) has returned to service three F-14A Tomcat interceptor aircraft. US sold to Iran 79 F-14’s some thirty years ago, during the last years of the shah. The jets were heavily used during Iran-Iraq war.
It is estimated that some 57 F-14A’s are still in existence, though at varying degrees of disrepair.

Iran has also kept its fleet of aging F-4 Phantoms. One the F-4’s crashed in the Gulf of Oman last November. Iran had purchased some 220 of the Vietnam-era fighter jets in 1970s. It is not know how many Phantoms are operational today. Last October, Iran announced that it has fit new 2,000-pound optically guided smart bombs, called Ghadr, on its F-4’s and F-5’s.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

News from Iran

An agreement by US, Europe, Russia and China on a draft of a new UN sanction resolution against Iran angered the Iranian leadership and dominated the coverage in the local media. President Ahmadinejad vowed Iran would continue its uranium enrichment program and called any new sanctions “unwise and unjust.” On domestic front, the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country dominated the news. The government disqualified more than 30% of the candidates from standing in the elections. Moderate and reformist parties announced that most of their candidates have been disqualified, putting them in an obvious disadvantage to reclaim the control of Majlis. On regional front, the government and the media lashed at Israel and US for the latest developments in Gaza. The Palestinians were portrayed as victims of an Israeli and US aggression and mass killing.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

· Iran's leadership criticized EU-3, US, Russian, and Chinese (5+1) agreement in Berlin on a draft of a new UNSC sanction resolution against Iran; Iran directly called on Moscow and Beijing to stop the implementation of the resolution.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the 5+1 decision as irrelevant and unjust; Ahmadinejad said as far as Iran is concerned, “the nuclear issue is finished … the more resolutions they produce, the more problems they cause for themselves.”
· Iran accused US and EU-3 of rushing to draft a UNSC resolution prior to submission of a 3 March IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program; Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said the “sudden action” taken by 5+1 suggests the West’s concern about a “breakthrough” between Iran and IAEA; Iran’s Parliament Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said US pressure for a resolution against Iran despite its own NIE suggests US unwillingness to settle the issue through international rules.
· Chairman of National Security Committee of the Majlis Alaedin Boroujerdi accused US of pushing for a resolution against Iran in order to affect Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections; Boroujerdi added that it is a “grave miscalculation” to think the a new sanction resolution would affect the elections.
· The draft resolution on Iran is to urge UN members to inspect cargo on Iranian ships and aircraft if they are suspected of transporting prohibited nuclear-related items.
· US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the move “deepens” sanctions against Iran and opens “new directions” like cargo inspections; Rice added that 5+1 agreement shows that Iran “continues to be isolated from the international community.”
· Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov characterized the draft resolution as “not harsh”; Lavrov said if Iran agrees with 5+1 proposals, direct negotiations with Iran involving the six nations, including the US, would follow.
· Deputy Director of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Javad Vaeedi announced that Iran has produced 300 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas; Vaeedi said the UF6, a gas feed for uranium enrichment process, was produced at Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility; UF6 produced at Isfahan is to be sent to Natanz enrichment facilities for production of uranium fuel.
· Iran received its eighth and last nuclear fuel shipment from Russia; Director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Gholam Reza Aqazadeh said Iran has been given the fuel required for its Bushehr power plant; the delivered fuel is to be used for the initial load of Bushehr power plant's reactor.
· Iran was poised to test run an advanced uranium-enriching centrifuge (2); the new P-2 centrifuge was said to be more than twice as capable as the existing P-1 centrifuge; Iran has reported setting up approximately 3,000 P-1 centrifuges at the enrichment facility in Natanz.
· Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Iran is “quite advanced” in its work on atomic weapons; Barak added Iran may already be working on a nuclear warhead; Barak accused Iran of operating another clandestine enrichment operation beyond the one in Natanz; Barak sharply disagreed with US government’s NIE on Iran; he emphasized that Iranians “are quite advanced, much beyond the level of the Manhattan Project.”

Arab-Israeli Conflict

· Tehran’s Friday Prayer Leader called on Islamic states to aid Palestinians; Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati asked the heads of Islamic countries “not to remain silent on the killing of Palestinians”; he urged them to act “in order to stop the crimes committed by the Zionist regime”; Jannati added that Iran considers the situation in Gaza as a testing ground for the Islamic states.
· An editorial on Gaza called on Muslims to unite in a retaliatory attack on American, European, and Israeli “sensitive centers” for “war crimes that these countries are committing in the Gaza Strip” to support Israel.
· Another editorial on Gaza said that Islamic regimes that prevent an attack on Israel must be “toppled.”

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to make his first visit to Iraq; Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced in Tehran that Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to visit the country; the visit is expected to take place by mid-March.
· Iran’s foreign minister praised US moves to reduce its forces in Iraq as “a good decision”; he urged Washington to expedite handing over full control of the government, including security, to the Iraqi government; Mottaki also spoke approvingly of Britain’s move to hand in military control of Basra to Iraqi forces.
· US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that US plans to withdraw five combat brigades through next summer; the move is to bring the overall US troop level to about 130,000.
· Iran raises concerns with US about Iraq talks; Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki said Iran has serious “concerns about the next round of discussions with the Americans on Iraq”; he added that the two sides had been in communication over Iran’s concern and Iran is studying US response.
· Afghan Interior Ministry Spokesman Zemaira Bashary rejected allegation over road-side bombs supply from Iran to the Taliban in western Afghanistan; Bashary said no documents have yet proved that Iran has supplied 130 mines to the Taliban; Western media reports claimed that a number of the mines discovered in a military operation in Taliban's cache in Farah province bore Iran’s trade mark.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· Iranian election authorities barred nearly one-third of the 7,240 candidates applying to run in 14 March parliamentary elections; officials said some were involved in embezzlement or fraud, sympathized with terrorist groups or had a “tendency toward perverted cults”; moderate and reformist politicians barred from participating in the elections pledged to fight their disqualifications; some threatened to boycott the vote in an attempt to win back control of Majlis, Iran’s parliament.
· Esmail Gerami-Moghadam, a candidate from National Trust Party, politically moderate, said only 30% of the party’s candidates were able to stand for elections; Gerami-Moghadam added the government’s move to disqualify so many of is opponents does not guarantee a fair and free election; barred were 230 of about 300 candidates put up by the National Trust Party.
· Islamic Participation Front, a reformist group, announced that 190 of 200 of its candidates had been disqualified; Mujahedeen of the Islamic Revolution, another organization opposing Ahmadinejad’s government, had all its candidates disqualified.
· Remaining candidates are to be vetted by the Guardian Council; Guardian Council was expected to disqualify some of moderate and reformist candidates who made the first cut by the government; the final list if candidates is to be announced on 5 March for the 14 March elections.

Regional Storylines

· Iran vowed to retaliate against US bases in Gulf if US attacks first; Islamic Revolution Guards Corp. (IRGC) Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said his forces would retaliate against US military bases in the Persian Gulf if they are involved in any possible future attack on Iran; Gen. Jafari assured neighboring Arab countries that only US forces would come under counterattack; Jafari added that Iran’s long and medium-range rocket will put US troops in a “weak position.”
· Iran delayed signing of a gas sale and purchase agreement with Pakistan; Tehran communicated to Islamabad that the agreement could be signed in the second or third week of February; a senior official of Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources said that gas price finalized for the project was based on Japan Crude Cocktail (JCC), some 40 per cent less than the current market price; Pakistan will save about $1 billion per year due to the pricing.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Production of UF6 Reaches 300 Tons

Deputy Director of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Javad Vaeedi said today that Iran has produced 300 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas used for uranium enrichment in the Isfahan nuclear facility.

Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) converts the raw uranium that has been mined and milled at Ardakan (referred to as “yellowcake”) into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a gas feed for the enrichment process.

During the enrichment process at Natanz, UF6 produced at Isfahan facilities can be enriched either to contain around 5% uranium-235, low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as nuclear power reactor fuel, or to above 80% uranium-235, producing high enriched uranium (HEU). The HEU could be transformed into a metallic form called uranium metal, the core ingredient of a nuclear warhead.

The Isfahan facility also produces UO2 (uranium dioxide) as fuel to the Heavy Water Reactor under construction at Arak.

Iran suspended all its activities at Isfahan UCF in November 2004 after signing the Paris Accord with EU-3 and the facility was brought under IAEA seals. In August 2005, however, Iran resumed UF6 production at Isfahan.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Majlis Elections: Changing the Results before Any Vote is Cast!

Iran’s Ministry of Interior has banned nearly one-third of the candidates from standing in 14 March parliamentary elections. Individuals with “a record” at the Ministry of Intelligence, the police or the judiciary were banned. The Interior Ministry rejected some 2,200 candidates, representing 31% of those registered. Reformist parties report that hundreds of their candidates were disqualified. The Islamic Participation Front, a main reformist party, said that 70 percent of reformist candidates from different groups had been disqualified from the ballot. “Such large number of disqualifications is unprecedented,” said a statement by the party.

The vetting process is not over yet. The Guardian Council would now examine the qualification of the remaining candidates based on their loyalty to the Islamic Republic and adherence to the Islamic principles. Additional moderate and reformist candidates are expected to be disqualified by the Guardian Council.

Voters will not have much of a choice when they go to the polls. The traditional conservatives and radical fundamentalists in control of every branch of government feared they could loose control of the parliament to reformists and moderates. By banning their opponents, the government is changing the results of the elections before even a single vote is cast.

The elections were increasingly seen as a test of popularity for Ahmadinejad. “Conservatives are scared of a reformist victory because of the government's failed economic policies,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister and a leading reformist. It appears that the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council would prevent the elections to be turned into a referendum on Ahmadinejad’s government. The inflation and unemployment are at record high, and a shortage of heating gas during a record cold winter has caused many deaths and widespread dissatisfaction with the government.

Even the government’s nuclear policy, seemingly a safe heaven for Ahmadinejad, has started to unravel. With the publication by the US government of the new NIE, the public expected a quick turnaround and the referral of Iran’s nuclear dossier from UN Security Council back to IAEA. But Ahmadinejad’s government could not even prevent China and Russia to vote for yet another UN sanctions resolution. The government looks hapless and disorganized.

The reformists had a realistic second chance at power. Disqualifying so many candidates might save the day for the government, but would create a potentially bigger problem, loosing its legitimacy. Hasan Rowhani, the former chief nuclear negotiator and the current head of the Centre for Strategic Studies, spoke eloquently about the “danger of popular vote turning into mere formality.”

In The New York Times today we read the telling story of Akbar Alami. Alami, a current member of the parliament and an outspoken critic of Ahmadinejad, is a devout Muslim and an Islamic Republic loyalist from an early age. He lost most of his right hand in the war with Iraq. Yet he was among the candidates who were disqualified to stand for elections.

“At age 52, I learned that according to the Executive Board [of elections] I had allegations of non-commitment to Islam, lack of belief in the system of the Islamic Republic and lack of following the constitution of the Islamic Republic,” said Alami.

The “in” circle in the Islamic Republic is shrinking rapidly and with it the government’s legitimacy claimed during a popular uprising nearly thirty years ago.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

News from Iran

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany agreed in Berlin on a new UN resolution against Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranian government denounced the action and vowed to continue its uranium enrichment activities. Ever since the publication of a new NIE by the US government, Iran had called on the UN to drop its case against its nuclear program. The agreement on the new UN sanctions by the world’s major powers was unexpected in Iran. On the regional front, Iran claimed its strong ties with the Arabs foiled President Bush’s agenda to create an anti-Iran coalition in the Persian Gulf during his recent tour of the region. On domestic front, the Iranian authorities announced that a large number of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections will be disqualified to participate in the elections. The moderates and the reformists feared that many of their candidates will be among those who were being disqualified.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

· Six powers agreed on new UN resolution against Iran; five permanent UN Security Council members, United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1) approved the text of a new resolution on Iran's nuclear program; France and Britain will present a draft resolution to UNSC for final approval.
· U.S. State Department Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said P5+1 has reaffirmed a commitment to a two-track strategy; Gallegos described the strategy as offering Iran a dialogue that would give it economic benefits if it stops enriching uranium or risk further UN sanctions; he said Iran is becoming increasingly isolated.
· French President Nicolas Sarkozy said French policy of being tough on Iran would encourage Iran to give guarantees that its nuclear program is not aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons; Sarkozy has called for a dual policy of “being tough” and of “dialogue.”
· Iran’s government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said Iran would continue uranium enrichment; Elham said Iran is moving within its “legitimate and legal rights” and will continue its nuclear program.
· Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the West “will not succeed in its efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program”; Hosseini said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons.
· Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said Iran will not give up its rights; Jalili emphasized Iran's “firm resolve” to continue cooperation with IAEA.
· Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Israel may have to take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb; Bolton said further UN sanctions against Iran will be ineffective in stopping Iran's nuclear program.
· Russia delivered another consignment of nuclear fuel for Iran's 1,000-megawatt Bushehr nuclear power station; Iran’s first nuclear power station would be operationalized in summer of 2008.

Major Regional Storylines

· Iran accused US of “manufacturing” an Iranian threat in the Persian Gulf; Iran’s Speaker of Parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said Iran’s strong Arab ties has foiled President Bush’s attempts during his recent visit to the region to form an anti-Iran coalition.
· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel “does not have the courage” to launch a military strike against Iran; he told Al Jazeera TV that Iran will make Israel “regret” the attack; Ahmadinejad added Israel is doomed to “rapid collapse.”
· Israel tested a new ballistic missile at a military base near Tel Aviv; the missile test came days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that “all options are open” in halting Iran’s nuclear program.
· The successful launch of a “sophisticated spy satellite” by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle could bolster Israel’s ability to “spy on Iran”; Israel launched the satellite code –named “Tescar” to establish a new point of view in space.
· IAEA awaited explanation from Kyrgyzstan on a radioactive seizure; Uzbekistan border guards detected Cesium-137 in a Kyrgyz freight train bound for Iran; Cs-137, used in medical devices and gauges, is a by-product of nuclear fission processes in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons testing.
· President Ahmadinejad accused Israel of committing crime in Gaza; Ahmadinejad called Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mobarak, Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Al Asad to “discuss and denounce” Israeli raids in Gaza.
· The U.S. military in Iraq is seeing an upswing in the number of roadside bomb attacks using deadly armor-piercing munitions; Defense Secretary Robert Gates said number of attacks involving explosively formed penetrators (EFP) in the first two weeks of January was about equal to EFP attacks during all of December; late last year, US military officials in Iraq said the number of EFP attacks had fallen off; Washington accuses Tehran of arming, training and funding Shia militias in Iraq.

Leading Domestic Storylines

· More than 390 out of a total of 1,400 candidates in Tehran constituency have been rejected by authorities to run in Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections; about 40 per cent of the 7,200 people who have registered to run throughout the country “have a record” with the intelligence ministry or the judiciary, an indication they would not be allowed to run in elections to be held on 14 March; the remaining candidates will be “vetted” by the Guardian Council before the elections; reformist candidates feared they will not be allowed to run in the elections; former President Khatami expressed his concerns at a meeting with members of the Reformist Coalition; Khatami said there is “a narrow-minded effort to deprive many devoted, experienced and enlightened individuals from the elections”; a former vice-president, Mohammad Reza Aref, warned against the “consequences of narrow mindedness, factional perspectives and personal preferences” determining the vetting process; Hasan Rowhani, the former chief nuclear negotiator and the current head of the Centre for Strategic Studies, warned of the “danger of popular vote turning into mere formality.”
· Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reversed a decision by President Ahmadinejad and ordered him to put into effect a law supplying natural gas to remote villages; Khamenei’s move was a major rebuke to the president; Khamenei order covered spending $1 billion from Iran’s Currency Reserve Fund to supply natural gas to villages.
· World’s Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said there was an outbreak of bird flue in Iran; Mojtaba Norouzi, head of Iran’s Veterinary Department, confirmed the outbreak of deadly H5N1 bird flue among some domestic and wild birds of Iran.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Back to Pre-NIE Days!

During his visit to Gulf Arab states, President Bush urged their leaders to join him in confronting Iran, “before it’s too late.” He described Iran as “the world's leading state sponsor of terror.”

A leading state sponsor of terror with a strong military and proven nuclear capability is a threat to all countries in the region, Bush told the Arab leaders. Iran must be stopped now. That was the message.

Iran accused President Bush of fanning “Iranophobia.” Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said fanning Iranophobia was “the objective of Bush's visit to the region.”

The Strait of Hormuz incident could have provided the pretext for the start of an armed conflict. The threatening radio message that brought US and Iranian ships to the brink of a shootout in the Persian Gulf may have been a prank by the notorious “Filipino Monkey.” The US Navy, however, did not consider the behavior of IRGC boats as a hoax.

The commander of US naval forces in the region told President Bush that the confrontation with Iranian boats was “deadly seriously.”

The Europeans and the Israelis issued their own warnings on Iran. French foreign ministry spokesperson Pascale Andreani said “that pursuit of a military, nuclear program by Iran is absolutely unacceptable.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy started his own tour of the Persian Gulf and signed an agreement with UAE to station French troops and to build a military base there, across the water from Iran. This is the first time that the French troops would have a permanent base in the Persian Gulf.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany's stance toward Iran remains unchanged. Merkel called on Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued his strongest warning yet that he is prepared to use military force against Iran.

“All options are on the table,” said Olmert. “As far as Israel is concerned, the Iranians are continuing efforts to produce non-conventional weapons and, therefore, we must use all the means at our disposal to stop them.”

It seems that we are back to pre-NIE days, at least for this week.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Four-Week Deadline on Iran’s Nuclear Negotiations

IAEA announced today that it has agreed with Iran on a four-week deadline to clear up all remaining issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei held two days of talks in Tehran with Iranian officials, urging them to speed up their answers to the agency's questions about areas of doubt in the country’s nuclear projects.

ElBaradei is due to present his report on Iran to the IAEA Board of Governors in March. The report is expected to crucial to international community’s response to the nuclear standoff.

The key sticking point in the standoff is Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei today reiterated Iran’s position that it Iran will not suspend its enrichment activities.

“The Americans think wrongly that they can make the Islamic Republic of Iran submit by pressuring it on the nuclear issue," Khamenei told ElBaradei. “But they cannot make the Iranian nation submit by bringing up these issues and others.”

The US is not the only power that has called for suspension of uranium enrichment. The Europeans and more notably the Russians have also repeated the same demand in recent weeks.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Controversy over Straits of Hormuz Incident

The controversy over the threatening radio transmission heard at the end of the Pentagon tape showing harassing maneuvers by IRGC patrol boats in the Straits of Hormuz continued.

A Bahrain-based US 5th Fleet spokeswoman had said, “We don’t know for sure where they came from. It could have been a shore station.”

Now the Navy Times and a number of blogs are saying that the voice could have come from a locally famous prankster know as the “Filipino Monkey.”

The voice heard was saying “I am coming to you. You will explode in a few minutes.” The video was showing IRGC boats swarming US warships. Without the audio, however, the action did not seem as “threatening” as originally thought so.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen said however that the incident show how real Iranian threat is. Adm. Mullen added that, “The problem of Iran is not and should never be considered a purely military problem, but our own military restraint in dealing with that problem should in turn never be confused for a lack of capability.” He continued, “While no shots needed to be fired, there is no doubt in my mind that shots would have been fired had the situation demanded it.”

The Commander of US Central Command, Admiral Fox Fallon, said the threatening radio call heard during an encounter Sunday between US Navy ships and Iranian boats in the Straits of Hormuz “was likely connected to Iran's provocative actions.” Adm. Fallon said the exact origin of the message was still unknown. He continued Iran runs the risk of triggering an unintended conflict if its boats continue to harass US warships in the Persian Gulf.

The radio call was heard over an open frequency often used by mariners to identify themselves and avoid accidents. Admiral Fallon did say that “the voice is very strange. I don't know whether it came from the boats or one of the shore stations. But the timing of it is pretty suspicious. In my mind it is related to the [Iranian] maneuvers.”

Iran has denied that its boats threatened the U.S. vessels and accused the Pentagon of fabricating the video. Iran has released its own video, which appeared to be shot from a small boat bobbing at least 100 yards from the American warships. It was not at all clear whether the Iranian video was related to the incident, however. Iranian patrol boats routinely close in to US warships and ask them to identify themselves.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Catastrophe Avoided

On Sunday, five IRGC patrol boats swarmed US warships in the Straits of Hormuz and radioed a threat to blow the US ships. The commander of US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) characterized the behavior of IRGC naval personnel as “unduly provocative." The Pentagon later released a video tape that appeared to confirm its version of the incident. The Iranian government insisted that no such threats had been made and accused the Pentagon of “clumsily fabricating” the evidence. The Pentagon dismissed as “absurd” the claim that it has faked the video and audio recording.

The seriousness and the enormity of the incident began to be felt throughout the region. Saudi Arabia urged restraint. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal told reporters, “We face the danger of an escalation, and restraint by all players in the region is necessary.”

The latest incident between Iran and the US occurred on the eve of President Bush’s trip to the region. In fact the President was already in Israel when the Pentagon issued a stern warning that it is prepared to use force if its warships are threatened again. Later this week the president will work his way down the Gulf visiting Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Saudi Arabia. In UAE he will be a short distance away from where the naval incident occurred. A number of Iran analysts believe that the leadership in Tehran regarded Bush’s extensive travel in the area as a provocation and an attempt to build an anti-Iran coalition. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei during a speech on Thursday in Yazd called President Bush the “embodiment of evil.” This is a language not used by Iranian leaders in a very long time.

It was in this hostile atmosphere, partly triggered by President Bush’s trip to the region that the tense naval standoff between the US Navy and IRGC patrol boats occurred. The incident, as the Saudis pointed out, did have and still does have the potential of escalating into something much bigger and much more dangerous.

The current government in Tehran cherishes open confrontation with the US. President Ahmadinejad has just two months to maintain the pro-government majority in Majlis during the upcoming parliamentary elections. Such confrontations with the “enemy” would distract public’s attention from the severe economic problems facing the nation and might help Ahmadinejad in rallying the public in “defense” of the motherland.

But this time the IRGC might have gone few hundred yards too far. The Pentagon has said the next time the Navy ships are provoked they would shoot. That’s precisely the danger of escalation so powerfully spoken of by the Saudi foreign minister. If the Guardians of the Revolution who had harassed and threatened the US ships were to be blown away along with their boats by the fire power from those warships defending against an imminent attack, the IRGC would have retaliated and could fire a number of missiles against the large number of US warships sitting in the narrow and shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. Any direct hit would unleash a massive US retaliation against the Islamic Republic, what is known these days as World War III.

The US ships this time showed a high degree of restraint in the face of a potentially serious attack and the Iranians turned back just on time. Such restraints might not be offered in the future. That’s the prospect so worrisome to the Saudis and to all observers of the region.

Pentagon Warns Iran

The Pentagon warned today it is prepared to use force if its warships are threatened by Iran. The warning came in the wake of a tense naval standoff between US Navy and IRGC patrol boats.

The Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman also dismissed as absurd an Iranian claim that it has faked the video and audio of the incident. Iran has characterized the evidence as “clumsily fabricated.”

Whitman said Iran’s accusation reflects “a lack of seriousness with which they take this serious incident.”

Saudi Arabia today urged restraint after Iran-US naval skirmish. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal told reporters, “We face the danger of an escalation, and restraint by all players in the region is necessary.” [AFP, 9 January]

President Bush arrived in Israel today amid a war of words with Iran over the skirmish. The White House has accused Iran of committing a “provocative” act.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Pentagon Audio Confirms Strait of Hormuz Threat

The Pentagon released a video and audio tape today that appeared to confirm its allegation that Iranian speedboats swarmed US warships and radioed a threat to blow them up. The Iranian government had insisted that no such threats had been made by the IRGC.

US Called IRGC Behavior “Provocative”

The seriousness of the incident in the Straits of Hormuz involving IRGC naval patrol boats and US warships is now becoming clear.

The commander of Bahrain-based US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, today characterized the behavior of IRGC as “unduly provocative."

Adm. Cosgriff said the US ships received a radio call that was “threatening in nature, to the effect that they were closing on our ships and ... the U.S. ships would explode.”

The US Navy has not yet released any audio recording of the Iranian threatening statements to back up its version of the incident.

President Bush today also said Iran committed "a provocative act" in the Strait of Hormuz when Iranian speedboats approached three US Navy ships and threatened that the ships would explode.

"It was a provocative act. It's a dangerous situation and they should not have done it, pure and simple," said President Bush.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also weighed in, “This is a very volatile area and the risk of an incident escalating is real. [The incident] is a reminder that there is a very unpredictable government in Tehran.”

The Iranian government is insisting that the behavior of Revolutionary Guards were “normal.” The foreign ministry spokesman told reporters in Tehran that the Iranian patrol boats were just asking the Americans to identify themselves. He denied US reports that the Iranians made any threatening moves against US warships.

IRGC boats have been patrolling the Straight of Hormuz for a long time now and on numerous occasions had asked the American ships to identify themselves. The Iranian government did not offer any explanation as to why only this time the US Navy regarded their behavior as provocative.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Iran Engages US Warships

CNN reported today that Five Iranian naval vessels harassed three US warships and broadcast threatening messages late Saturday in an incident in international waters in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Khamenei: No Relations with US

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in a major speech delivered yesterday in Yazd, spoke against normalizing relations with the US, at least for now. Establishing relations with the US, he warned, would prepare the ground for the growth of US influence in Iran and creates a danger for the country because of “the travel of their intelligence officers and spies to and from Iran.”

Khamenie did not close the door entirely. Iran has never said that relations with the US will be suspended indefinitely, he stressed. He made it clear, however, that no one should expect any changes soon, “The establishment of such relations is currently to our detriment. So we should not pursue such relations.”

Khamenie also made it clear that he has the last say in foreign policy. “When the day comes that relations with America will benefit the Iranian nation, I will be the first person to endorse these relations.” He ridiculed the proponents of establishing relations with the US as “talkative people.”

Khamenei surprised Iran analysts by saying frankly that Iran is the force behind anti-American activities in the Middle East. He singled out Hezbollah, “America with its arrogance and power has never been able to beat Hezbollah and American officials have realized that Iran is the main factor behind their failures in the region.”

On nuclear issue, Ayatollah Khamenei criticized Khatami’s government for suspending uranium enrichment and characterized suspension as "backing down in the face of enemy." He added, “It showed to the Iranian nation and the world public opinion that the West's promises are hollow, because Iran's temporary and voluntary suspension was misused by the enemy in an attempt to close down Iran's entire nuclear activities.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also made it clear that he is the main force behind Iran’s nuclear policy. He said after the West made various demands on the country’s nuclear program, he stopped he process and ordered the resumption of enrichment program, “I stressed that if the process of constant demands by Iran's nuclear parties continue, I will enter into the scene, and this finally happened and the process that was leading to closing down our nuclear activities turned into nuclear progress.”

Khamenei defended Ahmadinejad against charges that his hostility toward the US has harmed Iran’s national interests. He said US “enmity towards the Iranian nation is not based on the [Iranian] president... On the contrary, the US is against the principles of the Iranian nation and such a thing has existed since the beginning of the Islamic revolution.”

Khamenei asked the critics of Ahmadinejad’s government not to constantly seek “mistakes in the decisions and practice of the executive body, particularly the government.” He added, “Some individuals attempt to criticize and insult every move by the government. The majority of these individuals are however negligent that they are acting in line with the enemies' propaganda.”

On the possibility of a military action against Iran, Khamenei said, “Of course, the possibility of such a thing is much less than before.” He was apparently referring to the publication of the new NIE by the US government.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hossini vs. Mottaki

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini needed to go before the reporters to reject his own minister’s assertion on Iran’s share of the Caspian Sea resources. On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had said that “Iran's exploitation of the Caspian Sea has never been higher than 11.3 percent.” Hossini said not so fast. In his press conference on Monday, Hosseini emphasized that Iran's share of the Caspian Sea resources will be “around 20 percent.” He added, “Tehran has always made efforts to reach the quota and will not forgo its right.”

Mottaki, talking to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony to mark Eid Ghadir, has put Kazakhstan's share of the Caspian Sea at 24%, Russia’s and Turkmenistan at less than 20% and Iran’s at 11.3% (IRNA, 30 December).

In 1921, the Iranian government had signed an accord with the Russian revolutionary government headed by Lenin dividing the resources of the sea equally between the two countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its replacement on Caspian shores with four independent states of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan created a new situation. Many Iran analysts believe that the accord signed in 1921 is still legally valid and binding. It is the 50% share of the former Soviet Union that needs to be redistributed among the four new republics. The current government in Iran, however, has not backed the claim and seems ready to accept a 20% share based on “principle of justice.”

Mottaki is suggesting a percentage for Iran even lower than what had been suggested by Russia. The Russians argue Iran’s share is at 13.6% based on the length of its coastal line. Mottaki has not backed down personally and it is not clear whether Majlis would impeach him for his remarks.

Hossini vs. Jalili

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini needed to go before the reporters to reject a proposal made two days earlier by Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili. In a meeting with visiting Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf Bin al-Alawi on 29 December in Tehran, Jalili had proposed changing the Persian Gulf’s name to “Friendship Gulf.” He had emphasized that “Friendship Gulf” is not a slogan, but Iran's strategic view (IRNA, 31 December).

Hossini told reporters on Monday that “Persian Gulf will remain Persian Gulf for ever.” He said what Jalili meant was that “the Persian Gulf can be a place for friendship.”

Jalili, appointed to the post by President Ahmadinejad with the approval of Ayatollah Khamenei, can not be impeached by the Majlis.