Posts Tagged ‘Iran’
It is being reported that Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who told Reuters that he was number two in Finland, has resigned in protest of the brutality of the regime and is now considering claiming political asylum in Finland. This would make him the second diplomat to have defected since last year’s disputed election sparked widespread protests.
Iran’s Press TV is reporting that the country’s Foreign Ministry denies that Alizadeh was employed as a diplomat at the time and that, in fact, his mission had officially ended in August.
Reuters has a quote:
“I have resigned definitively in protest — I am no longer an Iranian diplomat,” Alizadeh said by telephone from Finland.
Alizadeh’s resignation was announced by the Green Wave movement, founded by Paris-based Iranian exile Amir Hossein Jahanchahi. It is unclear at this stage whether Alizadeh with join the movement, but it does appear that he intends to be a dissident. He reportedly also said the following:
“I don’t consider myself any more a diplomat standing beside a brutal Iranian regime,” Mr Alizadeh said.
”I have let the embassy know that I have resigned from my job and … I’m not any more a diplomat.
”I am a political dissident.”
Mr Alizadeh said he was considering what to do next but had not applied for political asylum. [The Age]
While of course this news is not earth-shattering, it is interesting to consider it as part of how the protest movement is taking shape since the disputed election. It appears that, if anything, it has definitely emboldened a lot more people, both within Iran and within the diaspora, to air their grievances, speak out and become dissidents. This will probably accelerate internal repression, this movement definitely does not have the strength to change that, certainly not in the near future.
This piece was originally published at NOW!Lebanon, titled “Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike“
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of discussion in US foreign policy circles about the potential for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Much of this discussion has been focused around Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy and alarmist cover story for The Atlantic Magazine about the likelihood of such a strike happening within the next 12 months. However, no discussion of an Israeli, or indeed American, strike on Iran can ignore the unavoidable involvement of Lebanon, and the subsequent impact on the country.
Goldberg interviewed around “forty current and past Israeli decision-makers” as background for his piece, but many of them remain anonymous, and those who are named appear to contribute little different to what we already knew: Israel considers Iran an “existential threat” and is very worried, and all options are always on the table, some of them more likely than others. Thus, the motivation of Goldberg’s sources must be better understood. Why would Israeli decision makers be telling Jeffrey Goldberg that there’s a good chance of an Israeli strike on Iran? Because they understand Goldberg’s influence in Washington, and they want to mainstream the idea of not only an Israeli strike, but a potentially pre-emptive one from the US. This story has already had a broad ripple effect in the political media ecosystem, having been expanded into a fully-fledged debate on The Atlantic website and picked up by other outlets and blogs alike. This process helps an idea gain a legitimacy it didn’t have before the original big story dropped.
While, of course, such a story alone cannot be blamed for a military strike, in many ways, this process is reminiscent of similar discussions in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq war, during which Jeffrey Goldberg played a remarkably similar role. In 2010, the potentially disastrous consequences of such a strike by the US, many of which would also eventuate in the case of an Israeli one, cannot be easily dismissed, and some are even mentioned by Goldberg himself: a closing of the Straits of Hormuz; a massive spike in the price of oil, exacerbating the global recession; destabilisation of the Gulf region; deadly reprisals from Iranian-sponsored terrorist outfits abroad; a nail in the coffin for the Iranian “Green Movement;” and a shoring up of sympathy for Iran’s regime internationally. Most alarmingly, Iran’s actual pursuit of nuclear-weapons capacity, both the details and progress of it, are still in doubt. A strike would, much as it did with Israel’s strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, impel Iran’s regime to redouble its efforts to reach such a capacity.
The consequences of a strike on Iran for the fragile détente between Israel and Hezbollah are unpredictable at best and a powder keg at worst. “Israel or the United States cannot just bomb Iran and (expect) things to continue normally,” Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, told Reuters in March. “Any attack on Iran could ignite the whole region and the assailant will pay a heavy price whether it’s Israel or the United States.”
Cross-border rocket reprisals from Hamas and Hezbollah are widely expected in the case of a strike on Iran, but the extent of the potential conflict cannot be precisely anticipated. Many analysts already believe that the next war between Israel and Hezbollah is a matter of when, not if, and there are plenty of potential excuses for war already. One major cause for concern is the exploration of Tamarand Leviathan,two recently-discovered gas fields that could, as estimated by the US partner in exploration Noble Energy, contain up to 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. The maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon is not well defined, and Beirut has also taken steps to begin off-shore exploration. Natural resources aside, Hezbollah’s steady rearmament since 2006 and Israel’s continued manned overflights over Lebanese territory, both in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are reason enough for a major conflict to be sparked by either side.
Concerning Hezbollah’s rearmament, as noted by Daniel Kurtzer in his July report for the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, the party has improved both the quantity and quality of its weaponry since 2006, although it is unclear exactly by how much. Since Gabi Ashkenazi’s ascendancy to IDF chief of staff, Israel has also maintained that it is far more prepared today to fight a war with Hezbollah than in previous years. As repeatedly noted in Kurtzer’s report, Israel has not only levelled at Hezbollah the as-yet-unproven charge of acquiring Scud missiles from Syria, but also prepared for it, as well as the strategic threat from Syrian M-600 rockets or even advanced surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-300, which Israel considers a “red line.”
What this indicates is that Israel takes the threat from Hezbollah very seriously, and would be keeping this threat in mind in accompaniment to any potential strike on Iran.
If Goldberg’s story, particularly its many statements from Israeli officials, is to be viewed largely as an Israeli PR exercise, then Israel probably wishes to allow time for the off chance that the Obama administration will conduct a US strike on Iran, something Israel almost certainly prefers. The administration is in no hurry. As reported in the New York Times last week, administration officials believe that there is roughly a year before Iran achieves “breakout” nuclear capacity, or the time it would take to convert low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade. Iran’s distance from real nuclear-weapons capacity, and Israel’s current wariness of an immediate military conflict with Hezbollah indicate that a strike would likely occur toward the end of Goldberg’s proposed 12-month window, if at all.
No mistake should be made about the consequences for Lebanon. Benjamin Netanyahu has already made it clear that, as a result of Hezbollah’s inclusion in Lebanon’s cabinet, the whole country would be held responsible for attacks on Israel. This is an apparent extension of Israel’s supposed “Dahiyeh Doctrine” to cover not only southern Lebanon but the country’s institutions and infrastructure on a national level, bringing with it alarming possibilities stemming from Israel’s destruction of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
Obama does not have the stomach for the initiation of another major conflict, but only time will tell whether Israel is prepared to put aside concerns of a complicated entanglement with Hezbollah, along with the other host of issues mentioned above, and actually execute a strike on Iran unilaterally. The possibility for unmitigated disaster is great, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, a sentence that sparked an international outcry over a practice that many see as archaic and barbaric. Since the initial sentence was handed down, the twists and turns in events since then have moved rapidly.
The initial sentence was handed down by a court in Tabriz in May 2006, she was charged with committing adultery (despite the alleged incident occurring after the death of her husband) and was sentenced to 99 lashes, which was carried out. Then, in September she was convicted by another court, the details of which are still rather shaky, of adultery and of being an accomplice in the murder of her husband. But wait, is she being put to death for adultery? Or for murder? Or for both? Statements made by officials aren’t very conclusive:
“In the first place, the allegation was murder,” the lawyer [this is Ashtiani’s lawyer talking] told Babylon & Beyond. “She was accused of killing her husband, but as her children forgave her … she was pardoned and there was no more allegation against her. But to complicate the case, the court raised the issue of adultery.”Sharifi declined to outline Ashtiani’s role in her husband’s death, saying it would be just too darn shocking for the public. [LA Times]
Despite the original cases being in 2006, developments this year have come thick and fast, here’s a roundup:
- Her stoning sentence was suspended, pending further deliberation, but was likely to be changed to an alternative means of execution, such as hanging.
- Iran issued a media blackout, making reporting even more difficult.
- The Iranian Embassy in London told reporters that Ashtiani would not be stoned (but would probably still be killed).
- Tabriz prosecution demanded Ashtiani’s execution
- Brazil offered to give Ashtiani asylum but was rebuffed by Iran.
- Ashtiani’s lawyer went into hiding in Turkey, after Iranian authorities detained three of his relatives and issued a warrant for his arrest, but was arrested by immigration officials in Turkey.
- The Guardian claimed that Ashtiani spoke with them, through an unnamed intermediary and blamed the Iranian regime for unfair treatment of women: “I was found guilty of adultery and was acquitted of murder, but the man who actually killed my husband was identified and imprisoned but he is not sentenced to death.”
- Everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Hillary Clinton, The National Iranian American Council and French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy have come out against the execution. An organisation has been set up to advocate on Ashtiani’s behalf with an international petition.
- Ashtiani confessed to murder on Iranian TV.
- And soon after allegations of torture in order to extract the confession were levelled.
Some things to consider about the Iranian judicial system: while the judicial code is fundamentally based on Shi’a Islamic law, there are a number of innovations and adaptations that make Iranian law fundamentally unique. Chief among these are the introduction of circumstantial evidence (not just direct evidence) and an appeals process for the death penalty that give a High Court (not local courts) final say, two things that are not elements of traditional sharia law.
Having said that, neither of these are particularly likely to have an impact on Ashtiani’s case. The involvement of a High Court means that all the international pressure can have more impact than in a local case, there is also the paradox that the Iranian state will not want to appear like it has been influenced by “the West”. This would be an embarrassment to the regime and set an unwelcome precedent of foreign intervention being successful.
And while the presentation of circumstantial evidence certainly appears to make things more just, there are a number of other fundamental problems, such as the fact that the testimony of a male witness is still worth more than that of a woman (literally, it states that two female witnesses equal one man), and the difficulty of establishing rape, as opposed to adultery, when the alleged victim is a woman.
Personally, I oppose all forms of the death penalty, because I, like Albert Camus, believe it absurd for the State to kill a human being for such abstract and seemingly irrational reasons as concepts of “revenge” and “punishment”. Thus, I sincerely hope that Ashtiani is pardoned and can walk free, home to her two children. However, it must be noted that criticisms on this basis that are leveled at Iran by the US Government are also somewhat absurd.
In Hillary Clinton’s statement linked above, she says that the Department of State is “troubled by the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who garnered international attention for her verdict of death by stoning.” One wonders what specifically about Ashtiani’s case so troubles Clinton. Is it the fact that the means of execution will be stoning? Does this mean that Clinton wouldn’t condemn Iran if the means were changed to hanging? And what of reports of stoning in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia (which is a US ally)? Or is it the fact that Ashtiani’s guilt, especially the murder charge, is seemingly not believable? In which case, to what extent would the US Government be willing to make statements on the judicial affairs of another country’s courts?
According to Amnesty International, a list of countries that used the death penalty in 2007 includes, apart from Iran, the United States itself, as well as US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Taiwan, all in the top 10. Rather than selectively condemning high-profile cases such as Ashtiani’s, in countries that the US considers foes, it would make more sense to rethink the death penalty itself. Presumably the US Department of State wouldn’t look at each and every case to see if it was delivered fairly. Let alone the fact that it also carries out assassinations, outside the scope of the courts, on its own citizens.
Let me be clear. I strongly oppose the execution of Ashtiani. Yes, having read the news (largely organised by a mainstream media relying on the same sources and pushing the same narrative), the charges seem trumped up and yes, Iran’s human rights record is terrible. But the main reason for my opposition to her execution is that it is fundamentally absurd to execute a human being for past actions.
The broader debate should not be about pointing fingers at the questionable Iranian judicial process, such calls seem tainted by bias and selectivity and, pointed by Western hands, may do more harm than good in the largely adversarial political narrative between Iran and the West. The broader debate should be about whether our own hands are clean. Why should the State have the right to take the life of one of its citizens, not as a preventative measure, not as a successful deterrent, but purely based on some absurd concept of vengeance? What, specifically, is the benefit of this to the citizens of the State?
By all means, get involved in advocacy to save Ashtiani’s life, but also spend some time thinking about whether the death penalty in your own country makes rational sense. Remember, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young mother with two children. She does not deserve to die. Neither to do any of the other human beings currently languishing on death rows all over the world. Their deaths will not solve anyone’s problems.
The term “failed state” has been thrown around with wild abandon for quite a while now and has only grown in popularity and public prominence since Foreign Policy magazine, in partnership with the US think tank Fund for Peace, started publishing its annual Failed States Index in 2005.
But what does it mean to be a “failed state” and what is the real impact of this index?
The ranking is based on the total scores of 12 indicators. For each indicator, the ratings are placed on a scale of 0 to 10. The total score is the sum of the 12 indicators and is on a scale of 0-120. More information on the indicators used and further methodology can be found here.
My initial qualms are simple. How comprehensive can the tracking and monitoring of these indicators possibly be for each of the 177 states included in the 2010 index? How much access are researchers going to get to a country like North Korea, for example? How many hours of work would it take to be able to effectively establish a comprehensive rating of 12 indicators for 177 states within a reasonable time frame? Questionable, very questionable.
Putting that aside, even the structure itself is flawed. There are too many problematic examples for a single blog post but here’s one. All 12 indicators are weighted equally. One of those indicators is, say, “Progressive Deterioration of Public Services.” Ok, that’s pretty important. But what about the equally weighted “rise of factionalized elites,” described, in part, as “use of nationalistic political rhetoric by ruling elites”? I can see how that could be dangerous but it’s also pretty arbitrary and I can certainly think of worse things. That means a country with no nationalism but no public services whatsoever, and a country with sparkling public infrastructure and lots of flag-waving will be ranked equal in terms of being “failed.”
Also, how these indicators are squeezed into a rating out of 10 is beyond me. How do you assign an entire country a rating for “legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance or group paranoia”? What gives Pakistan a rating of 9.4 in this category vs. Iraq’s 9.3?
Ultimately, the index is obviously flawed, but ok, it’s impossible to create a perfect index that will sum up how 177 countries ‘failed’ to live up to a contrived ideal of perfect statehood. Which begs the question, should we even be trying? I understand that this is full of political bombast. A magazine that can tell its readers which states are ‘the worst’ and which states are ‘the best’ is surely useful. But also surely harmful.
Much of the danger arises when what the index is actually saying is compared to what people perceive it to be saying. The words ‘failed state’ set off massive psychological alarm bells, they tell potential tourists to avoid the country at all costs, they tell potential investors to put their money elsewhere and they inform the general language and framework of public debate about these countries, something that can be very damaging in the long run. When your average FP-reading punter reads the words “failed state” they don’t immediately question the methodology, they just hear massive alarm bells ringing in their head screaming “DANGER DANGER OMG!!!111.” These crushingly important perceptions can swiftly become prejudices when one considers how little thought your average reader puts into critically analysing the index itself.
These problems are exacerbated further by the articles FP prints to go along with its index. Check out, “Postcards from Hell,” a series of wonderfully cliched images of starving African people, shifty-looking ethnics with AK-47s, ominous burqas and random fire. These images have all the intellectual depth of a Michael Bay movie and do little but promote flawed pigeon-holing of entire nations into neat boxes marked “poverty” & “danger”. Things are made worse by charmingly worded accompanying captions, the writer of which seems to have trawled the thesaurus for every possible synonym of ‘bad’ but provide very little by way of explanation. For example, the caption under 32nd most failed state, Iran reads: “Clashes broke out in Tehran after a disputed June 2009 election saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming victory over his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi,” which doesn’t tell me much about why Iran is any more ‘failed’ than number 33, Liberia.
Then there’s the ‘analysis’. Robert Kaplan’s piece, quaintly titled “Actually, it’s mountains“, a stinker that was seemingly faxed-in after a 45 minute session with the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, stands out for me. Kaplan spends most of the article harping on about the problematic geographies of the countries on the list and then rounds it off with a hopeful-sounding “None of these places is doomed. Human agency can triumph over determinism.” Thanks, Rob, I feel a lot better. I suggest a new title: “Actually, it’s lazy.”
Or what about George Ayittey’s “The Worst of the Worst“, a list of a bunch of terrible dictators and all their evil transgressions. Once again liberally applying the thesaurus, Ayittey goes through his list with wild abandon, brutally deriding the “bad dude dictators” and “coconut-heads,” and mercilessly cutting them down with the sword of Western Reason while riding past on his high horse.
But what is the use of all this sensationalism? We are told that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a bad man but there is no analysis of the complex Iranian political system where most power (including foreign policy and control of the armed forces) actually rests with Ayatollah Khamenei. We are told that Hosni Mubarak is a bad man but nowhere is it mentioned that his regime is propped up entirely by the US government. And that’s just the basics, there’s no in-depth analysis anywhere suggesting that maybe Iran is seeking a nuclear deterrent to Israel, or that Uzbekistan was used by Bush as a staging post for the War on Terror, thus giving Karimov legitimacy, or that Mubarak’s torture was not only approved but taken advantage of by America’s use of extraordinary rendition. Nope. Nada. Just lots of bad men and ‘failed states’.
And therein lies the problem with their entire concept. There is far too much weight behind the two words “failed state,” and too many conflicted definitions, to entrust the definitive explanations of entire nations to a few scantily-analysed annual magazine articles. Readers, do yourselves a favour: next time you read somewhere that a state is ‘failed’ or a head of state is ‘bad’, or a ‘dictator’ or a ‘coconut-head’, ask why. Because until we start asking why and actually analysing the global situation in a broader manner we will never find real solutions, just constant fear and further entrenchment of damagingly simplistic binary assessments of entire peoples that many already perceive as ‘the Other’.
I’ve been facing a combination of writer’s block, laziness and slow news days cropping up precisely on the days that I do have time to blog, a dangerous cocktail that helps explain my general lack of postage on this blog. I realise that the new set of Iran sanctions has already been heavily discussed, for those that haven’t heard
I’m not going to say a great deal on this issue except that I don’t particularly like it. I don’t remember when sanctions have ever been effective in getting a Government to do what people want them to do, they usually only serve to isolate and entrench despotic governments further (Saddam). In addition, while the specific set of sanctions hasn’t been finalised yet, there already has been a reasonable amount of opposition to specific measures that have been mooted.
Talking about the political implications, as The Majlis has mentioned, it seems that the Iranian regime is ready for these sanctions and looking to confront them head on. The amount of baiting that has been going on has been ramped up a great deal, especially with the announcement of building a further ten nuclear plants by the regime. How they intend to finance this with the Iranian economy in the doldrums that it’s in is of no consequence, the rhetoric here is what seems to be important. The Majlis also discusses the effect on the current rift in the Iranian political establishment. It seems to me that the conservative wing of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is further entrenching itself in a position where the nuclear program is its baby and its baby alone. Reformists like Rafsanjani will not oppose the program either because they realise it would be political suicide after how much pro-nuclear propaganda has been effected on the population.
It seems that Obama’s unclench-your-fist rhetoric has failed and he’s now erring on the side of sanctions to preserve his own political capital. This spells bad news. Even if Russia and China do support the sanctions, no good will come of them. Sanctions will further serve to entrench the regime’s position against the West as “the Great Satan” and further entrench the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad axis in power, helping it out of its current political quandry. I may not have any helpful suggestions on the matter, but I don’t like sanctions.
UPDATED: Pakistani news channel Aaj TV is reporting that the Iranian guards have been released on a directive from the Ministry of Interior.
Our friends from our beloved neighbouring country are here! But why couldn’t they just have lined up for a visa like everyone else? Or is everyone misreporting?
News agencies are reporting that eleven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been arrested in Pakistan for illegally crossing over into the country. The Revolutionary Guards were detained in Mashkel and the police has seized two vehicles and is investigating.
Meanwhile, the IRGC is denying that they entered the country. According to Press TV:
Reacting to the report, head of the public relations office of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps
Brigadier General Sharif told Press TV that the detainees were not members of the IRGC.
“That part of the report related to Sepah [IRGC] lacks credibility and is not true,” Brig. Gen. Sharif said on Monday.
Another informed source told a Press TV correspondent that those arrested were Iranian border police who were hunting down fuel smugglers.
“In line with efforts to fight fuel smugglers, a number of Iranian border police forces chasing fuel smugglers entered Pakistani soil by mistake,” he explained.
This comes in a series of several back-and-forth statements from Iran and Pakistan on the Jundullah issue - the group that attacked the IRGC on October 18 and killed 42 people. Following the attack, Iran called for Pakistan to hand over the Jundullah leader to the country – a request which Pakistan said they couldn’t really help with because they believe Rigi is in Afghanistan. Obviously, this is all on-the-record stuff so I have no idea what the Pakistanis told the Iranians. Iran’s interior minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was in Islamabad last week to reiterate the same and there have been reports that the Revolutionary Guards want to launch an operation to find Rigi themselves.
Now if the reports of the Revolutionary Guards being detained is true, we can expect to see an official reaction from Pakistan (along the lines of sovereignty et al), but this could also be a sign that given that Pakistan is busy with Waziristan, they’ve asked Iran to deal with the problem themself.
Of course, it really could just be the forces fighting the fuel smugglers…