Cross posted at the Castle
Iran has lately become an even hotter topic than Iraq and, once again, Afghanistan has fallen off the radar completely. An upcoming push by the United States and France to enforce even greater sanctions against Iran is heating up the rhetoric from all sides of the ocean. Germany continues to struggle with the repercussions of joining the sanctions program. Democrats in Congress have been inordinately quiet since their last political push regarding President Bush's attempts to "escalate" the war by "implicating" Iran in the Shia insurgency in Iraq.
The silence in congress is not really surprising. Largely because they cannot deny certain intelligence backed up by hard evidence of the facts. Al Qods members swept up, facilitators singing and weapons with distinct Iranian markings that can't get anywhere into Iraq unless they are smuggled from Iran and can't get out of Iran unless they are intentionally released from Iranian armories. Particularly in the numbers that are being used and interdicted.
The same stands for Iranian weapons making their way to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The quantity of weapons being provided from a Police State cannot be done without willing, organized and directed assistance from the government and military of Iran, all denials to the contrary, unless security in Iran is worse than we imagine. This is one reason why the Democrats in congress are quiet. They might not want to go to war with Iran, but to pretend that Iran is not engaged in a proxy war and does not need to be confronted in some manner could boomerang on them, once again allowing the Republicans to smash them in an upcoming national election over national defense.
However, most congressmen of both sides of the aisle recognize, along with the President, that a terrorist supporting state who has provided money, weapons and political support to terrorist organizations of all ideological stripes around the globe and more recently against Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not a nation that can be trusted with nuclear technology. As long as the President continues to work towards a "diplomatic solution" through the UN or even without, using tough sanctions and other than war, the Democrats will be quiet and support strongly the efforts to prevent Iran from having these weapons. On the other hand, if the President starts talking like French Foreign Minister Kouchner, Democrats may be moved to strongly protest.
Iranian denials ring positively false as they proclaim no good interest in causing instability in Afghanistan or Iraq and insist on their good relations with both nations. However, this is clearly wrong as demonstrated by the number of weapons, men and materials being provided. Further, they do have good interests in insuring continued instability in both of these nations.
Iran's Interests In Instability In Iraq and Afghanistan
First, continuing low grade instability and the interdiction of oil from either terrorist attacks on the lines or through outright banditry and smuggling to Iran and Syria, keeps oil off the global markets, keeping supply tight and the value high. This increase in oil prices is extremely important to Iran where close to 70% of their state run economy is based on energy revenue, largely from oil. Instability in the region also keeps the market analysts valuing futures higher than ever before.
Second, instability leading to inability to fully develop internal infrastructure including, importantly, electrical plants, allows Iran to continue to provide huge amounts of electricity to both Iraq and Afghanistan contributing to Iranian state revenues. Hydro-electricity is the number three export of Iran. Other trade including food, clothing, concrete (for reconstruction) and appliances, to name a few, continues to be high since neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have developed the manufacturing capable of supplying any of its internal needs.
All of this equates to an economic windfall for Iran that needs the money to continue to support it's political ambitions around the region through organizations such as Hezbollah, Jaish al Mahdi and numerous organizations including Al Qaida in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also need the money to continue to develop the nuclear facilities and technology as well as buy weapons from China and Russia. Finally, while the money is flowing into Iran and growing it's GDP at what would usually be a phenomenal rate, inflation matches or out paces it regularly and sanctions and limited credit have forced the Iranians to start working on a "cash up front" basis to obtain imports of food (believe it or not, a upwards of 50% importer of food which is a serious national defense issue, but is directly related to Iran's export of food for economic gain since it garners more revenue on the open world market for the government, but simultaneously results in inflationary food rates for the common people), gas and other commodities. Making cash flow and management extremely important.
Third, while the world, particularly the US and coalition partners, is busy with Afghanistan and Iraq, Ahmedinejad can continue to consolidate his power in Iran, stacking election boards, sending contracts to the IRGC, appointing IRGC compatriots to important positions and using the possibility of war as an easy stick to beat any opposition with rhetoric accusing them of helping the enemy. While such calls within the United States may be part of the political rhetoric, in Iran, it could quickly spell disaster, political ruin, possible imprisonment and even execution.
In an interesting juxtaposition against the conservative power consolidation, Hashemi-Rafsanjani, once considered the leader of the reformist movement in Iran, was elected to chair the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts is responsible for selecting the "supreme leader" and over seeing the office, insuring that it adheres to Islamic law. While some see this as a part of the internal power struggle between the extreme, radical conservatives and the more "nuanced" members of the religious council to balance power, it could equally and easily be an attempt to co-opt Hashemi-Rafsanjani and mute any attempts by the reformists to mount an opposition to the conservative take over.
According to the link from Radio Free Europe, the Assembly of Experts is considered "conservative" and "a threat to any reform movement". It seems unlikely that Hashemi-Rafsanjani would be selected for his "moderate" views with an attempt to moderate the council. As one member noted, he didn't expect Hashemi-Rafsanjani as the Chairman to have much effect on the over all positions of the board since the position is about insuring proper procedures are followed and only meets once every six months. On top of that, the position is elected for eight years. The chance that Hashemi-Rafsanjani would have the opportunity to influence the selection of a Supreme Leader is minimal as there are few signs Ayatollah Khamanei is going to depart the world, thus the office, any time soon.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani's history with the reform movement has been checkered. He's a member of the conservative party, but, during his presidency from 1989 to 1997, he worked closely with the secularist reform party, promising changes that he was either unwilling or unable to make. The reformists later rejected him as a representative because they believed his "gradualist" approach to reform was a facade and they had been betrayed.
During the 2005 election, many "moderates" and "reformists", disappointed over his previous performance and the reform situation, boycotted the elections or were otherwise kept from voting. This allowed Ahmadinejad to be elected in a virtual landslide. All of this points to the possibility that political enemies are being kept close.
While down in the streets, Ahmadinejad has been knocking out any potential protests from less than enthusiastic citizens. Trade and labor unionist have been agitating for the right to organize as well as for salary increases and benefits (such as two pair of shoes for bus drivers) that they have not received in several years. In some cases, teachers and other service workers have not been paid for months or even a year. In a state where inflation is officially 14% and the outside estimate is 17-20%, this lack of commiserate pay is placing an extreme hardship on the people.
Historically, the labor movement helped bring down the Shah's Imperial Regime when whole sale strikes shut down the economy and workers took over the factories in conjunction with the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Soon after taking power and in the lead up to the Iraq-Iran war, the Islamic government broke up the unions, arrested thousands and destroyed the secular, socialist movement of the revolution.
Ahmadinejad, being part of the original revolution, must be aware of the dangers to the economic stability of the nation and, thus, his own government from such movements. He is once again instituting mass arrests and violent repression of the labor movements, arresting, imprisoning and executing dissidents; and expelling any "liberal" professors and students from university to insure his control. All this is in the guise of protecting Iran from "traitors" who are "assisting the enemy" (the US) as seen in the lead up to the Iraq-Iran War.
This, among the many signs, including defiance over continuing nuclear development, pronouncements of alleged breakthroughs in weapons, missiles pointing at Israel and US targets in Iraq, gasoline rationing, removal of the Chief of the IRGC (who is alleged to have suggested that they give back the British Sailors quickly to de-escalate the situation) to the military attache for the Supreme Leader, the emplacement of an even more hard line, Ahmadinejad compatriot to the IRGC, points to a possibility that Iran is preparing for war.
There are even suggestions that Ahmadinejad may stage some additional, literal confrontation with the US in order to bolster his position and finalize control of the government, forcing the recalcitrant population, assembly and clerical governing bodies to move to his position. This confrontation has been nearly realized on several occasions including incursions into Iraq in an attempt to kidnap or kill US forces or confrontation between IRGC gunboats and US ships or interdiction of US operations in the Persian Gulf. While many in the west look to the young and "liberal" Iranians as the last, best hope for Iran, Ahmadinejad is betting on a national crisis to force even this population to rally round the Iranian flag. The continuing fight over Iran's nuclear ambitions is one that has had even the "liberal" Iranians insisting on their "nuclear rights", swallowing their angst and supporting Ahmadinejad.
However, just to insure that everyone follows along, Ahmadinajad has begun to enforce the Islamic laws very strictly, arresting people for un-Islamic dress, women campaigning for equal rights, even taking away pet dogs from animal owners as "un-Islamic". Most of these actions are to remind the young, possible reformist liberals that he has the power to reach out and touch someone if they don't cooperate.
Regionally, instability in Iraq, at least, plays into Ahmadinejad's hands. With the Iraqi government's continuing weakness, it allows him to exert more control and ally Iran closely with their ideological compatriots in Iraq. Aside from economic issues and having to beg Iran to assist (or, more accurately "desist") in Iraq's stabilization by stopping smuggling of weapons, money and people to "terrorists", a weakened central government gives the Iranian backed parties control of major areas in the south where oil, agriculture and ports that control Iraq's economy exist as well as some direct "pull" in the existing government.
That area is also most highly populated with the majority Shia in Iraq. Whoever controls that area has an excellent chance of being the majority party that forms the Iraqi government for decades. This could put Iraq in Iran's pocket and change the economic and security dynamics of the region.
Iraq would represent an economic trade partner that would allow Iran to diversify and increase its trade in the region as it hopes to meet its stated goals of being free of "western trade" and the Middle East "self sufficient". It would also represent a partner in OPEC which controls production, thus, oil prices, for the largely Middle East cartel and is currently dominated by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that are western leaning. This keeps OPEC working on the Saudi vision that price inflation should be limited to insure the global economy stays strong and, therefore, so do OPEC nation revenues. To this end, they often agree to increased production or reduction depending on the market situation.
They are also concerned that, if oil becomes prohibitive, consumers will look for alternatives and ultimately oil will lose its value sending these economies crashing. Iran works on an all or nothing basis along with Venezuela who is desperate for the income and don't mind if the global market crashes and burns in the process. http://themoderatevoice.com/places/americas-n-s/latin-america/15187/the-salami-tactics-of-hugo-chavez/>Viva La Revolucion!.
Significant control or association with the Iraqi government would link Iran and Syria, strengthening their potential military power to put pressure on Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Recent events indicate that Iran and Syria are jointly preparing for possible war.
Iran-Syria Military Matrix
A report from Jane's Defense indicates that at least 200 people, including Syrian and Iranian military, were killed when a missile being fitted with a Sarin gas war head exploded. The testing facility is a joint operations program established with Iran in 2005. Syria has a long history of developing chemical weapons. They were assisted willingly or unknowingly by German manufacturers and through an association with the Soviet Union in the 1980's. Some have even speculated that Iraq's chemical weapons and nuclear technology that are not on the manifest as destroyed and could not be found in large numbers after the invasion may have been transported to Syria in the lead up to the invasion (see also NY Sun Report).
Information continues to come out regarding the recent attack by Israeli commandos and fighter jets against what is now being claimed was a stockpile of nuclear material shipped from North Korea. The information was apparently conclusive enough to have the US put Syria on the nuclear watch list. Reports dating from 2004 by a refugee Syrian dissident indicate that North Korea has been cooperating with Syria in developing nuclear facilities and technology. Locations and details seem to match reports made by a top Iraqi official under Saddam Hussein, Georges Sada, in his book "Saddam's Secrets".
It is believed that the AQ Khan network, derived from Pakistan's nuclear programs, was responsible for providing nuclear technology to North Korea and possibly Iran. It may also have provided assistance either directly or through North Korea in developing similar programs to Syria.
In a seeming replay of Iraq's decade long delay and denial, Iran has recently decided to cooperate in a limited manner with the UN IAEA by providing it with historical documents regarding its nuclear development. While these actions have been welcomed by the IAEA, Russia and China, the United States and European allies have declared that it is not enough. Considering the recent attack on a suspected Syrian nuclear site, this may be correct.
Lebanon has implicated Syria in the latest assassination of an anti-Syrian politician. The motivation appears to be an attempt to shape the upcoming presidential elections by physically eliminating members of the majority in the Lebanon Parliament. According to the linked report, the death of Ganhem brings the majority down to 68 seats; only three seats above the absolute majority of 65. This is an obvious attempt to bring Lebanon back under Syrian influence and away from the west or any possible reconciliation with Israel.
Syria has long depended on Lebanon as a conduit for trade through its Mediterranean ports. Syria also realizes a large portion of its state revenue from fees garnered for oil and natural gas that passes through pipelines across the nation to conduits in Lebanese ports. Syria inked a deal with Iraq in December 2003 for an oil pipeline extending to the Mediterranean for delivery of oil to European markets. Syria wants to maintain access to these ports to realize their plans for the Iraq oil pipeline and other potential pipelines from other nations like Iran whose oil exports are limited to terminals in the Persian Gulf. These present a security issue for Iran who fears the interdiction or blockade of its trade through such limited access. Syrian leaning Lebanese government would also be willing to insure lucrative pricing for a similar taxation on the pipeline and transport of oil since Lebanon's take would eat into Syrian profits.
Ahmadinejad to America: Iran Wants Peace, Give Us What We Want and You Can Have It
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has traveled to New York to make his case before the UN and, according to a reported interview from the Iranian News Agency, make his case to American Citizens directly. He believes that US citizens have been given "incorrect information." His recently aborted (or not) trip to Ground Zero, he stated in a 60 Minute interview, was to pay respects and "perhaps air your views about the root causes of such incidents." Most likely it was an attempt to garner a third venue from which to lambaste US policy in the Middle East and expound on Iran's "right" to nuclear technology.
He insists that the US and Iran are not heading for war while US military intelligence continues to point out Iran providing weapons like anti-aircraft missiles, to Shia extremists. Adm. Fallon, in charge of US forces in the Middle East also stated that the continuing "drum beat for war" was not "helpful" in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, though it is unclear if he is speaking about outside governments, the media or the Iranian government. Prior to leaving Iran, Ahmadinejad presided over a typical "show of force", complete with signs declaring "Death to Israel" and "Death to America".
During his speech he declared:
"Those (countries) who assume that decaying methods such as psychological war, political propaganda and the so-called economic sanctions would work and prevent Iran's fast drive toward progress are mistaken," Ahmadinejad said.
Real Democracy In Iran Decades Away After Conservative Power Grab
Such "show of force" events are often provided for internal consumption. However, it is equally as likely an attempt to bolster Iran's position for negotiations and Ahmadinejad's public image both in the world and at home as a "strong man" for his upcoming speech. Beyond Iran's current external issues, Iran is continually racked with internal upheaval. Iranian resistance has recently stepped up its attacks and the IRGC is responding by attacking villages around Iran and even shelling into Iraq in an attempt to decimate the Iranian Kurdish resistance.
While many have hopes for the internal pressure to effect change in Iran's government, the "reformists" to date have been unable to organize effectively. Their 2005 boycott of the presidential elections split the reform party over its rejection of Hashemi Rafsanjani and gave the election to Ahmadinejad. Their fears over repression were soon met. Members of the reform party had stated that the elections are controlled by those with the money and the power in Tehran.
In an attempt to bolster democracy organizations in Iran, the US has included some $25 million in funding in the 2008 budget. Open Democracy, a Soros funded organization, believes that these funds are counter-productive because receiving them inside of Iran is against Iranian law and can have severe repercussions such as imprisonment. Senator Leiberman recognized the problem, but stated that the grants would be made available through different organizations if requested.
Iran has only recently released some suspected American-Iranian democracy advocates from the notorious Evin prison having already punished their families by confiscating their property and forcing them to pay exorbitant fees for food and medical treatment at the prison as well as huge amounts of bail. Iranian security claimed that the jailed activists were American spies and/or propagandizing against the Iranian government. Some speculate that their release was to spare an open trial while simultaneously sending a message to other activists that they will be jailed if they continue to act.
The release might also be construed as setting up a favorable view of the Iranian government prior to Ahmadinejad's visit to the UN. Iran has long been accused of human rights abuses. Iranian security forces were implicated in the death of a Canadian-Iranian journalist.
Will the Real Iran Please Stand Up
Due to Iran's continued support for terrorists, Iran's human rights record and the 9/11 report implicating Iran in the transit of an estimated 7-10 of the terrorists who hi-jacked the airplanes that day, Ahmadinejad's visit to the UN and his address at Columbia University are being protested by various groups.
Ahmadinejad says there is no reason for war with the US and declares the state of Iran to be strong regardless of sanctions. At the same time, he will be giving a speech at the UN that will directly challenge the US while in Iran they prepare for war.
Through a small window into Iran, the effects of sanctions are apparent. In the world re-known carpet bazaar, the stalls are only half full and the patrons are scarce. Vendors remain optimistic that the desire for these carpets will keep buyers looking for ways to obtain them. Yet, the damage is already apparent and the possibility it will be erased any time soon is disappearing almost daily.
From Russia With Love
Economic Warfare: Iran Sitrep
Economic Warfare: Iran-Help and Hindrance
Iran Gas Rationing: Preparing for War, Economic or Subordinating Dissidents?
Economic Warfare: Iran Crisis and the British Sailors
Economic Warfare: Axis of Evil
Democrats' Iraq Strategy