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Why Tehran Fears Livni

By: Meir Javedanfar


According to the Alexa web ranking company, Tabnak.ir is the most popular Persian language news website in the world. It is owned by Mohsen Rezai, who was the 4th commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Based in Tehran, Tabnak represents a more moderate view of the IRGC and of the conservative wing of the Iranian leadership. It also happens to be one of the main critics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his economic policies.

On the 7th of October 2008, it published an article entitled “Israel’s New Propaganda Method: Hello Neighbour”, in which it accused Tzipi Livini of trying to reach out to Israel’s neighbours.

Quoting from an article in Egypt’s Al Ahram newspaper, the article quotes Livini as saying “Israel wants to haveLivni good relations with its neighbors. Palestinians are our neighbors, and so are Syria, Lebanon, and other Arab countries”.

The article also quotes Livni as saying “Iran is not solely our problem. The international community should decide for its own future, and only negotiations at a global level can solve the Iranian issue”.

What is interesting is that Tabnak sees Tzipi Livni’s approach in a negative light. According to its analysis, the new head of the Kadima party is doing this because of falling popularity of her party.

What Tabnak doesn’t say is that as far as Iran’s leadership is concerned, Iran has every intention to make Israel look like a war monger. The recent threats made by Israeli ministers such as Shaul Mofaz and Rafi Eitan were a gift to them, which they fully used to their advantage.

A soft spoken Israeli leader, who openly talks about improving relations with Israel’s neighbors, and is not threatening war is against Iran’s interests. Therefore she must be discredited as soon as possible. Otherwise it could cause a serious setback to Tehran’s efforts.

Iran’s concerns are compounded by the fact that Barack Obama is ahead in the polls. Having Livni as Prime Minister of Israel, Obama as president of the US, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran is a cocktail for diplomatic disaster for Tehran in places such as the EU and the UN.

What the Iranian government desperately needs is hostile remarks from the US and Israel. Their absence would make Ahmadinejad look even more aggressive and belligerent without justification, thus leading to even more isolation of Iran. And contrary to some beliefs, Iran does take its position in the international community seriously. With oil reaching new lows and Iraq stabilizing, it has to.

The time has arrived for Israel’s leadership to follow Livni’s example. Threatening Iran is counter productive. Such threats would justify a massive Iranian military retaliation in case of an Israeli strike. Tehran could say that Israel too has been threatening its security and sovereignty. And if Israel eventually decides against launching a military strike, then all these threats would make Jerusalem look like a toothless tiger, thus damaging Israel’s deterrence image.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and right wing extremists in the Iranian government are Israel’s enemies. Their reckless talk is a gift which Jerusalem should not return to the sender.

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Posted on : Oct 18 2008
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Posted under Middle East |

A Grand Bargain with Iran: A Feasible Idea?

By: Meir Javedanfar


Last week, The New America Foundation, a Washington DC based Think Tank hosted an event entitled “A Grand Bargain With Iran”.

The Keynote speakers were Flynt Leverett, who is a former National Security Council adviser on the Middle East, and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett, who was a senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council. They are now fellows at The New American Foundation. The underlying point of their presentation was that the time has finally arrived for the US to sit down with Iran and reach a broad diplomatic understanding, as part of what they have termed, “ A Grand Bargain”.

How would this work?

To kick things off, both sides would present the entirety of their demands (full list is presented in this article written by the presenters) .

In short, demands by the US would include the cessation of uranium enrichment and of any nuclear weapons related activity which may be taking place in Iran. Secondly, cessation of Iranian support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and the softening of Tehran’s “ attitude ” towards a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lastly, Iran’s regional role and aspirations, including its posture toward Iraq and Afghanistan, must be addressed.

According to the Leveretts, what would be offered to Iran in return would be “to extend security assurances to the Islamic Republic and lift all unilateral and multilateral sanctions. Furthermore, the U.S. must acknowledge the Islamic Republic’s place in the regional and international order”.

Once the agenda between the two sides has been agreed upon, the two sides would sit down and negotiate, with the goal of reaching a mutually beneficial outcome.

This is an original idea, as until today the US and Iran have not negotiated directly and publicly over such a broad range of issues.

Is there a precedence?

Yes, in the 1970s the US and China reached a similar deal by means of the the Shanghai Communiqué which laid the groundwork for a strategic understanding between the two nations.

It must also be mentioned that according to Flynt Leverett who was at the National Security Council at the time, in 2003, the Iranians tried to offer a grand bargain deal to the US, but it was rejected by the Bush Administration.

Is The Grand Bargain a feasible idea?

In theory, yes. In fact, under current circumstances, it could be a game changer. With the world unable to form a united diplomatic front to address Iran’s nuclear program, a US initiated agreement such as this, could be a powerful strategy to stop Iran’s march towards a nuclear bomb, while also addressing its support for terrorist groups.

How would Israel view such an initiative?According to Flynt Leverett, “Israelis are the most realistic people when it comes to Iran. They would check every line of such an agreement, at least three times over to make sure that there are no get out clauses which would enable Iran to break the agreement. If they believe that the agreement is solid, then they are likely to support it. If a watertight agreement can be found to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and to prevent Iran from lending support to extremist groups, then it is very likely that Jerusalem would back it”. This is one accurate observation.

The other is that many Israelis would not trust Iran , unless they themselves deal with Tehran directly, as suggested recently by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, in an oped in the Jerusalem Post . Although in theory Mr Halevy is correct, in reality it is difficult to see how Israel would qualify to sit at such a table. Iran has influence in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and so has the US . What bargaining chips does Israel have? There is also Ayatollah Khamenei’s refusal to recognize Israel, which makes such a scenario even more difficult to realize . Therefore letting the US represent Israel’s interest under such a deal, if and when it takes place, would probably be the best realistic option Jerusalem has.

Furthermore, one must not forget that that the first word here is “bargain”. People just don’t offer bargains, unless they absolutely have to. And Iran, judging by its recent behavior, doesn’t feel such a need. Just as the US made the mistake of not meeting Iran’s listed economic requirements in return for suspending uranium enrichment in 2005, Iran is ironically making the mistake of rejecting the recent 5+1 offer. This offer was very reasonable as it would have enabled both sides to begin taking confidence building measures necessary to move forward. Ayatollah Khamenei’s belligerence and unwillingness to suspend uranium enrichment in return for suspension of sanctions is the best indication that Iran is in no mood to offer any “bargains”.

If there is to be any silver lining to the recent worldwide economic meltdown it may be that with oil prices falling to new lows, Iran in the near future may be forced to look at the advantages of such an offer, if and when the US is ready to make it.

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The Return of Mohammad Khatami

By: Meir Javedanfar


Mohamamd Khatami, Iran’s former reformist president recently announced that he is considering to run as a candidate in the next presidential elections, if the following two conditions are met:

  1. “My first condition is reaching an agreement with the people on their expectations”.
  2. “I need to see to what extent these programmes can be implemented within the existing (power) structures,” he said.

Judging by his second condition, it looks like that Khatami is either preparing a graceful exit strategy, or that he is simply out of touch with current political realities in Iran.

It is extremely unlikely that Ayatollah Khamenei would allow him to win. Even though Khatami is missed by many Iranians, Khamenei is not one of them. He made his life very difficult when he was president.

Also, in 2009, Iran will be a much more different country.

Power, both political and economic is more firmly in the hands of the IRGC. It would be very difficult for Khatami to change that. First because of the extent of their power, and secondly, their animosity towards him. Therefore, implementation of domestic policies, especially economic ones will be far more difficult than before. Subsequently he would run the great risk of being labeled as a lame duck president, again.

Furthermore, when it comes to foreign policy, he will find a different Iran. Although his milder and more intellectual approach will be a breath of fresh air for many Iranians who are becoming horrified of Ahmadinejad’s behavior, nevertheless, it is very unlikely that he will be able to change much, especially when it comes to the nuclear program. Ayatollah Khamenei is going full speed towards nuclear glory. Not only because of ideology, also because he is a realist. The current situation in the Middle East, oil market and in the UN have provided him with an opportunity, and he is taking it. Khatami won’t be able to change that. Unless there is a massive drop in oil prices.

If he fails again, Khatami should not be disheartened. According to various reports, Iran is somewhere between 2 – 5 years from reaching the bomb. Once it does, Khamenei will need to improve relations with the West. He is most probably realistic enough to know that Iran’s economy could very well suffocate if things continue in their current format. Relations will have to be improved. Iran will have no choice. With a bomb in the basement, Khatami will be the best man for the job.

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Posted on : Oct 12 2008
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Posted under Iran- Elections, Uncategorized |

Breakthrough in Afghanistan?

By: Meir Javedanfar


This week a flurry of reports have been reaching us from Afghanistan.

First there was the report from the British commander in Afghanistan who said:

the war could not be won and that the goal was to reduce the insurgency to a level where it was no longer a strategic threat and could be dealt with by the Afghan army”.

From this public admission, the UN’s top official in the country went a step further by stating:

success is only possible through political means including dialogue between all relevant parties”.

Notice the words “all relevant parties”. This means Al Qaeda and the Taliban. A taboo subject until now.

Within a day after this report was published, there was another report saying that “several senior Taliban officials have participated in drawing up a Saudi-U.K initiative to end the war in Afghanistan”.

Meanwhile CNN has already popped open the Champagne by stating in a report that

Taliban split with al Qaeda, seeks peace”.

It goes on to say that the talks, which have been hosted by Saudi Arabia were approved by Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, which has recently decided to break ranks with Al Qaeda.

For now, the Afghani government has denied the talks. But, one can not ignore the flurry of reports from credible US and Canadian press. Therefore we must sit and wait.

Meanwhile the involvement of Saudi Arabia in these important talks can not be ignored. They are the only government who had relations with the Taliban and the US at the same time in the 90s. Since focus is now being shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, the position of Saudis as go betweens will increase greatly, and so will their regional leverage.

This will come at a cost to Iran, who has aimed to become the region’s play maker. But it could be that this is one game that Iran is happy to lose. The Afghan dilemma is a worrying one for Tehran, and its influence there is not as great as the Saudis. So if there can reign in on Al Qaeda who also threatens Iran, then maybe Tehran can live with that part of the deal.

But this also presents a dilemma: if the Saudis do come through with a peace deal, that will mean that the US and NATO will be relieved from a major burden. In theory, they could refocus their efforts against Iran. So how will Iran feel about that, and more importantly, if and how Ayatollah Khamenei’s government would be willing to prevent such a scenario.

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Posted on : Oct 07 2008
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Posted under Saudi Arabia, Uncategorized |

Biden vs Palin On The Middle East

By: Meir Javedanfar


One headline said that the recent VP debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin did not produce any “knockouts.”

It may be so, when it comes to their discussions of US affairs.

However, when it comes to their view points regarding the Middle East, I believe that there was a knockout and the winner was Joe Biden.

First and foremost, while clearly and correctly pointing out the dangers of a nuclear Iran, Biden also stressed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not the strongest man in Iran. In other words, he would not be in charge of launching a nuclear attack, if and when Iran gets its hands on a bomb. This is a very important point which the press in the US does not mention.

This is in contrast to Sarah Palin who said Ahmadinejad is not a sane or stable person. Ahmadinejad is a radical person. But, as someone who wrote a book on the man, and studied his life, policies and speeches, I think its inaccurate to say that he is insane. She also did not offer anything new in terms of addressing the Iranian nuclear program and the issues surrounding it, whereas Biden backed Kissinger’s calls for talks with Iran as a new way to address the current deadlock. This is a US gesture which would seriously undermine the conservatives in Tehran.

Biden’s other important accomplishment was to mention and emphasise the Pakistani danger. The American public should be aware that Pakistan is a very unstable country. It is a nuclear state where Al Qaeda has penetrated its secret service, and controls access points to a 3 million strong city such as Peshawar. And if Governor Palin is looking for an insane leader, she would do better by looking at Pakistan, whose leader Zardari was declared mentally unfit to stand trial by a British court last year. Biden’s calls to increase more troops and funding in Afghanistan is a far more credible and effective way to fight terrorism than Palin’s focus on Iraq.

It was very reassuring to hear that both candidates are dedicated to the two-State solution of Israel and Palestine, living side by side. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin were both almost blushing when they talked about their fondness for Israel. I don’t know of many Jews and Israelis who are not pleased to see such open statements of support. This message of support from a friendly country came at the right time, as Israelis feel flabbergasted and hurt by Ahmadinejad’s hateful speech at the UN.

What also needs to be noted is the fact that lack of constructive criticism of Israel in the US is counter-productive. Terrorism must stop as the first step towards peace. That is the right foot to start with. But the left foot which should follow, is the halt to construction in the occupied territories. Expanding settlements, as Israel has been doing recently, is contrary to its long term security goals and Israel’s credibility in the Middle East, especially with pro Western countries such as Jordan and Egypt. It also helps the battle cries of extremist groups. The US has not objected to Israel in any meaningful manner to the recent expansions. It should, and it is likely that the Democrats are the only ones who would do so, while maintaining the special relationship between the two countries.

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Posted on : Oct 04 2008
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Iran – Wasted Youth?

By: Meir Javedanfar


With over 75% of the country below the age of 30, the subject of youth in Iran is one which comes up very often.

Questions which are often asked are: aren’t Iran’s youth restless and fed up with lack of freedom in their country? Is the lack of jobs likely to push them into another revolution? How do they manage to enjoy themselves in a country which is so religious and strict?

I went to a party in northern Tehran”, said the reporter. “It was at a house, and in the garden, there was a swimming pool. The owners had drained the water. They had placed nice Persian carpets on the floor of the pool, and on them, about 50 people were having sex in the open air”.

This is just aspect of life for young people in a country, which on the surface looks like one thing, and underneath it, is another.

To find out more, I highly recommend the excellent podcast from BBC World Service. Called “Children of The Revolution”, you can download or listen to it online here

Posted on : Oct 01 2008
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Posted under Iran- Social Issues |