Iranian-Canadian blogger to visit Israel

The Iranian-Canadian blogger Hoder (Hossein Derakshan) has two interesting posts up today. In this one, he writes,

    I wrote a few weeks that the single biggest reason Ahmadinejad is ranting unexpectedly against Israel and the uproar he’s made in the past few weeks, has internal purposes.
    Khamenei has effectively prevented Ahmadinejad from having any say in foreign policy. So Ahmadinejad’s strategy has been causing problems in major foreign policy issues in order to get into the gaming…

(Read the rest of that short post, too. It’s interesting.)
And in this one, Hoder announces that he’s en-route for making his first-ever visit to Israel. He says he’s going “as a citizen journalist and a peace activist.” I think this is great. It’ll be interesting to read what he writes.

Washington’s Iranian dilemma

All three of the major Middle East crisis-areas that I identified in this JWN post last week are entering new and even more dangerous phases.
That is: Iraq; Israel-Palestine; and the Iranian nuclear developments.
The Bushites find themselves faced, in all three of these areas, with choices that are just about impossible for them to make– if they stick to the pugnaciously unilateralist approach to foreign affairs that they’ve pursued since 9/11.
In fact, it’s very interesting and significant already that they’re trying to take the Iranian case to the Security Council rather than “simply” deploying their own or Israel’s military might to obliterate the cause of their concern there.
But even the Bushites are realistic enough to understand that if they did attempt an “Osirak” option:

    (1) It would only set back the Iranian program– whatever that is intended to achieve, which we still do not know– by a short period of time;
    (2) It could meanwhile confidently be predicted to provoke a firestorm of violent anti-US and anti-Israeli actions throughout the Middle East– including very probably against both the widely-dispersed US forces in Iraq and their lengthy and vulnerable supply lines;
    (3) It could also be predicted to provoke a massive and largely unpredictable political/diplomatic reaction throughout a world that has seen the US government giving a nod and a wink to the “outside the law” acquisition of nuclear weapons by Israel, India, and Pakistan, but which then chooses to launch military action action to end a nuclear program in Iran that– even with the launching of fuel-enrichment activities– still does not transgress the basic terms of the NPT.

What will happen at the Security Council if the Bushites succeed in their campaign to have that body consider the case of the Iranian nuclear developments? Who knows? It certainly wouldn’t easily result in the kind of strong-condemnation outcome that the Bushites would aim for. The balance of global power is no longer one that is prepared almost “automatically” to give Washington whatever it asks for.
And if the Security Council starts examining the status of the NPT– how about looking at the degree of progress on Article 6, while we’re about it?
… Anyway, I’ve opened this thread here for people to discuss the Iranian nuclear question. It certainly won’t be “going away” as an issue anytime over the next three weeks! Nor will the other two portions of Washington’s current Middle East “trifecta”.
I, however, will be “going away”… Well, not literally. But this week my agent and I have been nailing down the arrangements for publishing my book on transitional justice issues in Africa. They involve me rewriting just about the entire manuscript within the next three weeks. I need to bring the length down from 108K words to under 100K, and do some re-arranging. Good job my whole professional formation was on the basis of “Deadlines ‘R’ Us”, eh?
So expect my postings here over the next few weeks to be even more scrappy and idiosyncratic than usual. (Though I have a very interesting one up my sleeve for you, soon.) In the meantime, have some good conversations here among yourselves if you should wish…

Iran, the PA, and Israel

Israel’s veteran strategic-affairs commentator Ze’ev Schiff had an intriguing piece in Ha’Aretz today. In it, he wrote quite movingly about a recently retired PA intelligence colonel whom he called Abed Alun, who was killed in one of the recent hotel blasts in Jordan.
Firstly, it was very decent of Ze’ev to write about Alun. Even more decent that, as he wrote, he made the trip to the north-Jerusalem suburb of Beit Hanina to convey his personal condolence’s to the man’s family. (Most Jewish Israelis really hate going into the Palestinian-peopled parts of Jerusalem. That may be partly fear of the unknown. It may also be because to visit families living in such places brings vividly home the deeply apartheidized nature of the holy city despite its alleged “unification” under Israeli rule.)
Anyway, what really struck me about Ze’ev’s piece was this:

    As part of his work for Palestinian intelligence, he met about 18 months ago – as part of a small group to which I also belonged – with a very senior official in the Iranian government. The man described how he saw a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: First Israel must accept the majority of Palestinian refugees, then there will be general elections and Tehran will recognize the new government formed in Israel. Abed, who was sitting beside him, immediately responded that that was not the solution the PA wanted. We support the two-state solution and the Iranian proposal replaces it. The Iranian attacked him and accused the Palestinians of treachery.

All parts of that description ring true to me. But interesting to hear it from that particular source…

Ahmadinejad’s toxic fallout

Recently elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday in a speech to youthful organizers of the country’s annual “Jerusalem Day” observances that, “Israel must be wiped off the map.” This is hateful, potentially genocidal speech that tells us a lot more about Ahmadinejad’s crass inexperience in world affairs than it does about any ability his country might have to actually “wipe” Israel off the map.
His country has no such ability. In good part because of the extremely large and capable nuclear-weapons arsenal that Israel commands, that would certainly deter any attempt that a rational leader of another state might make to eliminate it from the face of the earth.
So no-one needs to over-react to Ahmadinejad’s statement by engaging in counter-bellicosity. Indeed, a colleague recalled this morning that back in 1982, when Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini was still routinely calling for Israel’s elimination, and calling Israel “a tumor”, etc., Shimon Peres and other Israeli leaders were lobbying Washington to boost Iran’s defenses, and in 1982, Sharon proudly announced on NBC that Israel would continue to sell arms to Iran– in spite of a US ban on such sales. (Then a couple of years later, the Israelis and their various agents in Washington persuaded Ollie North and John Poindexter to get involved in the whole “arms for hostages” farce with Teheran… Tangled webs, eh?)
… Well, times have changed. Yesterday Peres (now a Vice-Premier) called for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations, though it seems unlikely that call will gather much momentum.
I am sure, though, that for many Israeli citizens, Ahmadinejad’s bellicosity seemed particularly threatening, on a day in which a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israeli civilians in a vegetable market in Hadera. The five were: Michael Koifman, 68; Perahiya Makhlouf, 53; Sabiha Nissim, 66; Jamil Muhammed Qa’adan, 48; and Yaakov Rahmani, 68. (Demographically, a fairly representative portion of the late-middle-age segment of Israeli society: one Palestinian Israeli and four Jewish Israelis, two or more of them apparently with Mizrachi links.)
Those killings were in direct contravention of all the provisions of international humanitarian law. IHL lays on all who take up arms (“combatants”) a positive duty to avoid causing harm to noncombatants– no matter how “just” the cause is that the combatant thinks he or she is fighting for. (And let’s face it, not many people lay their lives on the line for a cause they recognize to be unjust: nearly all combatants think they are fighting for a “just” cause. The vast bulk of IHL does not speak to that issue of just-ness; but it does lay down strict limits on how the cause can be fought for.)
Anyhway, my sincere condolences to the families of the slain Israelis. May they somehow find comfort in their bereavement.
At a broad political level, meanwhile, it’s evident that hateful, inciting rhetoric like that used by Ahmadinejad has the potential to have the following very harmful effects:

    (1) Stirring up militants in the Palestinian community and elsewhere who will likely become more convinced not only that their use of illegal forms of violence against Israeli noncombatants is justified, but also that perhaps it can lead to a situation in which the state power of a major Middle Eastern state might also be put at the disposal of their militancy;
    (2) Aggravating the general level of fearfulness in an already fear-traumatized Israeli society, whose members will likely become even more supportive of hardline measures against the Palestinians, if they see Palestinian political activism of all kinds as somehow linked to Ahmadinejad’s campaign of hate;
    (3) Increasing the acceptability of the argument that Israel “needs” to keep a robust nuclear arsenal because it faces an “existential” threat from outside;
    (4) Increasing the willingness of leading states in the Security Council to act harshly against Iran on a number of different issues.

Given all these disastrous kinds of fallout that one can expect from Ahmadinejad’s statement, I have to hope that there are cooler heads within the Iranian ruling apparatus who will finds ways to (1) persuade him to moderate the thrust and tone of his rhetoric; (2) ensure that Iran’s military capabilities are under solid and responsible command and control; and (3) reassure all other states that Iran does indeed intend to be a responsible and constructive member of the international community.

Iranian voters defy Bush

Two days before Iran’s election on Friday, President Bush– that champion of democracy worldwide!– urged the country’s voters to stay home.
62.7 percent of Iranians defied his call, according to this AP story. Voter turnout in Iran was thus considerably higher than in the last US elections.
Bush was quite correct to note that the choices offered to the Iranian voters were significantly constrained by the requirement that, to be eligible to run, a candidate had to be declared fit to do so by the country’s Council of Guardians.
Seven candidates were thus declared fit, and by all accounts most of them ran spirited campaigns. Also, they did represent a significant (though obviously much curtailed) range of different positions and opinions.
Bush struts about the world stage on “democratization” issues as though the electoral system that generated his own presidency were quite perfect as a way of discerning and operationalizing the people’s will. It isn’t. The outrageous campaign-finance system in the US means that in order to be on the presidential ballot there a candidate is required, in effect, to have his candidacy declared valid by the country’s “Council of Big Money”.
In the end, only two or three candidates ever make the cut. In this last election, the differences in approach between Bush and Kerry on most major issues– including the war in Iraq– were razor-thin.
In both elections, I wish the choice offered the voters had been much broader, the rules of participation in the election much more inclusive, and the pre-election campaigning focused much more on the very difficult circumstances facing each country.
But it strikes me that for Bush– “Mr. “Democratization”– to call on the voters in another country to stay home during an election in their country is the height of hypocrisy.
In any event, there is quite some evidence that it backfired. Rafsanjani was, as expected, one of the two front-runners who will go into a run-off election next Friday. But the other one is not a reform candidate (as expected), but rather, Teheran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described as a pro-regime hardliner.
Addendum, Monday morning, New Zealand time–
Here is a good piece of reporting on the campaign the US neocons had mounted against the Iranian election in the days before the first round of voting June 18.

Iranian soccer revels

Here are some intriguing pictures of the revelries at various spots around Teheran on Wednesday night, after the Iranian soccer team beat Bahrain and thus secured a spot in the World Cup playoffs.
Basically what seems to have happened there is that masses of young people (and some, as you can see from the photos, not so young) took to the streets to express their delight, just as people in many other countries might have.
But in Teheran on Wednesday night, there were women and men celebrating together. And some of the young women seemed to have just about lost their headscarves, altogether.
From the point of view of the hardline clerics who’ve been running the country for 25 years, this must have seemed like the height of decadence. (They should see what goes on in most US college towns during the students’ three-day weekends…)
But significantly, the baseej, that is, the Revolutionary Guards who act as a kind of “morals police” in Iran, have been reported by many sources as having nearly all just sat around watching, or even, making themselves scarce… And so the revels continued.
Why was this? An interesting question that I don’t feel qualified to answer. But here are a couple of guesses:

    (1) There’s an important election in Iran next week. One might surmise that the mullahs don’t want to alienate a great chunk of the youth by cracking down on them so close to the day; and that the regime’s relatively light touch toward the revelers may be designed to entice members of the younger generation into the voting booth, at least, rather than sitting the election out as so many have been threatening to do; and
    (2) The overwhelming theme seems to have been an Iranian-nationalist one. This is not, by any means at all, bad for the mullahs at a time when they still feel themselves under threat by the Americans. The revelers certainly weren’t waving the Stars and Stripes, or holding aloft representations of the “Statue of Liberty”. Instead, their biggest symbolism was the three colors of the flag. Iranian nationalism? That’s by and large quite okay by the mullahs.

On the other hand… I hate to sound like a grouch here… But just how much of a victory is it, really, if a country with a population of 67 million can field a soccer team that beats one from a country with a population of 700,000?

Qom, Islam, views of democracy…

(Writing started Friday morning, Teheran airport.)

Yesterday, Thursday, was one of the most interesting days of this whole,
two-month-long visit to the Middle East. In the morning, Bill and
I went to Qom, the religious-studies center where Ayatollah Khomeini
and numerous other architects of Iran’s Islamic revolution received their
intellectual training. In the afternoon, we spent nearly four hours
at a conference in the Education Ministry where cutting-edge thinkers from
today’s Iran– including one wearing the robes of trained mullah– grappled
with fundamental issues in the relationship between religion and democracy.

But I guess that before I take you through that day, I’d better back up
a little…

Continue reading “Qom, Islam, views of democracy…”

From Teheran

We got to Teheran. Never made it to Mashhad for reasons I’ll explain later. Today we had a great tour round the bazaars here. We’re being hosted by an extraordinarily kind and very religious Iranian family, after the plans for Mashhad fell through. More later.