Posted on 11/26/2013 by Juan Cole
Israel and Saudi Arabia have loomed large in reporting about the regional reaction to the UN Security Council plus Germany’s preliminary deal with Iran as they negotiate an end to the international boycott of Iran in return for practical steps permanently forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon. Israel is a small country of 7.5 million with a GDP around the same as Portugal’s, and it isn’t actually all that important in the Middle East, which contains 600 million people if you include North Africa– and with which the US does $400 billion a year in trade.
But despite the fear-mongering and hysteria of Israeli politicians [see below], the general reaction in the region has been much more positive than the Likud government would have us believe. Moreover, far from there being an Israel-Arab consensus against the agreement, much of the Arab world welcomed the Iran deal and saw it as a first step toward getting nuclear weapons out of the Middle East altogether. That is, they are hoping that once Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is restructured as permanently peaceful, the United Nations Security Council will turn up pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.
Turkey, a NATO ally of the US that has some disputes with Iran (notably over Syria) nevertheless warmly greeted the announcement. Turkey has a population of 76 million, as does Iran, i.e., both are just a little less populous than Germany.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Twitter on Sunday,
“I welcome today’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. I have been advocating a solution through diplomacy and we hosted many diplomatic efforts in Turkey to this end . . . This is a major step forward. I hope it’ll be sealed with a final agreement soon. I congratulate all parties for their constructive engagement.”
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a doctrine of seeking good relations with neighbors in order to expand trade. After AK came to power in 2002, Turkey’s foreign trade expanded a great deal ( it was $239 billion in 2012) and trade with the Middle East expanded from almost nothing under the nationalist, secularist generals to 22%. (Turkey’s GDP is $788 billion in nominal terms, more than that of the Netherlands and just behind Indonesia, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, lagging behind not only Indonesia but Mexico and South Korea).
The new commerce of the past decade is worth billions to Ankara and comes as cream on top of expanded trade with Europe and Asia. By 2011, Turkey’s trade with Iran had gone from almost nothing to $16 bn. Some 2500 Iranian companies have invested in Turkey. But in 2013 the value of the trade has fallen from the previous year, largely because of international sanctions that make it difficult for Iran to develop its oil and gas production and difficult for Turkish banks to interface with Iranian ones. Turkish officials view the level of trade with Iran as far below what could be achieved, and as currently almost insignificant. They would like to expand the trade to $100 billion, and had aimed for $30 billion by 2015.
International sanctions were therefore extremely inconvenient for Turkey’s policy of trade expansion in the region. Moreover, Turkey depends on inexpensive natural gas from Iran for some of its own electricity production. Compared to the Turkish-Iranian tiff over Syria, the possible cooperation in energy and trade expansion is much more important to Ankara. Likewise, the AKP supports the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and has that in common with Iran. Turkey is champing at the bit to trade unhindered with Iran and to invest in it, as well as to welcome further Iranian investment in Turkey. The Kerry-Zarif deal could not be more welcome in Ankara.
Iraq, with a population of over 30 million and a GDP of $212 bn., also enthusiastically greeted the news. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said,
“Reaching an agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the six nations over Iran’s nuclear program is a major step in the security and stability of the region… We hope that the process of confidence-building and dialogue will continue in the interest of both sides to prevent nuclear proliferation and to recognize the right of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”
Iran and Iraq were probably at one point in a nuclear arms race with one another (and with Israel, which started it), so it is remarkable that Baghdad defends Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes. Al-Maliki has poor relations with the Sunni Gulf oil monarchies and so is isolated. He depends on Iran for trade and electricity and for support in his war of attrition with Sunni extremists who keep blowing up his capital.
Iraq hasn’t paid any attention to the international sanctions on Iran because it needs Iran too much, and indeed it may have been extending aid to Iran to help it in its economic difficulties. The Maliki government has been caught between its American ally and its Iranian one, and been subject to pressure from each side. Kurdish Member of Parliament Mahmoud Osman made this point, saying that if relations between Washington and Tehran improved, it would reduce pressures on Iraq. Osman said that Iraq would benefit economically, because it would not have to extend aid to Iran to help it get through the harsh sanctions. This is the first time I’ve seen the allegation that Iraq is helping Iran with aid (it used to be the other way around). I would be very surprised if Iraq is not helping Iran smuggle petroleum out in contravention of American sanctions.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Adnan Mansour, welcomed the agreement as “positive.” In particular, he tied it to Iran’s agreement never to produce a bomb, and saw it as a step toward the de-nuclearization of the Middle East. That is, Lebanon is hoping that after the Iran nuclear problem is dealt with, the world community will next turn to the Israeli nuclear problem, which Mansour says threatens his country.
Egypt, a country of 84 million with a GDP of $254 bn, took much the same tack as Lebanon. A spokesman for interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy“welcomed” the agreement and also saw it as a move toward the de-nuclearization of the Middle East.
The spokesman for the Jordanian government, Muhammad al-Mumini , said that the agreement was “a step in the right direction.” He went on to express his hope that the international community would go on to take equal interest in resolving the other security problems in the region. (He meant the Syrian civil war, which is putting an enormous burden on Jordan, and the problem of Palestinian statelessness, which concerns the 60% of Jordan’s population that consists of families ethnically cleansed by the Israelis from their original homes). Jordan’s King Abdullah II had long warned that a war with Iran would be a catastrophe for the whole Middle East, but a few years ago in the Bush era he was not always on the same page with his American and Saudi allies.
The Gulf Cooperation Council of oil monarchies was not as negative as the US media keeps reporting. The cabinet of the United Arab Emirates praised the agreement and said it hoped it would lead to regional stability and an end to nuclear proliferation. Likewise, Qatar and Bahrain welcomed the development, and like Lebanon and Egypt said they hoped it would lead to a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. We know Oman approves because it hosted the preparatory meetings between the US and Iran. Kuwait (a country of 3.2 million with a GDP of $173 bn) seems to dislike the agreement, since it appears to be silent on it.
As for Saudi Arabia, which some pundits allege is so upset by the negotiations that it is ready to throw in with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, well, not so much. The Saudi Minister of Culture, Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Muhyi’d-Din Khoja, said that the preparatory agreement could lead to a resolution of the Iran nuclear problem, assuming that that country acts in good faith. He was also glad that the agreement recognized the right of countries in the region to benefit from nuclear power. (Saudi Arabia wants nuclear reactors, something Iran already has at Bushehr, but Israel had bombed Iraq when it built a light water nuclear reactor, so Riyadh seems to see the UNSC undertakings as removing any Israeli veto against peaceful reactors in the region). Like Egypt and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia also saw the understanding as a first step toward also removing Israeli nukes from the Middle East.
Algeria, a country with a population of 38 million and a GDP of $209 bn, warmly welcomed the deal.
There was no question that Syria would be happy about the breakthrough, and Damascus said it showed that the region’s problems can be resolved through negotiation.
So actually, folks, the Likud government of Netanyahu is completely isolated in its loud rejection of these negotiations. Virtually everyone else in the Middle East is positive, and most of the countries that count (by size and power) are absolutely enthusiastic. The degree of Israeli isolation is matched only by the extremeness of its rhetoric. One Israeli cabinet member who has read too much Tom Clancy warned of “suitcase bombs” provided by Iran to terrorist for use in Western cities. Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon and there aren’t any such things as suitcase bombs and no country has ever given away a nuclear weapon to anyone, let alone to a scruffy terrorist. And, again, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or any particular prospect of one. Israel in contrast has several hundred warheads and the means to deliver them, bombs that it developed sneakily and under false pretenses. And Israel routinely uses its nuclear stockpile to threaten or blackmail other countries (as with Ariel Sharon’s threats directed at Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).
Officals: Israelis in secret trip to inspect Saudi bases. Could be used as staging ground for strikes against Iran
Posted on November 24, 2013 at 12:10 PM EST
By Aaron Klein
TEL AVIV — Israeli personnel in recent days were in Saudi Arabia to inspect bases that could be used as a staging ground to launch attacks against Iran, according to informed Egyptian intelligence officials.
The officials said Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and other Arab and Persian Gulf countries have been discussing the next steps toward possible strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites.
The officials said the U.S. passed strong messages to Israel and the Saudis that the Americans control radar capabilities over the skies of Iran and that no strike should be launched without permission from the Obama administration.
It was unclear whether the purported visit to Saudi Arabia by Israeli military and intelligence officials signals any real preparation for a strike or if the trip was meant to signal the West that Israel retains the right to defend itself.
The trip came prior to the announcement of a deal today the aims to halt key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
At a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed what he called a “bad” and “dangerous” deal, while affirming that Israel will not allow Iran to go nuclear.
“”Israel is not obligated by this agreement,” Netanyahu said. “I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability.”
“Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world,” he said.
The deal reportedly halts the installation of new centrifuges, but allows Iran to keep current centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
The agreement caps the amount and type of enriched uranium Iran can produce and opens many nuclear sites up to daily inspections. However, Israel is warning that even the low-grade uranium allowed in the agreement can be used to eventually assemble a nuclear weapons capability.
As part of the deal, Iran agreed to halt work on key components of its Arak heavy-water reactor that could be used to produce plutonium, but the country doesn’t have to dismantle the reactor.
In response, Iran gets sanctions relief, including the freeing of $7 billion or more in frozen assets.
Hours after deal was signed, President Hassan Rouhani said the agreement recognizes Tehran’s “rights” to maintain an atomic program.
The first preliminary nuclear deal the six world powers (US, Russia, China, UK, France and German) signed with Iran before dawn Sunday, Nov. 24, at the end of a four-day marathon, failed to address the most questionable aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, i.e. its clandestine military dimensions. The accord confined itself to aspects of uranium enrichment and stockpiles. UN inspections were expanded – but not applied, for instance, to Iran’s concealed nuclear sites - or even the Parchin military base where Iran is suspected of having tested nuclear-related explosions.
Israel, the Gulf States and others are therefore highly dubious of the deal’s capacity for freezing Iran’s nuclear program where it stands today, least of all roll it back, as President Barack Obama claimed.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources list seven of the most glaring loopholes in the first-step accord:
1. Parchin: This long-suspected facility remains out of UN oversight. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry boasted after the signing that daily IAEA inspections will take place at Fordo and Natanz. However, cameras are already fixed at both those facilities without an agreement, whereas Tehran’s consistent denial of IAEA access to Parchin is not addressed.
2. Secret nuclear locations: Under the heading "Possible Military Dimensions," the last IAEA report noted: "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related organizations, including activities related to the development of a payload for a missile.”
The watchdog has received information indicating activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." This was further corroborated by new information obtained since November 2011.
Tehran’s non-cooperation for investigating these findings is not mentioned in the Geneva interim accord, nor was it addressed in the negotiations.
3. Dirty bombs: Iran doesn’t need a full-scale nuclear bomb or missile warhead for attacking Israel. For decades, Tehran has been working on perfecting hundreds of dirty bombs as part of its nuclear program, by adding plutonium or enriched uranium to conventional bombs. These weapons are easy to make and easy to use. In the hands of Hizballah or other Shiite terrorist organizations in Syria or Iraq, for instance, they could be used to strike Israel without leaving a trail to Tehran.
This peril too was ignored by the six powers in Geneva.
4. Rollback. While President Obama has presented the deal as a first step toward freezing or even rolling back “key aspects” of Iran’s nuclear program. The fact remains that, so long as Iran is permitted to enrich uranium, even though this is restricted to a low 5 percent grade, it is free to produce as much fissile material as it wants, whenever it wants. This seems more like roll forward than roll back.
5. Enrichment. Obama and Kerry said the new deal does not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium. They were contradicted by the Iranian president and senior negotiator as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. So what is the truth? If Iran won recognition for this right, it blows the bottom out of the Non-Proliferating Treaty because, in no time, all the signatories may start enriching uranium with permission from the big powers. Neither is there any point in making Iran join the NPT’s Additional Protocol for snap inspections.
6. Centrifuges. Iran has undertaken not to add new centrifuges to its enrichment facilities, according to President Obama, but there is nothing to stop it from keeping up their production. In the six-month interregnum for negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal, Tehran wins time to turn out enough centrifuges to substantially expand its production of enriched uranium.
7. A leap to breakout: Far from being static or in freeze, as the Americans claim, Iran is free to step up centrifuge production and boost its stock of 3.5 percent enriched uranium, thereby accumulating enough material to enhance its capacity for producing enough weapons-grade uranium to break through to a nuclear bomb rapidly enough to defy detection by the IAEA or Western intelligence until it is too late.
The first loophole appeared hours after the new accord was signed:
Iran’s lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, announced that his country’s enrichment rights had been recognized in the negotiations, after which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised the supreme leader’s guidelines for achieving world power recognition of Tehran's “nuclear rights.”
However, Secretary of State John Kerry in his first appearance after the signing denied this concession had been made. He said: “The first step, let me be clear, does not say that Iran has a right to enrich uranium."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lined up solidly behind the Iranian version of the accord, confirming world recognition had been extended for Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, including the right for enrichment.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lined up solidly behind the Iranian version of the accord, confirming world recognition had been extended for Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, including the right for enrichment.
Out of step with the celebratory mood in Geneva and Washington, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that the deal would not impede Iran’s capacity to gain a nuclear weapon. He challenged President Obama’s words that the deal was a historic achievement and called it a historic mistake, which would not obligate Israel. Israel, he said stood by its right to self defense against a regime dedicated to its destruction. As prime minister, Netanyahu pledged not to allow Iran to procure a nuclear weapon.
President Obama also announced that key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program will be “rolled back” against limited sanctions relief and the release of deposits (nettng Iran $6-7 billion in revenue.) He said that no new centrifuges would be activated for the enrichment process, work would stop at the Arak heavy water reactor and UN inspections expanded to daily visits at the Natanz and Fordo enrichment plants to ensure that uranium is not enriched above the 5 percent permitted by the accord.
The core sanctions architecture will remain in place, Obama promised, pending a comprehensive solution to be negotiated in the next six months, but no new sanctions would be imposed.
Lavrov summed up the four-day conference by saying: "Considering the whole body of circumstance, there are no losers [in the Geneva deal], all sides are winners” - a view seriously challenged by Israel, Saudi Arabia and most other Middle East governments.
Posted on 11/24/2013 by Juan Cole
The decade-long Neoconservative plot to take the United States to war against Iran appears to have been foiled.
In response for a loosening of sanctions, worth some $7 billion to Iran, President Hasan Rouhani undertook to freeze enrichment activities at their present level. He also pledged to cast Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.75% for the production of medical isotopes in a form that makes it impossible to further enrich it. Nor will Iran produce more 19.5% low enriched uranium. (Uranium enriched to 95% is suitable for a bomb, and the Western diplomats figure that 19.75% is closer to 95% than is the stock of uranium enriched to 3.5% to serve as fuel for the three nuclear power plants at Bushehr. Iran also agreed to do no further work on its proposed heavy-water reactor at Arak. (Heavy-water reactors produce plutonium, with which bombs can easily be constructed).
Iran’s nuclear facilities have been being inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the inspectors have repeatedly certified that no uranium has been diverted to weapons purposes. This agreement will increase the frequency of the inspections and widen their scope somewhat.
The agreement did not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the right was implicit in the agreement (which does not forbid enrichment to 3.5% for reactor fuel) and in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In a press conference on Sunday morning, Iranian president Hasan Rouhani reaffirmed that he understands the agreement to recognize Iran’s right to enrich. But he strongly reaffirmed that Iran does not want and never will want to build an atomic bomb (nuclear weapons are forbidden in Shiite law according to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwas, but it has been hard to get suspicious Westerners to take these theocratic pronouncements seriously).
The agreement is actually an agreement to negotiate, and the hard bargaining is yet to come. The terms agreed upon are more confidence-building measures than anything else.
In 2003, the Neocon chickenhawks, most of whom had never worn a uniform or had a parent who did, joked that “everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran.” When people have to talk about being “real men,” it is a pretty good sign that they are 98-pound weaklings.
The “everyone” who wanted to go to Baghdad was actually just the Neocons and their fellow travelers. Most of the latter were hoodwinked by the Neocon/Cheney misinformation campaign blaming Saddam Hussein of Iraq for 9/11. A majority of Democratic representatives in the lower house of Congress voted against the idea of going to war. The Iraq War, trumped up on false pretenses and mainly to protect the militant right wing in Israel from having a credible military rival in the region and to put Iraqi petroleum on the market to weaken Saudi Arabia, cost the United States nearly 5000 troops, hundreds more Veterans working as contractors, and probably $3 or $4 trillion– money we do not have since our economy has collapsed and hasn’t recovered except for wealthy stockholders. Perhaps George W. Bush could paint for us some dollars so that we can remember what they used to look like when we had them in our pockets instead of his billionaire friends (many of them war profiteers) having them in theirs.
Binyamin Netanyahu was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. He is now deeply wounded that the US is making peace with Iran. He seems to see the US as his personal doberman pinscher, which he is used to siccing on his rivals in the region whenever they complain about his aggressive land thefts.
The irony is that in early 2003, the reformist Iranian government of then-President Mohammad Khatami had sent over to the US a wide-ranging proposal for peace. After all, Baathist Iraq was Iran’s deadliest enemy. It had invaded Iran in 1980 and fought an 8-year aggressive war in hopes of taking Iranian territory and stealing its oil resources. Now the US was about to overthrow Iran’s nemesis. Wouldn’t it make sense for Washington and Tehran to ally? Khatami put everything on the table, even an end to hostilities with Israel.
The Neoconservatives threw the Iranian proposal in the trash heap and mobilized to make sure there was no rapprochement with Iran. David Frum, Bush’s speech-writer, consulted with eminence grise Richard Perle (then on a Pentagon oversight board) and Irv Lewis “Scooter” Libby (vice presidential felon Richard Bruce Cheney’s chief of staff), and they had already inserted into Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech the phrase the “axis of evil,” grouping Iran with Iraq and North Korea. Iran had had sympathy demonstrations for the US after 9/11, and, being a Shiite power, feared and hated al-Qaeda (Sunni extremists) as much as Washington did. But the Neoconservatives did not want a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda or against Saddam Hussein. Being diplomatic serial killers, they saw Iran rather as their next victim.
All through the Cheney-Bush administration, repeated leaks from the Pentagon to Sy Hersh and other investigative journalists warned that machinations were afoot to draw the US into a war against Iran, as an outgrowth of the illegal and aggressive attack on and occupation of Iraq. The Neocons plotted against the lives of our children until their last day in office, in January of 2009.
After seeing what Bush did to Iraq, Tehran ramped up its nuclear enrichment program, in hopes of making the point that if the US looked like it might try to invade (which it often looked like), Iran might go for broke and come up with a small nuclear device. In 2003 when Khatami made the peace proposal, Iran had just declared a small set of nuclear experiments. As of 2006, it began serious nuclear enrichment activities, though UN inspectors have never found evidence of a nuclear weapons program.
As Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out Saturday night, if the Bush administration had accepted iran’s 2003 proposal, the rancor, saber-rattling, sanctions and the rapid advances in Iran’s nuclear program could have been avoided.
President Barack Obama came into office wanting a diplomatic deal with Iran. He addressed “the Islamic Republic of Iran” on the occasion of the Persian New Year (the vernal equinox in mid-March). Those plans were derailed, first by the outbreak of domestic unrest in Iran in summer of 2009, and then by hard liners around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who backed out of commitments made at negotiations in fall of 2009.
After that, US-Iranian relations got worse and worse. The US Congress, goaded on by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Israel lobbies, imposed increasingly crippling sanctions on Iran. Ultimately, the US attempted to use its favored position in financial markets to stop Iran from selling its petroleum on the international market. It is a financial blockade, and blockades are acts of war. I have been worried for the past year and a half that this financial and oil blockade would lead to hostilities. All it would take would be for a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to lose a cousin who could not afford medicine any more and to go off the deep end and order an attack on US facilities in Iraq or the Gulf. The very severe sanctions the US put on Iraq in the 1990s in many ways lead to the Iraq War.
Now, the tides of war are ebbing. Assuming that the negotiations over the next six months are successful, a compromise will be reached whereby Iran’s “break-out capacity” or ability to construct a nuclear weapon will be constrained, and whereby the international blockade on Iranian commerce will be lifted. President Rouhani, elected as a mild reformist this summer, is eager to nail down a deal before his own hard liners have time to derail the negotiations. President Obama, eager for some sort of achievement for his second term, has every reason to accept a deal on Iran that involves a heavy inspection regime and gives reasonable assurance that Iran is not weaponizing its nuclear enrichment program.
Republican critics of the deal in the US Congress, who say no to everything, said no to this negotiation as well. They accused Iran of being the world’s primary backer of terrorism.
Really? The GOP backed the Mujahidin and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, the MEK in Iraq and Iran, and are backing the extremist Sunni rebels in Syria. They aren’t even skittish about allying with al-Qaeda affiliates, even today!
Hamas has largely broken with Iran. The only “terrorist” group Iran is backing is Hizbullah, which isn’t a terrorist group but a party-militia recognized by the Lebanese government as its national guard for its southern border, a border repeatedly breached by Israeli attacks (including an attempt to annex 10% of Lebanon, with a 20-year military occupation).
Even Israeli military intelligence sees some potential benefits to the agreement.
Besides, the US has negotiated and reached agreements with lots of authoritarian governments that support the use of terror, as long as it is right-wing death squads. It had even made up with Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, a serial terrorism-supporter, and put him on the CIA payroll.
The only question here is whether the agreement is in American interests. It is. Ever more severe sanctions increasingly risked war with a country three times as big geographically and 2.5 times as populous as Iraq (the American occupation of which did not go well). That danger is now receding, which can only be a good thing. And if negotiations and UN inspections can indeed succeed in allowing Iran a civilian enrichment program while forestalling a weapons program, it is a breakthrough for the whole world and an important chapter in the ongoing attempts to limit proliferation.