Archives for June 2009


Neda in Palestine, sentenced to die alone

For over a week, major American news outlets have broadcast on a virtual loop the video of the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, an unarmed 26-year-old Iranian woman, by Iranian security services. The poignant footage of Neda dying before a throng of grief-stricken bystanders crystallized the vulnerability experienced by the millions of demonstrators who have filled cities across Iran to confront authoritarian forces determined to suppress their voice through brutal means. When the mainstream American press chose to broadcast the graphic video — as moving as the footage is, it is difficult to watch — it made a commendable decision that nonetheless highlighted its hypocritical attitude towards Palestinians who resist Israeli occupation on a daily basis, and who often meet the same fate as Neda. [continued…]

Israel’s man of conscience

My name is Ezra Nawi. I am a Jewish citizen of Israel.

I will be sentenced on the first of July after being found guilty of assaulting two police officers in 2007 while struggling against the demolition of a Palestinian house in Um El Hir, located in the southern part of the West Bank.

Of course the policemen who accused me of assaulting them are lying. Indeed, lying has become common within the Israeli police force, military and among the Jewish settlers.

After close to 140,000 letters were sent to Israeli officials in support of my activities in the occupied West Bank, the Ministry of Justice responded that I “provoke local residents.”

This response reflects the culture of deceit that has taken over all official discourse relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

After all, was I the one who poisoned and destroyed Palestinian water wells?

Was I the one who beat young Palestinian children?

Did I hit the elderly?

Did I poison the Palestinian residents’ sheep?

Did I demolish homes and destroy tractors?

Did I block roads and restrict movement?

Was I the one who prevented people from connecting their homes to running water and electricity?

Did I forbid Palestinians from building homes? [continued…]

The settlers defying Obama

At first glance, the dusty dunes of the South Hebron hills appear splendidly frozen in time. Small encampments of nomadic farmers are dotted across the landscape, sparse groves of olive and fruit trees surrounding the ramshackle tents huddled together in their midst. Flocks of sheep and goats graze on the scrubby foliage under the watchful eye of teenaged shepherds; the silence of the plains is breathtaking, the only noise an occasional cautionary bark from the villagers’ ever-vigilant guard dogs.

But the glorious isolation in which the rural communities seem to dwell is an illusory facade. A closer look at the way their camps are arranged reveals the true picture of modern life on the land they’ve tended for generations. Soldiers stand guard in pairs at strategic spots on the hillside, enforcing the no-entry zones surrounding the rash of settlements spread across the region, the mini-towns growing bigger by the month, swallowing up more and more of the Palestinians’ land in the zero-sum game eternally stacked in the settlers’ favour. [continued…]

Israel’s settlements are on shaky ground

The debate over Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is often framed in terms of whether they should be “frozen” or allowed to grow “naturally.” But that is akin to asking whether a thief should be allowed merely to keep his ill-gotten gains or steal some more. It misses the most fundamental point: Under international law, all settlements on occupied territory are unlawful. And there is only one remedy: Israel should dismantle them, relocate the settlers within its recognized 1967 borders and compensate Palestinians for the losses the settlements have caused.

Removing the settlements is mandated by the laws of the Geneva Convention, which state that military occupations are to be a temporary state of affairs and prohibit occupying powers from moving their populations into conquered territory. The intent is to foreclose an occupying power from later citing its population as “facts on the ground” to claim the territory, something Israel has done in East Jerusalem and appears to want to do with much of the West Bank. [continued…]

Israel OKs West Bank construction

Israel said Monday it authorized the construction of 50 new residential units in a West Bank settlement, defying rising pressure from the U.S. and the international community for a building freeze in territory claimed by the Palestinians as part of a future state.

The expansion of Adam, a settlement near Jerusalem surrounded by three Palestinian villages, is part of a defense ministry plan to relocate 300 residents of the unauthorized hilltop outpost of Migron. [continued…]

Iran: The whole world is watching

Four decades ago, when police and national guardsmen attacked protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the protesters shouted, “The whole world is watching.”

However arresting those images were, they could not possibly compare to the flood in recent weeks of YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Twitter tweets, Facebook pages, and blogs dedicated to events in Iran. Today, the world is not only watching — in an important way it is participating, as observers dig down for their own raw footage, reporting, and analysis pouring out of Iran.

It is easy to be swept up by all of these images coming out of Iran and think that the days of dictatorship — in Iran and the rest of the world — are numbered. Overnight, normally innocuous social networking tools swiftly turned political, and local events found international audiences mere instants after they occur.

That prompted Verizon’s CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, to exult on the Charlie Rose Show this week that Iran’s efforts to manage public sentiments via restricting Internet access was a losing proposition. “The power of the people will override that without any question,” he said. “And it’ll happen sooner than they think, because the technology is just too pervasive.”

If only that were true. The way the outside world sees Iranian protests is markedly different from the way Iranians themselves do, and the government is increasingly asserting its authority over the information space in the country. While many in the West see a potential revolution in Technicolor, the green banners of opposition activists from the election campaign are quickly fading to black. [continued…]

Why do Arabs not revolt?

The stark contrast between the street demonstrations in Iran in the past two weeks and the absence of any such popular revolts in the Arab world during the past half-century is more than just fascinating in terms of political anthropology. A major question that hangs over the Arab world like a ton of bricks is: Why do the top-heavy, non-democratic political control and governance systems of the Arab world persist without any significant popular opposition or public challenge?

The events in Iran — the second major popular rebellion in the past 30 years — accentuate the relative quiescence in the Arab world, but this is not for lack of grievances among Arabs. The same pressures and indignities that annoy many Iranians and push them to openly challenge their rulers are prevalent throughout much of the Arab world: [continued…]


Pepe Escobar: Requiem for a revolution

More at The Real News

Requiem for a revolution

If this military dictatorship of the mullahtariat continues to appease its working-class support base with a little redistribution of oil revenues, they can stay in power for a long time.

The West may try to boycott them – but not Russia and China, as both made it clear in no time. Both are the driving force of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Iran is an observer and sooner, rather than later, will be a member. Iran’s oil and gas are absolutely crucial to Europe – not to mention Asia. Nobody’s going to embargo Iran’s oil exports. So the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat will be able to repress and suppress whatever comes its way, using or not using Shi’ite eschatology to justify it.

There are echoes of the former Soviet Union in all of this. But what happened in the streets is more like Prague 1968 – and not the turbulence before the death of communism in 1989. In the end, the revolution was not YouTubed and Twittered simply because there was no revolution. The army – the IRGC – didn’t support the people. And the bazaari merchants and the oil and gas industry workers didn’t go on strike.

People were angry because they felt their vote had been stolen: there was nothing ideological about that. When they took to the streets they made clear that they wanted a better economy, less unemployment, a less stifling regime, a little more freedom of speech and of dress for women, less fiery rhetoric from Ahmadinejad, in sum, a better life. But on the other side of the spectrum there were the millions of pious Basiji – who are very happy with the meager and shabby existence the revolution grants them and who remain deeply, deeply alienated from Western culture.

This doesn’t mean this was a Gucci, YouTube, Twitter uprising of the petit-bourgeoisie. It’s easy to fall into this temptation as the people in the streets of Tehran were supported by the West en masse. But to believe that Iran’s national interest and the aspirations of the excluded Iranian masses will be defended by this new military dictatorship of the mullahtariat is to completely miss the point. [continued…]



Is Khamenei controlled by the Revolutionary Guards?

There are many different ways to look at the developments in Iran. One perspective that seems to have been ignored is what I regard as the cardinal role of the Revolutionary Guards.

Over the 20 years that Ayatollah Khamenei has been the rahbar, or leader, he has allied himself ever more closely with the Revolutionary Guards—to such an extent that it is no longer apparent to me who is leading and who is following. The Revolutionary Guards have been granted extraordinary influence over all functions of the Islamic republic—military, political, economic, and even Islamic. Technically, they take their orders from the leader, but has he ever dared to contradict them? On the contrary, he seems always to court them by granting them ever-greater influence and responsibilities. [continued…]

Iran Revolutionary Guards amass power while backing Ahmadinejad

The 125,000-strong Guards Corps was created by Iran’s clerical rulers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Its influence has grown under Ahmadinejad, himself a guards veteran, said Michael Eisenstadt, a senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Eight of the 21 posts in the president’s cabinet are held by former members, according to Ali Alfoneh, an analyst at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute. Among them are Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli, whose agency ran the election, and Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar.

Another five places are occupied by past Basij commanders. The state broadcasting arm is headed by Ezzatollah Zarghami, a former guard. At least one-third of Iran’s parliament members are former guards, according to Nader.

Under Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, 65, only three ministers had belonged to the guards or Basij. [continued…]

The Islamic Revolution faces the classic dilemma of all revolutions

Between 1979, the year of the Islamic revolution, and 1999, Iran’s population doubled to 65 million, two-thirds of them under 25 years of age. Those young Iranians had no direct experience or memory of the pre-Islamic regime of the Shah — its inequities and injustices, and its subservient relationship with Washington. Therefore, their commitment to the Islamic regime was less than total. Moreover, the post-revolutionary educational system had proven inadequate when it came to socializing them the way the republic’s religious leaders wanted.

During those two decades, Iran’s student body increased almost threefold, to 19 million. The overall literacy rate jumped from 58% to 82%, with the figure for females — 28% in 1979 — tripling. There was a remarkable upsurge in the enrollment of women in universities. Nationally, their share of university student bodies shot up to 60%. At prestigious Tehran University, they were a majority in all faculties, including science and law.

The total of university graduates, which stood at 430,000 in 1979, grew nine-fold in those years. As elsewhere in the world, university students and graduates would become a vital engine for change. [continued…]

Khamenei uses the Cheney torture methods

With the distressing news of so many democracy activists being rounded up by the Iranian regime, the specter of torture for false confessions emerges. The confessions “prove” that the demonstrations were entirely a function of a foreign plot. And, more to the point, the torture techniques include those adopted and championed by the neocon right in the US. Among the Cheney techniques that are used by the Khemenai regime are sleep deprivation, forced nudity, beatings, solitary confinement, and stress positions. [continued…]

Torture in Iran – 60 Minutes, April 9, 2009

Will Iran take the heat off Israel over settlements?

Iran has now forced its way back to the top of the White House agenda, as a result of Tehran’s violent crackdown on its own citizens protesting claims of election fraud. The domestic political pressure on the Administration to take a tougher stand against Iran’s regime may actually help Netanyahu resist pressure for a settlement freeze. After all, the President may find it difficult, in Washington, to muster pressure on Israel over settlements at a moment when he’s being berated for speaking too softly on Tehran’s crackdown. Members of Congress are now proposing new sanctions legislation and even demanding hearings on U.S. policy toward Tehran. And that’s exactly the conversation that Netanyahu wants dominating the nation’s capital. [continued…]

Israel May Shift an infinitely short distance on settlements freeze amid broader effort

Israel would be open to a complete freeze of settlement building in the West Bank for three to six months as part of a broad Middle East peace endeavor that included a Palestinian agreement to negotiate an end to the conflict and confidence-building steps by major Arab nations, senior Israeli officials said Sunday.[…]

The officials who spoke of the prospect of a temporary freeze said the issue was explosive in Israel, so they were not prepared to have their names publicly associated with the idea at this stage. But they spoke with clear authority. They calculated that about 2,000 buildings were going up in West Bank settlements now and said that they would be completed under their proposal, but nothing new would start. They also said that if broader peace efforts came to naught, the building would start up again. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — There comes a point where clear language has been so thoroughly and persistently abused and avoided that the only means left for communication are non-verbal. If Barak is actually on his way to Washington with this as his offer, then the White House should turn the humiliation dial up a few more more notches from the recently canceled meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell in Paris. At that point the Israelis were told there was no point sending Mitchell until Netanyahu had “finished his homework” on halting settlements. This time around perhaps Barak’s meeting should be canceled while he’s midway across the Atlantic.

What a freeze can’t do

[Rahm] Emanuel’s view is that settlements are not a security issue for Israel but a domestic political problem. According to a senior White House official, Emanuel has argued that if the Israelis insist on expanding settlements, “You’re doing it on your own dime. We don’t want our credibility to be compromised as you work out your domestic politics. We’re not going to pay for that one.”

What has surprised the Israelis, says the White House official, is that “for umpteen years, they’ve been trained to hear one thing from America on settlements but see us do another. It takes some adjustment.”

The White House believes that if it comes to a showdown, Netanyahu will compromise. His coalition government, the administration reasons, is too weak to sustain an open break with its key ally, the United States. If Netanyahu defies the United States, his coalition will splinter. The administration is already talking with Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader and defense minister, who might form a new government if Netanyahu falls.

It’s a hardheaded strategy, but it has one big flaw: The Obama team is assuming that if it can pressure Israel into a real settlements freeze, the Arabs will respond with meaningful moves toward normalization of relations — which will give Israel some tangible benefits for its concessions. But that hope appears to be misplaced. [continued…]

Walking miles in Palestinian feet

What is a world where you cannot go for a walk, cannot assemble to read and discuss literature in public, cannot be certain of visiting your grandmother in a neighboring city? What is a world where you cannot lose your temper, cannot laugh in the wrong place? (Imagine, if you will, living your entire life in the security line at the airport, on a bad day.) For us, the French and British consulates opened their doors; but they can’t always do so for the Palestinians. [continued…]

Gaza residents ‘live in despair’

The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza as people “trapped in despair”.

In a report, it said that a main cause was the continuing Israeli blockade.

The report comes six months after the end of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in which at least 1,100 Palestinians died. [continued…]


Ayatollah Taleghani’s prescient warning

Ayatollah Taleghani’s warning about the return of despots

“If things go the way they are, despots will rule over us. If we don’t appreciate this free and peaceful environment and create an environment of trickery, an environment full of suffering and chaos, just like the Koran mentions, the result will be the appearance of despots…”

Ayatollah Taleghani was one of the leaders of the Islamic revolution. He died in September 1979, a few months after the fall of the Shah.



What will be the legacy of the Green Revolution?

Exiled opposition groups, whose political agenda sharply differs from that of the protesters in Iran — indeed, many of these groups urged people not to vote in the elections — have sought to fill the vacuum left by a beheaded and directionless indigenous movement. Though the outrage of these exiled groups against the Iranian government’s brutal violence is genuine, their efforts to impose themselves on the political scene have caused great frustration among opposition elements inside Iran. At a time when the movement in Iran is paralyzed, efforts by exiled groups — groups that scorned the protesters only weeks ago for choosing to participate in the elections — to fill the leadership vacuum are viewed as nothing less than a maneuver to hijack the movement.

This is playing right into the hands of the Ahmadinejad government, precisely because it would weaken, if not eliminate, the indigenous movement’s trump card: its ability to attract the Iranian swing-voters back to its side. If the exiled opposition groups and their neo-conservative backers in the United States prevail in aiding the Ahmadinejad government, what started out as the largest Iranian mass movement since 1979 may end up as little more than the student demonstrations of 1999. Which is to say, an instance of hopes raised, then dashed. [continued…]

Mousavi reportedly under house arrest

The government crackdown in Iran has moved so quickly and brutally the protests have been forced into near silence.

The Web site reports that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is under house arrest, although that claim could not be verified.

The well-known Iranian filmmaker Moshen Makhmalbaf, who has become an unofficial spokesman for Mousavi outside of Iran, told ABC News that Mousavi is being highly controlled and is limited in whom he can meet with and where he can go.

On his Facebook page Mousavi, who analysts say is under intense pressure, posted a message in Farsi, English and French telling his followers: “All my communication with the people and you has been cut off, and people’s peaceful objections are being crushed.”

He also urged his supporters to protest using only “legal channels” and to remain “faithful to the sacred system of the Islamic Republic.” [continued…]

Night raids terrorize civilians

A middle-aged resident from Vanak neighborhood gave Human Rights Watch an overview of his participation each day in the protests. He explained that by June 22, virtually the only form of protest still available to him wasto shout slogans from his rooftop at night. But then the Basiji came to attackhis neighborhood.

“On June 22, while we were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ from the rooftops, the only form of protests we could still undertake, the Basiji entered our neighborhood and started firing live rounds into the air, in the direction of the buildings from which they believe the shouting of ‘Allahu Akbar’ is coming from. I didn’t see any rounds hitting our buildings. Shortly thereafter, my cousin arrived at our apartment. He was very shaken. The Basijis had entered their house in Yousef Abad neighborhood,and they had destroyed their doors and destroyed cars in the street.

“There are many things happening that aren’t being reported [in the media]. In every neighborhood of Tehran, people are talking about how the Basijis and other security services are coming into their houses and are terrorizing people for shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ from the rooftops, and for congregating.” [continued…]

Role of women in Iran protest kindles hope

Over the past two weeks, Marcelle George has watched with amazement as legions of Iranian women, most wearing black, full-length Islamic garments, defiantly protested Iran’s leadership.

Even in her native Egypt, where some opposition to the government is permitted, most women would never dare cross that line.

“To actually see Iranian women fight for their rights is inspiring,” said George, a college student in jeans and a long-sleeve blouse. “I never imagined that it could happen there.” [continued…]

U.S. grants support Iranian dissidents

The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents, records and interviews show, continuing a program that became controversial when it was expanded by President Bush.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which reports to the secretary of state, has for the last year been soliciting applications for $20 million in grants to “promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran,” according to documents on the agency’s website. The final deadline for grant applications is June 30.

U.S. efforts to support Iranian opposition groups have been criticized in recent years as veiled attempts to promote “regime change,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, the largest Iranian-American advocacy group. The grants enable Iran’s rulers to paint opponents as tools of the United States, he said. [continued…]

What will happen when U.S. combat troops withdraw?

So, is all hell about to break loose in Iraq?

By June 30, all U.S. combat troops are scheduled—in fact, they’re required—to be withdrawn from all of Iraq’s cities, towns, and villages.

Many Americans and Iraqis fear that the progress achieved in the last couple of years—the dramatic reduction of violence and casualties, the growing sense of security in areas that were once soaking with dread and bloodshed—will be eroded and reversed, perhaps completely.

The rise in spectacular suicide bombings in the last few weeks—as U.S. soldiers have stepped up their retreat to large bases in the outskirts—is widely seen as the shape of things to come. [continued…]



The revolution will not be digitized

What happened in Baharestan Square on Wednesday? According to a woman who called in to CNN, Iranian security forces unleashed unimaginable brutality upon a few hundred protesters gathered in central Tehran. “They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood, and her husband, who was watching the scene, he just fainted,” the anonymous caller screamed into the phone. “This was—this was exactly a massacre. You should stop this. You should stop this. You should help the people of Iran who demand freedom. You should help us.”

Clips of the phone call ricocheted across the Web and cable TV. The message was corroborated on Twitter, where a post by @persiankiwi brought horrific news from Baharestan Square: “we saw militia with axe choping ppl like meat – blood everywhere – like butcher – Allah Akbar.”* News organizations around the world told of a brutal crackdown—Iran’s Tiananmen. But at the same time, other reports suggested the rally was a far tamer encounter. A reader on the New York Times’ Lede blog wrote in to say that the protest had been cleared by security forces with minimal violence. The blog of the National Iranian American Council, which has been closely following all the news out of Tehran, published a report from a “trusted source” who said that while the rally was “tense,” it didn’t match the CNN caller’s account. “The moment we stood in one place, they would break us up,” the source wrote. “I saw many people get blindfolded and arrested, however it wasn’t a massacre.”

Over the last couple of weeks, those who believe in the transformative powers of technology have pointed to Iran as a test case—one of the first repressive regimes to meet its match in social media, the first revolution powered by Twitter. Even in the early days of the protest, that story line seemed more hopeful than true, as Slate’s Jack Shafer, among many others, pointed out. Since last week, though, when the state began to systematically clamp down on journalists and all communications networks leading out of the country, hope has become much harder to sustain. The conflicting accounts about what happened at Baharestan Square are evidence that Iran’s media crackdown is working. The big story in Iran is confusion—on a daily basis, there are more questions than answers about what’s really happening, about who’s winning and losing, about what comes next. The surprise isn’t that technology has given protesters a new voice. It’s that, despite all the tech, they’ve been effectively silenced. [continued…]

How quarreling Ayatullahs affect Iran’s crisis

One leading conservative ayatullah declared, during Friday prayers at Tehran University, that people protesting Iran’s election are waging war on God. Ayatullah Ahmad Khatami demanded that those calling for demonstrations be “ruthlessly and savagely” punished. Yet, just a day earlier, one of the country’s most senior mullahs, Grand Ayatullah Hussein-Ali Montazeri — a longtime liberal critic of the regime — branded the authorities’ response to the electtion protests un-Islamic. And a second leading conservative theologian, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, called for the dispute over the election to be resolved through “national conciliation.”

To an outside world accustomed to viewing Iranian politics as a conclave of like-minded mullahs, the current turmoil within Iran’s political and religious establishment defies explanation. The conflict between two regime insiders, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has created the most profound political crisis in the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history. Both men proclaim their fealty to the ideals of the 1979 Islamic revolution; both claim the backing of senior clergy; and both appeal to Iranians’ sense of Shia justice to rally support.

The fact that such discord is possible among factions who all claim allegiance to the principle of guidance by the clergy is rooted in the distinct nature of Shi’ite Islam. Shi’ism differs from the Sunni tradition in a handful of important ways — not only in its belief in who was the legitimate heir to the Prophet Muhammad’s leadership of the community of the faithful after his death, but also in its attitudes toward political authority and devotion. But one of the most important differences is the Shi’ite tradition’s unique practice of ijtihad — the use of independent reasoning to pass new religious rulings. While Sunni Islam effectively abandoned ijtihad in the tenth century, the practice remained an essential core of Shi’ism. The result is that virtually every aspect of Shi’a doctrine, from the principle of clerical rule to minute matters of religious observance, is open to differing interpretation, and has been debated throughout history. [continued…]

A deal to save Iran?

Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the supreme leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow assembly members to remove the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a runoff election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The rumor that the Assembly of Experts might play a decisive role in forging a compromise or even unseating Khamenei has been floating around for some time.

Ahmad Ghabel, an exiled dissident, scoffs at the suggestion:

…do really think that members of the Council of Experts, who have had to pass through the extreme filter of the Guardian Council, particularly the exceptionally harsh filtering that is exercised in case of the Council of Experts, have the ability or courage to question the competence of the supreme leader? Given how brutally they [the coup makers] have been able to crackdown on everyone under current circumstances, with such a high turnout in the elections, what do you expect from a few senile men without any serious public backing?

Mir-Hossein Mousavi slams Iran’s leaders

After days of relative quiet, the candidate defeated in Iran’s disputed presidential election launched a broadside Thursday against the nation’s leadership, an indication that the country’s political rift is far from over.

In his statement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi issued a rare attack on supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accusing him of not acting in the interests of the country, and said Iran had suffered a dramatic change for the worse. [continued…]

NSC names Ross senior director

The White House sought for the first time Thursday to answer basic questions about a key player in President Barack Obama’s approach to what the administration is calling the “Central Region” of foreign policy, a vast tract of the globe spanning from Pakistan to Israel.

The National Security Council announced that Dennis Ross would serve as its senior director, and as a special assistant to the president, with responsibility for developing a coherent strategy across a region whose dynamics have been scrambled by the violent aftermath of a contested election in Iran.

Some of Ross’s more hawkish allies suggested that his arrival at the White House implied a rightward turn for the administration, but several government officials suggested that the shift is more subtle, and that Ross’s main addition will be a clearer sense that the broad region’s many problems are deeply connected. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — An earlier report by Time said: “With his proximity to the President, Ross will probably supersede special envoy George Mitchell as the most powerful voice in the Administration on Middle East peace talks.”

Politico‘s sources indicate otherwise, saying that Mitchell’s stance on pressuring Israel will continue to “hold sway.” “Mitchell’s much closer to the president on the subject matter than Dennis is,” the White House official said.

Want to stop Israeli settlements? Start with Americans

This month, both at Cairo University and from the Oval Office, President Obama has called on the Israeli government to stop the expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. He should send the same message to the Americans who are funding and fueling them.

There are more than 450,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organization that opposes the settlements. Some of them are Americans. And some of the most influential, militant figures in the settler movement have been Americans, too. Among them were Baruch Goldstein, the doctor from Brooklyn who fired 100 shots at worshiping Muslims in Hebron in 1994, killing 29; Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Kach party, which was banned in Israel in 1988 on the grounds that it was racist; and convicted terrorist Era Rapaport, a member of the Land Redemption Fund, which coordinates the acquisition of Palestinian land in areas targeted for settlement expansion.

Before the settlers were removed from Gaza in 2005, I visited a group of them while shooting my last film. Some of the settlements’ most passionate advocates spoke about their deep roots in the Gaza Strip even though they were actually Americans. Years earlier, while working as a human rights advocate, I had received reports from colleagues who had been threatened or physically attacked by young settlers as they tried to protect Palestinian farmers during harvest. The attackers often included North American Jews, my colleagues said. [continued…]

Palestinian violence overstated, Jewish violence understated

The Israel Project hired pollster Stanley Greenberg to test American opinion on the Middle East conflict — and got a big surprise. In September 2008, 69% of Americans called themselves pro-Israel. Now, it’s only 49%. In September, the same 69% wanted the U.S. to side with Israel; now, only 44%.

How to explain this dramatic shift? Greenberg himself suggested the answer years ago when he pointed out that, in politics, “a narrative is the key to everything.” Last year the old narrative about the Middle East conflict was still dominant: Israel is an innocent victim, doing only what it must do to defend itself against the Palestinians. Today, that narrative is beginning to lose its grip on Americans.

Well, to be more precise, the first part of the old narrative is eroding. Nearly half the American public seems unsure that Israel is still the good guy in the Middle East showdown. But the popular image of the Palestinians as the violent bad guy is apparently as potent as ever. The number of Americans who say they support Palestine remains unchanged from last September, a mere 7%. And only 5% want the U.S. government to take such a position. [continued…]

Arab activists watch Iran and wonder: ‘why not us?’

Mohamed Sharkawy bears the scars of his devotion to Egypt’s democracy movement. He has endured beatings in a Cairo police station, he said, and last year spent more than two weeks in an insect-ridden jail for organizing a protest.

But watching tens of thousands of Iranians take to the streets of Tehran this month, the 27-year-old pro-democracy activist has grown disillusioned. In 10 days, he said, the Iranians have achieved far more than his movement has ever accomplished in Egypt.

“We sacrificed a lot, but we have gotten nowhere,” Sharkawy said. [continued…]

Secret voices of the new Iran

For reasons best not explained, I’ve come to know a former member of the Revolutionary Guards really well.

He’s done some pretty dreadful things in his life, from attacking women in the streets for not wearing the full Islamic gear to fighting alongside Islamic revolutionaries in countries abroad.

And yet now, in the tumult that has gripped Iran since its elections last week, he’s had a change of heart.

He’s become a backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate who alleges fraud in the elections. He’s saved up the money to send his son to a private school abroad, and he loathes President Ahmadinejad.

He’s not the only one. [continued…]

Iranians pay respects at Neda Agha-Soltan’s grave

Security was tight around the bare grave of Neda Agha-Soltan on Thursday. Militiamen and police stood nearby, witnesses said, and it was difficult for visitors to hold a conversation within sight and hearing of the glaring officers.

But the visitors come nonetheless to pay their respects to Agha-Soltan, who was fatally shot by an unknown assailant during the protests Saturday over Iran’s disputed presidential election. Her dying moments were captured in a video that made its way onto the Internet and the international airwaves.

“I read the news on the Web, and I saw the picture of the grave,” said one man, hovering near the burial site. “I figured out the location of the grave and came.” [continued…]

Rare show of unity by Lebanese politicians

Lebanon took the first step yesterday towards forming a new cabinet with the re-election of Nabih Berri to his fifth term as speaker of the parliament in a vote that showed widespread political support for the opposition figure from the majority.

Mr Berri and his Amal Movement played a large role in the opposition’s unsuccessful attempt to unseat the majority in elections this month, but his close ties to some majority parties – not to mention a dearth of alternatives acceptable to Lebanon’s Shiite community – all but ensured his re-election. Under an unofficial tradition that divvies up power among Lebanon’s various confessions, the speaker must be a Shiite Muslim, while the president is Christian and prime minister a Sunni.

Mr Berri saw some opposition from Christian parties in the majority, who argued that his role in the political battles that paralysed the most recent parliament should exclude him from returning, but with the endorsement of Saad Hariri, the Future Movement MP and the man many expect to be named prime minister tomorrow, he was able to win 90 of 128 votes. A total of 28 MPs from the Christian majority parties refused to vote in the election, only offering blank ballots. [continued…]



Burning silence in Iran

Silence seems to have rolled over Iran’s burning landscape, not because the situation has calmed, but because we know it less and less. Reporters have been banned, communications slowed, and civic organizations that might aggregate information in ordinary times have ceased to function. One exile who usually has an inside line to events unfolding in his country complained to me yesterday that he knows nothing, because all of his friends have been arrested. A normally outspoken analyst inside Iran told me that, as much as he would love to talk, he was in hiding, having been threatened by the office of Tehran’s chief prosecutor. But over here, the conversation must go on, and it has adopted a new, increasingly speculative, trope. The struggle in Iran, we are hearing, really comes down to a fight among the élites inside the power structure.

It is clearly true that Iran’s élites are disunited, but to place great emphasis on this fact is misleading. Factional differences have riven the Iranian political establishment since the Islamic Revolution itself, and sometimes quite dramatically, as during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, from 1997 through 2005. As for Rafsanjani, about whose possible role much has been made, he has been a rival of Ahmadinejad since losing the presidency to him in 2005; this has increasingly driven him toward the reformist camp, where he has been accepted only partially and reluctantly. None of these cleavages are new. In a country that does not tolerate political parties or associations in its civil society, the contest for power, and over the future of the political system, has been largely confined to the establishment itself. Khamenei has spent much of his twenty years in power checkmating his rivals inside the system and discrediting them with their supporters outside the system. [continued…]

Iran opposition leader blasts rulers; 70 professors arrested

Iran’s leading opposition figurehead, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, launched a lengthy broadside against the Iranian leadership and state-owned media in comments published today on his website as authorities arrested 70 university professors who had met with him.

The former prime minister, in comments apparently delivered Wednesday to the arrested social scientists and posted on one of his websites today, accused Iran’s supreme leader of not acting in the interests of the country and said a dramatic change for the worse had taken place in the country. [continued…]

Ahmadinejad assails Obama as opposition urges defiance

As Iran’s embattled opposition leader said he would “not back down for a second” in challenging the disputed elections, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told President Obama on Thursday to avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and demanded an apology from the American leader for purportedly striking the same critical tones as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The sharp words offered no prospect of eased tensions between Washington and Tehran at a time of profound differences over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, which the United States calls terrorist organizations.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments, quoted on the semi-official Fars news agency, came as at least three Iranian newspapers reported that only 105 of 290 members of the Iranian Parliament invited to a victory party for him Wednesday night actually attended the event, suggesting a deep divide within the political elite over the election and its aftermath. [continued…]

Neda Soltan’s family ‘forced out of home’ by Iranian authorities

The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world.

Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said.

“We just know that they [the family] were forced to leave their flat,” a neighbour said. The Guardian was unable to contact the family directly to confirm if they had been forced to leave. [continued…]

Behind the protests, social upheaval in Iran

In essence, the more Nedas the Basij silence the more difficult it will be for them to maintain their monopoly over the symbolism of martyrdom. At this critical juncture of history, I am reminded of my own father, executed at the notorious Evin prison in 1982. Regarded by many as a martyr, I wonder how he would have reacted to the fallen men and women, who gave up their lives for what he also sacrificed his life for: freedom from tyranny. [continued…]

Tehran dwellers enter twilight zone

Many universities postponed exams and some came under brutal assault by the basij . But most businesses stayed open, though the days became shorter, as people rushed home before the scheduled start of opposition protests, anxious about the crackdown that would follow.

“Life is not normal any more, I’m afraid to go out after 6pm,” says Atousa, a 38-year-old electronic engineer. “I don’t take my daughter out as much and I don’t want her to see so many police in the streets,” she adds.

“I feel disappointed and depressed. I don’t want an unstable country . . . but I cannot tolerate the continuation of this government.” [continued…]

In Iran, family members wait and worry outside Evin Prison

The mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters wait.

They sip tea, amble around, look at their watches and stare at the posted lists of names, about 700 or 800 of them.

They arrived early outside Evin Prison, the notorious complex of buildings in northern Tehran where most of the Iranians arrested in the recent unrest have been locked up. [continued…]

Iran supreme leader’s son seen as power broker with big ambitions

There are few anecdotes about him, and pictures, at least ones that have appeared in public, are scarce. But Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of Iran’s supreme leader, wields considerable power and is a key figure in orchestrating the crackdown against anti-government protesters, analysts say.

The younger Khamenei operates tucked behind an elaborate security structure, an overlapping world that stretches from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps to the motorcycle-riding Basiji militiamen.

Analysts and former dissidents describe him as the gatekeeper for his father, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a reclusive son whose political instincts were sharpened in a post-revolutionary Iran where affiliations with security and intelligence services were just as important as Islamic ideology. [continued…]

Israeli activist on West Bank says, I identify with Tehran protesters trying to change their country

There is a minority in Israel that is willing to risk life and limb to stand up to the occupation at its core. Multiple times a week, groups of Israelis venture through checkpoints into the West Bank in order to meet with Palestinian counterparts and help them maintain the basic necessities of livelihood and hold on to what little land they still legally own. We are continually attacked by settlers and harassed by Israeli authorities, which try to restrict our efforts and often use excessive force. Despite the constant obstacles and fear of arrest, court dates and injury, we continue to fight the occupation with nonviolence.

As an Israeli actively contesting the overt and covert policies of my government, I have been struck with a feeling of familiarity and identification with the events that have been unfolding in Iran. The images of young people flooding the streets, confronting the authorities and standing up for the rule of law is similar to the Israelis who confront the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank. I see students in Tehran, of the same age as myself, using twitter and blogs to communicate information from the ground in the face of great censorship. I have been watching the YouTube videos from the front line and it conjures up the same feelings as the videos that we are making in the West Bank. It is a different situation in Tehran but one cannot ignore the common determination to challenge governmental policies, take risks and get the word out. In both countries, the only way to do that is to make your presence known in the most corporeal way. [continued…]

Open letter of support to the demonstrators in Iran

Needless to say it is up to the people of Iran to determine their own political course. Foreign observers inspired by the courage of those demonstrating in Iran this past week are nevertheless entitled to point out that a government which claims to represent the will of its people can only do so if it respects the most basic preconditions for the determination of such a will: the freedom of the people to assemble, unhindered, as an inclusive collective force; the capacity of the people, without restrictions on debate or access to information, to deliberate, decide and implement a shared course of action.

Years of foreign-sponsored ‘democracy promotion’ in various parts of the world have helped to spread a well-founded scepticism about civic movements which claim some sort of direct democratic legitimacy. But the principle itself remains as clear as ever: only the people themselves can determine the value of such claims. We the undersigned call on the government of Iran to take no action that might discourage such determination. [continued…]

Baghdad bombing kills at least 78, injures 145

A bomb in a sprawling Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Baghdad killed at least 78 people Wednesday and wounded 145, highlighting the danger of Iraq slipping back into violence after the deadline for U.S. combat troops to leave its cities — now less than a week away.

It was unclear who was responsible for the bomb, which was hidden in a motorcycle with a vegetable cart attached. Some blamed Sunni Muslim insurgents with Al Qaeda in Iraq or remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, but others raised the possibility that the bombing was the result of disputes among Shiite factions. [continued…]

Stand firm on settlements

Rightly or wrongly, Obama has made the settlement issue a test of his credibility, and if he backs down then all the progress he has made will wash away instantly. That makes this a pivotal moment, whether or not an Obama administration focused on Iran wants it to be one. Most Palestinians, with their well-earned skepticism of American policy, expect Obama to back down. Most Israelis probably do as well. And that would be tragic, because without much publicity Obama’s pressure has already started generating some important results on the ground — not just Netanyahu’s carefully hedged uttering of an emasculated two state formula, but the significant easing of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, the lifting of some of the more ludicrous parts of the blockade of Gaza, the release of Hamas prisoners (including its Parliamentarians) by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and reports that the Egyptians are planning an unveiling of a Hamas-Fatah unity government agreement on July 7. [continued…]

Palestinian groups round up rivals

On June 14, Fatah and Hamas, the estranged main Palestinian factions, seemingly moved a step closer to reconciliation when representatives met in Ramallah and Gaza City and agreed to begin releasing prisoners held by both sides.

But 10 days later, with a security sweep in the West Bank that netted more than 100 Hamas members, and the closing of a Gaza newspaper and the arrest of its editor, the rivals appear instead to have taken two strides backward.

These developments do not bode well for a happy conclusion to the Egyptian-mediated unity talks, for which exasperated Egyptian officials have set a July 7 deadline. Officials from both factions, as well as independent observers, agree that successful intra-Palestinian reconciliation cannot be achieved if the prisoner issue is not successfully resolved. [continued…]



Bet on Neda’s side

We are watching the first innings of what will be a long game in Iran. President Obama has recognized that with his gradually escalating rhetoric. Yesterday, he was using powerful language to describe the “timeless dignity” of the protesters and the “heartbreaking” images of Neda. He suggested that the mullahs cannot win a war of repression against their own people. “In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests,” he said.

Behind Obama’s cool but confident talk is a judgment that, as one senior White House official puts it, the mullahs “can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” The official explained: “Iran will never be the same again. You don’t have to know how this will end to know that. The regime has been challenged. They are now back on their heels.”

A weakened Iran may seek the validation and legitimacy that would come from negotiations with the United States, presenting a diplomatic dilemma for Obama. Several American officials have told me that before the June 12 election, Tehran signaled Washington that it was ready for talks. Obama has tried to keep this door open, stressing at his news conference yesterday: “We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage and become part of international norms.” But as long as the Basijs are clubbing and shooting protesters in the streets, negotiation will be a nonstarter.

As the mullahs’ grip on power weakens, there are new opportunities to peel away some of their allies. The United States is moving quickly to normalize relations with Syria, and there’s talk of working with the Saudis to draw elements of the radical Palestinian group Hamas away from its Iranian patrons, toward a coalition government that would be prepared to negotiate with Israel. Observes a White House official: “Iran’s allies in the region have to be wondering, ‘Why should we hitch our wagon to their starship?’ ” [continued…]

The Arabs’ forlorn envy of Iranians

Most Arab governments dislike the current Iranian regime, so you would think they would be pleased to see it toppled, or tempered by its own people. Yet, if such change were to occur through street demonstrations choreographed via a web of digital communications, whispered messages, and rooftop religious chants in the middle of the night, Arab leaders of autocratic regimes would be unhappy — because they would sense their own vulnerability to similar mass political challenges. The fact is not lost on anyone that the Iranian regime effectively withstood and defied American-Israeli-European-UN pressure, threats and sanctions for years, but found itself much more vulnerable to the spontaneous rebellion of many of its own citizens who felt degraded by the falsification of election results by the government. [continued…]

Iran’s crisis: The opposition weighs its options

Despite fantasies of insurrection in some of the more fevered Western media assessments of the confrontation, the balance of forces appears to militate against a knockout blow by either side. U.S.-based Iran scholar Farideh Farhi, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, stressed that Ahmadinejad and the Supreme leader may not have the majority of the people behind them, “but they do have support. They also have the resources of the state — both financial and military. So that makes them quite robust.”

At the same time, Farhi notes, the opposition coalition includes some very powerful figures from within the regime, who together command the support of a large section of the population. Thus, she warns, “To assume that this will lead ultimately to a victory of one over the other is unrealistic as well as dangerous because it may come at the cost of tremendous violence.” More likely, she argues, is the pursuit of some sort of compromise that allows the regime to back down to some extent, without necessarily surrendering. [continued…]

The end of the beginning

Iran’s 1979 revolution took a full year to gestate. The uprising of 2009 has now ended its first phase. But the volatility ushered in by the June 12 ballot-box putsch of Iran’s New Right is certain to endure over the coming year. The Islamic Republic has been weakened.

During one of the violent clashes here in recent days, I saw a member of the riot police confront a protester holding a cell phone. “Don’t take a photograph of me!” he yelled at the young man.

“Why?” the man shouted back. “You’re not naked.”

But the Islamic Republic is. Everyone knows where everyone stands; it isn’t pretty. All the fudge that allowed a modern society to coexist with a theocracy inspired by an imam occulted in the 9th century has been swept away, leaving two Irans at war. [continued…]

Diplomatic relations begin to show strain

Iran’s Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, called on European countries to refrain from holding talks with Iran until it ends violence against protesters and fresh elections are held.

The call came as Iran’s relations with Europe soured considerably yesterday.

“I don’t believe in economic sanctions because they will hurt the people, not the government,” Ms Ebadi told the BBC Persian television. “I believe in political sanctions. European countries can reduce their relations with Iran to charge d’ affaires level.” [continued…]

Clerics join Iran’s anti-government protests

A photo showing Iranian clerics prominently participating in an anti-government protest speaks volumes about the new face of Iran’s opposition movement.

In a blatant act of defiance, a group of Mullahs took to the streets of Tehran, to protest election results that returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. [continued…]

The “Neda video,” torture, and the truth-revealing power of images

The single most significant event in shaping worldwide revulsion towards the violence of the Iranian government has been the video of the young Iranian woman bleeding to death, the so-called “Neda video.” Like so many iconic visual images before it — from My Lai, fire hoses and dogs unleashed at civil rights protesters, Abu Ghraib — that single image has done more than the tens of thousands of words to dramatize the violence and underscore the brutality of the state response.

For the last question at his press conference yesterday, Obama was asked by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux about his reaction to that video and to reports that Iranians are refraining from protesting due to fear of such violence. As Obama was answering — attesting to how “heartbreaking” he found the video; how “anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust” about the violence; and paying homage to “certain international norms of freedom of speech, freedom of expression” — Helen Thomas, who hadn’t been called on, interrupted to ask Obama to reconcile those statements about the Iranian images with his efforts at home to suppress America’s own torture photos (“Then why won’t you allow the photos –“). [continued…]

U.S. remains firm on settlements

The ongoing dispute between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the US administration over construction in the settlements resulted in the cancellation of the meeting that had been scheduled to be held tomorrow in Paris between the prime minister and US special envoy George Mitchell.

Yitzhak Molcho, the prime minister’s special adviser, held secret talks this past weekend with senior US officials in Washington in an attempt to bridge the gaps that have had such an inimical impact on Israeli-American relations. Molcho’s interlocutors in Washington said once again that the United States was opposed to continued construction in the settlements and in the settlement blocs, even if the rationale for that construction was to meet the needs of “natural growth.”

Given that situation, Molcho and his American interlocutors agreed that there was no point holding a meeting between Mitchell and Netanyahu, and that talks needed to be pursued in an attempt to find a compromise solution.

A high-ranking political source said that the White House sent Netanyahu the following stern message: “Once you’ve finished the homework we gave you on stopping construction in the settlements, let us know. Until then, there’s no point in having Mitchell fly to Paris to meet you.” [continued…]

Barak authorizes construction of 300 new homes in West Bank

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the building of 300 new homes in the West Bank, defying U.S. calls for a halt to settlement growth.

Activists for Bimkom association, which works for justice and human rights in planning and knows a thing or two about the situation in the territories, have discovered that Barak recently authorized the Civil Administration to submit a plan for the construction of 300 housing units in the unauthorized outpost of Givat Habrecha, near the community of Talmon. [continued…]

Netanyahu: Settlements debate is a waste of time

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that international “arguing” over Israel’s stance on settlements was impeding progress on the Middle East peace progress.

In an interview with Italy’s RAI TV, Netanyahu insisted that settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must be viewed as separate issues, as Jerusalem is an inseparable part of Israel.

He also said that Israel has been forthcoming with its intentions to halt construction while still allowing for natural growth in existing communities, which he called “an equitable position which reflexes our willingness to enter immediately in peace negotiations and get on with peace.” [continued…]

Ross’s expanded portfolio riles Iraq, Middle East teams

The Cable has learned that deputy national security advisor Thomas Donilon, among others, is positioning Ross to assume an uber-senior NSC position overseeing Iran, Iraq, and the Middle East. The Iraq portfolio formerly assigned to holdover war czar Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute will be shifted to Ross, leaving Lute to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Puneet Talwar, the NSC’s senior director for the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Iran, will report to Ross, as will Daniel Shapiro, the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Under the new NSC structure, there will be no dedicated senior director for Iraq and there will be only two or three directors for Iraq, reporting to Talwar.

In January, when the new administration took office, Lute supervised two senior directors just for Iraq and six Iraq directors. Over the past few months, the size of the group has been reduced, and it now appears it will be further downsized as the Iraq portfolio shifts from Lute to Ross.

Sources worry that with the drop in manpower, and with Talwar and Ross both more focused on Iran, Iraq policy will suffer at a delicate transition time when Washington plans to draw down combat forces over the coming year. [continued…]

Israel frees a top Hamas figure

Israel freed the most senior Hamas leader in its prisons Tuesday after prosecutors failed to persuade a military court to prolong his three-year sentence.

The release of Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Authority parliament, fed speculation that Israel was on the verge of a deal to secure the return of a captured soldier in exchange for hundreds of Hamas prisoners. Such a swap has been the aim of sporadic negotiations mediated by Egypt, but Israeli and Hamas officials said they had no information about a breakthrough. [continued…]

U.S. drone strike said to kill 60 in Pakistan

An airstrike believed to have been carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.

Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush administration.

Before the attack on Tuesday, the Pakistani Army and Air Force had begun operations in South Waziristan against the forces of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud. The group’s suicide bombings in major cities have terrorized Pakistanis for years. [continued…]

Documents back Saudi link to extremists

Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.

The case has put the Obama administration in the middle of a political and legal dispute, with the Justice Department siding with the Saudis in court last month in seeking to kill further legal action. Adding to the intrigue, classified American intelligence documents related to Saudi finances were leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. The Justice Department had the lawyers’ copies destroyed and now wants to prevent a judge from even looking at the material.

The Saudis and their defenders in Washington have long denied links to terrorists, and they have mounted an aggressive and, so far, successful campaign to beat back the allegations in federal court based on a claim of sovereign immunity. [continued…]



Iran’s intifada: Symbols are not enough to win this battle

You don’t overthrow Islamic revolutions with car headlights. And definitely not with candles. Peaceful protest might have served Gandhi well, but the Supreme Leader’s Iran is not going to worry about a few thousand demonstrators on the streets, even if they do cry “Allahu Akbar” from their rooftops every night.

This chorus to God emanated from the rooftops of Kandahar every night after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 – I heard it myself in Kandahar and I heard it last week over the rooftops of Tehran – but it no more stopped the Russians in their tracks than it is going to stop the Basiji or Revolutionary Guards. Symbols are not enough.

Yesterday, the Revolutionary Guards – as unelected as they are unrepresentative of today’s massed youth of Iran – uttered their disgraceful threat to deal with “rioters” in “a revolutionary way”.

Everyone in Iran, even those too young to remember the 1988 slaughter of the regime’s opponents – when tens of thousands were hanged like thrushes on mass gallows – knows what this means.

Unleashing a rabble of armed government forces on to the streets and claiming that all whom they shoot are “terrorists” is an almost copy-cat perfect version of the Israeli army’s public reaction to the Palestinian intifada. If stone-throwing demonstrators are shot dead, then it is their own fault, they are breaking the law and they are working for foreign powers. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Many of the equations Fisk is making here are off target. The basij may be as brutal as the IDF, yet as we have witnessed on several occasions, when their adversaries have been injured the demonstrators are willing to assist their fellow Iranians. Likewise, to point out that the Soviets were unmoved by the cries of “Allahu Akbar” from the rooftops of Kandahar does not imply that Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard are similarly impervious to the calls from what for them — unlike the Soviets — are fellow Muslims.

Where Fisk is absolutely on target is to label this uprising an intifada — an awakening.

GOP/AIPAC will attempt to pressure Iran via loan program

A Republican effort on Tuesday to cut off U.S. loans to some companies doing business with Iran will bring Congress deeper into the fray over the U.S. response to the Iranian elections.

The amendment to the draft fiscal 2010 State and foreign operations appropriations bill will give members their first chance to vote on binding Iran policy since that country’s presidential election June 12.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk , R-Ill., said the amendment was aimed at Reliance Industries, a large energy company based in India that reportedly has provided Iran with as much as a third of its refined petroleum. He will offer the measure when the House Appropriations Committee takes up the draft bill on Tuesday…

Kirk worked Monday with Nita M. Lowey , D-N.Y., chairwoman of the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, to draft language they both could support. Final details were unclear, but Kirk aims to block the U.S. Export-Import Bank from extending loan guarantees to companies that supply gasoline to Iran.

Although Iran is a large exporter of oil, it lacks refining capacity and must import as much as 40 percent of its gasoline, a situation those arguing for tougher sanctions have sought to exploit.

“As they’re shooting kids in Tehran, this is not the time to provide taxpayer funding for a facility helping [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad ease his gas shortage problem,” Kirk said.

The Export-Import Bank provides loan guarantees for companies overseas to buy U.S. goods and services. The bank has provided Reliance with two loan guarantees totaling $900 million, including a $500 million guarantee to build the world’s sixth-largest refinery in Jamnagar, India.

Kirk said the company’s role in providing a large share of Iran’s refined petroleum makes it a target. “We think it would be good for Reliance just to choose not to do business with Iran,” he said.

Opponents say the language would do little to block gasoline imports and would end up hurting both America’s image in Iran and U.S. companies that would be penalized by the measure. Bechtel Corp. and Dow Global Technologies are involved in the refinery’s construction.

“It struck me as a little strange that we’re going to hamstring American companies in the middle of the worst recession in decades,” said Patrick Disney, legislative director at the National Iranian American Council.

The funds for the Jamnagar project have already been disbursed, but if the amendment is retroactive it could apply to that and other past transactions and potentially undermine confidence in the Export-Import Bank, critics say.

The new refinery would not provide gasoline to Iran, according to the bank, but Kirk waved that issue aside. “I think nuances like that fall on deaf ears as the situation has come apart in Iran,” he said.

He offered another reason to back his plan: “Our amendment is a go because AIPAC supports it,” he said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobby. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The Jewish Telegraph Agency was quick to point out that “sanctions are even being endorsed by demonstrators in Iran.” How many such demonstrators there are is unclear. Interestingly, CNN succeeded in hooking up with one pro-Israel demonstrator in Tehran whose concern right now is that Iran’s nuclear program be halted. The only thing he didn’t say was, “Bring back the Shah.”

Rafsanjani poised to outflank Supreme Leader Khamenei

Looking past their fiery rhetoric and apparent determination to cling to power using all available means, Iran’s hardliners are not a confident bunch. While hardliners still believe they possess enough force to stifle popular protests, they are worried that they are losing a behind-the-scenes battle within Iran’s religious establishment.

A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s — has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull,” said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. “They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets.”

Ayatollah Khamenei now has a very big image problem among influential Shi’a clergymen. Over the course of the political crisis, stretching back to the days leading up to the election, Rafsanjani has succeeded in knocking the supreme leader off his pedestal by revealing Ayatollah Khamenei to be a political partisan rather than an above-the-fray spiritual leader. In other words, the supreme leader has become a divider, not a uniter. [continued…]

Obama assails Iran for violent response to protests

President Obama condemned Iran’s aggressive response to the mass protests that have swept the country after its contested elections, saying that the United States and the international community “have been appalled and outraged” by the violence against peaceful demonstrators.

“I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of Iran,” he said. “But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.”

He also said that comments by Iranian officials blaming the United States, Britain and other Western nations for inciting the protests were “patently false” and a “tired strategy to use other countries as scapegoats” that will not work. “Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history,” he said. [continued…]

Mojtaba Khamenei: gatekeeper to Iran’s supreme leader

Iran’s supreme leader’s second son, Mojtaba Khamenei, has emerged as one of the driving forces behind the ­government’s crackdown, diplomats and observers said .

Mojtaba is an ally of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the disputed president, and was credited with winning his father’s endorsement for the then Tehran mayor in the 2005 elections, leading to Ahmadinejad’s shock second round victory.

Mojtaba is an austere figure, ­generally seen as more hardline than his father and has become a gatekeeper for access to the beit-e-rahbari, the supreme leader’s home, and the supreme leader himself. [continued…]

Iran’s children of tomorrow

They are known mockingly as the “Joojeh Basiji” — the “chicken Basiji.” These are the militia scarcely old enough to manage more than a feeble beard. Teenagers, brainwashed from early childhood, they have been ferried into the capital in large numbers, given a club and a shield and a helmet and told to go to work.

I saw them throughout downtown Tehran on Sunday, seated in the back of grey pick-ups. I saw them, sporting sleeveless camouflage vests, in clusters on corners, leaning on trees, even lolling shoeless on the grass in the central island of Revolution Square.

They were far from alone in a city in military lockdown. Elite riot police with thigh-length black leg guards, helmeted Revolutionary Guards in green uniforms and rifle-touting snipers composed a panoply of menace. The message to protesters was clear: Gather at your peril. [continued…]

Democracy, made in Iran

Despite efforts by Iran’s leaders to keep photographers off the streets during post-election protests this month, many vivid images have emerged. The one posted here, above, is the one I found most chilling, poignant and evocative.

By now, many outsiders can identify the man whose picture is on the right-hand side of this protest sign. He is Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reported loser in this month’s presidential election. The elderly gentleman in the other picture is unfamiliar to most non-Iranians. He and his fate, however, lie at the historical root of the protests now shaking Iran.

The picture shows a pensive, sad-looking man with what one of his contemporaries called “droopy basset-hound eyes and high patrician forehead”. He does not look like a man whose fate would continue to influence the world decades after his death. But this was Muhammad Mossadeq, the most fervent advocate of democracy ever to emerge in his ancient land.

Above the twinned pictures of Mossadeq and Mousavi on this protest poster are the words “We won’t let history repeat itself.” Centuries of intervention, humiliation and subjugation at the hand of foreign powers have decisively shaped Iran’s collective psyche. The most famous victim of this intervention – and also the most vivid symbol of Iran’s long struggle for democracy – is Mossadeq. Whenever Iranians assert their desire to shape their own fate, his image appears. [continued…]

Family, friends mourn ‘Neda,’ Iranian woman who died on video

The first word came from abroad. An aunt in the United States called her Saturday in a panic. “Don’t go out into the streets, Golshad,” she told her. “They’re killing people.”

The relative proceeded to describe a video, airing on exile television channels that are jammed in Iran, in which a young woman is shown bleeding to death as her companion calls out, “Neda! Neda!”

A dark foreboding swept over Golshad, who asked that her real name not be published. She began calling the cellphone and home numbers of her friend Neda Agha-Soltan — who had gone to the chaotic demonstration with a group of friends — but Neda didn’t answer.

At midnight, as the city continued to smolder, Golshad drove to the Agha-Soltan residence in the Tehran Pars section in the eastern part of the capital.

As she heard the cries and wails and praising of God reverberating from the house, she crumpled, knowing that her worst fears were true. [continued…]


“Neda wanted freedom and freedom for all” – updated

“Neda wanted freedom and freedom for all”

(Translation provided by Huffington Post readers.)

Caspian Makan, Neda Agha-Setan‘s fiancee, was interviewed by BBC Persia, noting that Neda would have turned 27 this year. “Neda’s goal was not Mousavi or Ahmadinejad, it was her country and was important for her to fight for this goal. She had said many times that if she had lost her life or been shot in the heart, which indeed what happened, it was important for her to continue in this path,” he said.

Considering her young age she has taught a lesson to us all.

About the day of the incident, Mr. Makan said: “When the clashes were occurring, Neda was far away from the demonstrations, she was in one of the side alleys near Amir Abad. Thirsty and tired or being cooped up for about an hour in the car in heavy traffic with her music instructor, she finally gets out of the car and, based on the pictures sent in by the people, armed forces in civilian clothes and the Basiji targeted and shot her in the heart.”

“It was over in a matter of minutes, the Shariati Hospital was nearby, the people around her tried to bring her to the emergency room by car, but before that could even happen she died in her instructor’s arms.”

Mr. Makan added: “We got her body back finally yesterday with some diffculties. Of course, her body was not at the Tehran Coroner but at a one outside of Tehran. The medical examiners
wanted parts of her body, including a portion of her femoral bone but the chief medical examiner would not say why and no explanations were ever given.”

“Finally the family consented just so they could get her body back as soon as possible, since just this issue could have resulted in delaying the reception of the body. We buried the body in a small area in the Zahra Cemetery in the late afternoon of 31 Khordad [June 21]. Also, they had brought in other people who had been killed in the protests so it seemed that the whole event was scheduled to be such.”

About payment for releasing the remains, Mr. Makan had this to say: “No specific amount has been paid at this time, although hospitals, clinics, surgeons and medical examiners have been ordered by the Iranian security services, based on various orders, not to list ‘bullet wound’ as the cause of death on the death certificate in order to prevent the families from filing international complaints in the future. I haven’t seen the release notice of Neda’s remains yet, but I will obtain it from her father in the coming days.”

Mr. Makan regarding government ban of memorial service for Neda Agha Setan said: “We were going to hold her memorial Monday 1st of Tir [June 22] at 2:30 PM at a mosque at Sharyati street north of Seyed Khandan. But Basijis and mosque officials refused our request for her memorial service so to avoid further public confrontation and instability. They knew that Neda was an died innocently, and people in Iran and the international community are informed of that fact. So they decided to avoid a situation where a mass rally would take place. In any way, we do not have permission for a memorial service for now.”

However, many eye witnesses told BBC Persia that a large gathering took place with the intention of performing a memorial service at Al Reza Mosque at Nilofar square in Tehran. But the security forces intervened by throwing people out of the mosque and intervening with the service.

Mr. Makan also commented on fake pictures of videos claiming to be Neda at various sites:”I was looking at some sites including ‘iReport’. There was a picture of a young woman with green signs from previous calm demonstrations and had claimed it was Neda before being shot. These pictures have no relation to the event. It seems that Mr. Mousavi’s supporters are trying to portray Neda as one of his supporters. This is not so. Neda was incredibly close to me and she was never supportive of either two groups. Neda wanted freedom and freedom for all.”

BBC Farsi tried to contact Neda Agha-Sultan’s other family members but was told by a close relative of hers that, for reasons of their own, the Agha Sultan family could grant an interview.


Iran update – June 22

Almost half Assembly of Experts want election annulled

Forty senior clerics want election results annulled. The intense infighting among Iran’s clerical establishment appeared to play out in new dramatic fashion on Monday. Via reader Art, the news site Peiknet reported that Ayatollah Rafsanjani has a letter signed by 40 members of the powerful 86-member Assembly of Experts calling for the annulment of the recent presidential election results. [continued…]

Iranian clerics seek supreme leader alternative

Members of the assembly [of experts] are reportedly considering forming a collective ruling body and scrapping the model of Ayatollah Khomeini as a way out of the civil crisis that has engulfed Tehran in a series of protests,

The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.

An option being considered is the resignation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president following condemnation by the United States and other European nations for violence and human rights violations against unarmed protestors. [continued…]

Iranian Revolutionary Guards issue warning as vote errors are admitted

Hours after a warning from the powerful Revolutionary Guard not to return to the streets, about a thousand protesters defiantly gathered in central Tehran on Monday and were quickly dispersed in an overwhelming show of force by police who used clubs and tear gas.

The protesters, far fewer than the numbers who attended mass rallies last week, turned out despite the warning, on the Guards’ Web site, that they would face a “revolutionary confrontation” if they continued to challenge the results of the June 12 election and their country’s supreme leader, who has pronounced the ballot to be fair.

Even so, Iran’s most senior panel of election monitors, in the most sweeping acknowledgment that election was flawed, said Monday that the number of votes cast in 50 cities exceeded the actual number of voters, according to a state television report. [continued…]

Mousavi’s new revolutionary manifesto

Although [Mousavi] denounces the “lies and fraud” of the leadership, particularly in the recent election, he views the fraudulent election as only as the symptom of something far more serious. He describes a revolution gone wrong, a revolution that was originally based on attention to the voice of the people but has resulted in “forcing an unwanted government on the nation.”

This moment is “a turning point,” he says, and he defines the movement that is forming around him as having a “historical mission” to accomplish nothing less than “renewing the life of the nation” according to its own ideals.

He acknowledges, interestingly, that his own voice at the beginning was less “eloquent” than he would have wished and that the people were ahead of him in turning the movement green. But now he accepts the “burden of duty put on our shoulders by the destiny of generations and ages.” [continued…]

Theocracy and its discontents

We are watching the fall of Islamic theocracy in Iran. I don’t mean by this that the Iranian regime is about to collapse. It may—I certainly hope it will—but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. We are watching the failure of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian government. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists were presumed to have divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality, but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea, velayat-e faqih, rule by the Supreme Jurist, was at its heart. Last week that ideology suffered a fatal blow.

When the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was using the key weapon of velayat-e faqih, divine sanction. Millions of Iranians didn’t buy it, convinced that their votes—one of the key secular rights allowed them under Iran’s religious system—had been stolen. Soon Khamenei was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, promised to investigate, meet with the candidates and recount some votes. Khamenei has realized that the regime’s existence is at stake and has now hardened his position, but that cannot put things back together. It has become clear that in Iran today, legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular will. For three decades, the Iranian regime has wielded its power through its religious standing, effectively excommunicating those who defied it. This no longer works—and the mullahs know it. For millions, perhaps the majority of Iranians, the regime has lost its legitimacy. [continued…]

The Supreme Leader

Again and again over the past year, and against the advice of many of his own supporters, Khamenei has linked his own fate to Ahmadinejad’s. Last August, according to Rooz Online journalist Hossein Bastani, who is now living in France, the Supreme Leader met with Ahmadinejad’s cabinet and sang the praises of the president in no uncertain terms. Ahmadinejad, he said, did not apologize for Iran’s actions or go on the defensive; he took the offensive, and that made him better than his two immediate predecessors. About a month before the election, in a trip through the Kurdish areas of the country, Khamenei said flatly that he favored the kind of candidate who fights superpowers, lives simply and is fearless. He didn’t name Ahmadinejad, but he might as well have been reading talking points from his campaign. “From then on,” says a reformist politician who was close to Khamenei in the past, “the election was not about Ahmadinejad and Mousavi anymore. It was a referendum about the legitimacy of Mr. Khamenei’s rule. He brought on the situation we are in now.”

The treacherous crosscurrents inside the regime are fed by the pressure from the street but date back long before many of today’s protesters were born. An old photograph of Khamenei as a young seminarian shows a beardless youth in a turban who already wears thick glasses; behind them, the expression in his eyes is of a boy looking inward, lost in thought. A photograph of his fellow seminarian Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from that same period in the 1950s suggests, beneath the white turban, a Type A personality who might, in an American context, be running for class president. Both of those young men committed themselves to making revolution as followers of Ayatollah Khomeini in Qum before his exile, and as activists inside the country—and often inside its jails—after Khomeini had been forced to leave. The relationships that took shape among the young mullahs then have continued to shape Iranian politics ever since Khomeini’s revolution triumphed in 1979. Through the bloody consolidation of power, and the eight-year war against Iraq, they shored up their positions, sometimes in competition, sometimes in support of each other. The aging Khomeini continued, truly, to be the Supreme Leader to whom all turned for approval. And he rewarded fealty. “The revolution will be alive as long as Mr. Hashemi [Rafsanjani] is alive,” said the Imam. And, “I’ve raised Mr. Khamenei myself.” [continued…]

The evolution of Iran’s revolution

For a century, Iranians have been political trailblazers in the 57-nation Islamic bloc. During the 1905-1911 Constitutional Revolution, a powerful coalition of intelligentsia, bazaar merchants and clergy forced the Qajar dynasty to accept a constitution and Iran’s first parliament. In 1953, the democratically elected National Front coalition of four parties led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh pushed constitutional democracy and forced the last Pahlavi shah to flee to Rome — until U.S. and British intelligence orchestrated a coup that put him back on the Peacock Throne. And in 1979, yet another coalition of bazaaris, clergy and intellectuals mobilized the streets to end dynastic rule that had prevailed for about 2,500 years.

So the angry energy unleashed this week from the northern Caspian coast to southern Shiraz is the natural sequel, spurred on by 21st century technology and the Internet. Each of the first three phases left indelible imprints on Iranian politics. The fourth will too.

The 1999 student protests failed because they involved only one sector of society; it was a body without a head or a strategy. But the current green-swathed uprising involves an emerging coalition that includes students and sanctions-strapped businessmen, taxi drivers and former presidents, civil servants and members of the national soccer team. [continued…]

Krauthammer’s projections

Charles Krauthammer’s most recent column on Iran offers a concise distillation of neoconservative pathologies about the Middle East, and a demonstration of why the Iranian protesters’ self-proclaimed best friends in the U.S. may prove to be their worst enemies. In the course of excoriating Barack Obama for his alleged abandonment of the protesters, Krauthammer displays a deep indifference to the actual wishes and needs of the protesters that is extremely common among those pushing for more robust American interference in the Iranian crisis.

“The demonstrators,” Krauthammer informs us, “are fighting on their own, but they await just a word that America is on their side.” As it happens, Obama has offered many words of support for the protesters’ right to peaceful demonstration, but has stopped short of the full-throated denunciation of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad that Krauthammer evidently wants. Regardless, what is striking about Krauthammer’s assertion is that he does not deem it necessary to offer a shred of evidence to support it. He simply takes for granted, in the face of a fair amount of evidence to the contrary, that Iranians want a more aggressive U.S. intervention into the crisis. In this respect Krauthammer is representative of right-wing commentary on the Iran situation, which has been primarily concerned with striking the requisite “Churchillian” and “Reaganite” poses while displaying a remarkable disinterest in what actual Iranians might want or think. After all, why let the wishes of our intended beneficiaries get in the way of a fine opportunity for self-congratulatory moral posturing? [continued…]


“… the settlements will never go, and yet almost everyone likes to pretend otherwise…”

Fictions on the ground

Israel needs “settlements.” They are intrinsic to the image it has long sought to convey to overseas admirers and fund-raisers: a struggling little country securing its rightful place in a hostile environment by the hard moral work of land clearance, irrigation, agrarian self-sufficiency, industrious productivity, legitimate self-defense and the building of Jewish communities. But this neo-collectivist frontier narrative rings false in modern, high-tech Israel. And so the settler myth has been transposed somewhere else — to the Palestinian lands seized in war in 1967 and occupied illegally ever since.

It is thus not by chance that the international press is encouraged to speak and write of Jewish “settlers” and “settlements” in the West Bank. But this image is profoundly misleading. The largest of these controversial communities in geographic terms is Maale Adumim. It has a population in excess of 35,000, demographically comparable to Montclair, N.J., or Winchester, England. What is most striking, however, about Maale Adumim is its territorial extent. This “settlement” comprises more than 30 square miles — making it one and a half times the size of Manhattan and nearly half as big as the borough and city of Manchester, England. Some “settlement.”

There are about 120 official Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. In addition, there are “unofficial” settlements whose number is estimated variously from 80 to 100. Under international law, there is no difference between these two categories; both are contraventions of Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly prohibits the annexation of land consequent to the use of force, a principle re-stated in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. [continued…]


Neda’s martyrdom – updated

Update – Reformist presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, has called for a rally at 4PM to mourn Neda Agha-Soltan‘s death.

In Iran, one woman’s death may have many consequences

Iran’s revolution has now run through a full cycle. A gruesomely captivating video of a young woman — laid out on a Tehran street after apparently being shot, blood pouring from her mouth and then across her face — swept Twitter, Facebook and other websites this weekend. The woman rapidly became a symbol of Iran’s escalating crisis, from a political confrontation to far more ominous physical clashes. Some sites refer to her as “Neda,” Farsi for the voice or the call. Tributes that incorporate startlingly upclose footage of her dying have started to spring up on YouTube.

Although it is not yet clear who shot “Neda” (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat — a way to generate or revive momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran’s rich history. During the revolution, the pattern of confrontations between the shah’s security forces and the revolutionaries often played out in 40-day cycles. [continued…]
* The photograph above, circulating on Twitter, is said to be Neda’s passport photograph.

Editor’s Comment — It seems tragically fitting that images of a dying young women will become the icon of what in so many ways is a women’s revolution.

Grand Ayatollah declares 3 days of national mourning

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the most important living cleric in Iran, and one of the most outspoken foes of the conservatives and hard-liners, has issued a statement about the attacks of the security forces on the demonstrators and the resulting casualties.

In the name of God

We all come from Him and will go back to Him

The great and dignified Iranian nation:

With much sorrow I was informed that, during peaceful rallies to defend their lawful rights, the great Iranian people have been attacked [by the security forces], beaten, and bloodied, and killed. While expressing my condolences for this painful event and the losses, and feeling the pain of the nation, I declare Wednesday [June 24], Thursday and Friday days of national mourning. I express my strongest support for the Muslim nation [of Iran] in their defense of their rights in the framework of the Constitution that recognizes republicanism [direct and free elections, and respect for the votes] as one of the pillars of the [political] establishment, and declare that any action that would harm the republicanism of the system is not permitted [is against religion]. Every one of our religious brothers and sisters must help the nation in defending its lawful rights. Based on this principle, any resistance in this direction [against people who are defending their right], particularly use of violence, beating, and killing of [the people of] the nation is acting against the Islamic principle that the nation must decide its own fate and path and, therefore, I declare it to be religiously haraam [the worst sin].

Hossein Ali Montazeri [continued…]


Iran: revolution or reform?

Larijani criticizes Guardian Council, IRIB

Iran’s Parliament (Majlis) Speaker Ali Larijani suggests that some of the members in the Guardian Council have sided with a certain candidate in the June 12 presidential election.

Speaking live on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Saturday, the speaker said that “a majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different than what was officially announced.”

“The opinion of this majority should be respected and a line should be drawn between them and rioters and miscreants,” he was quoted as saying by Khabaronline — a website affiliated with him. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Is Larijani trying to split the protest movement or save it? He’s certainly making a direct challenge to Khamenei’s endorsement of the election result.

If a mass protest devolves into a succession of running street fights, it seems likely that eventually the security forces will win. New tactics are called for.

Fighting over the revolution

The Islamic Republic, by contrast, was born in a people’s revolution and built on faith in a religion that is deeply held by most Iranians. The state’s ideology is not the hollow construct of political elites, as communism was by the time it collapsed in much of Eastern Europe. Rather, Iranian Islamism was forged over decades, in long struggle with the despotic regime of Mohammad Reza Shah, and from the potent raw materials of Iranian nationalism and Islam. Although the country’s constituency for democracy is vast and growing, the regime has a constituency, too, and it is passionately loyal and heavily armed.

The purpose of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij is the defense of the Islamic Revolution and the Supreme Leader. Rarely have the true believers in the militias been forced to consider the possibility that these two functions might come into conflict. Such a moment may have arrived. It is one thing to unleash brutal force on crowds that insult the Leader or Islam. That was how the members of the Revolutionary Guards and Basij could defend their assault on demonstrators at Tehran University in 1999. But now, in the name of Ahmadinejad’s controversial presidency, they are being asked to violently disperse fellow Iranians who are chanting religious slogans, carrying Korans, and calling for the lawful counting of their votes. Whether or not the rumors of splits at the top of the Revolutionary Guards’ hierarchy are true, the rank and file is not necessarily monolithic. [continued…]

Her name was Neda

The global community has been galvanized by the tweets, Facebook logins, cellphone pictures and reports from Iran. Now comes this video of a young a woman shot in Tehran by Basiji police force, which I came across after seeing “neda” and “#neda” on Twitter, where the words kept showing up in in the Tehran and Iran threads. “Neda” means “call” or “proclamation” in Farsi, an odd and chilling coincidence. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The Basijis’ tactics at this point appear brutal and calculated. There will be no Tiananmen-style mass slaughter. Instead, snipers will pick easy targets in order to send a message. Then at night when YouTube loses much of its force, the Basijis go on the rampage, destroying property and terrorizing neighborhoods.

Larijani: Critics separate themselves from rioters

Ian’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani urges ‘politicians and candidates’ to separate themselves from rioters and seek legal channels to prove their claims.

“The issue can not be taken forward by shouting fraud, stirring the mood, and dragging the issue to the streets,” Larijani said in a Saturday televised interview.

“We must separate those who have burnt people’s shops in the streets and harmed the police and Basij (volunteer militias) forces, who are the guardians of the country, from the critics of the election results,” he added. [continued…]

Iran TV reports 10 killed in Saturday protests

At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured during yesterday’s protests in Tehran, state-run television said today.

The news came as Iran braced itself for the possibility of further post-election confrontations. Unconfirmed reports suggested the death toll could be much higher.

State television said the deaths happened during clashes between police and “terrorist groups”. [continued…]

Reporters’ log

We have this daily cry now from the roofs of Allahu Akhbar – God is Great – it’s an opposition protest and night after night it seems to get louder and longer.

Tonight was the loudest and longest I’ve heard, and that really symbolises and shows you the mood of the opposition here.

Whatever happens, whatever the government is putting up against them, they seem more and more determined to press on. [continued…]

‘Five Hashemi-Rafsanjani relatives arrested’

Iranian security forces have arrested five close relatives of Iran’s Expediency Council head Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, including his daughter Faezeh Hashemi.

Last night, five members of the former president’s family were arrested, Iran Newspaper on Network reported.

The five include Faezeh Hashemi and her daughter, as well as Hossein Mar’ashi’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law — Mar’ashi is a cousin to Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s wife. [continued…]

Repression stepped up yet again as Iran becomes world’s biggest prison for journalists

The Islamic Republic of Iran now ranks alongside China as the world’s biggest prison for journalists. The crackdown has been intensified yet again following Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s endorsement of the result of the 12 June presidential election and the opposition’s decision to call another demonstration on 20 June.

Iran now has a total of 33 journalists and cyber-dissidents in its jails, while journalists who could not be located at their homes have been summoned by telephone by Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi. [continued…]

Preliminary analysis of the voting figures in Iran’s 2009 Presidential Election

Working from the province by province breakdowns of the 2009 and 2005 results, released by the Iranian Ministry of Interior, and from the 2006 census as published by the official Statistical Centre of Iran, this paper offers some observations about the official data and the debates surrounding the 2009 Iranian Presidential Election. [continued…]

Obama says ‘justice’ is needed for Iranians

President Obama ratcheted up his language against Iran’s leadership on Saturday, in a statement that invoked the American civil rights movement as an analogy for what was unfolding on the streets of Tehran.

“Martin Luther King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ ” Mr. Obama said in a statement released after security forces in the Iranian capital clashed repeatedly with protesters. “I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian people’s belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks came after intense debate and multiple meetings all day Saturday at the White House, administration officials said, and reflected growing concern within the administration that the violence in Iran could continue to escalate. [continued…]

Twitter fraud? Embassy stories of taking in injured protesters “flawed”

Yesterday and today, there has been a great deal of Twitter traffic about embassies that were taking in injured protesters. The Canadians were under attack on Twitter for not taking in protesters until it was reported, again on Twitter, that the Canadians were looking for doctors to be able and help.

A high quality map of Tehran-based foreign embassies taking in those who needed help was distributed. I posted the link on my blog here at The Washington Note.

And then a counter campaign also appeared warning those injured to stay away from Embassies because the basij were waiting for them at the embassy entrances.

I now must publicly question the entire exchange over twitter. I did get my link to the embassy roster and map — not from twitter — but from a friend who is an Iranian diplomat that has been stationed in an Asian country. I don’t think he maliciously sent be bad information, but I do think he may have recycled other material that was being pushed out through the new media. [continued…]


Assembly of Experts backs Khamenei – updated

Assembly of Experts expresses strong support for Leader’s guidelines

In a statement issued on Saturday the Assembly of Experts expressed its “strong support” for the Supreme Leader’s statements on the presidential elections on Friday.

The 86-member assembly stated in the statement that it is hoped that the nation would realize the current condition and by sticking to the Leader’s guidelines preserve their patience and manifest their unity.

The Qom Seminary Teachers Society also issued a statement on Saturday declaring strong support for the guidelines of the Supreme Leader. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment – updated — Readers at Huffington Post point out that this statement only bears one signature: that of Mohammad Yazdi, a rival of Rafsanjani. Whether or not statements from the assembly generally have multiple signatures I have no idea.

If, as has been suggested by various commentators, former President Rafsanjani has in recent days been lobbying the body that he chairs to mount some form of opposition to Khamenei (the Assembly of Experts has the authority to replace the Supreme Leader), then that effort appears to have failed. A key unanswered question remains: where does Rafsanjani stand? He has yet to break his silence or reveal his location.

The Los Angeles Times provides some additional perspective on Rafsanjani from Iran scholar Mohsen Milani:

Some Western commentators have made much of the apparent divisions among Iran’s ruling clerics. Milani is more cautious, saying Khamenei signaled in his Friday sermon that he might be willing to bring prominent moderate and former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani back into the fold.

“In the past, I have seen how cracks have been created and then repaired,” Milani says. “What I am watching for is whether there is a permanent division between Rafsanjani and Khamenei . . . I am not convinced there is.”

Asked whether the opposition movement would persist without its current figureheads, he says, “I believe this is one of the reasons that Rafsanjani has not made up his mind. He knows on the one hand that Ahmadinejad is determined to undermine him. Ahmadinejad has made that very clear. On the other hand, the strategic decision that Rafsanjani has to make is if he does not join the Islamic regime that is in power today, then his fate is locked with the fate of the (opposition) movement . . . He is waiting I think to see where is the center of gravity in these unfolding events, and then he will decide where to go.”



Update – Live blogging from Nico Pitney, Andrew Sullivan, and niacINsight.

From niacINsight:
Iranian state media reportedly lying about what Obama is saying:

This morning a friend of NIAC who gets Iranian Satellite TV here said that state-run media showed President Obama speaking about Iran this morning. However, instead of translating what he actually said, the translator reportedly quoted Obama as saying he “supports the protesters against the government and they should keep protesting.

Assuming this report is correct, it shows the Iranian government is eager to portray Obama as a partisan supporting the demonstrators.

Editor’s Comment — Obama’s rationale for maintaining a carefully studied neutrality is becoming weaker by the minute. Everything he says the United States would be accused of if it did anything that can be interpreted as meddling, it is being accused of in any case. The political and diplomatic nuances of Obama’s carefully parsed statements are not merely getting lost in translation — they’re being resisted by a propaganda campaign that suffers from no factual constraints. Those Iranians willing to belief what their intelligence ministry is telling them, are being led to understand that John McCain and George Soros are the masterminds behind a regime-change operation run from inside the White House!


I speak for Mousavi. And Iran

I have been given the ­responsibility of telling the world what is happening in Iran. The office of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who the Iranian people truly want as their leader, has asked me to do so. They have asked me to tell how Mousavi’s headquarters was wrecked by plainclothes police officers. To tell how the commanders of the revolutionary guard ordered him to stay silent. To urge people to take to the streets because Mousavi could not do so directly.

The people in the streets don’t want a recount of last week’s vote. They want it annulled. This is a crucial moment in our history. Since the 1979 revolution Iran has had 80% dictatorship and 20% democracy. We have dictatorship because one person is in charge, the supreme leader – first Khomeini, now Khamenei. He controls the army and the clergy, the justice system and the media, as well as our oil money.

There are some examples of democracy – reformers elected to parliament, and the very fact that a person like Mousavi could stand for election. But, since the day of the election, this ­element of democracy has vanished. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won, and that whoever opposed this will be suppressed – a position he affirmed speaking today in Tehran. People wanted to have demonstrations within the law, but the authorities would not let them. This is the first time we have seen millions on the streets without the permission of the supreme leader.

Now they are gathering to mourn those who have died. The people of Iran have a culture that elevates martyrdom. In the period running up to the revolution, when people were killed at demonstrations, others would gather again in the days following the death. This cycle carried on for six months, and culminated in the revolution. Today they are gathering in Tehran for those who were shot on Tuesday, and if there are more killings, this will continue. [continued…]

Tomorrow is a big day, maybe I’ll get killed tomorrow!” wrote an Iranian blogger (translation provided by niacINsight)

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”

The woman speaking in the video says (translation provided by niacINsight):
Tomorrow Saturday is very important; Day of destiny.
Tonight the screams of “God is great” [Allah-o Akbar]
is louder than on any other night.

Where is this place?
Where is this place that all paths are closed? All doors are shut?
Where is this place that no one helps us?

Where is this place that we shout out our words with only silence?
Where is this place?
Where is this place that its people’s only call is to God?
Where is this place that its cry of Allah-o Akbar [“God is Great”]
Grows louder and louder every minute?

Every day I wait to see if at night
The cries of “God is Great” grows louder or not.
I tremble as I hear them getting louder and louder.
I do not know if God trembles too or not.
Where is this place that we the innocents are stuck in [imprisoned]?
Where is this place that no one can help us?
where is this place that we are only shouting out our words with silence?
Where is this place that the youth are killed and people stand in the street and pray?
They stand in the blood and pray.
Where is this place that people are called [vagrants] trouble makers?
Where is this place?
Do you want me to tell you?

It is Iran.
It is my home land and your home land.
It is Iran.


Editorial: Iran — the human story

Iran — the human story

No one gets a front-row seat in a revolution. It’s not a spectacle. You’re either out in the open, risking your life; lying low (or on the run), trying to save your life; or far enough away that the shouts, screams and gunshot, amount to no more than a faint murmur.

Except for now — wherever we are we have been sucked in by an illusion of proximity.

In a maelstrom of YouTube images and Tweets we march along with fearless demonstrators — without taking a step. We hear the gunfire, see the bloodshed and the baton blows — without suffering a scratch or breaking a sweat.

Are we simply revolutionary voyeurs?

To a degree yes, but underneath this fascination there is a deeper and more significant envy, shame and admiration.

Still, the images coming out of Iran have been confusing when refracted through multiple distorting political prisms.

Seen through a post-Bush, pro-diplomacy prism of pragmatic realism, Iran’s post-election turmoil has overturned a strategic chessboard upon which for several months all the pieces had been carefully placed and cautiously moved. The unexpected disarray has provoked a mix of paralysis and denial in which there is the expectation that after a week or two, things should return to “normal.”

As hundreds of thousands of Iranians protested the election results, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, champions of the new realism that now shapes Washington’s approach to foreign policy, coldly suggested: “It is time for the Obama administration to get serious about pursuing [a genuine rapprochement] — with an Iranian administration headed by the reelected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Dismissing claims that the election had been stolen, they said: “compared with the U.S. presidential election in Florida in 2000, the flaws in Iran’s electoral process seem less significant.” (The Iranians protest too much and we protest too little?)

Seen through a neoconservative, pro-Israel prism the uprising prompts acute ambivalence. The illegitimacy of Iranian state power is on full display yet the Islamic republic is almost certain to remain in tact. An Iran that can thoroughly be vilified is deemed preferable to one that acquires a moderate measure of moderation. As Daniel Pipes frankly put it: “while my heart goes out to the many Iranians who desperately want the vile Ahmadinejad out of power, my head tells me it’s best that he remain in office.”

And seen through an anti-imperialist prism, Iran looks like Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution writ large. Tehran’s “western-backed” revolutionary chic are a Trojan horse through which the West hopes to reassert its regional hegemony. As Seumas Milne warns: “the neutralisation of Iran as an independent regional power would be a huge prize for the US – defanging recalcitrants from Baghdad to Beirut – and a route out of the strategic impasse created by the invasion of Iraq.”

From each of these political angles the human story gets lost.

When unarmed women show their defiance towards baton-wielding militiamen we are witnessing a timeless battle. On one side are individuals risking their lives because they see their own fate as indivisible from that of others. On the other side are individuals who see their own interests as indivisible from those of the state and who have thereby abandoned loyalty to the dictates of their own conscience.

We see how high human beings — individually and collectively — can rise and in the very same moment how low they can fall.

We are moved and unsettled. Moved to see the boldness that frail individuals can muster. Unsettled to be reminded of the petty fearfulness that marks the distance between our own cosseted American lives and those lives now courageously at risk all across Iran.


Iran update – June 19

Iran’s turning point: The Supreme Leader’s ominous sermon

Iranians knew that Friday Prayer in Tehran on June 19 would be a turning point. For those tuning in to watch, its significance could be approached visually, like the old May Day parades in Moscow under the Soviet Union. You scan the faces of the people present to see who is there and who is not, attaching meaning to attendance. Among those there to hear the pronouncements of the Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, were most of the top leadership, including powerful personalities like Ali Larijani, the Speaker of parliament, and one of his predecessors, Gholam-Ali Hadad Adel (who also happens to be related to Khamenei through the marriage of their children). The President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was there too, as was one of his election rivals, Mohsen Rezaei. But dramatically absent were two other candidates for the presidency: Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Also invisible was Ahmadinejad’s true nemesis: Ayatullah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

But Kremlinology was dispensed with once the Supreme Leader began speaking — and the country began to parse his words. He spoke of how “the enemy” had been plotting to declare the elections fraudulent even before the vote took place. He spoke of the illegality of street protests. The recent election, he said, was the most significant in the history of Iran apart from the vote in 1979 that created the Islamic republic. Iranians, he said, should remember that their country represents a third way, the best way, between dictatorships and the false democracies that populate the rest of the world.

Khamenei dismissed accusations that the election was stolen. He said cheating occurs by way of small numbers, a vote here or there, a few thousand or ten thousand. He indicated that an 11 million margin could not be manufactured. Still, he said, the Guardian Council, which must certify the results, would recount ballots with representatives of all candidates present. In the meantime, he declared that the way of the law, rahe qanun, had to be respected and the violence in the streets brought to an end. He condemned the violent excesses of both the Basij, the volunteer paramilitary that supports Ahamdinejad, and the green-garbed backers of Mousavi. [continued…]

Shadowy Iranian vigilantes vow bolder action

The daytime protests across the Islamic republic have been largely peaceful. But Iranians shudder at the violence unleashed in their cities at night, with the shadowy vigilantes known as Basijis beating, looting and sometimes gunning down protesters they tracked during the day.

The vigilantes plan to take their fight into the daylight on Friday, with the public relations department of Ansar Hezbollah, the most public face of the Basij, announcing that they planned a public demonstration to expose the “seditious conspiracy” being carried out by “agitating hooligans.”

“We invite the vigilant people who are always in the arena to make their loud objections heard in response to the babbling of this tribe,” said the announcement, carried on the Web site Parsine.

The announcement could be the first indication that the government was taking its gloves off, Iranian analysts noted, because up to this point the Basijis, usually deployed as the shock troops to end any public protests, have been working in stealth. [continued…]

Iranians to Obama: hush

… in conversations with friends and relatives in Tehran this week, I’ve heard the opposite of what I had expected: a resounding belief that this time the United States should keep out. One of my cousins, a woman in her mid-30s who has been attending the daily protests along with the rest of her family, viewed the situation pragmatically. “The U.S. shouldn’t interfere, because a loud condemnation isn’t going to affect Iranian domestic politics one way or the other. If the supreme leader decides to crackdown on the protests and Ahmadinejad stays in power, then negotiations with the United States might improve our lives.”

I heard these sentiments, remarkably thoughtful for such a passionate moment, echoed from many quarters. President Barack Obama’s outreach to Iran, and his offer of a mutually respectful dialogue, has raised the possibility of better relations for the first time in years, and many Iranians worry that a false step might jeopardize that prospect altogether. A friend of mine who studies public relations in Tehran noted that other American allies in the Gulf, Arab dictatorships with no pretence of democracy, are thriving economically. “In the end, a dictatorship that doesn’t face U.S. sanctions is better off than one that does,” she said. “Now that after 30 years it seems that we have a chance to negotiate with America, it would be a shame if we lost the chance.”

Other friends I spoke with cited various reasons why the United States should maintain its discrete posture. “If Obama’s position until now has been to respect Iran, then he really has no choice but to watch first how things unfold. Mousavi hasn’t produced any facts yet, no one has produced evidence of fraud,” said my friend Ali, a 40-year-old photographer. “That’s what is needed before Obama takes a major stand.” [continued…]

(Part one of this interview with Pepe Escobar can be seen here.)