|Southwest Asia News Digest
IAEA Head: 'Creative Diplomacy' Needed To Avert Iran Conflict
In a Feb. 10 interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel in advance of the Munich Conference on Security Policy, International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed ElBaradei said it was urgent to address "an uncontrolled chain reaction" towards conflict.
"If we continue on the same course, we could see a spiral of escalation. There is an urgent need for creative diplomacy and leadership. Diplomacy is pressure and engagement, and I very much hope that we can find the right balance. A durable, peaceful solution will not come through pressure only. It will ultimately come at the negotiating table." he said. "If we only focus on sanctions, that might lead to confrontation on both sides, ending in an uncontrolled chain reaction..... I personally believe that in a situation like the one you have in the Middle East today, where it's like a ball of fire, you have to be very cautious. We cannot afford to add oil to that fire. The more we have confrontation, the more the Middle East will become militant and angry. The earlier we move into a conciliatory mood the better for everybody.... We should not ride a train wreck."
Lavrov: U.S. Should Show Flexibility on Iran
Following the breakthrough on the North Korean Six-Party talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for the U.S. to show the same flexibility as with North Korea. "I must single out the efforts made by the American side that probably, in some respects, retreated, by agreeing to a reasonable compromise with Pyongyang, and thus broke the stalemate in the six-nation process," he said Feb. 14. "We would want to see similar flexibility, reasonable flexibility, not damaging the principles of nonproliferation which all of us advocate, with regard to the Iranian nuclear program as well."
Revolutionary Guards Killed in Terror Attack in Iran
As many as 18 people were killed when a remote-controlled car bomb was set off, exploding next to a bus carrying Revolutionary Guard officers on Feb. 14. The attack took place near the city of Zahedan in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan. The province is inhabited by Muslims, most of whom belong to Sunni sect in a Shia-majority Iran.
A radical Sunni group, Jundullah (Brigade of Allah) has claimed responsibility for the criminal act. The previous week, the same group killed four security officials in Zahedan. The group, headed by Abdolmalek Righi, has long been claimed by Tehran of being "hired by foreign powers" to carry out violence against Iran. Tehran claims the group is funded by the United States and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Last summer, writing for the New Yorker magazine, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh asserted that the United States had infiltrated special forces through the same area to commit violence against Iran as a prelude to invading the country.
U.S. Claims Iran Arming Insurgents in Iraq
A U.S. "senior intelligence officer" briefed the press in Baghdad Feb. 11,, that the U.S. military believes that the sophisticated roadside bombsexplosively formed projectiles, or EFPsused by Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq are manufactured in Iran and smuggled into Iraq on orders from the top levels of the Iranian government.
The officer, briefing reporters on condition he not be further identified, said Iran was working through surrogatesmainly "rogue elements" of the Shi'ite Mahdi Armyto smuggle the EFPs into Iraq. He said most of the components are entering Iraq near Amarah, the Iranian border city of Meran, and the Basra area of southern Iraq. During the briefing, the officer said that one of six Iranians detained in January in a raid on an office in Irbil, was the operational commander of the Quds Brigade, which has been running surrogate war inside Iraq. He said the "machining" on the components was traceable to Iran, but he did not elaborate.
As the New York Times reported Feb. 12, the briefing occurred under extraordinary security conditions. All cameras and recording devices, including cellphones were banned. The individuals giving the briefing were anonymous. According to the Times, the officials giving the briefing merely asserted, "without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against Americans."
"The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments," the Times continued. "That inference, and the anonymity of the officials who made it, seemed likely to generate skepticism among those suspicious that the Bush Administration is trying to find a scapegoat for its problems in Iraq, and perhaps even trying to lay the groundwork for war with Iran."
There are also related questions about the timing of the disclosure, since the "evidence" was known as early as 2004.
Analysts Question Pentagon Claims on Iran IEDs
Col. Pat Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official, and CFR analyst Reay Takeyh, spoke on CNN's Late Edition Feb. 11, about the Pentagon claims that Iran is responsible for the powerful EFPs being used by the insurgents in Iraq. Neither Lang nor Takeyh doubted that these EFPs might have been produced in Iran, but they were somewhat disconcerted by the intense propaganda on this issue, at just this moment, when the Bush Administration seems to be preparing military action against Iran. "This type of stuff has probably been going on for awhile. But I have difficulty in understanding the present drumbeat," Lang said. "It bears an eerie resemblance to what happened in 2002 with regard to Iraq," referring to the intense propaganda campaign around WMD leading into the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Takeyh pointed out that the main Iranian contact in Iraq had been with the Badr Brigades, an arm of the Shi'ite SCIRI group, which participates in the Maliki government, but reasoned that they may also maintain some contacts with the Al Sadr militia. Takeyh also took note of the "increasing stridency" of the Bush Administration in talking about Iranian involvement in Iraq. With regard to the recent statements by Ayatollah Ali al-Khamenei that Iran would retaliate if the United States attacked, Takeyh simply said, "It seems as if the Iranians are simply playing back the same type of tough talk that the Bush Administration is using against them."
British First Peddled Iran/EFP Claims
On Feb. 15, Radio Free Europe reported the following reading from David Claridge, weapons expert from Janusian Security Risk Management: "My first recollection of their [EFPs] use was against a private security company in the [Basrah] area and then, fairly rapidly afterward, against British security military patrols there. And, to my recollection it was the British MOD [Ministry of Defense] that first highlighted, first of all, the use of the weapons, but also their potential connection to Iranian technology."
An Iranian source reached in Tehran, when asked about this, in reference to Bush's anti-Iran ravings Feb. 14, said: "We must remember that [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair accused Iran in 2005 of the same thing.... His government failed to prove the allegation and he had to withdraw the allegation in January 2006, admitting that the allegation was made in haste and weapons can easily be bought from the black market in the Middle East."
The new allegation by U.S. seems to be but the revival of the same failed British attempt.
Jerusalem Mayor Orders Halt to Temple Mount Construction
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansk ordered a halt to the construction of a bridge at the Al Haram Al Sharif's Mugrabi Gate, Ha'aretz reported Feb. 12, which had been the center of tension for the last several days. He did not halt the archeological dig that is taking place. The mayor held meetings with Arab representatives from East Jerusalem to review all the plans before they are implemented. Lupoliansk told associates that "the plan to construct the walkway engendered a wave of rumor and speculation about Israeli intentions regarding the Al Aqsa mosque. We therefore decided to be totally transparent with all residents about the walkway construction plan, so they will know clearly where it is to be built and to allow members of the public to express their positions to the zoning board." The project had been begun without seeking any prior approval from the Wakf or the Jordanian authorities who are caretakers of Jerusalem's Islamic holy sites.
U.S. Continues To Boycott Palestinian Unity Government
As a result of agreements reached in the Saudi-sponsored Mecca meeting between Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh resigned on Feb. 15, and was immediately reappointed by President Mahmoud Abbas to form the new cabinet for a Hamas-Fatah unity government. Haniyeh said that he hopes to form the new government within three weeks.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the agreement to form a unity government complicates her trip to the region which began Feb. 17; Rice still insists that Hamas is an "extremist" group which must be isolated. She was scheduled to meet with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Feb. 19, then go to Jordan, followed by a meeting in Berlin with the Quartet.
Aides to Abbas said on Feb. 15 that the Bush Administration made it clear that it will not deal with the new unity government, but only with Abbas. The aides said that David Welch, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, warned Abbas in a telephone conversation that the U.S. will not deal with members of the new government, even Fatah members, unless it meets the Quartet preconditions. Jacob Walles, the U.S. Consul-General in Jerusalem, delivered the same message to Abbas in person at a meeting in Ramallah.