May 10, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
In one of St. Augustine’s observations (and there were many on the subject), the absence of morality among states would simply make them aggrandized bandits legitimised by rules of plunder. The Syrian conflict, with bloodied players both internal and external, is demonstrating this sad rule. Conventions heeding the consequences of force have been abandoned.
Foreign policy by the gun (and the bomb) is a gamble when initiated without direct provocation. Suggestion is enough. The attacks by Israel on Syrian targets ostensibly to stop disrupt missile shipments showed again how the moral dimensions of the conflict taking place is not merely murky but nigh obliterated. One might use an old expression Napoleon’s chief of police Joseph Fouché is said to have made on the execution of Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien – this was worse than a crime, but a mistake.
For one thing, it has pushed the regime of Bashar al-Assad further into the eager and warming arms of Iran and Hezbollah. While the relationship is no secret, the titillation was hardly needed. In Assad’s words to Al-Akhbar daily on Thursday, he claimed that, “We have decided that we must advance toward them and turn into a resistance nation like Hezbollah [did in Lebanon], for the sake of Syria and future generations.” The new level of cooperation entailed that the regime would “give them everything.”
April 12, 2013 by James J. Coyle
Last week’s nuclear talks between U.S. and Iranian officials in Kazakhstan stalemated, despite positive statements before the meeting. Negotiators could take a lesson from their hosts, who in the early 1990s surrendered their nuclear capability to Russia. Kazakhstan gave up 898 warheads and, by 1996 had destroyed its missile silos originally designed for the SS-18. Ukraine and Belarus also gave up its nuclear capabilities. Azerbaijan and the Baltic republics transferred their nuclear weaponry to the Soviet Union before its demise. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan moved their weapons to Russian territory by May 1992.
Anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in the post-Soviet Republics. The late President Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan declared nuclear weapons “a threat to mankind.” He told the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization that “The main goal of mankind is to stop the production of nuclear weapons, or at least the goal should be to stop testing them.” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev closed the Soviet test site Semipalatinsk even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Thousands of Kazakhstan citizens of different ages joined together in the anti-nuclear movement, which overwhelmed the whole country.”
April 3, 2013 by Ramzy Baroud
‘Confused’ may be an appropriate term to describe Turkey’s current foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel in particular. The source of that confusion – aside from the appalling violence in Syria and earlier in Libya – is Turkey’s own mistakes.
The Turkish government’s inconsistency regarding Israel highlights earlier discrepancy in other political contexts. There was a time when Turkey’s top foreign policy priority included reaching out diplomatically to Arab and Muslim countries. Then, we spoke of a paradigm shift, whereby Ankara was repositioning its political center, reflecting perhaps economic necessity, but also cultural shifts within its own society. It seemed that the East vs. West debate was skillfully being resolved by politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, appeared to have obtained a magical non-confrontational approach to Turkey’s historic political alignment. ‘The Zero Problems’ policy allowed Turkey to brand itself as a bridge between two worlds. The country’s economic growth and strategic import to various geopolitical spheres allowed it to escape whatever price meted out by Washington and its European allies as a reprimand for its bold political moves – including Erdogan’s unprecedented challenge of Israel.
April 3, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Although the restoration of ties between Israel and Turkey is welcome news for both countries, it is premature to gauge how close Jerusalem and Ankara will become given their continued conflicts of interest. The ‘thaw’ in bilateral relations is likely to be slow, with the two countries’ divergent objectives in Palestine and Syria remaining an obstacle to significantly warmer relations. Nonetheless, as the Syrian crisis continues to threaten the security of all the Levantine states and the Iranian issue continues its slow boil, greater cooperation should be expected between the two. The rapprochement is real; the question is, does it matter?
From Israel’s perspective, improved ties with Turkey help to alleviate the plethora of security concerns arising events of the past two years – ranging from the change of leadership in Egypt, to the Egyptian/Iranian rapprochement, to growing concern over the stability of the Jordanian Monarchy., to an Iran that is increasingly assertive and defiant of the West, to the consolidation of power by Hamas in Gaza, and the ongoing stalemate in peace talks with the Palestinians. Israel has a full plate of security issues to contend with, none of which either appear to be easing or are likely to dissipate in the near term.
March 31, 2013 by Conn M. Hallinan
In some ways the Syrian civil war resembles a proxy chess match between supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime— Iran, Iraq, Russia and China—and its opponents— Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France. But the current conflict only resembles chess if the game is played with multiple sides, backstabbing allies, and conflicting agendas. Take the past few weeks of rollercoaster politics.
The blockbuster was the U.S.-engineered rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, two Washington allies that have been at loggerheads since Israeli commandos attacked a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. When Tel Aviv refused to apologize for the 2010 assault, or pay compensation to families of the slain, Ankara froze relations and blocked efforts at any NATO-Israeli cooperation.
Under the prodding of President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and buried the hatchet. The apology “was offered the way we wanted,” Erdogan said, and added “We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past.”
March 27, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Although all of Syria’s neighbors have been negatively impacted by the country’s crisis, Iraq’s sectarian tensions and the religious, historical and cultural bonds between Syrians and Iraqis connect the two states’ political fates. While many of Iraq’s Sunnis support the Syrian opposition, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki continues to lend considerable support to Damascus, not only as a proxy for Iran, but also fearing that Al Qaeda affiliates and anti-Shia groups may gain safe haven in a post-Assad Syria, and in turn wage war against Baghdad. Recent events suggest that the Syrian crisis may ultimately push Iraq back to renewed sectarian civil war.
Given Mr. Maliki’s orientation toward Iran and Syria, Washington realizes that Baghdad is not aligned with the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies. Despite the Obama Administration’s efforts to convince Iraq to deny Iran its airspace in an attempt to impede the flow of weapons to President Assad, Iraq continues to allow Iran’s shipments to occur. Baghdad has every reason to continue to support the transfer of Iranian weapons into Syria, because the rise of Sunni Islamists with an extremist ideology in Syria pose an existential threat to the post-Saddam Shia-led order in Iraq.
March 23, 2013 by Kourosh Ziabari
Nowruz is considered the most important national holiday in Iran. It marks the beginning of a new solar year and the arrival of spring. According to the Persian calendar, it begins exactly at the moment when the center of the Sun is in the same plane as the Earth’s equator and the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun. Although the holiday signifies the commencement of the vernal equinox, which starts on March 20 or 21, it doesn’t always start at the same time; the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is different every year. But that’s the beauty of Nowruz– it starts on a unique moment each time, and people excitedly and breathlessly wait for the announcement of what is known as transition point of the year. The timing is astronomically and mathematically calculated according to the Jalali solar calendar in a precise manner and officially inaugurates the New Year.
Nowruz is now considered a global festival as it was officially recognized and registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in February 2010. The same year, the UN General Assembly recognized March 21 as the International Day of Nowruz, describing it as a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over thousands of years. Like Christmas, Nowruz is a pleasurable, elaborate and delicate festival which brings millions of people together, but it seems that there are certain elements in Nowruz which make it a distinctive tradition, and one of these important elements is its historical significance.
March 15, 2013 by John Coggin
In the past month, the White House has conveyed mixed messages about the president’s position on nuclear energy. Once praised at the highest levels as part of a wise “all of the above” energy strategy, commercial nuclear power was omitted from the State of the Union. Meanwhile, the president’s choice for Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, supports a nuclear renaissance in America. As the White House refines its message on climate change for this congressional session, it should push nuclear power to the fringes of its energy policy.
Civilian nuclear power in the United States faces a new cluster of dangers unique to the 21st century energy market. These risks to public safety, considered alongside economic costs and waste management issues, render nuclear power an option of last resource for solving the climate crisis.
First, the current U.S. fleet of nuclear plants is more vulnerable than ever before to cyber security threats. In the past decade, hackers have ritually mocked the U.S government and corporate standards for internet security. In 2011, hackers broke into the security division of EMC, an IT security firm used by the NSA, CIA, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Department of Homeland Security. The security firm called the attack “extremely sophisticated.”
March 15, 2013 by John Lyman
The film Argo has its problems. First it came under criticism for historical inaccuracies and in particular for not giving enough credit to Canada which director and star, Ben Affleck addressed during interviews and at awards shows. Second, the opening sequence was perhaps a little one sided. But with that said, Argo worked on a number of levels. With news that Iran is considering suing Hollywood over the depiction of Iranians during the period of the hostage crisis, the obvious question is whether Iran needs to realize that Hollywood is in the business of making money and winning awards, which it did with Argo. The overhyped and stylized violence depicted in the film is one way of drawing audiences. How exactly Iran plans on pursuing a lawsuit remains to be seen. Iran’s displeasure over the film follows a long line of perceived slights to the Iranian Republic.
While Tehran is undoubtedly unhappy over the portrayal of Iranians during the 1979 revolution, it wasn’t exactly a bloodless revolution and Argo attempted to show some aspect of the ensuing bloodshed. While the Shah escaped what would have certainly led to his execution, estimates range from several hundred to several thousand killed by the new Islamic government.
March 12, 2013 by Timothy W. Coleman
Testimony by senior-level U.S. military commanders before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week painted a bleak picture of the effectiveness of international sanctions at stopping Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The testimony, and public polling results, also point to the sanctions’ unintended consequences.
Continuing economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation do not appear to be lessening Iran’s drive to become a nuclear weapons power. Ongoing efforts by Western powers to coax Iran into negotiations have also yielded little progress. In fact, Iran continues t0 stall while at the same time agreeing to negotiations in order to forestall any real international action, serving to increase regional tensions and the possibility of military intervention.
To read the full analysis, please visit LIGNET.com
March 6, 2013 by John Lyman
The news of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s death understandably made headlines across the world. Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday after a long fight against cancer. In his place, Vice President Nicolas Maduro will assume the presidency until new national elections are held.
To Chávez’s credit or detriment, he stirred opinion across the political spectrum. Following Chávez’s death, Venezuela has announced a week of mourning. Chávez died at the age of 58 after 14 years serving as Venezuela’s president. Thousands of Venezuelans poured onto the streets to grieve his passing. As Chávez’s body was being transported to the Military Academy, thousands came out to greet the procession. As expected, his fellow leaders began arriving in the country’s capital, Caracas, to pay their respects. Among them, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a staunch ally of Chávez, described him as a “martyr” and announced a day of mourning throughout Iran. In announcing that Hugo Chávez had died, Nicolas Maduro called on Venezuelans to be “dignified heirs of the giant man.”
February 18, 2013 by Timothy W. Coleman
Reports released yesterday indicate that a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, traveled to North Korea to observe the country’s recent nuclear test. Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi is believed to be in charge of Iran’s effort to miniaturize a nuclear warhead so that it can be outfitted on a ballistic missile. It is rare for Iranian nuclear scientists to travel outside of Iran, especially given the numerous high-profile assassinations that have taken place over the years. The trip suggests close relations between Iran and North Korea, and raises the possibility of nuclear collaboration.
While Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s focus on miniaturization could be perceived to support North Korea’s claim that its recent test employed a new, advanced miniaturized nuclear device, LIGNET maintains there is a high probability that North Korea does not yet possess the technical capability to produce a miniaturized nuclear device. To read the LIGNET analysis on North Korea’s recent nuclear test, please visit North Korea: Nuclear Test Shows Limits of Chinese Influence.
To read more, please visit LIGNET.com
February 18, 2013 by Conn M. Hallinan
Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.
First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”
February 10, 2013 by Timothy W. Coleman
International sanctions are often used as the stick component in a carrot and stick approach to resolve international diplomatic disputes, especially with non-compliant nation states that operate outside the normative behavioral standards. Iran has long flouted and disregarded international norms. In fact, it has come to relish its role as an uncooperative state, which views itself beyond reproach. Iran’s conduct, consequentially, has subjected it to increasing economic and military sanctions.
Sanctions against Iran were initiated under President Carter and have been in place since the late 1970s. Additional sanctions on economic and military assets continued under President Reagan, and saw an increase under President Bush as well as President Obama. All the while, Iran has still refused to cave into demands by the international community to change its malicious behavior or become transparent about it nuclear weapons development effort.
January 24, 2013 by Binoy Kampmark
It was the incalculable element – would Israel veer more broadly to the right, or would that course be checked by various political elements to the centre? The money was on a good showing by orthodox and nationalist forces that would push Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition into an even more extreme position on compromise (or non-compromise) with the Palestinians.
Instead, the political commentators were baffled. Benjamin Netanyahu won the narrowest of victories for his right-wing bloc (his own Likud-Biteinu grouping getting 31 seats), assailed by a good showing by Yesh Atid, party whose slogan is “We’ve come to make a change.”