Richard Melson

June 2006

Global Beat Gaza


June 20 - July 4, 2006
Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University

Gaza 'Kidnap' Drama May End Palestinian Authority and Israel's 'Disengagement' Strategy

Israeli troops and tanks have pushed back into northern and southern Gaza, and their air force has knocked out electrical power to half of the territory's residents. Elsewhere, in the West Bank, Israeli forces have snatched some 64 members of Hamas, including a number of cabinet ministers and legislators of the elected government of the Palestinian Authority. The purpose of these operations is ostensibly to put pressure on the Palestinians for the release of an Israeli corporal captured by fighters from a Hamas cell, and to put an end to rocket fire by Palestinian militants into Israel from Gaza. Israeli officials insist -- perhaps to avoid being seen to take hostages of their own -- that the roundup of Hamas legislators in the West Bank was planned long before the capture of Corporal Shalit. If that is the case, of course, it would mean the action is part of a strategy to topple the Hamas-led government, and the likelihood is that the Palestinian Authority would fall along with it. No wonder, then, that Israeli commentators are worried that the return to Gaza less than a year after Ariel Sharon withdrew soldiers and settlers from the territory carried an echo of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That too was ostensibly a short-term operation to stop rocket fire, which quickly evolved into an all-out assault aimed at destroying the PLO -- and ultimately left Israel mired in southern Lebanon for 18 years.

The raid that led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of Corporal Shalit was not undertaken by the Hamas government, whose leaders have been engaged in talks with the Fatah leadership that this week achieved a consensus on a Palestinian negotiating position -- to pursue the creation of a Palestinian state based on Israel withdrawing to its 1967 borders. Instead, it was the work of the more radical exiled leadership of Hamas, combining with elements of the movement's armed wing that reject the move towards compromise and accommodation by the parliamentary leadership of Hamas. And the handful of militants responsible appear to have succeeded beyond all expectation, not only in drowning out discussion of a common negotiating platform between Hamas and Fatah, but also in effectively vetoing Israel's plan to unilaterally "disengage" from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The rocket fire and capture of Corporal Shalit have turned Israeli public opinion sharply against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to use the remainder of the Bush administration's tenure to complete the "disengagement" in the West Bank. That's because the events in Gaza have exposed a basic flaw in Olmert's plan: Absent any agreement with a credible Palestinian government willing and able to enforce order, militants will continue to launch attacks on Israel and Israel will continue to conduct military operations inside the West Bank and Gaza, taking an increasing toll on an a Palestinian civilian population already traumatized by the economic stranglehold imposed after it voted Hamas into power. The idea that "disengagement" that bypasses the Palestinian leadership would provide security and relieve Israel of the moral burden of occupation has been shown to be wishful thinking.

The options facing Olmert are stark: He can give up on the promise of the "disengagement" (or "convergence") plan on which he was elected, or he can opt for negotiating a new arrangement with a Palestinian political leadership that includes Hamas. Israel's current actions suggest the latter is extremely unlikely -- indeed, Palestinian governance had been collapsing under the weight of a Western financial blockade even before the latest military actions; it may not survive the new Israeli military onslaught which has targeted not only known militants, but also the basic infrastructure of civilian life in Gaza. Whatever debate may have been under way in Hamas over moving in a more pragmatic decision will almost certainly now, at least in the short term, have been resolved in favor of the more radical element, which is likely to seek revenge for the current Israeli operation by escalating its own actions. So, regardless of its intentions, Israel may now be embarked on a course of action whose consequences effectively negate the prospects not only for a two-state peace, but also for the unilateral separation promised by Sharon and Olmert. And the increasingly brutal burden of its campaign against Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza will be born by the Palestinian civilian population. (Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2006)

Chris MacGreal reports that Israel has targeted the infrastructure of Gaza as an explicit form of collective pressure on the civilian population. Not only has the attack on the territory's main power station knocked out electricity supplies to half of the territory, but it has also imperiled their supply of drinking water because purification plants depend on electricity. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explained the decision thus: "Our aim is not to mete out punishment, but to apply pressure so the soldier will be freed. We want to create a new equation - freeing the abducted soldier in return for lessening the pressure on the Palestinians." Palestinian leaders challenged the decision to act against the civilian population in this way as a war crime. MacGreal says that Israel could still step in to reverse the humanitarian crisis caused by its destruction of the electricity supply -- by supplying electricity from its own power stations. But clearly it plans to squeeze the Palestinian civilian population to put pressure on the militants holding the captured soldier. (Guardian, June 29, 2006)
Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher warns that a neophyte Israeli government looking to prove its security credentials may have blundered into a situation from which it won't easily extricate itself in Gaza. "How and when will the Israeli defence force (IDF) withdraw if it does not recover Corporal Gilad Shalit? And what about the equally urgent task of silencing the firing of Qassam rockets from Gazan territory toward the Israeli town of Sderot and neighbouring kibbutzim?" Alpher continues, "Further serious escalation of this nature would mean that Israeli security planners have concluded that the abduction of an IDF soldier from Israeli territory has provided an early and desirable opportunity to deal a mortal blow to Hamas in Gaza -- infrastructure, troops and leadership -- before the winners of last January's Palestinian elections can consolidate power and begin building up a more serious military force to back up their Islamist agenda. One way or another, the Damascus-based Khaled Meshaal, with his Syrian and Iranian backers, has clearly emerged as a more powerful figure in Gaza than either Haniyeh or Abbas."(Guardian, June 29, 2006)
Herb Keinon sees the Gaza invasion as an echo of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. "It is not at all clear whether Israeli military action in Gaza hurts Hamas politically," writes Keinon. "In what to Israeli eyes seems like the logic-defying reality that is Gaza, it is not at all clear whether blowing up bridges and knocking out electricity in Gaza weakens public support for Hamas, or - paradoxically - whether it might in fact strengthen it. Furthermore, it is not even clear that Hamas doesn't want some IDF action to further its victimization narrative in the world. Already some in the world are asking whether the capture of one Israeli soldier merits the type of military action we saw Wednesday. Besides, some are whispering, what about the 10,000 Palestinians prisoners held by Israel?"(Jerusalem Post, June 29, 2006)
Aluf Benn notes that even before the capture of Shalit, Olmert was hesitating over his withdrawal plan. Now, the public has turned against it, having seen its fruits in Gaza. Despite Olmert's tough and decisive talk, says Benn, there are signs that his "convergence" plan will remain nothing more than an election promise (Haaretz, June 29, 2006)
Henry Siegman suggests that the fate of political leadership on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide may be determined by the fate of Corporal Shalit and its aftermath. The Israeli leadership has embarked on its tough military response in response from domestic political pressure and to establish its security credentials: "I think part of the problem is that neither (Olmert) nor his defense minister, Amir Peretz, is seen by the Israeli public as military people, whose military judgment in situations such as this can be trusted. This may or may not be true, but they themselves feel vulnerable on that score. Consequently, they want to appear tough and strong. They do not believe that they can take risks that a Sharon, for example, was prepared to take by waiting and by even returning lots of prisoners in return for very few people. It is that domestic vulnerability that may determine in unfortunate ways how Olmert and his government deal with this crisis." At the same time, if Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh are unable through the very public interventions they have made to secure the safe release of corporal Shalit, their own political authority will be undermined. The Hamas prime minister may soon join the Fatah president in the lame duck corner.

(Council on Foreign Relations, June 29, 2006)

Anshel Pfeffer reports on the growing disquiet in the Israeli political establishment over the Olmert government's response to the Gaza crisis, and the evident lack of a clear direction guiding its tactical responses. "The growing feeling of unease is caused by the lack of cohesiveness, the absence of something that looks like an overall strategy," he writes. "No one is answering the obvious questions: What's the connection between the limited operation in the south of the Gaza Strip and Gilad's kidnapping and if there is none, what exactly is Golani doing there? Has Israel decided to dismantle the Palestinian government and permanently take out the Hamas leadership, or will the legislators be released if a diplomatic solution is reached? And is Israel contemplating an attack on Syrian territory or was the flypast in Latakia simply aimed at reminding us that the IAF is still capable of getting something right without killing civilians?" The test for Olmert's government will not only be managing the crisis, he writes, but also "to convince the Knesset, the generals and most of all the public, that even now, leaving Gaza was worthwhile and it still makes sense going through all that again in the West Bank." (Haaretz, June 28, 2006)
Amos Harel explains how the Shalit operation plays in the internal politics of Hamas and Palestinian politics more widely. The perpetrators have pushed Haniyeh and other more pragmatic elements into a corner, and Fatah leaders have made clear that they see the capture of the soldier as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the new political consensus between the political leadership of Fatah and Hamas. (Haaretz, June 28, 2006)
Amos Harel explains how the Shalit operation plays in the internal politics of Hamas and Palestinian politics more widely. The perpetrators have pushed Haniyeh and other more pragmatic elements into a corner, and Fatah leaders have made clear that they see the capture of the soldier as a deliberate attempt to sabotage the new political consensus between the political leadership of Fatah and Hamas. (Haaretz, June 28, 2006)
Stephen Erlanger reports that Israel appears to have taken a decision to overthrow the Hamas government, and that the leaders snatched in Ramallah on Thursday will be put on trial in Israel. Such a move would precipitate the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, say analysts, and some Palestinians are advocating that President Abbas simply dissolve the PA now and force Israel to deal with the consequences of the reality that it remains the occupying power over all of the West Bank and Gaza. (New York Times, June 29, 2006)
Previously on Israel and Palestine:
--Drifting Towards Catastrophe
--A Palestinian Civil War?
--Blockade Will Destroy Palestinian Authority
--The Politics of Terror
--Reality of Hamas Power Forces Strategic Reassessments
--Hamas Inherits a Policing Dilemma
--Israel Hopes to Negotiate its Borders with U.S.
--Jericho Raid Humiliates Abbas
--Hamas and Israel: An Unspoken Peace?
--Rice Fails to Secure Hamas Blockade
-- Is the U.S. Trying to Reverse the Palestinian Election?

A New Iraq Strategy
The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq is unlikely, in itself, to signal a turning point in Iraq -- if anything, it may be reflective of a new strategy being pursued by the U.S. and the new Iraqi government. The essence of that strategy is a concerted effort to reach a political solution with the Sunni insurgency -- the fact that Zarqawi was found a day after the new government began releasing some 2,500 Iraqis imprisoned on suspicion of aiding the insurgency, and the announcement that a former Baathist would be the new defense minister suggested there may have been a connection between the new tilt of the U.S. and its allies towards the Sunnis and their ability to locate Zarqawi. To be sure, the Jordanian had many enemies on all sides of the conflict -- not only the U.S. and the Shiites, but also among the majority of the insurgents. His attacks in Jordan had forced that country to deploy major intelligence assets in his pursuit, and he'd even antagonized the likes of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri.

Eliminating Zarqawi, however, creates the possibility to promote a new narrative of national unity, in which the mainstream insurgent groups are brought in from the cold and the vicious sectarian killings can be blamed on a dead man. The U.S. has been negotiating with insurgent groups for some time, now, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reportedly offered an amnesty and talks to a number of insurgent groups. Anthony Cordesman argues that the success of the new government, and its ability to reverse the downward spiral of events in Iraq, depend on extending these efforts to reconcile with the Sunni insurgents and rehabilitate the Baathists, and curb the sectarian militias that have been responsible for the sectarian killing of Sunnis. It also behooves the new government to establish its independence from the U.S. by mounting an assertive investigation of the Haditha incident in which U.S. Marines killed a number of Iraqi civilians. President Bush's unannounced visit to Baghdad may have been useful to the U.S. leader's own domestic standing, but for Maliki's own public image, it was unfortunate.

But the tilt towards the Sunnis obviously comes at the expense of Shiite primacy, and it remains to be seen how those groupings closest to Iran -- antipathy to which is, in no small part, the basis of Sunni-U.S. rapprochement -- respond. The new government and the U.S. have launched a massive security operation on the streets of Baghdad to establish a monopoly of force in the capital. That operation naturally targets Sunni insurgent groups, but it also potentially puts the security forces on a collision course with the Mehdi Army of Moqtada Sadr and other Shiite militias. Much will depend on how a prime minister whose power base includes the political leadership of those militias manages to maintain his political balance in the course of executing the new turn. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 13, 2006)

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad explains the thinking behind the new Iraqi government's security and political strategy in a PBS interview: "It's important, as part of a reconciliation effort, to reach out to those Sunnis who call themselves the resistance, to encourage them to lay down their arms, and to have a balanced reduction in the militia forces, reintegrating them, as well as in the so-called resistance forces, to unite everyone against the terrorist Zarqawi and his friends who he, himself, is gone, but his network is still here to unite the people against them." Khalilzad stresses that achieving these goals depends first and foremost on the new government reaching a political agreement with both the insurgent leadership and with the political parties that control the militias.

(PBS Newshour, June 9, 2006)

The Bush administration's efforts to put a positive spin on events in Iraq for its domestic audience will probably avoid mentioning one unfortunate detail: Prime Minister Maliki's plan to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, including those who have killed Americans. Only those who have the blood of fellow Iraqis on their hands will be excluded from the offer, reports the Washington Post, in what is an implicit recognition by the government backed by the U.S. of the legitimacy of having waged war against Coalition forces in Iraq. It's an unprecedented move, and it remains to be seen whether even Maliki's Shiite coalition support it.

(Washington Post, June 15, 2006)

Anthony Cordesman analyzes the latest security sweep in Baghdad, and suggests it won't begin in earnest until it takes the offensive against its targets. Currently, the operation is confined to establishing checkpoints and a presence on the streets. Assaulting insurgent strongholds carries multiple dangers given the densely populated urban battlefield, and the recent history of both sectarian violence and U.S. abuses such as Haditha raise the political cost of mistakes. Then there is the fundamental challenge of tackling the Shiite militias, which would be essential to any serious effort to establish a government monopoly of force in Baghdad.

(Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 15, 2006)

Sami Moubayed explains why the political beneficiaries of Zarqawi's death include Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. The Jordanian had always had a competitive relationship with Al-Qaeda's senior leaders, and his grandstanding in Iraq in order to create a jihadist personality cult around himself was widely perceived as a challenge to their primacy in the global movement of like-minded militants. Besides perceiving Zarqawi as a threat to their political standing, the Qaeda leaders along the Afghan-Pakistan border had also expressed public alarm over tactics such as televised beheadings and the sectarian mass-murder of Shiites, believing that these actions alienated a constituency otherwise supportive of the jihadist perspective. Zarqawi's removal offers Bin Laden and Zawahi an opportunity to reassert their influence and alter the tactics of the Qaeda wing of the Iraqi insurgency.

(Asia Times, June 13, 2006)

Ehsan Ahrarari explains why takes a sobering look at President Bush's visit to Baghdad was bad news for Prime Minister Maliki. The key to success in the complex political game Maliki is attempting is to demonstrate to ordinary Iraqis his independence from Washington. Building his credibility at home requires taking a tough line with the U.S. even if largely as a posture, rather than politely sitting by while the U.S. president offers a patronizing endorsement and platitudes on the challenges facing the new government.

(Asia Times, June 13, 2006)

The New head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, is an intellectual and an intelligencel officer known to Syrian authorities, writes Sami Moubayed in an intriguing profile. "Military strategy will be formulated by other veterans, such as Abu Aseel, 62, a former general in Saddam Hussein's army (who had been tipped to replace Zarqawi)," Moubayed writes. "Political strategy and day-to-day politics will now be handled by Muhajir -- and possibly even by Osama bin Laden. This information is supported by Muntaser al-Zayyat, a lawyer who works with Islamic groups in Egypt and who is an expert on al-Qaeda. Zayyat confirmed that Muhajir was among the circle of people who knew Zarqawi well and who had worked with him closely since 2001... He was based in al-Qaim, a small town on the Syrian border 400 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, where he welcomed new troops and gave them orientation courses on al-Qaeda operations and objectives. Recently, however, Muhajir moved to Kirkuk. If he is currently based in Kirkuk, it might explain the series of bombs that went off on Tuesday, killing 24 Iraqis and wounding another 40."

(Asia Times, June 12, 2006)

Reuel Marc Gerecht suggests that Zarqawi has secured his legacy by setting in chain a dynamic of sectarian warfare in Iraq that will continue long after his death.

(Haaretz, June 14, 2006)

Loretta Napoleoni explains why Zarqawi is more useful to al-Qaeda dead than alive. As a martyr, his myth can be used to inspire new recruits and propaganda, but alive and in the field he was a vexing presence for al-Qaeda. (, June 12, 2006)
Mary Anne Weaver notes that Zarqawi's group was only responsible for about ten percent of insurgent attacks. She is skeptical, however, of the idea that the bulk of the insurgents are willing come in from the cold, now. Their game plan, she says, remains to get the U.S. out of Iraq and the Shiites out of power. (Council on Foreign Relations, June 9, 2006)
If Prime Minister Maliki finds himself having to balance Shiite and Sunni interests in order to maintain and extend his political authority, the latest oil discovery in Iraq adds to his woes. That's because it was found by a Norwegian company brought in to northern Iraq by the Kurdish federal authority, in a move viewed in Baghdad as a violation of agreements on oil matters being decided by the central government. The Times suggests the issue could become a test case of the extent of federal autonomy, pitting the Kurds against Arabs, Shiite and Sunni. (The Times, June 13, 2006)
Previously on Iraq:
-- Stuck in Iraq
-- Partitioning Iraq?
-- New Government, Same Problems
-- Political Paralysis in Iraq
-- The Magnitude of Failure in Iraq
-- A Generational American War?
-- What's Left of Iraq?

Iran and the U.S. Talk About Talks
And so the diplomatic dance begins: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week issued a U.S. response to the various negotiating initiatives from Tehran, in the form of an offer to join the EU3 at the negotiating table with Iran on condition that Tehran suspends its uranium enrichment activities. At face value, that precondition could cast the move simply as a step to turn the diplomatic tables on Tehran by responding to its calls for talks with a counter-offer framed in such a way that the Iranians can't accept it. Indeed, the initial response from Iran's foreign minister was to welcome the call for talks, but reject any preconditions. Still, the offer from the U.S. breaks a long-standing taboo against talking to Tehran on the grounds that this would legitimize its clerical regime, and although Washington conservatives are are spinning the offer as an opportunity to reveal Iran's true intentions and thereby build support for punitive action, it may just easily result in a diplomatic process that eventually sees Iran's regime rehabilitated in exchange for giving up the means to pursue nuclear weapons. And that may be precisely the outcome that Washington hawks who favor a policy of "regime-change" had hoped to avoid.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal makes clear the conservative fear that the U.S. offer moves it onto a diplomatic track that leads to far more concessions to Iran than Washington should be willing to make: "Given the concessions he has already won by refusing to cooperate, Mr. Ahmadinejad won't be in any hurry to oblige now," the Journal writes. "Already yesterday, Iran was pocketing the direct talks and demanding that any negotiation be 'without preconditions.' This was entirely predictable, and you can bet this new Iranian demand will soon be echoed in Paris, Moscow and all too many precincts in Washington."

Secretary Rice's initiative came amid growing pressure on the Bush Administration in Washington, and among its key allies, to negotiate directly with Tehran, although that call had been previously resisted by hawkish elements in the Administration. It appears to have had the effect of forging a consensus between the U.S. and the EU3 over the next steps in dealing with Iran's nuclear program, although it remains to be seen whether it contains enough to persuade China and Russia will back the threat of a Chapter VII Security Council resolution at this stage.

Rice sought to make clear that the U.S. was not offering a comprehensive "grand bargain" to rehabilitate Iran, because of concerns over Iranian support for terror attacks and radical groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. But Iran has previously offered comprehensive talks on all matters of concern to Washington including the nuclear issue, Iraq, the fate of al Qaeda prisoners in Iran, and the Islamic Republic's stance on Israel and the Palestinians. That was in an April 2003 offer, rebuffed by the Bush Administration. And Iran sees its strategic position as vastly improved since that time, now that the U.S. has become bogged down in Iraq and sees its Afghanistan project in mounting danger of unraveling. Believing the U.S. now needs its help more than ever, Tehran will drive a harder bargain.

On the nuclear issue, Iran's reluctance to accept unilateral suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks is based on the idea that this surrenders too much leverage -- Iran's view of the three-year negotiation process with the EU was that it got nothing in exchange for its suspension during that period, and that by stalling the Europeans actually weakened Tehran's position. This time, Tehran will expect something in return for a suspension: A finite period of negotiation, and perhaps some form of political recognition from the West (which moves in the direction of security guarantees) at the outset of the process. It may also seek to fudge the issue of suspension by verifiably halting its enrichment activities for "technical" reasons in order to allow a negotiation process to begin.

Iran may be moved to find a compromise formula because the offer of direct talks moves substantially towards a key Iranian diplomatic goal. The debate in Tehran is certainly likely to intensify, and the regime may be forced as the diplomatic process gains momentum, to act to ensure that it speaks with a single, clear voice to avoid the danger that the divisions between its power centers results in the sending of mixed signals that could sabotage diplomacy. The deep mistrust of each side for the other is unlikely to abate any time soon, but the latest diplomatic gambits from both sides suggest the opening of an opportunity that will be seized by the diplomatically inclined elements on both sides, and those caught in between. (Inter Press Service, May 31, 2006)

Trita Parsi suggests Iran will respond to Rice with a counter offer, probably accepting a suspension of uranium enrichment but only if it gets something in return. "The ultimate Iranian goal would be if the United States agrees to talk and the United States agrees to resolve some of these issues diplomatically with Iran in a way that reduces the Iranian threat perception from United States," says Parsi. "I think if that happens there are strong reasons to believe that Iran will agree to suspend enrichment. But they would offer to do so within a specific time frame. I do not think they would do it the same way they did it with the Europeans back in 2003, when they said, 'we'll suspend enrichment as long as negotiations take place.' From the Iranian perspective, that was a mistake because then the Europeans could drag on the negotiations without reaching any solution and Iran would not be able to enrich. What they suggested to the Europeans on January 30th of this year was to suspend enrichment for two years and within those two years find a solution, a solution that both sides can accept. So, I would say that if the United States agrees to talk and there is less of a threat perception on the Iranian side—threatening language on both sides obviously has to be reduced—then I think it is definitely doable to get a time-specific period in which the Iranians will agree to suspend nuclear enrichment." (Council on Foreign Relations, May 31, 2006)
In a forum on Iran policy, Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass offers of a some thoughtful guidelines for U.S. diplomacy in the nuclear standoff. may signal an Iranian willingness to find a formula for accommodating Western preconditions for talks. "The United States must ask itself what it is prepared to live with," says Haass. "The uranium enrichment program is not a black or white affair; there are many shades of gray, in terms of size and transparency. The Iranians talk about their rights. If that is going to be an essential element of any diplomatic package, then an interesting question is how to define that right in a way that is enough for the Iranians and not too much for the West.
"It is very important to make the distinction between giving a conditional security guarantee and giving a regime guarantee. It is not up to the United States to guarantee the Iranian regime, or any other regime; history will take care of that. Instead, the United States should be talking about the evolution of Iranian society. What the United States can offer is a conditional security guarantee of the form, 'f Iran does not attack the United States, the United States will not attack Iran.' Just because Iran receives such a security assurance, that will not make it exempt from this administration's general call for movement in the direction of markets and more democratic societies, respect for the rule of law, human rights, and the like.
"Calling explicitly for regime change is not smart. It actually strengthens the hand of the regime in Iran because it seems like outside interference. It also makes it more difficult for the United States to garner international support, because this will be used as an argument against American foreign policy. One of the many ironies of U.S. policy toward Iran is that after five years of often explicitly calling for regime change and clearly having a foreign policy toward Iran in which desire for regime change enjoyed priority, the only change in the Iranian regime is that hardliners have increased their power."

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May, 2006)

The New York Times reports of a possible slowdown in Iranian enrichment experiments may signal an Iranian willingness to find a formula for accommodating Western preconditions for talks. (New York Times, May 30, 2006)
Gareth Porter reports that Iran's 2003 offer to Washington included an offer to accept peace with Israel and "cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups and to pressure them to halt terrorist attacks within Israel's 1967 borders. Iranian academic Trita Parsi tells him that the negotiating document carried the backing of Ayatollah Khamenei, and sought to address all of Washington's grievances over Iranian behavior. But it was rebuffed by the Bush Administration. (Asia Times, May 26, 2006)
The Washington Post reports on the upsurge in negotiating initiatives from Tehran, noting that they have broken a taboo in Iran on contacts with the erstwhile "Great Satan" and provoking a debate over Washington's own taboos over contacts with the regime that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. (Washington Post, May 24, 2006)
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi explains why Germany now holds the pivotal role in shaping a diplomatic outcome, but that it can only achieve that goal if it acts independently of the U.S. That poses a major challenge to a Chancellor elected in part on a promise to repair relations with Washington. (Asia Times, May 26, 2006)
Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer makes the case for bargaining with Iran, and offers an explanation of why European negotiating initiatives have failed until now: "First, the European offer to open up technology and trade, including the peaceful use of nuclear technology, was disproportionate to Iran's fundamental fear of regime change on the one hand and its regional hegemonic aspirations and quest for global prestige on the other," he writes. "Second, the disastrous U.S.-led war in Iraq has caused Iran's leaders to conclude that the leading Western power has been weakened to the point that it is dependent on Iran's goodwill and that high oil prices have made the West all the more wary of a serious confrontation. The Iranian regime's analysis may prove to be a dangerous miscalculation, because it is likely to lead sooner rather than later to a 'hot' confrontation that Iran simply cannot win. After all, the issue at the heart of this conflict is this: Who dominates the Middle East -- Iran or the United States? Iran's leaaders underestimate the explosive nature of this issue for the United States as a global power and thus for its own future." The answer, he says, is to offer Tehran a "grand bargain" around which an international consensus could be built that would withstand the pressure of oil prices. And that would require the U.S. abandoning its hostility to direct talks, and also its desire to effect regime-change in Iran. (Washington Post, May 29, 2006)
Alexey Arbatov explains how Russia's middle ground position on the Iran standoff reflects Moscow's own interests, which are not the same as those of Washington. "By demanding the immediate cessation of Iranian enrichment activities, Russia is following its own economic and security interests and is demonstrating cooperation with the United States (and the West in general) on nonproliferation," he writes. "By opposing UN sanctions and US military force, Moscow is accommodating its interests in cooperation with Iran and in avoidance of the inevitable economic, political and security damage of war. In this way Russia is also indirectly forging a united front with China, India and many other countries in opposing US unilateralism and arbitrary policy of force, permeated with double standards and a disregard for other nations' differing interests and views.
"By treating the cessation of Iranian enrichment activities as a temporary measure to be enforced only as long as it takes the IAEA to sort out its questions with Iran's past compliance, Russians may be privately telling Iran that it can pursue a full-scale fuel cycle after the IAEA is satisfied. At the same time, Moscow could tacitly argue to Washington (and actually believe it) that such a freeze may last indefinitely depending on IAEA investigative zeal, and anyway would gain time to find other ways of putting the brakes on Iranian nuclear cycle programs." (Carnegie Endowment, May 30, 2006)
Paul Kerr explains why the goal of regime-change is incompatible with the non-proliferation objective of the diplomatic process. If the U.S. is unwilling to take "regime-change" off the table, the Iranians are unlikely to abandon the option of pursuing a nuclear deterrent. (Council on Foreign Relations, May 25, 2006)
The policy dispute in Washington is reflected in an online debate between Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute and Karim Sadjadpour of the International Crisis Group over the issue of talking to Iran. (Council on Foreign Relations, May 19, 2006)
In a rare interview with a Western news outlet, President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad is taken to task over his views on the Holocaust. He remains combative throughout, on this question as well as over the nuclear issue. (Der Spiegel, May 30, 2006)
Background Material on Iran
Full text of Secretary of State Rice's offer to Iran. (U.S. Department of State, May 31, 2006)
Full text of President Ahmedinajad's letter to President Bush. (Council on Foreign Relations, May 9, 2006)
Hassan Rohani's proposals for resolving the crisis. (, May 9, 2006)
Gareth Porter explores the April 2003 offer by Iran for talks to settle all differences with the U.S. and accept peace with Israel. (Asia Times, May 27, 2006)
The International Institute for Strategic Studies offers a detailed assessment of the challenges involved in using military strikes to prevent Iran having the means to acquire nuclear weapons. (Strategic Comments, Spring, 2006)
Zbigniew Brezinski offers a cogent summary of the reasons why attacking Iran would be a monumental act of strategic folly for the U.S. -- its consequences would be so calamitous, he argues, that they may even prematurely end the era of American dominance on the global stage. He also warns that such an act would be illegal both under U.S. and international law. Brezinski argues that negotiations with Iran remains the best way to achieve U.S. Goals, including liberalization of Iran's domestic politics. (LA Times, April 23, 2006)
Seymour Hersh reports on U.S. military planning for an attack on Iran and explains the reasons that advocates of such a course of action are winning teh debate inside the Bush administration. (The New Yorker, April 10, 2006)
Martin Jacques notes that Washington appears to have missed the fact that China is not simply being a reluctant partner in pressuring Iran, it is actively resisting the U.S. agenda. That, says Jacques, is because China's booming economy has allowed it greater freedom of expression on the world stage, compared with its habit, even in the recent path, to studiously avoid upsetting Washington. (Guardian, May 10, 2006)
The Center for Strategic and International Studies offers a detailed technical assessment of Iran's nuclear program, and also parses the strategic options available to the U.S. if diplomacy fails. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 7, 2006)
The Center for Defense Information has posted extracts from the IAEA report on Iran which is to be discussed by the Security Council. (CDI, March 6, 2006)
Iran's UN ambassador Javad Sarif, in a New York Times op ed, sets out sets out Tehran's negotiating position on the nuclear issue. Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, he insists, and is willing to negotiate on the basis providing new guarantees to win Western confidence in this assertion, including expanded inspections and the creation of an international consortium to supply Iran's reactor fuel. (New York Times, April 7, 2006)
Christopher de Bellaigue offers a comprehensive analysis of the Iranian regime's nuclear intentions and its strategy for handling the standoff with the U.S.

(New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006)

The Oxford Research Group assesses the effectiveness of military options against Iran, and concludes they are unlikely to restrain Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but will promote chaos and instability. (Oxford Research Group, February, 2006)
Ray Tayekh explains the factional disputes at the heart of the Tehran regime, suggesting that the path of confrontation is preferred by a new generation of conservatives hardened during the Iran-Iraq war, and that the current atmosphere of crisis strengthens their hand domestically. (The National Interest, Spring, 2006)
Henry Sokolski suggests that the current debate over how to stop Iran going nuclear is fruitless. Instead, he offers a long-term strategy for managing Western rivalry with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Transatlantic Institute, March 16, 2006)
Previously on Iran:
-- 05.10.06: U.S. Thwarted in Iran Diplomacy
-- 04.26.06: Awaiting the Real Diplomacy
-- 04.19.06: U.S. Fails to Prevail in Iran Diplomacy
-- 04.12.06: March to War or Smoke and Mirrors?
-- 04.05.06: Military Action Against Iran?
-- 03.29.06: Bush Iran Strategy Hits a Wall
-- 03.22.06: Has Britain Put U.S. on the Spot?
-- 03.15.06: Regime Change or Normalization?


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Global Beat

June 30, 2006