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Friday, August 24, 2012

British Foreign Secretary condemns death sentences, supports Ahwazi Arabs

Iran's 'utter disregard for human rights' in its execution campaign against Ahwazi Arab political prisoners was condemned by British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week.

His condemnation follows last month's
death sentences passed on five Ahwazis for 'enmity with God', weeks after four other prisoners were killed.

Hague has vowed an international response to the executions, which have been accompanied by
several extra-judicial killings of men arrested for minor offences such as calling for demonstrations and political graffiti.

The Foreign Secretary said: "I am deeply disturbed by the human rights abuses perpetrated by Iran in recent months.

"The torture and sentencing to death of Mohammad Ali Amouri, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka, Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka, Hashem Sha'bani Amouri and Hadi Rashidi, from the Ahwazi Arab minority, comes less than a month after the secret execution in June of four other members of this minority group. This sets a very worrying trend.

"Sadly, these are not isolated incidents and many other Iranians are currently suffering at the hands of their government. Iran's continued, widespread persecution of ethnic minorities, human rights defenders and political prisoners is a disgrace and stands as a shameful indictment of Iran's leaders.

"The Iranian government should know that its systematic attempt to curtail the freedom of its citizens will not go unchallenged by the international community and only adds to its isolation.

"I call on Iran immediately to commute these death sentences, to stop torturing its citizens and to end the systematic persecution of its ethnic minorities."

Foreign Secretary Hague has stepped up pressure on Iran over the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs following a cross-party parliamentary motion highlighting the poverty and illiteracy caused by discrimination against Ahwazis and continued violent repression by the Iranian government. The motion called on the British government to challenge Iran's refusal to implement the recommendations made by the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review on Iran of 2010 that call for the guarantee of the protection of the civil and political rights of all, particularly dissidents and members of minority groups and the end of torture and secret detention.

Daniel Brett, director of the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network (AASN) which has
supported Ahwazi lobbying efforts, said: "The UK's coalition government has responded favourably to Ahwazi Arab struggle for collective rights and democratic freedom, which has the potential to change Iran for good. Ahwazi Arabs in Europe will be stepping up their campaigns against executions and for collective rights over the coming months to win international support for an 'Arab Spring' in Iran."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Israel ready for 30-day war after Iran strike: defense minister

Israeli defense minister Matan Vilnai said Israel was ready to face the consequences of a clash with Iran. (AFP)Israel is prepared for a 30-day war on multiple fronts should it decide to strike Iran, and is “ready as never before” for such a clash, the outgoing home front defense minister said Wednesday.

In an interview with the Maariv newspaper, Matan Vilnai said Israel was ready to face the consequences of a clash with Iran that could be sparked if the Jewish state decides to launch a strike against Tehran’s nuclear program.

But he warned that any military engagement should be weighed carefully, and cautioned that Israel should “always coordinate” with the United States.

“The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on a number of fronts,” he said, repeating the predictions of other senior Israeli officials that the Jewish state would suffer around 500 deaths in such a clash.
“It could be that there will be less fatalities, but it could be there will be more, that is the scenario that we are preparing for according to the best experts.”

Speculation has risen in recent weeks about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program, which the Jewish state and much of the international community believes masks a weapons drive.

Tehran vehemently denies those accusations, saying the program is for peaceful energy and medical purposes.

As the speculation grows, observers in Israel have raised concern about the country’s preparedness for war.

But Vilnai brushed aside such concerns, saying there was “no reason for hysteria.”

“I can say in the most authoritative manner that the home front is ready as never before in the country’s history,” he said.

Vilnai declined to say whether he thought Israel should take military action against Iran, but warned any such decision required serious consideration.

“The only question is if a clash is necessary. War is something that is better to postpone and weigh carefully,” he said, adding that he thought the Jewish state should coordinate its military activity with Washington.

“I don’t want to be dragged into an argument, but I say that the United States is our greatest friend and we must always coordinate such things with it,” he said.

Some Israeli officials have warned that the Jewish state could launch a unilateral attack on Iranian nuclear facilities if it believes Tehran is close to acquiring a nuclear weapon, even over objections from Washington.

Vilnai is set to be replaced by Avi Dichter, a former internal security minister and ex-head of the country’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency.

The post, which Vilnai is leaving to become ambassador to China, was reportedly turned down by a slew of other top officials.

Israel is widely suspected to have the region’s sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal.

Germany arrests four men suspected of breaking Iran embargo

Iran is currently building a heavy water research reactor near the central town of Arak, a type which Western experts say could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. (AFP)German police have arrested four men suspected of delivering valves for a heavy water reactor to Iran, breaking an embargo on such exports to the Islamic Republic imposed over its disputed nuclear program.

Three men with joint Iranian-German nationality, identified only as Kianzad Ka., Gholamali Ka. and Hamid Kh., and German national Rudolf M. were picked up early Wednesday by a force comprising 90 officers.

“The accused are believed to have contributed in 2010 and 2011 to the delivery of special valves for the construction of a heavy water reactor in Iran and thereby contravened the Iran embargo,” prosecutors said.

The four are accused of breaking both an arms embargo and export restrictions on goods that can be used for both civil and military purposes.

Prosecutors did not name the plant, but Iran is building a heavy water research reactor near the central town of Arak, a type which Western experts say could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Iran, which has said it hopes to bring Arak on line by the end of 2013, says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that the reactor will produce isotopes for medical and agricultural use.

To avoid export controls, the men are suspected of having described their customer as a firm based in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

“The deliveries were part of an order worth several million euros (dollars) which Iran was trying to use to secure the necessary valve technology to make a heavy water reactor,” said the prosecutors.

The men were therefore suspected of breaking Germany’s law on foreign trade and breaching military weapons controls.

Sanctions slowing nuclear advances?

A Washington-based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said Iran’s aim to start operating Arak in 2013 could be “delayed because of problems acquiring necessary items overseas or in building the reactor”.

Analysts say increasingly tough sanctions and suspected sabotage are slowing Iran’s nuclear advances.

Once up and running, the Arak reactor could produce about 9 kg of plutonium annually, or enough for about two nuclear weapons each year, if operating optimally, ISIS said on its website.

Iran has been hit with several rounds of U.N. sanctions, plus tougher measures imposed by the European Union and United States, since 2006 due to its refusal to suspend enrichment of uranium, a process that yields fuel for nuclear power stations but also nuclear bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

The world’s No. 5 oil exporter, says it does not want to build a bomb but rather needs nuclear energy for electricity to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population.

On Tuesday, Standard Chartered Plc reached a $340 million settlement with New York’s bank regulator for transactions linked to Iran although the bank may still face investigations into transactions by other U.S. agencies.

The New York Financial Services Superintendent had this month accused Standard Chartered of breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran, saying it had hidden Iran-linked transactions worth a total of $250 billion from regulators.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Video shows former Syrian PM allegedly with FSA, waiting to depart to Jordan

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab [second left] has appeared in a new video, seated with members of the Free Syrian Army. (Al Arabiya)Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab appeared for the first time since his defection from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on Wednesday, in a video accompanied reportedly by Free Syrian Army’s Mu’tassam Bilah Bridgade.

In the video, filmed in Al-Ni’aimah town in Deraa city near the Jordanian border, Hijab is seated against a wall in a room with children and several men, who the FSA claimed were its fighters, guarding him before his departure to Jordan after his defection from the Syrian regime.
Head of al-Yarmouk Brigade in Deraa, Abu Al-Majd Al-Zou’bi, told Al Arabiya that his troops helped the former prime minister, his family and relatives cross the border into Jordan.

Zou’bi said Hijab left Syria along with 25 of his relatives and family, including four of his brothers.

The Assad regime has cut off electricity and communication in the areas bordering Jordan in a bid to stop defectors from spiriting across the border, Zou’bi said. Despite those efforts, he said that “defections” were increasing.

When contacted for comment by Al Arabiya, Jordanian officials denied Hijab’s presence in Jordan.

‘Retired’ Revolutionary Guards among Syrian hostages: Iran

The Free Syrian Army has shown a video of dozens of Iranians they claim are fighters helping the Syrian regime, but Tehran claims the men to be pilgrims. (Al Arabiya)“Retired” members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and army were among the 48 Iranians taken hostage in Syria by rebels, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying on Wednesday.
He said those former military personnel were specifically on a religious pilgrimage to Damascus when they were seized on Saturday.

“A number of the [hostages] are retired members of the Guards and the army. Some others were from other ministries,” Salehi was quoted as telling reporters as he flew back from Turkey, where he gone to ask for help in freeing the Iranians.

Iran urges the U.N. to help on hostages issue

In related news, Salehi on Tuesday sought help from the United Nations to free dozens of Iranians captured in Syria and Libya.
In a letter written to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, he stressed his government’s “deep concern” at the fate of the 48 Iranians seized in Syria and another seven Iranian Red Crescent workers held in Libya.

The letter highlighted reported comments by Syrian rebels that three of the Iranians had been killed in government shelling.

“According to the same sources, the hostage takers have threatened to kill the remaining captives in the coming hours,” it said.

Salehi’s letter was released by Iran’s U.N. mission. The United Nations confirmed that the Secretary-General has received the letter.

“I would like to seek the cooperation and the good offices of your excellency for securing the release of these hostages,” Salehi wrote.

“The kind cooperation of the relevant United Nations offices in responding to this request of government and the families of the hostages will be highly appreciated,” he added.

The 48 Iranians were taken hostage on Saturday as they traveled by bus to the airport in Damascus. Iranian authorities say they are religious pilgrims.

A Syrian rebel group, Al-Baraa Brigade of the Free Syrian Army, claimed on its Facebook page that “three of the Iranian prisoners were killed in fierce shelling” by the army on Monday.

The group said the 48 are members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and would be executed if the government’s shelling continued.

The seven members of the Iranian Red Crescent were kidnapped by gunmen in the Libyan city of Benghazi on July 31.

“Iran holds the hostage takers responsible for any loss of lives or injury to the hostages,” Salehi wrote. Iran’s foreign ministry has also said it holds the United States responsible for the lives of the hostages in Syria.

Iran “calls for the immediate release of its abducted nationals and is of the view that using the hostages as human shields violates the international law and human rights of these innocent civilians,” the letter said.

U.S. regulators irate at action against bank for Iran ties

U.S. regulators irate at action against bank for Iran tiesThe U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve were blindsided and angered by New York's banking regulator's decision to launch an explosive attack on Standard Chartered Plc over $250 billion in alleged money laundering transactions tied to Iran, sources familiar with the situation said.
By going it alone through the order he issued on Monday, Benjamin Lawsky, head of the recently created New York State Department of Financial Services, also complicates talks between the Treasury and London-based Standard Chartered to settle claims over the transactions, several of the sources said.

Lawsky’s stunning move, which included releasing embarrassing communications and details of the bank's alleged defiance of U.S. sanctions against Iran, is rewriting the playbook on how foreign banks settle cases involving the processing of shadowy funds tied to sanctioned countries. In the past, such cases have usually been settled through negotiation - with public shaming kept to a minimum.
In his order, Lawsky said Standard Chartered’s dealings exposed the U.S. banking system to terrorists, drug traffickers and corrupt states.
But the upset expressed by some federal officials, who were given virtually no notice of the New York move, may provide ammunition for Standard Chartered to portray the allegations as coming from a relatively new and over-zealous regulator.

But, given the content of the order - which described Standard Chartered as a “rogue institution” that “schemed” with the Iranian government and hid from law enforcement officials some 60,000 secret transactions over nearly 10 years - the bank may need to come up with a strong defense.

Lawsky did not respond to several requests for comment on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Federal Reserve said it had been working closely with various prosecutorial offices on matters involving Iran and other sanctioned entities, but could not comment on ongoing investigations.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the government takes alleged violations of sanctions “extremely seriously” and the Treasury remains in close contact with federal and state authorities on the matter. The Treasury declined to add to that comment.

Shares sink $17 billion

New York’s attack on Standard Chartered’s integrity, and a threat to revoke its state banking license, wiped $17 billion off the bank's market value on Tuesday.
Shares in Standard Chartered slumped to a 3-year low of 10.92 pounds in London on Tuesday before closing down 16.4 percent at 12.28 pounds. The stock has fallen by a quarter since news of the New York action on Monday.

The loss of a New York banking license - effectively a permit to conduct transactions worth hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars - could be a death knell for a global bank like Standard Chartered. The 160-year-old bank said it has been in talks with U.S. authorities over its Iran transactions since early 2010 and the sudden accusations by New York were a shock.

In a statement on Monday, the bank said it was “engaged in ongoing discussions with the relevant U.S. agencies. Resolution of such matters normally proceeds through a coordinated approach by such agencies. The Group was therefore surprised to receive the order from (the New York bank regulator) given that discussions with the agencies were ongoing.”

Lawsky’s move also undercut the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which has made a priority of enforcing economic sanctions against Iran. The surprise left the office’s leader, David Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, scrambling to come up with a response, sources said.

No quiet deal

Standard Chartered, which sought the advice of one of New York’s top law firms, had hoped that coming clean and turning over internal records to federal regulators would yield a settlement, sources said.
Those records also were turned over to New York’s bank regulator, which last year was combined with an insurance agency to create the new financial watchdog headed by Lawsky, a former prosecutor and aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Lawsky’s aim, according to the sources, was to cast more light on a bank’s alleged transgressions. His agency, these people said, wasn’t interested in a quiet pact of the sort reached by federal authorities in recent years.

In 2010, for example, Barclays Plc paid $298 million in a settlement with regulators including the Treasury Department’s sanctions regulator and the Manhattan district attorney's office. The bank, in settlement documents, said it cooperated in the probe.

Barclays, like Standard Chartered, was advised by Sullivan & Cromwell, known as the go-to New York law firm for banks facing regulatory scrutiny. The Barclays settlement, while receiving news coverage, was a fairly bland document that listed the bank's transactions but few insider details, such as emails. Other banks, including Credit Suisse and ING, have settled in much the same way with U.S. regulators.

Huge gulf

One area of sharp disagreement between Lawsky and Standard Chartered is just how much in illicit funds is involved. The bank put the value of Iran-related transactions that did not comply with regulations at less than $14 million. Lawsky estimated them at $250 billion.
The regulator said Standard Chartered moved money through its New York branch on behalf of Iranian financial clients, including the Central Bank of Iran and state-owned Bank Saderat and Bank Melli, that were subject to U.S. sanctions - generating hundreds of millions of dollars in fees.

At the center of concern were alleged “U-Turn” transactions, involving money moved for Iranian clients among banks in Britain and the Middle East and cleared through Standard Chartered’s New York branch, but which neither started nor ended in Iran.

While the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 1979, these so-called “U-Turn” transactions were outlawed only in November 2008 amid Treasury Department concerns they were being used to evade sanctions, and that Iran was using banks to fund nuclear and missile development programs.

Lawsky’s order alleged that even as some banks exited the U-Turn transactions, Standard Chartered hustled to “take the abandoned market share.”

David Proctor, who worked for Standard Chartered from 1999 until 2006 and who oversaw the Iran business briefly in 2006 when he was CEO in the United Arab Emirates, said the rules on dealing with Iran were unclear.

“At the time (May 2006), ... the key question was to try and understand exactly what counted as a U-turn transaction,” he said. Proctor, who now provides advice for banks with BAS Consulting in Singapore, said Standard Chartered now has to help clear up what actually happened. “Banks these days don't have a choice,” he said. “You have to be transparent.”

Iran asks for U.N. help in freeing ‘innocent civilians’ abducted in Syria

Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday asked U.N. Secretary-
General Ban Ki-moon for his help in efforts to free dozens of “innocent civilians” abducted by the Syrian opposition forces in Syria.
“I would like to seek the cooperation and the good offices of Your Excellency for securing the release of these hostages,” Ali Akbar Salehi wrote to Ban in a letter obtained by Al Arabiya.

“The kind cooperation of the relevant United Nations offices in responding to this request of Government and the families of the hostages will be highly appreciated,” Salehi added.
A U.N. spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter but did not have an immediate response, according to Reuters. Iran has also sought the aid of Turkey, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most outspoken critics, in freeing the Iranians held in Syria.
“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran calls for the immediate release of its abducted nationals and is of the view that using the hostages as human shields violates the international law and human rights of these innocent civilians,” Salehi said.

Syrian rebels determined to topple Assad accuse Iran of supporting the Syrian government, which has tried unsuccessfully for 17 months to crush an increasingly militant opposition. Tehran supports Assad, who has long been an ally of Iran.

A busload of 48 Iranians was seized by the Syrian rebels on Saturday. Tehran says they were pilgrims visiting a Shi’ite Muslim shrine, denying suggestions that they were military personnel helping Assad put down the rebellion.

A Syrian rebel spokesman said on Monday that three of the Iranians had been killed in a government air strike and the rest would be executed if the attacks did not stop. There has been no word of their fate since then.

In Libya, seven Iranian aid workers were abducted on July 31 by an unknown armed group in the eastern city of Benghazi, the biggest operation of its kind against foreigners since the start of a revolt that toppled long-time ruler Muammar Qaddafi.

The seven men, from an Iranian Red Crescent relief mission, were snatched from their vehicle in the heart of Benghazi on their way back to their hotel, security sources told Reuters.

Iran’s VP visits Egypt to invite Mursi to Tehran

Iranian Vice President Hamid Baqai has arrived in Cairo for a two-day visit during which he will present Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi with an official invitation from his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to take part in a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, Middle East News Agency reported on Tuesday.
Egypt’s Presidential Spokesman Yasser Ali Said on Saturday that Mursi was undecided yet about going to Tehran for the NAM summit.

Ali said in a statement that a decision will be taken based on Egypt’s national interests and has nothing to do with any stance on Iran. Egypt is expected to take over the NAM presidency from Iran during the upcoming summit.

Iran’s staunch support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is also expected to pressure Mursi not to travel to Tehran.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

48 Iranian pilgrims abducted in Damascus: Iran state TV

Syria’s state television channel reported that “armed terrorist groups” had kidnapped the pilgrims who were in a bus in the Damascus suburbs. (AP)Forty-eight Iranians were kidnapped while on a pilgrimage in the Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday, their embassy’s consular chief in Damascus told Iran’s state television.

“Armed terrorist groups kidnapped 48 Iranian pilgrims on their way to the airport,” Majid Kamjou told the IRIB network, which gave the report on its website.

The embassy knows the whereabouts of the pilgrims and is pursuing “relevant channels” to free them, he added

Meanwhile Syria’s state television channel reported that “armed terrorist groups” had kidnapped the pilgrims who were in a bus in the Damascus suburbs and said the relevant parties were dealing with the situation.

Tehran is the staunchest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are locked in a bloody conflict in Damascus and other cities against rebels his regime describes as "terrorists".

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians travel each year to Syria to visit a Shi’ite pilgrimage site, the Shrine of Zaynab, in Damascus.

This is not the first time Iranian pilgrims have been the target of kidnappings in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has been battling a 17-month-old revolt against his rule.

Syrians opposed to Assad come mainly from the country’s Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad and his ruling family comes from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Eleven Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped in February, days after the abduction of another group of pilgrims by an armed group in Syria. Five Iranian technicians were also kidnapped in the flashpoint city of Homs in December.

Iran has condemned what it calls foreign interference in Syrian affairs and has praised reforms Assad has pledged to commit to.

Iran boosts strategic grain stocks with wheat buy

Raghida Dergham
The international equation governing the issues of Syria and Iran has been altered, after the balance of power on the ground between the regime and the opposition in Syria changed, with the opposition now possessing tanks and anti-aircraft missiles.

The climate had been captive to the regime in Damascus, and the balance of military power in its favor had formed a weapon in Russia’s hands to use in political negotiations over the future of Syria, as well as over the future of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s influence in the region. But today, diplomacy has become the mirror image of what is taking place on the field, and the political process now follows force rather than precedes it, as it had in the recent past. The balance of power has changed on the field, where Turkey has become part of the war in Syria, as Pakistan had been part of the war in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, a war which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the era of the single superpower, replacing the era of the two poles: The U.S. and the USSR.

The situation in Syria today resembles that of Afghanistan back then, in terms of regional alliances with the United States in the face of Russia, which clung to old methods, a decaying legacy and the voice of the past that rejects civil society, public opinion, rule of law and the centrality of growth. This “Russia” in turn is clinging to a regime in Damascus that is steadily heading towards collapse through a civil war it itself is feeding, as it clings to a regime in Tehran that is escalating on the nuclear issue and dropping a gift in the lap of Israeli escalation against it in the process.

Russia has lost the political assets to convince and the role of sponsor of the political solution, after it did away with the latter with its third veto at the Security Council. Moscow today has become the sponsor of division and the patron of civil war.

The new military equation, embodied in missiles and tanks entering the battle against the regime, may lead Moscow into another wave of hysteria, with which it would decide to give more powerful and technologically advanced weapons to the regime, and thus truly enter into a proxy war in Syria against the Western-Arab alliance in the region, including towards Iran. At the same time, the new military balance of power may lead Moscow to pay heed to the necessity of returning to the table of compromises and trade-offs with the West and the Arabs, on the basis of finally accepting that there is no way for President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power and no way to maintain a single ruling regime.

Indeed, Russian diplomacy has procrastinated and been excessively confident, which has led to complete rejection, first of all, of any formula whereby the political process would take place with Assad present, and secondly of keeping the regime strong after Assad. The most that can be accepted now is for some of the leaders of the regime to participate in power with leaders of the opposition. That is if it is not too late, if Russia continues to escalate and engage in confrontations after it completely lost its margin to maneuver.
It is clear now that the U.S. Administration has taken the decision to “turn a blind eye to” or “encourage” arming the opposition with missiles and tanks. President Barack Obama has finally sprung to action, or in other words, decided to stop eluding military challenges in the war in Syria, and was forced to agree to the necessity of arming the rebels, even without being convinced or wanting to do so.

What has forced him to do so is not so much the stance taken by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as the military decisiveness of the opposition on the field and Russia’s diplomatic excess in embarrassing him and backing him into a corner.

The new balance of military power on the field has altered the political equation for both the regime in Damascus and the Russian government. Before, Moscow had been comfortable with its margin of maneuver when the military balance of power was in favor of its ally in Damascus, and when the regime in Damascus arrogantly snubbed political solutions under Russia’s protection. Today, any possible political solution would be the product of the new balance of power. The battle of Aleppo, as Bashar Al-Assad said, is the battle of fate. It is the battle that will decide the country’s future. Turkey’s airspace has now been opened to Syria, as Pakistan had in the past opened its airspace to Afghanistan during the war to bring down the Soviet Union. Russia’s influence may face the same fate if President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov persist on the path of confrontation, believing – as they seem to – that the regime in Damascus will win the battle of Aleppo, and that Bashar al-Assad will remain in power, even if under the formula of dividing the country.

But if actual support to the Syrian opposition were to wane, and the supply of missiles, tanks and other necessary military equipment were to stop, then the Syrian regime may win the battle, and the opposition would weaken as a result of such losses. Things would then become more complicated and would take more time, while extremists would reinforce their practices against the opposition, practices which fall under organized terrorism.

Yet none of all this will restore for the regime that has ruled for decades its ability to remain in power as it had been. Bashar al-Assad and his regime have lost control over the countryside and areas far from the big cities. It may win the battle that will ignite the civil war and the battle of division, yet this too will not ensure its survival, as Stinger missiles did not only contribute to bringing down the Soviet Union in the Afghan war, but in fact brought it down altogether.
It is clear now that Bashar al-Assad will not step down, nor will he accept the Yemeni model based on leaving power with guarantees. It seems that his final decision – which he may have taken willingly or been forced to take – is that of not backing down on inflaming civil war as a means to remain in power, and of resolving to export sectarian war to Syria’s neighborhood, just as it seems that Russia’s leadership is party to taking such a direction, according to the impression left among the majority of people and governments in the Arab region.

This is dangerous for Russia and for its interests. If the regime were to remain on a background of civil war and division, Russia would lose. And if the regime in Damascus were to collapse, Russia would no longer have a foothold in the Middle East. The war in Syria today is no longer a battle of Katyusha rockets. Rather, the new cutting edge weapons are still in the process of entering the Syrian arena, and through them the balance of power on the field is changing.

Some people wonder today: how can Russia’s leadership take a strategic decision that binds it in the hands of a regime headed towards its demise, and brands it as the sponsor of civil war and division in the face of an Arab-Turkish-American-European alliance that had repeatedly offered it partnership in a political solution?

Others wonder: what is the wisdom of a Russian stance that has in effect led to bringing the issue of Syria out of the hands of the Security Council, to place it with ready-made and logical justifications in the hands of a group of countries that have grown tired of trying to satisfy Russia while it made use of one veto after another?

Moscow sought to take revenge for the “insult” it suffered in Libya in the bombing operations carried out by the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). Yet by taking such revenge it has driven the situation towards adopting the Libyan model in Syria without direct air cover from NATO. Moscow sought to hijack the political solution and placed joint United Nations and Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan at the forefront of such hijacking. Yet by making use of its third veto, it has done away with Kofi Annan and his mission, and turned his six-point plan initiative into a thing of the past, unconnected to reality as it is today.

Moscow is the one that has driven things towards the path of military settlement, after the majority had walked with it on the path of a political solution for a long time. Moscow is the one that settled the issue of the two parallel tracks in favor of the track of confrontation and military settlement.

Perhaps Russia’s leadership will rectify and reconsider its policies and its interests. And perhaps it will go further in revenge, through Syrian and Iranian confrontations on the field and at the Security Council.

Here, any use of chemical weapons will force Russia to correct its course, as it cannot bear to become ostracized internationally as a country that supported the use of banned weapons. Western sources say that Russia and Iran have both pledged to work to prevent chemical weapons from being used in the Syrian war.

Yet such reassurances do not mean that the mood in Tehran or in Moscow is headed towards consensus and agreement with the West, but rather the opposite. Moscow might resort to trying to “change the conversation” at the Security Council by protesting to American threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran, if it were to persist in its methods on the nuclear issue.
What Mitt Romney said during his visit to Israel has prompted the Obama Administration to rush to outbid him. This is no point of divergence between the Republican and the Democratic candidates to the presidency, and they have both fallen into Israel’s lap. To be specific, Obama fell first into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lap when he publicly pledged that the United States would not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Such a precedent, of a public pledge by an American President not to allow Iran to be a nuclear power, reserving the right and freedom to resort to any means to stop it from achieving this, has caused an imbalance in international relations.

Nevertheless, the stances taken by Tehran have not helped to bring such an imbalance to light, but in fact have contributed to feeding weariness of Iran’s procrastination, defiance and arrogance – the most recent instance of this being the call made by Iran’s Supreme Leader for increasing uranium enrichment to 60 percent, not just to 20 percent, a rate that had been rejected in the first place, in addition to his pledge that Iran would defend the regime in Damascus even with its armies.

An atmosphere of political panic prevails in the region, and portends that the climate of war will reach Iran as well, even if not before the U.S. presidential elections in November. So far, Russia seems mobilized for war to take revenge for the insult, imposing itself as a player that wagers on the weakness of American resolve in confrontation, and the desire of the American people to avoid getting implicated. Furthermore, there is Obama’s need for a “timeout”, in parallel with Europe’s failure to act due to its economic crisis, as well as the structural hatred that exists in the Third World for America’s monopoly of the position of superpower, and distrust of America as a partner because of its time-honored reputation of abandoning its partners and betraying them in the midst of the battle,

All of this does not make of Russia’s stance a mature and strategic policy that is aware of its interests on the long term. Perhaps wisdom will find its way to Russian policy to replace this nationalist hysteria, which does not befit Russia, under the slogan of revenge for a feigned insult.

(The writer is a columnist at al-Hayat daily. The article was published in the London-based daily on August 03, 2012)

Iran ‘successfully’ test-fires upgraded short-range missile

Iran frequently holds missile tests and military maneuvers to underline its muscle should it come under external threat. (AP)Iran has fired an upgraded version of its Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missile in a “successful” test of its ability to hit stationary land or sea targets, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Saturday, according to state television.

Vahidi said the missile now has a range of “more than 300 kilometers” (190 miles) and can be fired at “targets in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman as well as land-based targets,” the IRIB channel reported.

He called the missile a “deterrent” and said “it will only be used against those who have bad intentions towards the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

He did not say when or where the missile was tested.

Previous versions of the missile have been tested since 2001 and were reported to have a range of 150-250 kilometers.

Iran frequently holds missile tests and military maneuvers to underline its muscle should it come under external threat.

Such exercises have multiplied this year amid growing tensions with the West and Israeli threats of possible air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.