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FO Claims Captured Iranian Border Guards Not in Pakistan; Iran Threatens Use of Special Forces for Rescue

Since word emerged on Sunday that Jeish Al-Adl executed one of the five Iranian border guards that had been abducted last month, there has been a very interesting series of developments between Iran and Pakistan. Iran has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to lodge a formal complaint about the death and Pakistan’s apparent inability to find the terrorist group and release the hostages. Iran’s Foreign Minister also sent an open letter to the UN, appealing for help in controlling “state sponsored” groups that are responsible for this and other attacks on Iran. Pakistan, meanwhile, has announced today that they don’t believe the border guards are being held in Pakistan. Complicating matters even further, Iran now is claiming that it would be within their right to employ special forces in a raid on Pakistani territory to release the hostages and kill those responsible for the kidnapping.

The summoning of the ambassador seemed innocuous enough:

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Tehran over Iranian kidnapped guard’s death and expressed strong objections to Pakistan for lack of control of its borders.

Deputy Director General of the department of West Asian countries of Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed Islamic Republic of Iran’s objection on Iranian border guards’ abduction and their transfer to Pakistan emphasizing on Iran’s demand for their release, health and also delivering the terrorists to Iran.

He continued “Pakistan should have proper control over its borders and prevent recurrence of such events unless two countries’ good relations would be affected.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran, Noor Mohammad Jadmani, offered condolences for one of the Iranian abducted guard’s death in Pakistan and expressed regret for the terrorist incident.

“Pakistan is also worried about the growth of terrorist actions and extremism.” added he and that “Pakistan will not let such incidents be repeated again and affect the two countries’ relations.”

Likewise, the letter to the UN starts off as normal diplomacy, but it eventually gets to some fairly broad claims about attacks on Iran:

It is extremely regrettable that all available evidence indicate that these cowardly acts of terror targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have been perpetrated by State-sponsored extremist groups, with similar patterns of funding, coordination, support and direction.  The entire international community should be alarmed by the regional and extra-regional ramifications of sectarian tension and extremist violence, which are being systematically organized, sponsored and orchestrated in various parts of our region. In fact, learning from recent history, a sober assessment of the medium and long-term implications of this dangerous trend will show that the very sponsors of such hatred, who for ill-conceived interests have hastily resorted to such short-sighted tactics to remedy their strategic miscalculations and failures, stand to lose the most from the sectarian and extremist violence that they are spreading.

What a strange passage. In protesting attacks against themselves, it appears that the Iranians are making a not very veiled threat to carry out their own “sectarian and extremist violence” against those they perceive to be behind the attacks.

The Express Tribune provides a bit more perspective on Iran’s distrust of Saudi Arabia being behind this part of the letter: Read more

Meanwhile, Back in Syria…

The last time I checked in on Syria, there was much consternation over the delays in getting Syria’s chemical weapons precursors sent to the staging area in Latakia so that they can be moved on to the next steps in the process that will eventually result in destruction of the chemicals at sea aboard the Cape Ray. I had noted that stories covering the delay had put all of the blame on Syria for not moving the chemicals (even though they were said already to be at “marshaling” spots) while ignoring that the US was over a month late in making the Cape Ray ready. There has now been a third batch of chemicals sent to Latakia by Syria, but the amount shipped represents a small fraction of the materials to be removed. Despite this, Syria still maintains that the the June deadline for full destruction of the materials will be met.

Going further back, recall that back in September, we were hearing about how wonderful General Salim Idriss is. We were told that he was a moderate (well, that is if we ignore the fellow from his forces who eat hearts of dead foes) and that he had a foolproof plan for maintaining control of arms we shipped to him. It turns out that Idriss wasn’t much of a leader after all. Idriss now has been removed:

The sudden replacement of the Free Syrian Army commander is the strongest sign yet that the rebel group is restructuring to address concerns of its Western backers that it fight both the regime and extremist opposition factions.

Gen. Salim Idriss, the public face of the FSA for the past 14 months, leaves ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states to rebels aligned with his group.

Complaints against Gen. Idriss have been mounting for some time. His critics said his forces were ineffective and he was too slow to deliver weapons to fighters.

It’s all about the weapons when it comes to “aid” for the Syrian rebels. And Idriss’ control of those weapons? How about this in The Guardian’s coverage of Idriss’ sacking:

The Islamic Front recently seized weapons warehouses from the FSA.

Gosh, I sure hope Idriss got the Islmaic Front to give him a handwritten receipt for those weapons.

But did you notice that bit in the quote above from the Wall Street Journal article, where we learn that Idriss’ removal comes “ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states”? Iran explains to us in a Fars News article that this really means the weapons will come from Saudi Arabia: Read more

Iran-Pakistan Border Incidents Continue

The last time we checked in on the ongoing incidents along the Iran-Pakistan border, fourteen Iranian border guards had been killed on October 25 in an attack and Iran had promptly executed sixteen prisoners the next day in retaliation. A subgroup within Jundallah, Jeish Al-Adl, was credited for the attack, and Iran made veiled accusations about what countries might be backing the group.

A bit later, on November 5, an Iranian legislator (who seems to make mostly hard-liner pronouncements) publicly accused the United States and Pakistan’s ISI of being behind Jeish Al-Adl’s actions:

An Iranian lawmaker says the US and Pakistani intelligence services lead the Pakistan-based Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group responsible for the recent deadly attack on Iranian border guards.

“The key point in this case is the role that US spy agencies play by means of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in conducting such terrorist attacks. This issue has been confirmed in the meeting between representatives of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and members of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee,” Javad Karimi Qoddousi said on Monday.

He added, “The direct affiliation of these groups to US spy agencies and the ISI’s control over such terrorist outfits have been authenticated.”

The next day, a prosecutor in the border town of Zabol was killed. Jeish Al-Adl quickly claimed responsibility:

The Sunni armed group Jaish-ul Adl has claimed responsibility for the assassination of a public prosecutor in Iran’s southeast, media reports say.

Thursday’s reports came a day after Mousa Nouri – prosecutor of the city of Zabol, which lies near the Afghan border in Sistan-Baluchestan province – was slain in a “terrorist attack,” according to officials.

Jaish-ul Adl, the rebel group formed last year whose name means Army of Justice in Arabic, said in a statement Wednesday night that the killing was carried out in retaliation for a mass hanging last week.

“After the hanging of 16 innocent young Baluchis, the fighters decided to take revenge and kill a judicial official,” read the statement posted on the group’s website, jaishuladl.blogspot.fr.

/snip/

Security forces later killed four rebels in a separate clash near Mirjaveh, a town close to the border with Pakistan, officials said last week.

But Iran announced on November 18 that they had captured the prosecutor’s killers. They went to great lengths to point out that the killers were drug smugglers unrelated to Jeish Al-Adl: Read more

The $3 Billion Saudi Pledge to Lebanon: Military Support, Extradition Fee or Hit Job Payment?

Back in November, two bomb blasts in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed 23 people. From the very beginning, it was known that an al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades was responsible for the attack. In a fascinating sequence of events, we have learned that the mastermind of the attack, Majed al-Majed, died in Lebanese custody. Iran claims that Majed had very strong ties to Saudi Arabia, and specifically to Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan. In a very interesting twist, Saudi Arabia announced a pledge of $3 billion to Lebanon, ostensibly to be used to buy weapons from France. The announcement most likely came after Majed had been arrested but before news reports had leaked out about his detention, although news reports vary widely on when and where he was detained.

The announcement of the Saudi pledge to Lebanon came on December 29:

Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn for the Lebanese army, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman announced, calling it the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces.

/snip/

“The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3bn to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities,” Suleiman said in a televised address on Sunday.

He said the funds would allow Lebanon’s military to purchase French weapons.

An AFP report suggested that Majed was arrested around December 26:

An Al-Qaeda-linked Saudi suspect detained in Lebanon is being held in a military hospital because “he is in poor health”, a medical official told AFP Friday.

/snip/

The doctor who had been treating Majid before his arrest without knowing who he was said he suffers from kidney failure and requires regular dialysis.

“On December 26, the hospital where Majid was being treated contacted the Red Cross to arrange his transfer to another hospital,” said the source.

But before the suspect arrived at the second facility, “the Lebanese army intelligence intercepted the ambulance and arrested Majid,” the source said, adding that neither the hospital nor the ambulance teams had prior knowledge of who Majid was.

In its announcement on January 1 of Majed’s arrest, the New York Times has highly conflicting information about when the arrest took place. First, this bit suggests they were working under the assumption that the arrest was near the January 1 date of the article:

He was taken into custody just three days after Saudi Arabia pledged a $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese Army.

But near the end of this same article, the Times suggests that he was in custody as early as December 15 (clearly before the Saudi pledge was announced):

While it is not known when Mr. Majid was detained, Hezbollah’s television channel Al Manar quoted Lebanese security officials as saying that an attack on a security checkpoint on Dec. 15 near Sidon and the Ein al-Hilwe camp was an attempt by militants to free him.

Given the additional detail and reporting from doctors involved in his treatment, the AFP report seems to me to be more reliable, placing Majed’s arrest after December 26, but most likely not very long after that date since a patient requiring dialysis cannot put if off for very many days.

The Times report suggests that Saudi Arabia considered Majed to be a criminal: Read more

After Petraeus Paid Them For Peace, Are Sunnis of Anbar Now Paid by Bandar For Killing?

Iraq has been seeping back into the headlines lately, as civilian deaths there have now reached a level last seen in 2008. What is striking about this increase is that it did not occur until almost 18 months after the last US troops left Iraq.

Here is a screen capture of the latest data on civilian deaths in Iraq by Iraq Body Count:

IBC

Recall that the final US troops left Iraq in the middle of December, 2011. The civilian death rate had leveled off in 2010 and remained steady throughout all of 2012, not rising significantly until May of 2013. Recall that earlier this week, conclusions of a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan were leaked, suggesting that should the US completely withdraw troops from Afghanistan as we did in Iraq, the situation would deteriorate very rapidly. With Iraq now at high levels of violence, it would be very easy for politicians to lose sight of the very long gap between withdrawal of our troops and the rise in civilian deaths. Iraq should not be used as a cautionary tale against complete withdrawal though, since there was such a long gap between the withdrawal and the degradation of security.

Recall that David Petraeus was quick to accept praise for the drop in civilian death rates that began in late 2007 and continued throughout 2008. Many attributed this calming to Petraeus’ surge and others ascribed it to the “Anbar Awakening” that Petraeus exploited:

Controversially, he even started putting some Sunni groups – including some that had previously fought the U.S. – on the American payroll. The “Anbar Awakening” of Sunni groups willing to cooperate with the Americans had begun in 2005, but at a smaller scale. Petraeus recognized that the groups had real community influence and ability to bring security, whether he liked them or not, and brought them on board. At the program’s peak in 2008, the U.S. had “contracted” 103,000 fighters who were now ostensibly paid to assist an American-dominated peace rather than the disrupt it. That same year, according to Ricks, the U.S. signed ceasefire deals with 779 separate Iraqi militias.

Other analysts, especially Daniel Davis, came to the conclusion that most of the decline in violence was due to Sunni citizens in Anbar rejecting the extreme violence to which al Qaeda had sunk and especially its toll on fellow Muslims.

As is well known, the turning point in 2007 Iraq came when the heart of the Sunni insurgency turned against al-Qaeda and joined with US Forces against them, dramatically reducing the violence in Iraq almost overnight. The overriding reason the Sunni insurgency turned towards the United States was because after almost two years of internal conflict between what ought to have been natural allies – al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the greater Sunni insurgency – a tipping point was reached whereby the Iraqi Sunnis finally and decisively turned against AQI. Had this unnatural split not occurred, by all accounts I have been given on both the Iraqi side and the US military side, “we would still be fighting in Iraq today,” in the words of two officers I know who fought there.

Although there likely are many factors that contributed to the eventual outbreak of violence in Iraq that elevated civilian death rates, one possibility that intrigues me is that the timing fits reasonably well to be a part of Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan’s play for regional dominance. Marcy noted this week that the recent bombings in Russia fit with Bandar’s warning delivered to Putin in a secret meeting last July. But if we go back to the report on that meeting, we see this about Bandar’s regional plan and especially how it applied to Syria: Read more

With Deal in Sight, Pressure Mounts on All Sides for P5+1, Iran

Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.

Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:

A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.

Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.

But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.

Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.

The pending deal on Iran’s nuclear technology has been described by Al-Monitor: Read more

Who Is Behind Latest Iran-Pakistan Border Incident? Who Benefits?

Before diving into Friday night’s border incident where fourteen Iranian border guards were killed and Iran retaliated the next morning by hanging sixteen prisoners already in detention, we need to look back at the important events surrounding other such outbreaks of violence at the Iran-Pakistan border.

On January 1 of 2012, Pakistan detained three Iranian border guards whom they claimed had crossed into Pakistan. Details of the event were sketchy, but Iran claimed the guards were chasing drug smugglers and most of the stories on the event brought up the likely involvement of the group known as Jundallah. Less than two weeks later, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated on January 11. Only two days after that event, the famous “false flag” article by Mark Perry appeared in Foreign Policy, making the remarkable claim that Mossad agents were posing as CIA agents while recruiting members of Jundallah for operations including assassinations.  Marcy had a series of three posts (one, two, three) delving into the many implications surrounding the false flag accusation. Another border incident then happened in late January, where six “Pakistanis” were killed by Iranian border agents, but there was a lot of confusion over just who the victims were, including their nationality.

Here is how Reuters first broke the news Saturday on this latest incident:

Fourteen Iranian border guards were killed and three others captured by “bandits” on the southeastern frontier with Pakistan overnight, Iranian media reported on Saturday.

In response, the Iranian judiciary executed 16 people it said were elements of “terrorist” groups, according to the ISNA news agency. There were no further details of who they were or whether or when they had been tried.

A follow-up story by Dawn from Sunday has more details, with the identity of the attackers unknown (but Jundallah is still mentioned prominently in the article):

It was still unclear whether the attackers were drug smugglers or armed opposition groups.

However, Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister Ali Abdollahi called on the Pakistani government to “take measures to control the border more seriously.”

Pakistan’s charge d’affaires was received at the Iranian foreign ministry to receive an official demand that Islamabad “act firmly with officials and members of terrorist groups who have fled to Pakistani territory,” IRNA reported.

The Dawn article also notes a second, separate border incident on Sunday in which one Pakistani was killed and four others were wounded.

Responsibility for the attack has now been claimed by a group known as Jeish Al-Adl:

A little-known Iranian Sunni group says it carried out the killing of 14 border guards on Friday night.

Jaish al-Adl said the attack was in retaliation for an alleged Iranian “massacre” in Syria and the “cruel treatment” of Sunnis in Iran.

Iran is now saying that they are a subgroup within Jundallah:

14 Iranian border guards were killed and 6 more were injured during the terrorist attack in Saravan border region in Southeastern Iran in the early hours of Saturday morning. The terrorists who have reportedly been members of the outlawed Jeish Al-Adl radical Sunni Wahhabi movement affiliated to the terrorist Jundollah group fled into Pakistan after the operation in Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province.

It seems quite interesting to me that Iran would point out the “radical Sunni Wahhabi” connection of the group they are blaming. Of course, the primary sponsor of “radical Sunni Wahhabi” teachings is Saudi Arabia through their madrassas. But Iran seems to be dancing around an outright referral to Saudi involvement in this attack, even though it would make sense since we know that Bandar is now very upset both with the US “failure” to launch a strike on the Assad regime in Syria and the US diplomatic push toward Iran. This same Fars News article doesn’t name names, but refers to “two countries” providing financial support and “three countries” providing intelligence and equipment to them: Read more

Shot By Government Forces or Victim of His Own Bomb: How Did Bahrain Teen Die?

The situation in Bahrain continues to spiral out of control. As Human Rights Watch noted, Barack Obama even included a reference to sectarian tensions there threatening democracy and regional stability in his September address to the UN General Assembly, but the US ambassador promptly walked the statement back, extolling Bahrain’s position as a “progressive outpost in the Middle East”. More recently, a document has leaked in which Bahrain is seeking over a million and a half canisters of tear gas. That’s more than one canister per citizen of the country. As the New York Times reports, the US has blocked shipment of tear gas to Bahrain (most likely because of all the photos that were posted of “Made in USA” stamps on the canisters used when the government first began cracking down and were still seen up to a year later, but the Times doesn’t mention that bit).

Today, we learn of the tragic death of Ali Khalil al-Sabbagh, who was only seventeen. How he died is very much dependent on whose story you accept. Here is a video report from Reuters:

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELD0VV7ZZuk’]

Dead at the hands of his own bomb. Hmm. The last time bombs were an issue in Bahrain, there were a number of questions about whether “activists” or John Timoney’s infiltrators were responsible. PressTV has a very different explanation for what happened, and they even have a gruesome photo that appears to support their contention that al-Sabbagh was shot in the head by government forces:

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=118p0IFOhnQ’]

About the only issue on which the competing narratives agree is that the Bahraini government wanted to arrest al-Sabbagh. PressTV notes that his father now has been arrested, as well.

How the US responds to Bahrain’s continuing human rights violations will be very interesting to follow as one of the many areas that could be impacted by the growing rift between the US and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are the primary backers of Bahrain’s minority Sunni ruling family. Iran, to whom the US may be at least partially pivoting, supports Bahrain’s majority Shiite citizens. With US-Saudi relations cooling, the base for the US Fifth Fleet now becomes the only US tie to Bahrain’s government.

Journalists Grope Blindly Around Syria CW Destruction Without Discovering Need for Ceasefire

Please support Marcy’s continued efforts to lead us through the weeds of obfuscation. The Emptywheel fundraiser is nearing its final push.

In my post yesterday morning on the French move to submit a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to an international group for their safe destruction, I noted that this process naturally would require an immediate ceasefire. My underlying assumption was that the need for a ceasefire would be obvious to anyone giving the situation any thought.  Personnel will need to move freely about the country to find and log the materials that will need to be destroyed. These materials will need to be moved to central locations for incineration or chemical processing to render them safe. If the personnel and the dangerous materials they will be transporting are attacked indiscriminately, the risk of releasing huge quantities of very dangerous agents looms large and the very process of trying to prevent civilian deaths could instead to lead to widespread lethal exposure.

Sadly, as I noted in the post, the French proposal does not appear to include a call for a ceasefire. Now that Russia is opposing the proposed language (because it calls for Syria to admit it carried out the August 21 attack and it includes a mandate for military action if Syria does not comply with the resolution), the opportunity exists for a new proposal to add the concept of a ceasefire.

Even more sad, though, is how our two leading bastions of foreign policy journalism, the New York Times and Washington Post, addressed the issue of how the chemical stockpiles can be destroyed. Both noted how “difficult” the process will be during the ongoing hostilities, but neither managed to point out the necessity of a ceasefire.

Here is how the Times addressed the issue:

As difficult as it may be to reach a diplomatic solution to head off a United States strike on Syria, the details of enforcement are themselves complex and uncertain, people with experience monitoring weapons facilities said.

Syria would first have to provide specifics about all aspects of its chemical weapons program. But even that step would require negotiation to determine exactly what should be declared and whether certain systems would be covered, because many delivery systems for chemical weapons — including artillery, mortars and multiple-rocket launchers — can also fire conventional weapons.

Then, experts said, large numbers of foreign troops would almost certainly be needed to safeguard inspectors working in the midst of the civil war.

“We’re talking boots on the ground,” said one former United Nations weapons inspector from Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works in the field on contracts and did not want to hurt his chances of future employment. “We’re not talking about just putting someone at the gate. You have to have layers of security.”

Of course, many more “boots on the ground” are needed to protect the inspectors if there has not been a ceasefire negotiated and agreed to by both the Syrian government and the many factions of rebels fighting them. The Times even trots out the Pentagon estimate of how many troops would be required to secure the weapons in an invasion scenario:

A Pentagon study concluded that doing so would take more than 75,000 troops. That rough estimate has been questioned, but the official said it gave “a sense of the magnitude of the task.”

The Post does no better in its quest for just how the weapons could be secured and destroyed:

As diplomats wrangled over competing plans for securing Syria’s chemical weapons, arms-control experts warned Tuesday of the formidable challenges involved in carrying out such a complex and risky operation in the midst of a raging civil war.

U.N. teams dispatched to Syria for the mission would be attempting something new: finding and safeguarding a long-
hidden arsenal in a country that has long stood outside key international arms-control agreements — all while exposed to crossfire from Syria’s warring factions.

Poor Joby Warrick and his associates just can’t conceive of how the “crossfire” could end, even though the process of sending in the inspectors begins through UN negotiations.

Yes, there are many different factions on the “rebel” side in this conflict, but even brief investigation shows that many of them are actually proxies for several of the foreign powers that claim to have “interests” in Syria. A UN resolution that has at its heart a ceasefire would be a huge step toward showing that all of the various countries supporting militias in Syria intend to provide the opportunity for safe destruction of what could be the third largest repository of chemical weapons in the world. Although a truly international force of armed peacekeepers likely will be needed, sending them in without a ceasefire already negotiated would make the whole process of rounding up and destroying the chemical weapons a recipe for a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

Of course, a true optimist would note that a ceasefire would open the door to discussions to defuse political tensions within Syria while the process of destroying the chemical weapons is carried out. That would of course thwart those whose real objective is regime change in Syria through violent means but would perhaps create the opportunity for peaceful regime change. Is the world finally ready to give peace a chance after twelve years of unfocused rage?

Rush to Syrian War: What About US Relations With Iran and Russia?

Today’s New York Times opens its article on the effects a US attack on Syria would have on the efforts by the US to halt Iran’s development of nuclear technology by framing the question from the militaristic point of view that we must be “strong”:

As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.

And it is this need for the US to be tough (and for Obama to prove that he has a big d) that seems to be dominating virtually all of the media coverage of the push to get Congressional authorization for a strike. At least the Times does realize there is a very important flip side to that position, though, and that we may now be on the brink of more substantial talks with Iran than we have had in a long time. Here are the next few paragraphs:

But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.

Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.

At the same time, the sultan of Oman, who has often served as an intermediary between the United States and Iran, was in Tehran meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It is not lost on Iran that the AUMF for action in Syria is written broadly enough that US military action could spill over into Iran. A Fars News article dated yesterday cites the Jack Goldsmith analysis of the draft AUMF that foresees US action in Iran:

Goldsmith asked whether the proposed AUMF authorizes the President to use force against Iran or Lebanon’s Hezbollah, in Iran or Lebanon? Again, yes, if the President accuses Iran or Hezbollah of having a (mere) connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and the use of force against Iran or Hezbollah would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the US or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons. Again, it is very easy to imagine.

The article continues, noting (as Marcy has many times) how the 9/11 AUMF has been interpreted broadly: Read more