Friday, July 11, 2014

Bogus Assessments of Iran's ICBM Capability Finally Explode

For years, Israeli politicians and their willing mouthpieces in the American press and punditocracy have maintained that Iran, in addition to feverishly working to build nuclear weapons, will have acquired the ability to affix an atomic bomb to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the United States by the year 2015.

This claim eagerly exploited the boilerplate assessments of U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Air Force intelligence, which not only date back over a decade, but also base their conclusions on unlikely scenarios.

In a recent Pentagon report, however, this assessment has finally changed, putting to rest this common alarmist talking point so often trotted out by those wishing to exaggerate - if not wholly invent - the threat posed to Israel and the United States by Iran.

"An unclassified executive summary of the Annual Report on Military Power of Iran, dated January 2014 and not previously reported, does not -- unlike past years -- offer an assessment of the technical feasibility of Iran's potential to demonstrate an ICBM capable of reaching the United States in 2015," reports Jason Sherman of "Instead, the two-page executive summary states: 'Iran has publicly stated it may launch a space launch vehicle by 2015 that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as a ballistic missile.'"

The assessment that such a vehicle could be reconfigured to deliver a nuclear warhead is the Pentagon's suggestion, not that of Iran's. To the contrary, Iranian leaders have routinely and explicitly insisted they will never seek to acquire nuclear weapons and are not developing long-range missiles.

This is certainly a break from the long history of Iranian ICBM hysteria. Back in 1993, a CIA estimate delivered to Congress claimed that Iran was "10 to 15 years" away from possessing the capability to "indigenously produce an ICBM" capable of hitting to continental United States. A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, drawn from the conclusions of all 16 American intelligence agencies, similarly assessed Iran would have such long-range missiles by 2010. Three years later, in 1998, a Republican-sponsored commission on ballistic missiles - chaired by none other than then-former and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - concluded that Iran could "produce ballistic missiles with sufficient range to strike the United States" within five years.

Benjamin Netanyahu - then (as now) the Prime Minister of Israel - seized upon this assessment to bolster his own hawkish propaganda. On October 1, 1998, The Washington Times published an article headlined, "Iran's Long-Range Missile Plans Worry Netanyahu: Says U.S. Cities May Be Targeted."

"Iran is pushing ahead with a multibillion-dollar program to develop missiles capable of reaching American cities," the report cited Netanyahu as saying. Such missiles would soon be able "to reach the Eastern seaboard" of the United States, he added.

Similarly, U.S. intelligence assessments have, since 1999, consistently noted that, with the aid of foreign governments, Iran would acquire ICBM capability by 2015. For instance, a National Air Intelligence Center report from 2000 concluded, "With continued foreign assistance, Iran could have an ICBM capable of reaching the United States before 2015." This language was repeated verbatim in every subsequent Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat assessment for the next decade.

While in September 2009, Reuters reported that the most recent "National Intelligence Estimate deemed Tehran unlikely to have a long-range missile until between 2015 and 2020," by April 2013, the Pentagon release yet another finding to Congress that read: "With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

In February 2012, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon declared that Iran was "getting ready to produce a missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers." Just weeks later, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz - a Netanyahu acolyte and frequent Iran hysteric - said that Iran is "working now and investing a lot of billions of dollars in order to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles." He added that "we estimate that in two to three years they will have the first intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the east coast of America. So their aim is to put a direct nuclear ballistic threat... to Europe and to the United States of America."

On September 26, 2012, Iran attack enthusiast John Bolton opined, "Tehran is perilously close to achieving nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for worldwide delivery," and called for an immediate military assault to stem the threat.

Later that year, in early December 2012, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on "Iran's Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs," cast doubt on the oft-repeated timeframe, noting, "It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015" and concluding that, in the absence of a deliverable nuclear warhead, "the proliferation of Iranian ballistic missiles is arguably not an imminent significant threat."

Nevertheless, in July 2013, a Pentagon report compiling the findings of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, repeated the claim. "Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force," the report said, adding, "Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

Shortly thereafter, on July 14, 2013, Netanyahu resurrected the claim, telling an obsequious Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" that Iran is busy "building ICBMs to reach the American mainland in a few years." Two and a half months later, before the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu declared that Iran is actively developing "intercontinental ballistic missiles," in order "to carry nuclear warheads," adding that "Iran is building now ICBMs that the United States says could reach this city [New York] in three or four years."

Despite their constant repetition by deceitful intelligence officials, uninformed politicians and agenda-driven journalists, in recent years these conclusions have been routinely dismissed by anyone with any knowledge of the actual intelligence. That Iran, which has never demonstrated any interest nor inclination to pursue ICBM capability, would acquire and test such technology by 2015 is not merely a gross exaggeration, it is an outright impossibility.

In 2001, the U.S. intelligence community revealed the truth behind their own reporting lexicon. The word "could" - so often utilized in alarmist assessments - actually translates to something closer to is unlikely to. "We judge that countries are much less likely to test as early as the hypothetical 'could' dates than they are by our projected 'likely' dates," stated a National Intelligence report entitled, "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat.

In 2012, Paul Pillar, former CIA National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, admitted, "The bottom line is that the intelligence community does not believe [the Iranians] are anywhere close to having an ICBM." A year ago, Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association noted, "Missile expert Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has expressed doubts about whether an operational Iranian ICBM is even likely within the current decade."

Moreover, a November 2013 analysis produced by Elleman revealed that "neither the U.S. nor Israel cite evidence that Iran is actively developing or 'building' ICBMs." He also told journalist Gareth Porter, "I've seen no evidence of Iranian ICBM development, let alone a capability." In an October 2013 article on this very issue, Porter writes, "Iran has not even displayed, much less tested, a larger version of its existing space launch vehicle that would be a necessary step toward an ICBM, according to David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists." Iran's current vehicle is suitable only for launching a small satellite into orbit, Wright told Porter.

The new Pentagon report is noteworthy for its focus on Iran's space launch vehicle, rather than any hypothetical or exaggerated ICBM work. Thielmann explains, "I would regard that as a significant change of language, meaning that the U.S. intelligence community is losing confidence in their earlier prediction of 2015 which has been very heavily quoted, of course, by friends of missile defense and others wishing to pump up the Iranian threat."

As nuclear negotiations continue to progress in Vienna toward their July 20 deadline, long-standing alarmist talking points about Iran's nuclear energy and defense programs continue to crumble.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Time Is Running Out - Iraq Edition

Whenever the United States or its partners in war crimes face a seemingly intractable foreign adversary - one that refuses to simply yield to Western domination or diktat - the "ticking clock" paradigm is invoked, lending a fierce urgency to the threats, ultimatums, and bullying demands made by government officials. For them, time is always running out.

Whether it's the non-existent "two-state solution" in Israel/Palestine, hysterical predictions made about a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapon or the deadline for Iranian capitulation to outrageous U.S. and Israel commands, Western intervention in the bloody Syrian civil war, a timeframe for pulling occupation troops out of Iraq, a timeframe the quell the power struggles in Iraq, a countdown before complete anarchy or U.S. airstrikes in Iraq... you name it, it's always the same refrain. Time is running out.

This phrase is almost always a bluff - political bluster meant to convey seriousness and resolve. It is always spit outward, absolving its speaker of any actual responsibility. Case in point: John Kerry's new op-ed on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions.

Only once in recent memory was this rhetorical device actually acted upon. The action taken - the supreme international crime, as the Nuremberg Tribunal described it: the initiation of a war of aggression - was the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

It is no surprise that Kerry - a man who himself voted to give George W. Bush the authority to destroy an entire country - evokes that same haunted ultimatum with Iran.

As a reminder of the build-up to the Iraq invasion, that unspeakable crime against humanity, below is a collection - far from exhaustive - of media headlines dating back to 1998:

Orlando Sentinel, February 9, 1998:

The New York Times, August 27, 2002:

Associated Press, September 9, 2002:

BBC NewsSeptember 15, 2002:

BBC NewsJanuary 14, 2003:

Fox NewsJanuary 18, 2003:

American Forces Press ServiceJanuary 20, 2003:

The Sydney Morning Herald, January 21, 2003:

Council on Foreign Relations, January 23, 2003:

PBS Newshour, January 23, 2003:

American Forces Press Service, January 27, 2003:

Associated Press, January 29, 2003:

The New York Times, January 31, 2003:


Friday, June 27, 2014

Breaking Bazaar: A Rare Change in Rhetoric May Signal American Sincerity Toward Iran

"...pathologies often help policy makers justify action at times when no vital, tangible interests are otherwise at stake. When pathology defines reality, policies become the opposite of what rational analyses of national interest would suggest is appropriate."
- Christopher Fettweis, Pathologies of Power
"We don't really know what it means, but I for sure don't trust the Iranians. It's some kind of a ruse and whatever they are up to, it's no good."
- Rep. Eliot Engel, March 24, 2014

Nuclear talks between six world powers (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany - known as the P5+1) and Iran have hit the homestretch this summer, with a comprehensive and final agreement expected by July 20.

It'll be a tough slog for sure - with competing interests, false narratives, and plenty of propaganda at play - but a recent comment by an official close to the talks is cause for optimism.

For as long as one can remember, and certainly as long as the Islamic Republic of Iran has existed - 35 years now - and engaged with sporadic negotiations with the United States over various issues, Western perceptions of Iranian interlocutors and their leaders have been consistently defined by Orientalist stereotypes. Chief among these, perhaps, is that Iranians simply are not to be trusted due to their inherently devious "Persian psyche" and genetic predisposition to a "bazaar mentality" of shifty rug merchants and ancient masters of duplicity and deception. Therefore, it follows, diplomacy is futile and force inevitable.

A confidential cable, sent by two American diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the turbulent aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution, analyzed "the underlying cultural and psychological qualities" of their Iranian counterparts in the nascent Islamic government, noting "the so-called 'bazaar mentality' so common among Persians."

The August 13, 1979 cable warned that "one should be prepared for the threat of breakdown in negotiations at any given moment and not be cowed by this possibility. Given the Persian negotiator's cultural and psychological limitations, he is going to resist the very concept of a rational (from the Western point of view) negotiating process."

This script has been dutifully followed ever since.

For instance, in advance of proposed talks between the United States and Iran in 2006, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote in the New York Times that "our negotiators should prepare themselves for what might be called 'bazaar behavior.'" He added that, unlike the straightforward Chinese, the Iranian "negotiating style is likely to resemble that of a Middle Eastern marketplace, with outlandish demands, feints at abandoning the process and haggling over minor details up to the very last moment."

Before new negotiations in 2008, Fouad Ajami wrote in U.S. News and World Report that Washington officials were headed "Back to the Iranian Bazaar." The next year, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen declared, "These Persians lie like a rug." In 2010, Michael Adler wrote, "Stopping Iran from getting the bomb may require embracing a Middle East tradition: haggling over the price," in a Foreign Policy ;piece entitled, "The Nuclear Bazaar."

Following the election of Hassan Rouhani, himself a former lead nuclear negotiator, as president of Iran, the reaction was swift: "Time to enter the Iranian bazaar on the nuclear issue," insisted David Peyman in the Jewish Journal on June 17, 2013, three days after the vote.

That September, noting the recent change in tone by the Obama administration toward the Iranians and anticipating Rouhani's speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli columnist Smadar Peri warned that the Americans may have been fooled by "a trick in the spirit of the Persian bazaar."

Later that month, the Washington Post reported that "One [senior Israeli] official compared the Americans to tourists wandering into a Middle East bazaar. 'The Persians have been using these tactics for thousands of years, before America came to be.'"

Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen described Iran as "a land where straight talk and virtue are not widely seen to overlap," and Florida Senator Marco Rubio called Iran "a country run by evil liars" during an October 3, 2013 meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As negotiations progressed in early November 2013, Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the hawkish, pro-Israel Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times that "the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally out negotiated" and the Daily Beast that it "sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him."

Similarly, according to Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, the naive P5+1 is simply outmatched by the wily Persian snake charmers: "The world’s great bazaaris are chuckling because they've just sold their nuclear weapons program to the world's worst bargainers," she wrote in a post entitled, "Iran rips off the West in the nuclear bazaar."

In mid-November, Chuck Freilich, a former officer in the Israeli military and senior analyst at Israel's Ministry of Defense, who is now a fellow at both Harvard and the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), warned in The National Interest that Iran's "unprecedented charm offensive" and diplomatic posture following the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani is a means by which the Iranians are "trying to take the international community on a Persian carpet ride."

Days later, on November 19, 2013, TIME's Jerusalem bureau chief Karl Vick wrote, "Iranians are masters of what has been termed “Oriental indirection” — which amounts to not quite saying what you mean, but getting your point across in a range of subtle ways." Following the link provided by Vick, it becomes clear who has used this term before: Vick himself, in a column published two months earlier.

On November 25, the day after the P5+1 signed an interim Joint Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic to much fanfare and optimism, an irate Eric Cantor, the House minority leader, bellowed, "Since when do we trust Iran?" adding that, in his expert opinion, "Iran has demonstrated again and again it cannot be trusted."

Throughout the winter, commentators on the anti-negotiation, pro-war Right issued repeated appeals against trusting Iranian sincerity in the hopes of swaying public opinion away from diplomacy and toward military action.

In December 2013, California Congressman Duncan Hunter told C-SPAN that Iranian negotiators are "not trustworthy," adding, "It is part of the Middle East culture [to] do anything you can... to get the best deal."

In January 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime head of the highly influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, spoke to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz about Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, an outspoken proponent of the current nuclear talks. "He's a charming guy," Hoenlein said, "I don't dispute it. He's intelligent and clever. Iranian President Hassan Rohani is also clever." He then added: "But we forget: These guys have been 'bazaaris' [bazaar merchants] for 2,000 years, while we come in as novices. They can run circles around us. They know how to negotiate and how to manipulate every situation."

With a positive atmosphere still surrounding the ongoing nuclear negotiations toward a final deal, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon voiced his government's dissatisfaction with the cooling of tensions and military threat in a speech at Tel Aviv University this past March. "We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States," he said. "But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better."

Just last week, Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran adviser now with the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, opined, "Iranians are great negotiators — except sometimes they outwit themselves."

The repetition of such tropes is so constant, that even the conservative Economist couldn't take anymore, writing last year,
Somebody has got to put a stop to this whole "Persian bazaar" rhetorical fixation. It's ridiculous, it's ethnically offensive, and its entire purpose is to serve as a smokescreen for disastrously violent policies backed by militarists in Israel and in neo-conservative American circles, by making American voters worry that they are being taken for chumps by those devilishly clever double-dealers from the souks of Tehran. One wonders: have any of these people attempted to negotiate with, say, Jamie Dimon or Mitch McConnell? Do they believe that cutthroat negotiators are more prevalent in the Middle East than in Manhattan or Washington?
Talking points like these have, in fact, already led to war. A New York Times op-ed penned by Condoleezza Rice and published on January 23, 2003 ran with the declarative headline, "Why We Know Iraq Is Lying." After spouting the Bush administration's propaganda with the utmost seriousness, Rice concluded:
Many questions remain about Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and arsenal -- and it is Iraq's obligation to provide answers. It is failing in spectacular fashion. By both its actions and its inactions, Iraq is proving not that it is a nation bent on disarmament, but that it is a nation with something to hide. Iraq is still treating inspections as a game. It should know that time is running out.
Exactly ten years and one day later, John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
[W]e must resolve the questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program. The President has made it definitive--we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I repeat here today: our policy is not containment. It is prevention and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.
When it comes to preventing American bombs from dropping on Middle Easterners, the clock is always ticking and time is always running out.

And, again, the accusations against Iran oftentimes mirror those made with Iraq. For years now, government officials and agenda-driven commentators have demanded that Iran be forced to confess to past weapons work and nefarious intent, despite the overwhelming evidence that no such work nor motivations ever existed.

"The Iranians have a strategic choice to make," George W. Bush told reporters in December 2007. "They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities" and suspend their enrichment program, Bush declared, "or they can continue on a path of isolation."

Never mind that, in 2003, the Associated Press revealed, "A confidential U.N. nuclear agency report has found 'no evidence' to back U.S. claims that Iran tried to make atomic arms," or that, in 2004, Reuters reported that "analysis of soil samples taken by U.N. inspectors at Lavizan, a site in Tehran that U.S. officials suspect may be linked to an atomic weapons program, shows no sign of nuclear activity." These findings have been consistent for years, and there has never been credible evidence showing Iran has, or has ever had, a nuclear weapons program.

Furthermore, all of the outstanding issues that originally compelled the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran's nuclear file to the UN Security Council have already been resolved in Iran's favor. Remaining allegations have never been proven authentic nor presented in full to Iran. Despite the fabricated claims of Iranian malfeasance and manufactured threat of weapons work that never happened, and the fact that Iran has fully complied with every aspect of the interim agreement with the P5+1, demands that Iran prove a negative and "come clean" about its nefarious past continue to proliferate.

While challenges to a comprehensive deal abound, there is still hope. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Iran is easing a key demand in negotiations with world powers" - that all sanctions be lifted simultaneously, rather than gradually, upon the signing of an agreement - "boosting prospects for the top-priority agreement that diplomats are racing to finish within a month."

But far more important was a rhetorical shift from the American side.

Back in October 2013, when the Obama administration first embarked on a series of new negotiations with Iran, Deputy Secretary of State and lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She urged Congress not to vote for a new round of unilateral sanctions, in favor of allowing diplomacy to progress without unnecessary provocation. During her testimony, Sherman tried to assuage suspicions over any alleged naiveté. Appealing to the traditional talking points about Persian perfidy, Sherman assured the Senators that, when it comes to the Iranians, "we know that deception is part of the DNA."

When subsequently questioned by the press about her comments and the Iranian reaction to them, Sherman and other State Department officials offered vague justification, rather than a mea culpa. Chalking it up to a "misunderstanding," Sherman told Voice of America that "those words spoke to some deep mistrust that President Obama discussed, and that we have to really get over that mistrust. I think these nuclear negotiations will help us to do so."

Such was the state of American political rhetoric at the time. After nine months of dedicated diplomacy, however, there's been a change.

On June 20, on the sidelines of the most recent talks in Vienna, Sherman (anonymously) spoke to members of the international press about the state of the negotiations. During the briefing, one unidentified reporter noted that one of the Iranian negotiators is from the central Iranian city of Isfahan, adding, "And Isfahanis are known for their bargaining powers, particularly in the bazaar there, the merchants in bazaar. I just wondered whether you think you have entered that kind of an atmosphere in these talks."

In response, Sherman said:
As far as Isfahan [goes], on my way here I watched the movie, "The Physician." For those of you who haven't seen it, it is about a young man from London who wants to go to Isfahan in the 15th century, because he has learned that's where you can go to become a doctor. And it's quite a fascinating movie. So I think Isfahan is known for many things, and I would hope that we are focused on the search for a solution, for a cure for this particular concern that we all have about the health of the world's security by ensuring that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and this program is exclusively peaceful.
By acknowledging that Iran is not merely an Orientalist construct of marketplaces, mosques, and caravanserais, Sherman shifted the conversation from one of caricature to one of consideration, from rhetoric to respect, hysteria to humanity. It demonstrated that, by shirking stereotypes, the prospects for a diplomatic solution to decades of enmity was not only possible, but probable.

This may have been just a small step for Sherman. But it was a giant leap toward breaking the propaganda.


Cross-posted at Muftah.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Melli vs. Messi:
Iran's Soccer Team Squares Off Against Sanctions, Shrinkage, and Argentina's 'La Selección'

Attempting to navigate a field of international rivals, under close scrutiny on a world stage, and achieve multilateral recognition before the window of opportunity closes in mid-July, top-level representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran have their work cut out for them this summer. While hopes for a positive outcome have waned of late, there is still time to turn things around.

This is not about the nuclear negotiations that continue apace in Vienna. No, I'm referring, of course, to Team Melli, the Iranian national soccer team, and their performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Following a lackluster outing against Nigeria this past week - which ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw, Iran faces by far its toughest competition Saturday afternoon at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, Brazil: the South American powerhouse and Group F favorite, Argentina.

The two teams have not met on the soccer pitch since a friendly match in Madrid back in 1977 which ended in a 1-1 tie. Here’s what Team Melli’s starting eleven looked like then:

And here's what they look like now:

Team Melli has heart and some solid defense, but crucially lacks a strong offense and, more importantly, vital funding. It has been announced already that Carlos Queiroz will step down as Iran's coach following the World Cup due to "a lack of government financial backing."

"Yes my connection will finish here at the World Cup," Queiroz told the press. "There was not support from the government - there has stopped being a genuine interest because of the financial situation."

A number of recent reports have told the tale of an under-supported and under-appreciated national team suffering from an Iranian economy ravaged by international sanctions.

Last week in Foreign Policy, John Duerden reported, "The Iranian Football Federation (IFF), the body that oversees all football activity in the country, has struggled to collect funds owed to it by international organizations due to a ban on financial transactions that were part of a tightened sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States in February 2012, which included expelling Iranian financial institutions from SWIFT, a global international banking system."

Queiroz, who coached the Portuguese national team in the 2010 World Cup, has long been frustrated with the dearth of resources. "Those who think Iran's national team will be successful with only 14 days of preparation, are either crazy or are living in Disneyland," he said in May.

This aggravation and embarrassment is shared by his players. "None of the promises turned into realities," Iran's captain Javad Nekounam told The National in May. "If we did not have good preparation games until the games start, there shouldn't be any expectations. Whatever happens, the authorities must be held responsible for the results."

Reporter Yeganeh Salehi added:
The Iranian Football Federation opted to order cheap, poor quality kits, and the federation’s president, Ali Kafashian, was reported to have told the players to wash them in cold water to avoid shrinkage. He also told players not to exchange shirts with opponents in Brazil, a common gesture of sportsmanship, as they do not have enough, Iranian media reported.
The lack of money has similarly led to the cancellation of training camps and a failure to schedule important friendly matches in advance of the big dance. Iran only faced low-ranked teams such as Guinea, Belarus, and Montenegro before traveling to the Brazil this month, despite being Asia's best team and current champion. A 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in Sao Paulo nevertheless boosted spirits before the World Cup kickoff.

Now it's time for Team Melli to square off against Argentina and the brilliant Lionel Messi. A daunting task, for sure, but Iranians aren't known for being easily intimidated.

"It's the biggest game in the history of Iranian football," Queiroz told the Associated Press. "We have never played against such an outstanding team as Argentina. The players wouldn't change this for the world."

He added, "I tell my boys, 'Try to find the net on the opposite side and when we have the ball, we go straight to them.'"

As Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Chile have already proven, the World Cup is a time for upsets.

Your Middle East contributor Alborz Habibi has compiled a handy compendium of reasons to root for the Iranian underdogs, citing Team Melli's attractive squad, its ethnic and cultural diversity, and environmental awareness and advocacy, among others.

While a trip to the knockout round may be a long shot, wishful thinking and a little faith go a long way. As diplomats work tirelessly in Vienna to end three-and-a-half decades of enmity between the United States and Iran, can history also be made on the pitch at Belo Horizonte?

"Nothing is certain," notes Queiroz. "That's the beauty of this World Cup."

It is indeed a beautiful game, and, with a stockpile of hope enriched with a heap of luck, there may yet be beautiful horizons ahead.


Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Mr. Netanyahu Crows to Washington (A Brief Retrospective)

(Photo Credit: Platon)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves recycling dire warnings about Middle Eastern rivals acquiring nuclear weapons. He's been doing it for years.

For as long as we can remember, Netanyahu has insisted that "time is running out" on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, despite the fact that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

In July 2013, he declared that Iran is "getting closer and closer to the bomb." A few months before that, in a speech to the AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby in Washington, he said Iran "is running out the clock" and "has used negotiations, including the most recent ones, to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program."

The year before that, in an interview with Fox News' Greta van Susteren, Netanyahu addressed his decade-and-a-half obsession, stating that a nuclear-armed Iran "was a lot further away 15 years ago when I started talking about it. It was a lot further away 10 years ago. It was a lot further away five years. It was a lot further away five months ago. They are getting there, and they are getting very, very close."

And on and on.

In a nauseating speech before a Joint Session of Congress on May 24, 2011, Netanyahu said, "When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out, the hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons."

His memory was correct. He did deliver a harrowing warning about Iran to a Joint Session of Congress in 1996. And his rhetoric was nearly identical. Here's part of it (followed by a transcript):
Netanyahu: The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran, that has wed a cruel despotism to a fanatic militancy. If this regime, or its despotic neighbor Iraq, were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind.
I believe the international community must reinvigorate its efforts to isolate these regimes, and prevent them from acquiring atomic power. The United States and Israel have been at the forefront of this effort, but we can and must do much more. Europe and the countries of Asia must be made to understand that it is folly, nothing short of folly, to pursue short-time material gain while creating a long-term existential danger for all of us.
Only the United States can lead this vital international effort to stop the nuclearization of terrorist states. But the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.
Sound familiar? Yes, naturally. The script has remained the same for the past two decades. So identical are the talking points, in fact, that while Netanyahu said "now, time is running out" in 2011, here's what he said back in 1996, during his speech to Congress:
Sigh. Despite Netanyahu's constant visibility and years of repetition on this issue, he should not be credited with introducing it. A year before his 1996 speech to Congress, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said much the same thing.


Friday, June 13, 2014

From Snowy Ski Slopes to Sun-Kissed Shushtar:
Two 4-Minute Videos of an Iran Rarely Seen

Earlier this month, a freak sandstorm swept through Tehran, effectively shutting down the metropolis and tragically taking the lives of at least five people. Such an event might not seem like such an anomaly to those whose conception of Iran’s landscape resembles Lawrence of Arabia rather than reality. This past February, Tehran also experienced the largest snowfall the city had seen in half a century, with temperatures dipping to 19 degrees and seven feet of snow blanketing the ground.

From snow-capped mountains and subtropical woodlands in the north to the arid central plain and lowland marshes of the southwest, Iran boasts a dazzling diversity of climates and ecosystems. Stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, Iran is home to sandy beaches, the Great Salt Desert, a rainforest, and often – according to NASA – the single hottest place on Earth.

Two recent videos posted online do an excellent job demonstrating the diverse beauty of Iran.

In March 2013, Swiss skier Arnaud Cottet and snowboarder Benoît Goncerut embarked on a winter sport, multimedia trip called the Timelapse Project. “After an adventurous journey through Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, they ended up discovering – beyond all expectations – a lively community driven both by passion and freestyle in the high valleys north of Tehran, the Iranian capital,” states their website, We Ride in Iran. Cottet and Goncerut began traveling back to Iran frequently, establishing not only “strong and spontaneous ties of friendship” but also eventually “a series of cultural, social and cinematic projects leading up to the planning of freestyle competitions with organized efforts for the development of the freestyle culture.”

This past March, after spending the winter “busily shaping the Dizin snowpark, coaching the Iranian future of freestyle snowboarding and skiing, and organizing the freestyle competitions,” Cottet, Goncerut, and their friend Nikola Sanz, celebrated their final day in the country with an outing to the ski resort of Tochal. The day trip was documented in a short video entitled, “One Day in Tehran,” and debuted in late May. Watch it here:

Another recent video, posted by excellent, online Middle Eastern arts and culture magazine, Reorient, features a totally different side of Iran.

Kamal Zargar, an Ahvaz native raised in California, shot the video, “Soul of the South,” in Khuzestan, the oil-rich, southwestern province bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf. He writes:
This video highlights the contemporary culture and localities of Khuzestan, which, although have remained rooted in tradition, have also adapted to modern ways – a phenomenon common throughout much of Iran. Footage of the sights, sounds, food, and music were taken in Ahvaz, Abadan, Shush, and Shushtar, cities all located in Western Khuzestan. Not long ago, these cities were towns and villages; but, as many cities throughout the country have grown exponentially, so have those in Khuzestan, sprawling further out into the desert plain in the south, and the hills and mountains in the north.
It’s a beautiful look at a region where the ancient and modern effortlessly intertwine, steeped in “geographic, demographic, and cultural diversity.” Check it out:


Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Tehran’s Surrealistic Muralist

"Life Cycle" by Mehdi Ghadyanloo

“Never underestimate the power of colors and how they can bring life to old walls and buildings,” remarks a correspondent for Iran’s PressTV in an April 2012 report on the increasing ubiquity of urban artwork on the streets, walls, and façades of Tehran. While Iranian municipalities have long devoted so-called resources to “urban beautification” projects such as public parks and massive murals promoting patriotism and religious solidarity, the past decade has seen a substantial rise in both the prevalence and popularity of creative street art, both commissioned and independent.

Iranian artists have spent years transforming Tehran’s banal cityscapes of graying concrete and cracking plaster into vibrant and innovative public spaces bursting with color, imagination, and vision through sculpture, painting, graffiti, and tile and metal work. Where there were once mostly looming murals of religious leaders and martyred soldiers, Ajam Media Collective editor Rustin Zarkar writes, “Iranian streets have been increasingly decorated with classical poetry, mosaic patterns, landscapes, and an array of other images with roots in the traditional Iranian arts and experimental urban design.”

Four years ago, while on a trip to Iran, I took a stroll down Enghelab Avenue to visit some bookshops near the University of Tehran. Above the bustling sidewalks and traffic-jammed streets was an unremarkable building – like so many drab, imposing edifices in the capital erected in the middle of last century as part of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s modernization scheme - that nevertheless demanded attention. Huge walls were consumed by a colorful mural quite unlike the usual fare of revolutionary heroes and war memorials seen around town. I took a photo:

(Photo Credit: Nima Shirazi)

This was the work of artist and designer Mehdi Ghadyanloo, whose surrealistic murals combine elements of René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico, M.C. Escher, Salvador Dalí, and many others. Ghadyanloo, who is only 33 years old, has been tripping out Tehran’s empty walls since 2006 as part of the city’s beautification project – promoted heavily for the past eight years by the managing director of the Tehran Beautification Organization, Seyed Mohammad Javad Shooshtari. To date, it is said that Ghadyanloo, who studied art and drawing in college and acquired a Master’s degree in animation, has produced over 100 murals. He even teaches a course on mural art at Tehran’s Soodeh University.

“My work in animation brought me to storytelling and exposed me to surreal short animations which really inspire the visual language which I use in my large scale urban murals today,” Ghadyanloo explained last year in an interview with the Young Persian Artists blog. He added:
The city is an architectural mishmash with buildings often having only one façade and the other three just left blank and grey. This doesn’t make for a beautiful city but it is a great environment for mural work. I think the municipality really felt the need to bring some cohesion or at least colour to the often confused and smog-smeared architectural face of the city.
Lately, Ghadyanloo’s amazing work has been gaining wider attention in the American press. Just this week, the Huffington Post described his whimsical images as “exaggerated dream sequences,” depicting “gravity-defying figures and portholes to other dimensions, all from altered perspectives that meld sky and structure.”

Though his large-scale municipal work is funded by the city of Tehran, Ghadyanloo identifies with the independent street art scene in Iran. He told HuffPost, “Graffiti is illegal here in Iran, like in many other countries, so graffiti artists in Tehran work at nights. We have very good underground street artist [network].”

Check out some of his work below and at the links above:




"Emdad Khodro"

"Childhood Dreams"

"Folded Walls"

Below is a short video featuring some of Ghadyanloo’s artwork:

Video created by Az Kolexion ‘E London (AKL)


Originally posted at Muftah.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Iran’s Latest Drone Drops Life Preservers, Not Bombs

Earlier this month, during an exhibition at the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Forces’ Central Command in Tehran on May 11, Iranian military officials unveiled a domestically-produced reverse-engineered version of a sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle (UVA), Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone. The Iranian version comes about two-and-a-half years after one of the CIA’s RQ-170s – dispatched from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan – was downed and captured by Iran during a surveillance mission over the Iranian city of Kashmar, located 140 miles from the Afghan border. The IRGC subsequently extracted and decoded the video data stored by the aircraft and claims it brought down another American drone in February 2013.

According to an Iranian press report, the exposition “put on display the achievements of the IRGC Aerospace Forces in the design and development of drones, radars and defense systems as well as anti-ship, ballistic and anti-shield missile systems.” It also showcased other Iranian-made drones, such as the Shahed-129 and Shahed-125. Since 2010, Iran has periodically unveiled indigenously-manufactured models of drone aircraft capable of carrying out both “reconnaissance missions” and “combat operations.”

Just days later, however, another type of drone – one produced not by the IRGC, but rather a private Iranian innovative tech company called RTS Lab – was revealed by VICE’s Motherboard website. This drone isn’t designed to spy on foreign countries or drop bombs; instead, it saves lives. Motherboard reports:
We’ve seen how drones can be a crucial asset to search and rescue operations, but Iran’s RTS Lab has taken an entirely new angle. RTS’s Pars drone carries a payload of life preservers that can be delivered to a drowning swimmer far faster than a lifeguard. As we saw in testing in the Caspian Sea, the drone can also work at night, using bright lights, thermal sensors, and a built-in camera to stream video to rescuers on shore.
“At the moment, many people talk about ‘bad drones’ and drones that are spying and killing people. But I think everything has a good side and a bad side,” says RTS director Amin Rigi. “And they should see the good side that are drones that can save lives.”

Tehran-based RTS Labs was founded in 2010 by university students interested in competitive robotics, but is now an well-known technology firm with international contracts.

“We don’t believe in producing missiles and stuff will one day be used for destruction and killing people. We try our best to save people and build devices that can help,” Rigi says, citing his religious faith as inspiration, namely the Qur’anic verse (5:32), which declares that “whoever takes a life… it is as if he has killed all mankind; however, if anyone saves a life, it is as if he saved all mankind.”

Check out this awesome video, produced by Motherboard on location in Iran, to see the future of lifeguarding:


Originally posted at Muftah.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Pope, Palestine, and 'Price Tag' Profanity

Hate message reading, "Price tag, King David is for the Jews, Jesus is garbage" spray-painted on a Jerusalem church, May 9, 2014. (Photo credit: AFP)

Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner had a longish piece about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Palestine (via Jordan) and then day trip in Israel: “Seeking Balance on Mideast Visit, Pope Pleases Few.”

The piece tries to establish that, with his planned itinerary, his poor Popiness can’t please everyone – or maybe even anyone – but reveals some things that are purposefully downplayed by the Grey Lady’s loyal lackeys.

Take this:
His Mass scheduled for Monday evening on Mount Zion, believed to be the site of both Jesus’ last supper and the tomb of King David, has ignited protests by religious Jews and drawn anti-Christian graffiti.
The pope’s refusal of bulletproof vehicles has also created some complications: Vatican officials said Francis had insisted on open-top cars to connect with the public, but the Israeli authorities responded by expanding the security perimeter, which will make it harder for people to glimpse the pontiff. And his short sojourn — the last two popes made eight- and seven-day trips — left the Galilee, home to many Christians and to Christian historic sites like Nazareth, off the itinerary.
While the link is there from one paragraph to the next, the truth is swept under the rug a bit. The reason why “Israeli authorities” have expanded “the security perimeter” has nothing to do with potential violence from Palestinians; rather, the threats of violence come solely from Israeli Jews.

Palestinians voice concern and disappointment with certain aspects of the trip; Omar Barghouti is frustrated that Pope Francis is to lay a wreath at Herzl’s grave, calling it "a nauseating, offensive act of complicity that Palestinian civil society cannot but condemn."

This sentence, however, reveals the sophomoric and petulant (or merely cruel?) nature of Zionism:
The pope’s decision to visit Herzl’s grave, 110 years after Pope Pius X harshly rejected Herzl’s appeal for support, is, for Israelis, a significant signal to offset his embrace of Palestine as a state.
And again, see who is angriest (and why) and who poses a potential threat to the Pontiff:
Monday’s Mass at Mount Zion has escalated a fight over the holy site. Christians, who have not been allowed to hold formal prayer services there other than a few times a year, want the last-supper room opened for liturgy daily from 6 to 8 a.m. Despite Israel’s insistence that no change in the regulations will be discussed during the pope’s visit, religious Jews plan to denounce such a change with a march Thursday night.
After a recent spate of hate crimes, the Israeli police on Wednesday issued restraining orders requiring that several right-wing Jewish activists stay away from the pope and Jerusalem’s Old City during the visit.
A recent Ha'aretz report further notes how Christian officials are increasingly concerned about the Pope's visit and the Christian community in Israel in general and includes a striking anecdote about Israeli police removing a welcome sign for the Pope from outside a Catholic Church and then citing some bogus reason for doing so. Church officials "question[ed] the fact that the police, instead of taking action against the extremists who paint hate slogans on mosques and churches, choose to remove a sign with a positive message that welcomes the pope in three languages."

"We hope the police will act with the same determination to prevent the growing incitement and violence against Christians," they said.

Hateful graffiti, care of right-wing Israelis, continues to appear on Christian churches around Israel and Palestine in advance of the Pope's high-profile visit.

Meanwhile, The ADL's outgoing leader Abe Foxman has written a lengthy op-ed decrying these "price tag" attacks and calling for Israeli (and, more generally, Jewish) vigilance again them. There's must to dissect in the piece, but his conclusion betrays the outrage: "It is not just a matter of protecting the victims of assaults and preventing vandalism of religious sites sacred to Christians and Muslims; it is a matter of living up to the ideals of the democratic and Jewish soul of the State of Israel."

What Foxman (and other like-minded Zionists) refuse to ever examine or admit is the sad fact that the insistence that a state of human beings, which should be governed by laws that protect equality and guarantee justice to all, have a "Jewish soul" - an inherently exclusivist and discriminatory concept, especially considering the indigenous people of that land are do not identify as Jewish - is precisely the impetus for price tag attacks in the first place. It is the very premise of Zionism, and that premise is inherently and explicitly anathema to equality and democracy.

This aspiration was expressly articulated by David Ben-Gurion in a 1937 letter: "What we want is not that the country be united and whole, but that the united and whole country be Jewish."

Without first dismantling this mindset, Foxman and his ilk will do nothing to stop the vitriol or the violence. Meanwhile, the non-Jewish communities and populations under Israeli authority from the river to the sea - Palestinians, Africans, migrant workers and refugees - will continue to pay the price.

Meanwhile, here’s some of what the Pope will be doing in Palestine:
[C]hildren from Bethlehem’s refugee camps will sing him two songs during a 15-minute stop at a community center, where organizers were told the pope would have time to shake only three hands.
“I negotiated with them for 15 minutes; they spoke about 10 minutes,” said Mohammed K. Lahham, a Palestinian lawmaker who also met Popes Benedict and John Paul II, and who as a boy of 9 was among the throngs greeting Pope Paul VI in Manger Square. “Frankly, even if he comes just for seconds and leaves, it’s important. It’s an S.M.S. message for the whole world.”
Isn’t it curious as to why the more diverse and downtrodden are welcoming his visit, while the vitriolic, insular, garrisoned colonizers are so enraged?

Perhaps it's because, when traveling through the Holy Land, Pope Francis will surely remember the supposed words of his savior and bless the meek, those who hunger and thirst after justice, and those who are persecuted for justice's sake. It's pretty clear that the nuclear-armed settler state isn't the one eventually inheriting the earth (annexation and occupation isn't the same thing) and there is certainly no confusing them with the peacemakers, who, according to the region's most famous son, shall be called the children of god.


A shorter version of this post was published at Mondoweiss on May 25, 2014.