Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Ongoing Saga of Bad Websourcing:
Does Al-Monitor Even Have Editors?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that prolific Israeli commentator Meir Javedanfar is unaware of the purpose of hyperlinks.

In his January 30 Al-Monitor article (which incidentally needs some major copy editing, but didn't get it), Javedanfar writes, "Iran is also using Syria as a proxy to weaken the Syrian opposition forces, which it sees as the allies of the West, Saudi Arabia and even Israel."

The link on "Israel" leads to a PressTV article wherein no Iranian makes any such claim. It just quotes the Israeli President Shimon Peres as supporting the Syrian opposition. No loony Persian conspiracy theories or official statements by Iranian political or military leaders. So why does Javedanfar use this particular link when the claim he makes is about what Iran "sees as..."? For the answer, go here.

Furthermore, that the US, European countries and Arab Gulf states are not only "allies of" but literally funding, equipping and arming the Syrian opposition is common knowledge that doesn't need to be pawned off as some crazy Iranian allegation. It's also easily accessible information. See all those links? Yeah, it's that easy.

One additional point: Javedanfar's use of the term "proxy" to describe Iran's relationship with Syria is bizarre and demonstrates either a lack of understanding about what that word means or about how civil wars work. A "proxy" is a subordinate agent or organization that takes its cues from and whose interests are beholden to a more powerful, external benefactor. It doesn't make much sense to refer to a sovereign government (especially one that is itself embroiled in a bloody civil war), rather than a non-governmental organization or group, as a proxy of another sovereign government.

Yes, there are exceptions to this - for example, nations like Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia are often used as U.S. proxies during United Nations General Assembly votes against Israeli accountability and the implementation of international law in Palestine. But those nations don't have interests of their own in that particular region; also, they are party to the Compact of Free Association with the United States, which mandates American military protection, financial assistance and economic provisions for these tiny Pacific Island states in return for diplomatic fealty (the nations vote alongside the U.S. and Israel in the U.N. more than 90% of the time, for example) and, more importantly, essentially wide-open U.S. military access.

As per the agreement, established in 1986 (and 1994 for Palau as an independent entity), these protectorates - which were previously under American trusteeship since the end of World War II - must grant the U.S. military exclusive access to their territories and provide land for military bases, not to mention accommodating the constant presence of U.S. military recruiters who have long preyed upon the poor local communities with promises of economic opportunity. In 2010, the Christian Science Monitor reported that "while some Micronesians see the US military as their ticket out, many here are poorly informed of the risks. The FSM has suffered more casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan per capita than any US state, and has lost soldiers at a rate five times the US average. Some recruits sign on unaware the US is fighting two wars."

But I digress.

Javedanfar calls the Assad-led Syrian government a proxy of Iran, which Iran is using against Syrian opposition forces which means that the Syrian government is doing Iran's bidding by fighting against armed rebel militias in its own country than are trying to overthrow it. Huh? The Syrian government may be getting support - both financial and military - from Iran, but that doesn't make it a lackey of Iran, which is what the term proxy signifies. It is obviously in Assad's own interest to oppose forces seeking to topple his dictatorial reign; he doesn't need Iran's say-so to do what he's doing.

Yet, by Javedanfar's reading, the conflict is really between Iran and Syrian opposition forces. The Syrian government, according to him, is merely a pawn in Iran's game against Israel and the West. This both obfuscates and confuses the issue. (The term proxy itself is overused when discussing allegiances and alliances in the region; both Hezbollah and Hamas are routinely referred to as Iranian proxies yet the fact is that they don't have their interests or actions dictated to them by the Iranian government as they are indigenous groups with their own goals and responsibilities.)

Sure, it's obvious what Javedanfar is trying to say - in the assumed power struggle over influence in the Middle East, Iran and the West/Gulf alliance are each protecting their own interests in Syria (duh) - but that's not really what he wrote. The problem here may be poor writing skills, but isn't that where an editor should step in and clarify?

One last thing: Javedanfar suggests that to prevent the alleged Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons from "falling into the hands of al-Qaeda" were "an extremist offshoot" of the group to seize power after Assad's supposed fall, those weapons should be transferred to...wait for it...Iran.

Why, you may ask? Because Javedanfar states that, Iran having chemical weapons is "infinitely better" than al-Qaeda having them, provided that is "the only other viable option." Sure, ok. But he never explains why that would be the only option or points out that the backers of criminal al-Qaeda-affiliated elements in the Syrian opposition are the very states he says are duking it out with Iran in a proxy war.  How could Iran getting chemical weapons be part of the end-game in Syria as far as the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia are concerned?

It can't and won't be. Which makes Javedanfar's commentary not only pointless, but just plain weird.

What he's really saying, though, is that he wants Syria's alleged chemical weapons stockpile to get as far away from him, his family and his friends who are living in Israel as possible. This is understandable, of course, but does it really necessitate a prominently displayed opinion piece on Al-Monitor that no editor took a look at before it was published?



February 1, 2013 - Javedanfar has a truth problem. The article he published a week ago, also in Al-Monitor, is rife with errors. In response, USC professor Muhammad Sahimi and I wrote the following (which Al-Monitor - after a week of nit-picking back-and-forth - refused to publish).

Talking about Iran’s Nuclear Program: Facts versus Fiction

In his latest column published by Al Monitor, Israeli commentator Meir Javedanfar discusses the stagnancy of Israel’ policy toward Iran and concludes that "[t]he results of the recent Israeli elections are unlikely to bring much change to Israel’s current Iran strategy," which, according to him, consists mainly of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "repeating 'Iran,' 'Iran,' 'Iran' as loudly as possible" and "continuing to threaten Iran with the military option."

Mr. Javedanfar's most sweeping statement, however, is that "the Iranian regime's behavior" is "first and foremost" to blame for this obsessive Israeli hysteria and relentless threats. He writes,
As long as Iran refuses to answer the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s questions about suspected weapon-building activity (including alleged activities related to building a nuclear trigger), nobody in Israel will believe the narrative that Iran only wants energy for peaceful purposes. On top of that, Iran hid Fordo from the IAEA before opening it, which former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said was "on the wrong side of the law."
Mr. Javedanfar’s uncritical repetition of these allegations is unfortunate. Such a characterization of Iran’s nuclear program reinforces the false narrative and misinformation that are so often manipulated to justify increasingly hawkish policies toward Iran and contradict what objective analysts of the Iranian program believe.

First, the "suspected weapon-building activity" that Mr. Javedanfar refers to simply doesn't exist. The National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, reaffirmed ever since (in 2009, 2010, and again in 2011), stated that [if] Iran did have a nuclear weapon program, it stopped it in 2003. Moreover, the United States intelligence community and its allies, including Israel, have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not even made the political decision to do so.

In early 2012, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, stated in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “We do not know…if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." The same day, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Ronald Burgess said that “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict” and maintained that Iran’s military doctrine is defensive in nature and designed only for deterrence.

Even if Iran were to technically acquire the capability to make nuclear bombs and stopped short of militarizing its program, far from being a rogue outlier, it would be joining a nuclear club of dozens of other nations that currently have the materials and knowledge to rapidly produce nuclear weapons.

The IAEA itself continually confirms that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program and has stated it has "no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons program." (emphasis ours). IAEA inspectors have never found evidence of illegal nuclear activity in Iran, even after Iran voluntarily accepted the intrusive inspections of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol for over two years. As far back as 1992, chief inspector Jon Jennekins declared that "everything that we have seen is for the peaceful application of nuclear energy and ionizing radiation." The Agency consistently reports it has found no evidence of diversion of nuclear materials from peaceful to non-peaceful purposes or any evidence of a secret parallel program for making nuclear weapons in Iran.

Nobel laureate and former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei also reveals in his memoir that “the supposed evidence that had led [the U.S.] to confirm the existence of a past Iranian nuclear program” was just “the same unverified set of allegations about weaponization studies that had already been discussed with the Agency” and lamented the America’s “eagerness to promote unverified intelligence as evidence.” In 2007, an unnamed senior official at the IAEA revealed, “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us [from the United States] has proved to be wrong.”

Furthermore, allegations about nuclear trigger research, which Mr. Javedanfar mentions specifically, are derived from dubious documents and have been eviscerated by investigative journalist Gareth Porter for some time now. Not surprisingly, these claims come from the same font of forgeries that have been widely acknowledged to have been passed on to both the IAEA and the media by Israeli intelligence officials.

Still, Iran is not being accused of currently researching or developing nuclear weapons technology, but rather of conventional high explosives testing that occurred roughly a decade ago, if not earlier, in Parchin, a non-nuclear military complex southeast of Tehran. Upon twice visiting the suspected site in 2005, an IAEA official recalled, “there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities.”

The continued focus on Parchin, which is outside the legal purview of the IAEA, has led former IAEA head Hans Blix to note, “Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site,” adding, “the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be.”
Mr. Javedanfar's point that "Iran hid Fordo from the IAEA before opening it" is also mistaken. The existence of the Fordo site was announced by Iran to the IAEA on September 21, 2009, far in advance of the 180 days before becoming operational as required by Iran's Safeguards Agreement. At the time, the facility was still under construction and did not actually begin uranium enrichment until early January 2012, 840 days after it had been declared to the IAEA. ElBaradei even described the facility as “nothing to be worried about.” Regardless, like all other nuclear facilities in Iran, the IAEA has confirmed that “all nuclear material in the [Fordo] facility remains under the Agency's containment and surveillance." To date, this remains to be true.

None of the current allegations regarding Iran’s nuclear program has been a result of the IAEA’s own inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites; rather all accusations are based upon “evidence” supplied to it by a third party, particularly Israel. In contrast to an objective assessment of the facts, Mr. Javedanfar’s contentions promote a highly sensationalized description of Iran's nuclear program, one that corresponds more closely to the deliberately deceiving talking points of the American and Israeli governments than to the informed analysis of qualified experts. As a prolific commentator on this issue, Mr. Javedanfar should be much more careful about how he characterizes the Iranian nuclear program and far more diligent in providing documentation to support his claims.

Muhammad Sahimi, a Professor at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports, and has published extensively on Iran’s nuclear program.

Nima Shirazi is an independent researcher and political commentator from New York City, where he runs the blog, Wide Asleep in America. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima

No comments: