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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When Fact Becomes Opinion:
Half-Truths, Non-Truths & the Phony Objectivity of the Associated Press

An Associated Press report from this past week demonstrates how plain facts and provable, documented historical events are often described as subjective perceptions and matters of perspective in the mainstream media whenever an honest presentation and assessment of those facts would serve to reduce the fear-mongering propaganda over Iran's nuclear energy program.

Writing from Tehran on January 15, 2013, AP's Iran correspondent Ali Akbar Dareini reported that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast had declared Iran's intention to register its long-stated (and officially binding binding) prohibition on nuclear weapons as a legally-recognized, secular, international document.

"Mehmanparast could not be more definitive in dispelling suspicions that Iran may ultimately develop a nuclear weapon," Dareini wrote, before explaining that while Iran is confident that "any ambiguities or concerns" regarding its nuclear program can be addressed and resolved as long as "a structured approach" is first agreed upon.

Dareini continues:
Iranians say they have a bitter memory of allowing IAEA inspections and providing replies on a long list of queries over its nuclear program in the past decade. Now, Tehran says such queries should not be revived or remain open-ended once the IAEA has verified them.

Mehmanparast said Iran provided detailed explanations to IAEA questions on six outstanding issues in the past but instead of giving Iran a clean bill of health, the agency leveled new allegations on the basis of "alleged studies" provided by Iran's enemies.

Iran uses that term to refer to a list of questions including a dispute at Parchin, a military site southeast of Tehran, where the agency suspects Iran ran explosive tests needed to set off a nuclear charge.
Note the repeated use of the same basic construction: "Iranians say..." and "Tehran says..." and "Mehmanparast said..." and "Iran uses..." The statements made after this routine prefix are therefore presented as subjective declarations coming from Iran and are never qualified or substantiated as facts. In short, they are used as disclaimers, readily understood by a suspicious and ill-informed audience.

The readers of this AP report are therefore intentionally left with the perception that these are simply Iranian contentions and therefore automatically suspect, dubious, disputed or otherwise easily dismissed; after all, the comments all came out of an Iranian government spokesman's mouth and the mainstream media (and politicians, of course) has spent decades training its readers to believe nothing the Iranian government says or does can be trusted.

While Dareini writes that "Mehmanparast said Iran provided detailed explanations to IAEA questions on six outstanding issues in the past," he omits that this isn't just a claim made by the Iranian government.  Amazingly, the "bitter memory" that Iranians have about cooperating with the IAEA inquiries only to receive international sanctions and more military threats from the world's most well-armed and aggressive states is not merely some crazy Persian fantasy! No, it actually happened.

In August 2007, Iran and the IAEA agreed to a "Work Plan" which defined modalities and a timetable in order to "clarify the outstanding issues" in relation to Iran's nuclear program.  With regard to the memorandum of understanding itself, IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei pointed out at the time that although "these outstanding issues are the ones that have led to the lack of confidence, the crisis," he confirmed, "We have not come to see any undeclared activities or weaponization of their programme."  This conclusion was reached after two years of Iran's voluntary implementation of the IAEA's Additional Protocol, including a complete suspension of its enrichment program, which allowed intrusive and unfettered access to Iranian facilities for its inspectors.

Despite the constant allegations of nuclear weapons work, the IAEA has confirmed both that "[t]o date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme" and found that "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities."

The IAEA has consistently reaffirmed this finding in each of its reports over the past decade.

It too should be remembered that Iran only suspended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol after the EU-3 (the UK, France, and Germany) failed to offer any substantive proposals and reneged on its agreement to acknowledge Iran's inalienable right to enrich uranium as part of a peaceful, safeguarded nuclear energy program. The proposal eventually brought to Iran by Western negotiators has been described as "vague on incentives and heavy on demands," and even dismissed by one EU diplomat as "a lot of gift wrapping around an empty box."

In fact, it is clear that the EU-3 never had any intention of offering Iran anything substantive or allowing increased Iranian cooperation with the IAEA and the answering of the IAEA's questions to thwart their real goal of imposing more sanctions and forcing the abrogation of Iran's national right to a peaceful nuclear program.  A cable from the U.S. Embassy in London from September 17, 2007, published by WikiLeaks, revealed that Antony Phillipson ("the UK's point person on Iran issues") warned his American counterparts that the IAEA was being "naive" about Iran's "nuclear weapons program" (emphasis added).  "Do not let the IAEA timetable interfere with ours," he insisted, adding "that it was important to not permit the IAEA's workplan to slow down or interfere with the EU-3's own agenda.  For instance, bowing to pressure to put off submission of a [new UN Security Council] resolution pending some IAEA report or visit would weaken our efforts."

Regarding the Work Plan itself, it affirmed that the "[t]hese modalities cover all remaining issues and the Agency confirmed that there are no other remaining issues and ambiguities regarding Iran's past nuclear program and activities" and that that IAEA had "agreed to provide Iran with all remaining questions according to the above work plan. This means that after receiving the questions, no other questions are left. Iran will provide the Agency with the required clarifications and information."

In October 2007, ElBaradei confirmed, "I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now [in Iran]," adding, "Have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weapons program? No."

By February 2008, due to Iranian cooperation and efforts at transparency, ElBaradei was able to report, "We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran's enrichment programme" and the IAEA continued "to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."

Nevertheless, the so-called "alleged studies" - information provided to the IAEA by Western and Israeli intelligence agencies that accuses Iran of engaging in research regarding uranium conversion, high-explosives testing that could be linked to the creation of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and ballistic missile designs that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead - remains the sole point of contention and is often pointed to by Iran alarmists and the mainstream press as evidence of Iranian duplicity and intransigence.

As Iran itself has repeatedly noted, according to the Work Plan, the IAEA was obligated to submit "all related documents" regarding these "alleged studies" to Iran and, in return, while reiterating its insistence that these accusations were "politically motivated and baseless," Iran would "review and inform the Agency of its assessment,"  which was acknowledged "as a sign of [Iran's] good will and cooperation."

As per this agreement between Iran and the IAEA, "no visit, meeting, personal interview, [or] swipe sampling were foreseen for addressing this matter."  Still, in yet another example of constantly moving goalposts, after Iran examined the documents it was allowed to see (far from the "all related documents" as promised in the Work Plan) and delivered a detailed "117-page assessment in which it asserted that the documentation was forged and fabricated," the IAEA dismissed the evaluation as being too "focused on form rather than substance" and "requested Iran to provide a substantive response."

That Iran's assessment wasn't as substantive as the IAEA may have hoped is perhaps unsurprising considering that the IAEA didn't provide Iran with "all related documents" as required.  In fact, the IAEA openly admitted to concealing most of the alleged documentation from Iran, claiming that it had "received much of this information only in electronic form and was not authorised to provide copies to Iran" and revealing that while "the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran."

Furthermore, the IAEA itself "noted that the [IAEA] currently has no information – apart from the uranium metal document – on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies."  The alleged "uranium metal document" referred to is identical to one produced by Pakistan, was neither commissioned nor requested by Iran and, along with other alleged documents, dates to "the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s."

The IAEA also repeatedly emphasized that, despite all the allegations, "the Agency has not detected the use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have credible information in this regard" but still "urged Iran to engage actively with the Agency in a more detailed examination of the documents available about the alleged studies which the Agency has been authorized to show to Iran."

In a reasonable world, that the IAEA lack both full access to and authorization over any alleged documentation purporting to show past weaponization research and testing and upon which is bases its own claims that it demand Iran substantively explain would cast considerable doubt on the authenticity of such information and clearly demonstrates the dubious integrity and political nature of the allegations themselves.  As the Iranian Mission to the IAEA has noted:
The Agency has not delivered to Iran any official and authenticated document which contained documentary evidence related to Iran with regard to the Alleged Studies.

The Government of the United States has not handed over original documents to the Agency since it does not in fact have any authenticated document and all it has are forged documents. The Agency didn't deliver any original documents to Iran and none of the documents and materials that were shown to Iran have authenticity and all proved to be fabricated, baseless allegations and false attributions to Iran.
Iran has also wondered, "How can one make allegations against a country without provision of original documents with authenticity and ask the country concerned to prove its innocence or ask it to provide substantial explanations?"

In his own memoir, published in 2011, former IAEA head Mohammad ElBaradei echoed that question:
Absurdly, we were limited with regard to what documentation we permitted to show Iran. I constantly pressed the source of the information to allow us to share copies with Iran. How can I accuse a person, I asked, without revealing the accusations against him? The intelligence crowd refused, continuing to say they needed to protect their sources and methods.

Iran, for its part, continued to dismiss most of the allegations as fabrications.  Since the Iranians' cooperation on the work plan had been rewarded with yet more Security Council sanctions, their cooperation on the alleged weaponization studies had been minimal. Their predicament, they said, was that proving the studies were unrelated to nuclear activities would expose a great deal about their conventional weaponry, particularly their missile program. (p. 291)
ElBaradei also lamented the "willingness, on the part of Israel and the West, to treat allegations as fact," admitting that the IAEA "did not have the tools or expertise, however, to verify the authenticity of documents." (p. 290)

It should also be remembered that, in early 2007, an unnamed senior official at the IAEA revealed to the Los Angeles Times, "Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us [from the United States about the Iranian nuclear program] has proved to be wrong" and has never led to significant discoveries inside Iran. "They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities," the official told The Guardian.  Additionally, the LA Times noted that "U.S. officials privately acknowledge that much of their evidence on Iran's nuclear plans and programs remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove."

When, in 2009, "the Israelis provided the IAEA with documentation of their own, purportedly showing that Iran had continued with nuclear weapon studies until at least 2007," in order to "create the impression that Iran presented an imminent threat, perhaps preparing the grounds for the use of force," ElBaradei has written that the IAEA's "technical experts, however, raised numerous questions about the document's authenticity." He also pointed out that "[t]he accuracy of these [Israeli] accusations has never been verified; however, it is significant that the conclusions of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate were not changed, indicating that they, at least, did not buy the 'evidence' put forward by Israel." (p. 291)

In an interview with Der Spiegel in April 2011, ElBaradei said bluntly, "I adhere strictly to the facts, and part of that is that the Americans and the Europeans withheld important documents and information from us. They weren't interested in a compromise with the government in Tehran, but regime change -- by any means necessary."  A few months later, ElBaradei told The New Yorker, "During my time at the agency we haven't seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials," before adding, "I don't believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran."

This history of IAEA allegations and Iranian assessments is completely absent from the recent Associated Press report, leading readers to believe Iran is making claims that can't be backed up with evidence.

Also, that reporter Dareini states that the "alleged studies" referred to by Mehmanparast is a term used by Iran "to refer to a list of questions including a dispute at Parchin," gives the distinct impression that this term is not an official one and that only Iran claims the studies in questions are merely "alleged" to have taken place rather than "proven," "corroborated," and "authenticated."

But the term "alleged studies," is not an Iranian creation.  Rather, that phrase is a construction of the IAEA itself; Iran didn't make it up.  The first informal use of the term, referring to "topics which could have a military nuclear dimension" appears to be found in an IAEA Safeguards report on Iran from February 26, 2006.

These "topics," purportedly revealed in documents taken from a mysterious stolen Laptop of Death, the authenticity of which has long been known to rest somewhere on the spectrum of dubious to fabricated, and which was provided to the IAEA by the United States by way of the MEK by way of the Mossad in late 2005; in fact, information gleaned from the laptop does not even contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead.

It is unsurprising, then, that IAEA chief ElBaradei once stated, "The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents."

The IAEA continued to use the term informally throughout 2006 and early 2007, before elevating the term to an official section heading in its August 30, 2007 report.  It was subsequently used as such until May 26, 2008, when the more alarmist phrase "Possible Military Dimensions" superseded "Alleged Studies" in IAEA nomenclature.  These allegations, unverified and long considered to have questionable authenticity by the IAEA's leadership, were suddenly resurrected and "assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible," when Yukiya Amano (the America's man in Vienna who has proudly boasted of being, not an objective arbiter of truth and evidence, but as "solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision") took over stewardship of the agency and began secretly meeting with White House and National Security Council officials before presenting biased IAEA reports on Iran.

Back to the AP report: While Dareini notes that "Tehran has in the past allowed IAEA inspectors twice into Parchin," he fails to explain that because Parchin is not a nuclear facility, but rather a military complex not safeguarded by the IAEA, it is therefore off-limits legally to its inspectors.  When Iran voluntarily allowed two rounds of inspections of Parchin by IAEA personnel in 2005, the agency revealed that its inspectors "did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited, and the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence  of nuclear material at those locations."

Regarding the current accusations centered around an alleged detonation chamber located at the site (a charge made in documents provided to the IAEA by Israel), nuclear expert and former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has explained, "The IAEA is stretching its mandate to the limit in asking for access to a military site based on tenuous evidence."  He recently told Bloomberg News, "The IAEA's authority is supposed to derive from its ability to independently analyze information. At Parchin, they appear to be merely echoing the intelligence and analysis of a few member states."

Kelley has also called the Parchin impasse "a secondary issue" that is deliberately serving Israel and the West as "a distraction for the negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the 'P5+1')."  He adds (and explores in depth) that "the case for visiting the Parchin site—a matter on which the IAEA continues to insist—is not as clear-cut or compelling as some experts and officials portray it."

It is undeniable that AP's Dareini is nowhere close to the propagandist that his colleague George Jahn is.  Considering Jahn contributed "additional reporting" to Dareini's article, perhaps the problematic sections were his work.

Regardless, for the Associated Press to omit crucial and easily accessible information from its characterizations of Iran's nuclear program is irresponsible and serves to continually misinformation (or under-inform) the public on the facts.  And when facts aren't important, innuendo, allegations and demonization take over, inevitably setting the stage for something far more dangerous: an uncritical and unscrupulous press, aiding and abetting (wittingly or not) the dissemination of propaganda, dutifully presenting a manufactured justification for the supreme international crime, the initiation of (yet another) a war of aggression.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jordan Paust's Bad Law:
UH Law Professor Tries & Fails to Legalize an Israeli Attack on Iran

On January 15, 2013, University of Houston Law Center professor Jordan Paust penned an article entitled "Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program and Lawful Israeli Self-Defense," which was published on Jurist, a website of analysis and opinion pieces written by law professors, lawyers, and legal scholars. It is clear throughout Paust's piece that his arguments are neither sound nor based in fact, and unfortunately rely entirely on false premises and long debunked propaganda.  Paust himself is a contributing editor to Jurist.

To begin with, the title of Paust's analysis itself betrays both its agenda and its absurdity, considering Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program according to all Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and unprovoked, "preventative," "anticipatory" or "preemptive" military assaults are not only totally illegal but also can not possibly be justified as "self-defense."

And that's just the beginning; the falsehoods continue to stack up.  In fact, Paust reveals his utter ignorance from the get-go, writing - in his very first sentence, no less - that the Iranian leadership "continues to proclaim its desire to wipe Israel off the map" - something even Israel's own Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor admits it has never done.  His understanding of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter (which affirms the right to retaliatory self-defense if attacked first) is bizarrely lacking, especially considering he's a well-respected professor and incredibly prolific legal scholar.  He joins the shameful company of Alan Dershowitz in this regard.

Paust goes on to (1) accuse of Hezbollah and Hamas of terrorism and serving as Iranian proxies, without ever mentioning Israel's decades of international law violations and continuing war crimes and occupation or the fact that they are autonomous organizations that don't take direction from Iran; (2) ignore all facts pertaining to the illegality of initiating of a "war of aggression" (the "supreme international crime," according to the Nuremberg Tribunal); and (3) claim that Iran is violating UNSC resolutions regarding the cessation of uranium enrichment, a demand many have long acknowledged is ultra vires, itself abrogates the NPT and the resolutions are themselves illegal.

Apparently, though, these facts aren't important to Professor Paust, who describes himself as "one of the most widely cited law professors in the United States."

Furthermore, among the "facts" that Paust marshals to advance his argument that Israel could legally launch a preemptive attack on Iran is the contention that "Iran is publicly 'gunning' for Israel." Yes, he wrote that. And he still has a law degree. And is presumably literate.

From there, Paust launches into a bizarre and wholly inapplicable "Wild West Showdown" analogy in which the (Israeli) "good guy" is justified in "shoot[ing] first" since he knows the (Iranian) "bad guy" is out to get him.  It is "not necessary that the bad guy shoot first," Paust writes, elaborating (for some inexplicable reason) that "the good guy could have drawn first once it was known that the bad guy was gunning for him and they were staring each other down in the street."  By way of trying to make this dumbfounding, Manichean analogy make sense, he explains,  "Someone was about to draw first and, in context, the process of attack had begun and a right of self-defense had been triggered even though it was possible that the bad guy might back down and make this clearly known before the good guy fired."

If this passes for astute legal analysis these days, it's no wonder the United States has little to no respect for basic tenets of international law.

The analysis is so strained, based entirely on presumptions and assumptions with no basis in fact (only in Netanyahu-approved talking points), that Paust discredits himself simply by writing it in the first place.

In the end, Paust pines for a peaceful way out.  His solution?  That Iranian leaders "shift their attention to peace,...comply with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons" and not build a bomb.  As countless IAEA reports have demonstrated, Iran's nuclear program remains peaceful and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program.  Iran has also never been found to have violated its obligations to the NPT.  Its leaders, for decades now, have repeated denounced nuclear weapons as, not only amoral and religiously sinful, but also strategically useless and politically irrelevant.  Far from "publicly gunning for Israel," they have also dismissed any intention to militarily attack any nation, Israel included.

But you wouldn't know that from reading Jurist.



January 17, 2013 - Dan Joyner, law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, has written another critique (a far more measured and professional one, no doubt) at his excellent blog, Arms Control Law.

Joyner's credentials are impressive; he is the author of books entitled International Law and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (2009) and Interpreting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (2011) and co-edited Nonproliferation Law as a Special Regime: A Contribution to Fragmentation Theory in International Law (2012). He is also a member of the International Law Association's Committee on Nuclear Weapons, Non-proliferation and Contemporary International Law.

In his analysis of Paust's article, Joyner determines that Paust's conclusion that an Israeli strike on Iran would be legal (given the enumerated contingencies) is not only "not very persuasive," but also "actually quite dangerous."

Joyner has previously addressed the legality of an Israeli attack on Iran, as well as the IAEA's overstepping its legal mandate with regard to the Iranian nuclear program and reference of the Iranian file to the United Nations Security Council.  The later article, written in November 2011, was published on Jurist.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

For ThinkProgress, Any Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy is
"Anti-American Propaganda"

Ben Armbruster, national security editor for ThinkProgress, wrote yesterday that neoconservative pundits and politicians have resorted to promoting Iranian rhetoric in their zealous campaign to discredit and derail President Barack Obama's nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

He pointed to the eager promotion by many right-wingers of an article with a misleading headline from CBS News reporting that Obama's pick has been applauded by the Iranian government while "causing jitters in Israel." The CBS News piece notes a statement made at a press conference by Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, presumably in response to the Hagel nomination, that was first reported by Iran's IRIB news service and then picked up by Reuters. Here's the statement:
"We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations."
Based on the hysterical reaction of the anti-Hagel echo chamber, Armbruster concluded, "[I]t's sad the neocons have become so desperate in their anti-Hagel smear campaign that they're now promoting anti-American propaganda from Iran's foreign ministry to make their case."

Yes, Armbruster apparently believes that a boilerplate comment made by an Iranian official is "anti-American propaganda."

While the Iranian Foreign Ministry surely engages in its fair share of propaganda, just like any government does, this particular statement can't possibly be classified as such, especially when Obama's selection of Hagel has been widely interpreted as potentially heralding in a "policy shift on Iran." Even Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione suggested today that, with Hagel and Kerry in his Cabinet, Obama "is positioning himself to make the dramatic change in national security policy."  A new article in Foreign Affairs by Columbia professor Robert Jervis also suggests the American approach to Iran policy needs an overhaul, increasing flexibility and diminishing its reliance on threats and ultimata.

Nevertheless, it seems that, for Armbruster, any criticism whatsoever of U.S. foreign policy is "anti-American propaganda," at least when it comes from the mouths of Iranians.

Yet, for anyone paying even moderate attention to history and facts, that U.S. foreign policy - especially with regard to Iran and the wider Middle East - has been aggressive, imperialistic, often times illegal, and incontrovertibly violent and counterproductive is hardly controversial.

A year ago, Suzanne Maloney - a former U.S. State Department policy adviser and currently a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution - argued in Foreign Affairs that Obama's sanctions policy has cornered his administration into a pointless regime change posture with no chance for successful diplomacy. She wrote, "Indeed, the United States cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy," thereby putting its stated goals fundamentally at odds with its tactics.

"What needs to be addressed is the disturbing reality that the Obama administration's approach offers no viable endgame for dealing with Iran's current leadership," Maloney warned, concluding that "American policy is now effectively predicated on achieving political change in Tehran" which "will likely prove even more elusive than productive talks."

So, here we have an establishment scholar and analyst calling American policy toward Iran "counterproductive" and "disturbing." Does Armbruster believe Maloney is trafficking in "anti-American propaganda"?

Just yesterday, it was reported that a former Obama counter-terrorism adviser has described the president's murderous drone policy as counter-productive and ineffective in a forthcoming study for the Chatham House journal International Affairs. Michael Boyle, who was part of Obama's counter-terrorism team during his 2008 election campaign, writes that the administration's increased reliance on drone killing is "encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent" and has "adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists."

Boyle also calls for greater transparency of the government's actions, as most Americans are still "unaware of the scale of the drone programme...and the destruction it has caused in their name." Whereas Obama, during his first presidential run, pledged to end the so-called "war on terror" and restore respect for the domestic and international law, Boyle explains that Obama "has been just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as his predecessor" and far more secretive, lethal and unaccountable, successfully "spinning the number of civilian casualties" to obfuscate the truth.

Naturally, with conclusions like these, Armbruster must believe Boyle is just spouting "anti-American propaganda," right? Was retired war criminal General Stanley McChrystal also spewing propaganda when he recently spoke out about Obama's policy of robot murder, noting that such policy creates "resentment," is "hated on a visceral level," and that it perpetuates the "perception of American arrogance."  And that's coming from the guy who, reacting to the rampant killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. troops at checkpoints, said in 2010, "We've shot an amazing number of people...and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat."

Surely, Armbruster will take McChrystal to task for his anti-American nonsense in a future post.

Furthermore, returning to the comments of Mehmanparast, that the victim of drone surveillance, terrorist attacks, cyber-warfare, industrial sabotage, collective punishment of a civilian population and the latest target for Western-imposed regime change might believe American foreign policy could use some "practical changes" is natural and obvious.

That the United States has bullied international organizations into adopting policies that either abrogate or dismiss international law is beyond doubt. That Iran's inalienable right to enrich uranium as part of a monitored and safeguarded civilian nuclear program is being actively denied is also not up for debate.

These are facts.

But Ben Armbruster seems not to care about facts. As a dutiful ThinkProgress employee, he seems to care about defending the Obama administration, justifying its policies, and taking down its detractors. He also appears to adhere strictly to the mainstream script that anything Iran does or says is inherently dubious and usually nefarious, regardless of how true or uncontroversial it may be.  Thus, Armbruster echoes the mainstream narrative (of both the left and the right), challenging nothing and reinforcing perceptions of Iran that serve only to raise tensions and misunderstanding.

When asked about his strange classification of Mehmanparast's statement, Armbruster explained that the suggestion that the United States might not be "respectful of the rights of nations" qualifies, by his criteria, as "anti-American propaganda." When asked whether he honestly believed the United States to be respectful of the rights of foreign countries, Armbruster doubled-down. "Yes I do," he replied. "Now that doesn't mean the US is perfect. But in this case, yes, Iran is attacking the US."

By Armbruster's standards, stating unequivocal facts, raising doubts over America's benevolence, questioning its respect for international law and the sovereignty of other nations, and criticizing decades of imperialism, war, occupation, bullying and threats is tantamount to an "attack" in the form of "anti-American propaganda."

But, of course, Mehmanparast hardly said any of that. His comments were non-specific and, quite frankly, tame. But, hey, they were probably uttered in the Persian language, so that's enough for Armbruster to dismiss and delegitimize them as a blustery rant. Ironically, in so doing - by labeling a reasonable critique of U.S. foreign policy as "anti-American propaganda" - Armbruster has become a propagandist himself, shilling for American exceptionalism, hypocrisy and overall obliviousness.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Horror of Equality and the Left-Right Consensus in Israel

Two recent statements - one from a right-wing government minister and the other a liberal Zionist icon - reveal the staggering degree of racism in Israeli political discourse.

The first comes from Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who is a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, who declared during a debate at Israel's Tel-Hai Academic College yesterday, "Israel is a Jewish state. It's certainly not created to be a state of all its citizens."

When some of those attending the event responded negatively with booing and calling her a racist, Livnat appealed to - of all things - tolerance and respect for democracy, exploding, "I ask you to show me the same tolerance you evince toward the representative of the Balad party, otherwise you wreak havoc on democracy."

Balad is an political party comprised primarily of Palestinian citizens of Israel and which seeks to "transform the state of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national or ethnic identity." As a result, it has long faced discrimination and opposition, often in the form of attempts to ban party candidates from running in Israeli elections.

Such a statement is nothing new for Livnat. During a radio interview back in 2002, when she was Ariel Sharon's Education Minister, she said, "We're involved here in a struggle for the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jews, as opposed to those who want to force us to be a state of all its citizens," adding that Israel is not "just another state like all the other states. We are not just a state of all its citizens."

Warning that the Galilee and Negev were becoming "filled with Arab communities," Livnat emphasized that Israel's "special purpose is our character as a Jewish state, our desire to preserve a Jewish community and Jewish majority hereso that it does not become a state of all its citizens."

She has expressed dismay at even the extremely limited power of non-Jewish politicians in Israel and, in 2008, championed a proposal that would rescind the status of the Arabic language as one of Israel's official languages. Perhaps most ironically, in 2005, after the Knesset "approved the transformation of Ariel's College of Judea and Samaria and several colleges in the Galilee into universities...Livnat rejected the establishment of an Arab university out of hand, calling it racist."

The second bit of news comes today from none other than the so-called "dovish" Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua, who penned an opinion piece in Yedioth Ahronoth, warning of the drift toward a bi-national state in Israel/Palestine (which he's been terrified about for a while now). Opposing certain continuing colonization of the West Bank (which he calls "Judea and Samaria," of course), Yehoshua suggests that "Palestinians, whose insistence on refusing to negotiate with Israel is seemingly inexplicable, are actually interested in dragging Israel into the trap of a bi-national state, which they believe will eventually become a Palestinian state from the river to the sea."

His conclusion is that the "settlement enterprise" must stop, not for any legal, moral or humanitarian reasons, but rather because: we are on the brink of a bi-national state, and many people who are familiar with what is currently happening on the ground claim the process cannot be stopped. But even if there is some truth to their claim, we can still soften the blow with a solution of cantons and agreements of dual citizenship.
Cantons and dual citizenship. That's how Yehoshua suggests Israel deal with Palestinians. And he's known as a "liberal Zionist."

One could wonder how far off references to "liberal Apartheid" really are.


Originally posted on Mondoweiss.


Correction: This post originally stated Livnat's recent comments were made during a Knesset hearing, to the boos of other Israeli ministers. Naturally, this was not the case.  The comments were made during a debate at an Israeli college in response to statements made by Balad minister Basel Rateb. The above post has been corrected. (h/t The Indefatigable David Samel)