Amid a lot of hot air and empty rhetoric, a number of esteemed Iran watchers and experts have recently written various must-read articles on the increasing tensions between U.S.-Iran. Below, we’ve listed our top picks from this impressive body of work.
How Obama Should Talk to Iran by Trita Parsi (Washington Post)
Just 13 minutes into his presidency, Barack Obama indirectly reached out to Iran in his inaugural address, offering America’s hand of friendship if Tehran would unclench its fist. After eight years of the George W. Bush administration’s ideological contempt for diplomacy with America’s foes, it was a bold move born out of necessity, not desire.
But Obama’s diplomacy has fallen short. After two rounds of talks in October 2009, in which Tehran refused to accept a U.S. confidence-building measure to exchange its low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a medical research reactor, the sanctions track was activated. Ever since, Iran and the United States have been on a confrontational path. Washington has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions and isolated Iran politically. In turn, the Iranians have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, amassed more low-enriched uranium and begun enrichment at a facility deep underground.
Assassination in Iran by Paul Pillar (The National Interest)
The killing of an individual foreigner overseas, if carried out for a political or policy purpose by either a nonstate actor or clandestine agents of a state, is an act of international terrorism. At least that is how U.S. law defines it, for purposes such as the State Department’s annual reports on terrorism. This form of terrorism is part of what put Iran on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, the Iranian regime perpetrated numerous assassinations of exiled Iranian political dissidents, in Europe as well as in other countries of southwest Asia. The Iranians effectively ended this assassination campaign about a decade and a half ago, largely to improve relations with the European countries on whose soil many of the assassinations occurred and perhaps also because by then Iran had bumped off nearly all of the people on its hit list. We should assume, however, that Iran retains the capability to assassinate far-flung targets again, and that it would consider doing so if searching for ways to strike back at adversaries that are striking it.
Hawks Who Learned Nothing – From Iraq to Iran, the Genuises Who See No Need to Remember Their Mistakes by Matt Duss (Salon.com)
This month, after almost nine years that left 4,484 American soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, the U.S. war in Iraq came to an end. As the troubling recent reports indicate, the new Iraq will continue to struggle with enduring political tensions and serious security challenges for years to come.
As my colleague Peter Juul and I noted in our recent report on the war’s costs,The Iraq War Ledger, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.
Has a War with Iran Already Begun by Michael Hirsch (The Atlantic)
Two incidents that occurred on Sunday–Iran’s claim of a shoot-down of a U.S. drone, and an explosion outside the British embassy in Bahrain–may have been unrelated. But they appear to add to growing evidence that an escalating covert war by the West is under way against Iran, and that Tehran is retaliating with greater intensity than ever.
Asked whether the United States, in cooperation with Israel, was now engaged in a covert war against Iran’s nuclear program that may include the Stuxnet virus, the blowing-up of facilities and the assassination or kidnapping of scientists, one recently retired U.S. official privy to up-to-date intelligence would not deny it.
“It’s safe to say the Israelis are very active,” the official said, adding about U.S. efforts: “Everything that [GOP presidential candidate] Mitt Romney said we should be doing–tough sanctions, covert action and pressuring the international community — are all of the things we are actually doing.” Though the activities are classified, a senior Obama administration official also would not deny that such a program was under way. He indicated that the U.S. was not involved in every action, referring to recent alleged explosions at Isfahan and elsewhere. But, he added: “I wouldn’t assume that everything we do is coordinated.”
Stealth Engagement by Gark Sick (Gary’s Choices)
Don’t Do It Bibi by Roger Cohen (New York Times)
PARIS — A U.S. ambassador in Europe was recently asked by an Israeli ambassador what could be done to improve the lousy relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. He replied: “Every once in a while, say thank you.”
The American ambassador added a couple of other thoughts. “Maybe, once in a while, ask the president if there’s anything you can do for him. And above all stay out of our election-year politics.”
This sharp riposte reflects Obama’s fury at several things: the way Netanyahu has gone over his head to a Republican-dominated Congress where he is a darling; Netanyahu’s ingratitude for solid U.S. support, including the veto of an anti-settlements resolution at the United Nations last year and opposition to the unilateral Palestinian pursuit of statehood; the delaying tactics of Netanyahu reflecting his conviction Obama is likely a one-term president; and Netanyahu’s refusal to pause a second time in settlement building for the sake of peace negotiations.
I would add a further piece of advice to Netanyahu if he cares about his dysfunctional relationship with Obama — and he should because Israelis know the United States matters and might be disinclined to re-elect a man who has poisoned relations with Washington. That advice is: Do not attack Iran this spring or summer.
The Decade-Long Covert War Against Iran by Muhammad Sahimi (Tehran Bureau)
The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast, 32, a chemical engineer involved in Iran’s nuclear program, in Tehran on Wednesday, is the latest manifestation that not only is the covert war against Iran well under way, but that it is in fact no longer so covert.
The covert war against Iran is at least 11 years old:
In July 2001, Colonel Ali Mahmoudi Mimand, known as a founder of Iran’s missile program, was found dead in his office, reportedly with a bullet in his head.
One facet of the war has involved wooing Iran’s nuclear scientists to defect to the West. In May 2009, Shahram Amiri, a junior scientist who was supposedly involved in Iran’s nuclear program, disappeared during a trip to Saudi Arabia. He eventually emerged in the United States, but after several seemingly contradictory videos of him were posted on YouTube, he became an embarrassment to the Obama administration and was allowed to return to Iran.
The Best Articles on U.S.-Iran Tensions: Part II
A few weeks ago, we featured a post on the Best Articles on U.S. Iran Tensions. In response to reader demand, we’ve decided to put together this second installment of unmissable articles and expert interviews on the perils of war between the two countries.
Foreign Affairs Focus On: Iran with Vali Nasr (Foreign Affairs)
Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs, interviews author Vali Nasr, a professor of international Politics at Tufts University and former senior adviser to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, about Iran, its relationship with the diplomatic community, and what the United States should do to get the country to the negotiation table.
Are We Sliding Towards War with Iran by Kenneth Pollack (the New Republic)
With so much alarming going on in the Middle East, it’s hard to keep track of everything that seems to be going wrong. No sooner had the Libyan civil war ended than another erupted in Syria. Iraq appears determined to follow, and perhaps overtake their Syrian neighbors. Egypt remains locked in a multi-sided struggle among the military, the Islamists and the secular liberals. And disturbing reports of low-level, but growing unrest in Saudi Arabia have begun to emerge.
Amid all of this, the one place that the United States has resolutely marched forward—or perhaps been dragged by the Congress and our European allies—has been in applying ever greater pressure on Iran. But if the Obama administration’s forward progress is clear enough when it comes to its Iran policy, its ultimate destination is not. The sanctions against Iran may well succeed on their own terms while producing regrettable, if unintended, consequences.
Sanctions Can Only Deepen Iran Crisis by Patrick Cockburn (the Independent)
The way in which the growing confrontation with Iran is being sold by the US, Israel and West European leaders is deeply dishonest. The manipulation of the media and public opinion through systematic threat exaggeration is similar to the drum beat of propaganda and disinformation about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction that preceded the invasion in 2003.
The supposed aim of imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and central bank, measures officially joined by the EU, is to force Iran to abandon its nuclear programme before it reaches the point where it could theoretically build a nuclear bomb. Even Israel now agrees that Iran has not yet decided to do so, but the Iranian nuclear programme is still being presented as a danger to Israel and the rest of the world.
Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists is Counterproductive and Wrong by Ali Vaez and Charles D. Ferguson(the Atlantic)
Mostafa Ahmadi-Rowshan was on his way to a ceremony on Wednesday commemorating the second anniversary of the death of one of his colleagues, nuclear physicist , who had been assassinated by a remote-controlled explosive outside his home. As his sedan drove down in Tehran’s morning rush hour traffic, two assailants riding on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car. A few seconds later, it detonated, killing the 32-year old scientist and his driver and sending shock waves across the country.
Rowshan was indeed involved in Iran’s nuclear program. He was the deputy director of the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and led its procurements department. He had previously worked at the Iran’s covert centrifuge research and development center in Kalaye Electric Company. Iran’s past history of concealment and defiance has fueled international concerns about the country’s intent to acquire nuclear weapons. Uranium enrichment, an activity that can fuel both reactors and weapons, is at the crux of Iran’s nuclear crisis. But Rowshan’s scientific credentials and affiliation with Iran’s atomic energy organization do not provide justification for his abhorrent killing.
Will Israel Attack Iran? by Ronen Berman (N.Y. Times)
As the Sabbath evening approached on Jan. 13, Ehud Barak paced the wide living-room floor of his home high above a street in north Tel Aviv, its walls lined with thousands of books on subjects ranging from philosophy and poetry to military strategy. Barak, the Israeli defense minister, is the most decorated soldier in the country’s history and one of its most experienced and controversial politicians. He has served as chief of the general staff for the Israel Defense Forces, interior minister, foreign minister and prime minister. He now faces, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 12 other members of Israel’s inner security cabinet, the most important decision of his life — whether to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran. We met in the late afternoon, and our conversation — the first of several over the next week — lasted for two and a half hours, long past nightfall. “This is not about some abstract concept,” Barak said as he gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv, “but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.”
Full Article to be read alonside….
Do Israeli Leaders Really This Iran Is an Existenial Threat? by Robert Wright (the Atlantic)
This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine will feature a big piece, already available online, by the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman called “Will Israel Attack Iran?” The first paragraph sets a dramatic scene featuring Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak. As Sabbath eve approached two weeks ago, and Barak “gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv,” he said to Bergman, “This is not about some abstract concept, but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.”
Actually, the Iranians aren’t a nation whose leaders have set themselves that “strategic goal.” They are a nation with a crackpot president who (a) isn’t the country’s supreme leader and doesn’t have the power to order an attack on Israel; (b) did say “the occupying regime must be wiped off the map” (or “vanish from the page of time”–the translation is disputed); but (c) later said he was referring to eliminating the Zionist form of government, not the people living under it; and (d) said the way to achieve this was to give Palestinians the vote–and that if they opted for a two-state solution rather than a single non-Zionist state, that would be fine, too; (e) also said that Iran would never initiate military hostilities with Israel.