Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

“The Forgotten War”

Posted in Iraq by Dan on June 29, 2009

U.S. Soldiers patrolling in Samarra, Iraq

**Update:  I am now on twitter.  Feel free to follow me: http://www.twitter.com/mideastblogger

Iran’s election demonstrations continue on the streets of Tehran.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Guardian Council reject the requests of Prime Minister Mousavi for a vote recount.  President Obama sends the first American ambassador to Syria since 2005.  Israel defies Washington by constructing new settlements in the occupied West Bank.  The Palestinian power struggle between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas reaches a violent scale.  Pakistani security forces crack down on Taliban fighters in its Western Frontier.

Is there a story missing from these recent news headlines?  This list seems to capture all of the important political and security developments within the Middle East: at least those worthwhile to U.S. interests and the world at large.  On the surface, it appears that the major media outlooks are doing quite a superb job covering all of the unprecedented events that define global affairs in the 21st century.  The fact that the Iranian opposition to Tehran’s clerical regime continues to take the lead in today’s newspapers is an example of how talented reporters have been in informing the general public (regardless of where they reside in the world).  Right?

Wrong.  There is in fact one noteworthy story that is vigorously being brushed aside by all sectors of the American establishment.  Remember the war in Iraq…that mid-sized Arab country that was invaded by American and British forces in 2003?  Does everyone recall the treacherous and bloody period of 2006-2007, when American troops were consistently being bombarded and ambushed by Sunni insurgents and Shia Militias throughout the country?  If not, surely one has a good memory of the Iraqi conflict when the name David Petreaus comes up.  After all, he was the man responsible for re-evaluating the U.S. mission and turning Iraq around from sectarian killings, assassinations, and suicide bombings.    In fact, it can be argued that General Petreaus weakened and destroyed an Iraqi civil war that would have continued to wreak havoc on the nation’s citizens, infrastructure, and governance.

Now, in the year 2009, everything is quiet on the streets of Baghdad.  The influential Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is enforcing the truce between his forces and the Sunni population.  Al’Qaeda in Iraq is virtually destroyed, thanks to the large-scale cooperation between American troops and Iraqi security forces.  Sunni tribes and the Iraqi population are turning their trust away from insurgent organizations, instead pledging their loyalty to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his coalition government.  Finally, a political reconciliation that was formerly nonexistent between Iraq’s three predominate ethnic groups (the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds) is turning the corner for a hopeful future.

If all of these statements sound bleak, you are right on the money.  Of course, I cannot blame anyone who firmly believes that these optimistic goals are being achieved in Iraq.  The neglect by the American news media, as well as the diversion of resources to more “pressing problems” by the Obama administration will certainly give some Americans premature conclusions on the Iraq issue.  Unfortunately, the past few days in Baghdad should help all of us discover the reality on the ground:  bombings, killings, and the Iraqi insurgency are all festering throughout Iraq’s major cities.

Compiled below is a list of attacks that have been reported by both the U.S. Military and the Iraqi Security Forces in the last three days.  As might be expected, the casualty numbers are all preliminary:

1)       A truck explodes near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, killing 75 and wounding 250 in the worst terrorist attack of this year.  Iraqi Security Forces say the attack was endorsed and carried-out by Al’Qaeda militants.

2)       A minibus explodes in Baghdad’s outskirts, killing 3 students and wounding 13.

3)      A bomb planted under a car near Baghdad’s Green-Zone kills 5 and wounds 13.

4)      A roadside bomb in Baghdad kills 3, while wounding 25.

5)      A motorcycle packed with explosives explodes in a Baghdad Shia neighborhood, killing 5 and wounding 22.

6)      A suicide car-bomber in a Sunni District west of Baghdad kills 7 civilians.

7)      North of the capital, a roadside bomb kills 3 Iraqi soldiers.

8)      Gunmen kill 7 civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

9)      A bombing at a bus station in a southwest Baghdad Shia neighborhood kills 7

10)  The USA Today reports that 9 U.S. soldiers were wounded in two roadside bomb attacks east of Baghdad.

**Approximately 250 people have been killed this past week in Iraq

Keep in mind that this list, while redundant, demonstrates how volatile and insecure the security situation is throughout Baghdad and Iraq’s surrounding provinces.  At least 250 people have been killed in the last week, days before the U.S. Military plans to withdraw most of its soldiers from Iraq’s cities by the agreed-upon June 30, 2009 deadline.  Although I understand that both the White House and the Defense Department wish to abide by this time-table, commonly referred to as the Status of Forces Agreement, these recent attacks should give the administration cause for concern.

There is no denying the fact that violence in Iraq has decreased significantly over the past year, thanks to General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine.  However, the attacks listed above prove that remnants of Al’Qaeda remain embedded in Northern Iraq.  When combining this assertion with the potential resurgence of small-scale insurgent groups, a “civil war, part II” is all the more realistic.  One can only question whether a significant U.S. troop withdrawal in the coming days will spell the end of Iraq’s moderately stable environment.

There was always discussion within policymaking circles that the Status of Forces negotiation between Washington and Prime Minister Maliki was rushed.  Now, with Iraqi bloodshed rising to the levels of 2006 and 2007, and with an American drawdown imminent, it appears that this consideration is finally coming to fruition.  Unfortunately, you would not know it by reading today’s articles.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from:

-Patrick Quinn of the Associated Press

– Kim Gamel of the Associated Press

-Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor

-The USA Today

Walt’s “Two State Solution: Netanyahu’s Coalition Seems Too Hardline at the Moment

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on June 23, 2009

The opinions and recommendations that Dr. Stephen Walt seems to endorse are certainly important if the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority wish to take concrete steps towards peace. In fact, the idea that Fatah’s current leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is considered a pro-western Palestinian politician is a step in the right direction. For the last few years, Mr. Abbas has made a rather genuine attempt to forge a comprehensive dialogue with Jerusalem; despite the Hamas Movement’s continued defiance of working with an “oppressive occupying power”. Mr. Abbas’ declaration that he is willing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy in the heart of the Islamic world is a testament to how intimately involved he is in the whole process.

Yet, it seems like the United States (as Dr. Walt implies) is extremely hesitant to praise the Palestinian President for work on this front. The reason is quite understandable of course: any western support for Abbas would severely alter Washington’s diplomatic and military relationship with Israel.

As fearful as this sounds, this may be precisely the policy change that Washington needs in order to finally advance a Middle Eastern peace deal. Sure, AIPAC and other Israeli lobby’s hold considerable sway in the U.S. Congress. And yes, Israel is America’s only true ally in a region that has been historically ridden with anti-western sentiment. With that being said, sacrificing U.S. national interests to keep pro-Israeli lobbyists happy baffles the mind. Israel needs the United States more than the United States needs Israel.

Perhaps it is time to cut off a portion of Washington’s military ties with Israel, especially if the Jewish state is unwilling to adopt reasonable concessions towards peace. One finds it increasingly hard to believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would continue building settlements in the West Bank with such a threat looming in the air.

I do not want to sound like a biased observer that is dead set against the state of Israel. There is no question that Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab fundamentalists (such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran) who make it their main objective to destroy its very existence. Let me be absolutely clear: I am a supporter of Israel when it comes to its fight against terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Yet, at the same time, the current obstacle to the Israel-Palestine conflict is not the leadership of Mr. Abbas or his Fatah coalition (as past U.S. presidents have declared). It is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to compromise. As long as Netanyahu and the Israeli Right continue to reject claims of an independent Palestinian state without unreasonable preconditions, President Obama might as well give up on trying to forge a peace agreement between these two longstanding rivals.

-Daniel R. DePetris

Response to Marc Lynch: Israel and Iran’s Nuclear Weapons

Posted in Israel by Dan on June 22, 2009

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Regardless of who emerges victorious after Iran’s demonstrations dwindle, there is no doubt that Israel may eventually be forced into taking active steps with respect to the nuclear issue. Unless the Iranian people themselves embark on a new revolution to oust Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from his position as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Tehran’s nuclear program will continue to develop and improve in the months ahead.

This position of power (the Supreme Leader) is the key to Israel and the Arab world when confronting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. As long as Khamenei or a pro-Khamenei successor continues to rule Iran’s people with an iron fist, any chances of reconciliation or negotiation on its nuclear sites will prove meaningless.

On a similar note, If Khamenei successfully crushes the democratic camps lingering within Iranian politics (as he is currently doing in the face of peaceful demonstrations), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may find military force to be his only option in curtailing Iran’s enrichment capabilities.

Historically, such a move by Israel may not be a complete failure as some analysts have predicted. After all, Israeli Defense Forces performed this very same military operation against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear installations in 1981. Not only did the strike against Iraq buy Israel some time against a rising Arab power; it also created a more stable Middle East by eliminating a potential arms race by Iraq’s neighbors. Who is to say that a similar approach may not work?

If Israel does choose to implement a preemptive air strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, it would be extremely wise for the United States to stay out of the conflict. In fact, U.S. interference would not only threaten American troops with Iranian-sponsored attacks in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. Such U.S. meddling could go a step further by severely damaging the already strained American image in the Middle East. At a time when President Obama is gradually mending the differences between Washington and members of the Islamic world, poor P.R. is the last thing the White House needs.

In my eyes, a Mousavi victory over Ahmadinejad would be the same thing as a re-election of Ahmadinejad himself. The two have made it publicly known that Iran’s nuclear development will continue in the face of further U.N, U.S, and Israeli pressure.

-Daniel R. DePetris

Jimmy Carter: The Naive Diplomat

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on June 22, 2009

As I woke up this morning, jumped on my computer and started investigating today’s news over a hot cup of coffee, one story in particular jumped to the forefront above all others.  Not surprisingly, it dealt with the ongoing and exceedingly frustrating political and security conflicts between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians.  Fortunately, the piece was written in a rather unique perspective, going beyond the usual give-and-take between Palestine’s radical Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli Government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In fact, the Fox News article did not even mention the recent rhetorical exchanges between the Hamas leadership and their Israeli counterparts:  To my immediate delight, the focal point of the article dealt with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s trip to the Gaza Strip, in which he personally met with the U.S.-designated terrorist group in the hopes of persuading Hamas officials into a peaceful dialogue with Israeli politicians.

Scrolling down the pages, I was especially pleased to hear that a high-powered American broker decided to get involved in an intimate way with Israel’s most threatening adversary.  After all, Jimmy Carter is well-known throughout the international community for his extensive peace efforts towards the violent-ridden Middle East (it was in fact Carter who successfully brokered a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt during his tenure as President of the United States).  Certainly, the respect that Mr. Carter routinely receives from the Muslim Community, including from extremist organizations that view the west with outright disdain, is a testament to how influential his overtures are in the region.  The very fact that a network of terrorists would agree to meet with Carter is particularly impressive and unprecedented.

Casting President Carter’s successes aside, I was absolutely shocked to learn about the former president’s main policy recommendation from his trip overseas.  According to sources very-well informed about White House activities, Mr. Carter is prepared to recommend a policy that goes against the very fabric of America’s counterterrorism agenda:  remove Hamas from the U.S.-designed terrorism list.  While this recommendation may very well be an attempt by Carter to coerce Hamas into recognizing Israel’s legitimacy, it has been historically proven that a “carrots” approach is unlikely to work with the movement’s fundamentalist ideology.  With that being said, asking the Obama administration to remove one of the most lethal militant groups from the list is not only dangerous, but potentially devastating to America’s global campaign against terrorism.  Imagine what the reactions of other terrorist organizations around the world would be if the U.S. decided to embark on this path.  Such a decision would certainly not help America’s image as an unwavering superpower in the face of an asymmetric enemy.

To show how dangerous Hamas fighters are to regional stability, let’s list a few “accomplishments” that they are most known for:

1)      In 1988, Hamas publishes its official manifesto, declaring that “Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it…Jihad is the only solution for the Palestinian question.”

2)      Hamas sends suicide bombers into Israeli cities to oppose and undermine the highly-acclaimed Oslo Accords.

3)      Hamas militants perform a round of shootings and bombings throughout Israel in 1994.

4)      Two suicide bombings in Jerusalem claim the lives of 45 people.  Hamas admits responsibility for the attacks.

5)      Suicide bombers in Jerusalem kill 14 and injure 150 Israelis.  Once again, Hamas claims responsibility.

6)      140 people are killed in a Tel-Aviv nightclub bombing n June of 2001

7)      Hamas suicide bombers kill 20 innocent civilians on an Israeli bus, including six children.

8)      Hamas boycotts the 20005 Palestinian presidential elections due to the success of the pro-western candidate, Mahmoud Abbas.

9)      In 2006 and 2007, Hamas wins the Palestinian Parliamentary elections while taking control of the Gaza Strip by force.  The movement pledges to continue its campaign of resistance against Israeli occupation.

With such a barbaric list of violent attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, did President Carter sincerely believe that U.S. assurances would turn anti-Jewish zealots away from terrorism?  Apparently so.

One day after Carter’s “historic” visit to the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials have already made it publicly known that any recognition of Israel would be labeled as unacceptable and meaningless towards a comprehensive peace.  One can only hope that the former president will learn from his mistakes.

Note to self:  Negotiating with ideologues is a waste of time.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information includes Ben Hubbard of the Associated Press and Reena Ninan from Fox News.

-Citations from ABC News, BBC, CBC, CNN, Guardian, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, Council on Foreign Relations, and Foreign Affairs magazine.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader Warns Protesters”

Posted in The Iranian Presidential Elections by Dan on June 19, 2009

Ayatollah_Ali_Khamenei

This is the most updated headline coming out of Iran’s election turmoil, in which tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in opposition to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s unethical democratic practices. Of course, these anti-Ahmadinejad rallies are old news to anyone who has paid attention to world affairs over the last couple of days.  However, what appears to be relatively new on the scene is the tremendous amount of pressure that is resulting from these protests: a swath of criticism against Khamenei that Tehran’s Islamic government has yet to experience on such a large scale.

Now for the most recent news.  The social unrest that has been unleashed throughout Iran’s cities over the past week has finally forced the Supreme Leader himself to address the Islamic Republic in a direct way.  Speaking to the public in perhaps one of his most important Friday-sermons, Khamenei defiantly lashed out against the opposition for sparking an unwanted and unnecessary violence against Iran’s security forces.  In case you happened to miss the highlights of his speech, here are a few phrases that all but characterize the Ayatollah’s belligerent behavior towards this domestic crisis.

-“Any extremist move will fan up another extremist move.”

-“If the political elite want to ignore law and break the law and take wrong measures which are harmful willy nilly, they will be held accountable for all the violence and blood and rioting.”

-“Eleven million votes difference?  Sometimes there’s a margin of 100,000, 200,000, or 1 million maximum.  Then one can doubt maybe there has been some rigging or manipulation or irregularities.  But there’s a difference of 11 million votes.  How can vote rigging happen?

-Some critics “wanted to indicate that as a doubtful victory; some even wanted to show that this is a national defeat.  They wanted to give you bad taste in the mouth.”

-“Enemies try through various media, and some of those media belong to the Zionists, ill-wishers.  They try to make believe in those media that there is a fight between supporters of the Islamic establishment and the opposition.  No, that’s not true.”

-Chants of “death to Israel, death to America,” and “death to Britain” were shouted throughout Khamenei’s speech.

The quotations from Iran’s highest authority certainly speak for themselves.  These statements not only expose Khamenei for the type of leader he is, that is a man who is completely out of touch with the population he is supposed to govern.  The speech also gives the United States and Israel an extraordinary opportunity to forge a concise and united international front against the Islamic state’s threatening nuclear program.  Whereas such an attempt has been routinely halted in the past by China and Russia in the U.N. Security Council, Khamenei’s self-destructive rhetoric (of which includes a public threat of force against Iran’s peaceful protesters) may raise a few questions in the minds of Chinese and Russian policymakers: One of which could very well be, “why are we protecting the Iranians from harsher sanctions when these same people continue to defy common principles of the international community (i.e. universal human rights)?

Moscow and Beijing would certainly not risk losing their credibility by siding with a clerical regime that fails to embrace their own people’s democratic wishes.  With such a large amount of western foreign direct investment keeping Chinese and Russian firms afloat, both countries may wish to avoid antagonizing Americans and Europeans over a position that is slowly gaining criticism from others in the Third World.

As I have stated earlier in this blog, the rigged election and the quick crackdown by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be a blessing in disguise for the United States, Israel, and the Arab world.  The domestic turmoil that Iran’s leadership is currently experiencing may result in a widespread opposition against the very pillars of the Islamic revolution.  As the Ahmadinejad opposition continues to strengthen by the day, and as Khamenei continues to feel the heat from within his own inner-circle, this hope is gaining fruition.  On a more realistic note, today’s speech by the Supreme Leader may finally bridge a gap that has far too often limited the possibility of stronger U.N. penalties on Iran’s nuclear non-compliance.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-The report from Badi Badiozamani, Christiane Amanpour, and Joe Sterling contributed to this blog.

“Realism and Iran”- A Response to Stephen M. Walt

Posted in The Iranian Presidential Elections by Dan on June 19, 2009

First and foremost, it is highly unlikely that the Islamic Republic would concede to western demands with respect to its highly contentious nuclear program. All in all, it really does not matter who is president of Iran, considering the fact that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the Supreme Leader) holds the final say in all state matters, whether it involves economic policy or its role in the Middle East.

One only needs to look back at the recent article by Ranj Alaaldin in this very same magazine.  It is almost universal to conclude that  Tehran’s conservative establishment would kill any attempts by President Mousavi to open up Iranian society to westernization.  In addition, the likelihood that Mousavi would be willing to practice what he preaches remains skeptical. Who is too say that Mr. Mousavi’s campaign for change against the incumbent Ahmadinejad was not just a ploy to win the presidential election?  He is a politicain after all.  This question is a very reasonable one to ask, especially when the history of Iran’s “reformist” candidate is intimately involved with political persecution.  Lets keep in mind that this is the very same man who oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners throughout the 1980’s.

-Daniel R. DePetris

What Do The Arabs Think?

Posted in The Iranian Presidential Elections by Dan on June 17, 2009

The last time I posted a response dealing with the statistical anomaly of the 2009 Iranian elections, several developments were occurring on an hour-by-hour basis.

First and foremost, hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters took to the streets within Iran’s capital to protest the questionable re-election of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinjead.

Secondly, the democratic opening that so many young Iranians were hoping for was squandered by recurrent counts of voting-fraud in favor of Iran’s conservative hardliner.  We are still seeing the immediate effects of this ballot-box coup through the numerous cases of looting: not to mention the clashes between the Islamic Republic’s security services and the mass of protesters that have resulted in a few civilian deaths.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the inaccurate electoral results has placed a tremendous amount of unwanted pressure on the Supreme Leader’s legitimacy.  In fact, residents of Tehran are so enraged that Iran’s Khamenei has agreed to investigate claims of abuse at the polls.  The powerful Guardian Council has gone a step further by declaring its willingness to conduct a limited recount, all the while calling for calm and national unity throughout the country.

Such widespread resentment is undoubtedly unprecedented for the traditionally-unchallenged Iranian autocracy, given the fact the Islamic Republic’s top leadership has often been able to suppress previous the constant calls for democracy and progression.  However, while U.S and world media has continued to cover the social unrest within Iran itself, very little attention is being paid to the Arab world.  What are politicians inside Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States saying in the aftermath of Ahmadinejad’s “wide-margin” of victory?

According to a variety of reports, including sources within Iran and throughout the region, the reactions are anything but clear.  Saudi Arabia, a country that considers itself the primary defender of Sunni Arab rights in the Middle East, has labeled the Iranian election as a primary example of undemocratic politics.  As Abdul-Rahman al-Rashed in a Saudi daily newspaper comments, “falsifying the results is the easiest of tasks for a religious-security regime that does not believe in leaving to chance what it considers right.”  In other words, the Saudi’s strongly believe that Khamenei deliberately discarded the voices of the Iranian people in the hopes of restoring his dominance in Tehran’s government.  These statements are rather harsh, considering that Saudi Arabia routinely embraces authoritarian principles in its domestic affairs as well.

Nevertheless, it appears that Ahmadinejad’s re-election has created further strain between Riyadh and Tehran.  The Saudi’s now have an additional factor to worry about other than Iran’s developing nuclear program: they must now deal with an Ahmadinejad administration that will continue to advance a policy of Shiite dominance in the Muslim world.  As the major Sunni player in the region, such an agenda is especially concerning to a Saudi leadership that primarily relies on the United States for security guarantees.

While Saudi Arabia is clearly anti-Ahmadinejad (or more generally speaking, anti-Iranian), the smaller Gulf Arab governments are exhibiting a quite restraint with respect to Iran’s presidential election.  Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have personally congratulated Ahmadinjad on his success throughout the campaign.  This positive sentiment could simply be a formality between the Gulf states and a larger Iranian power.  However, this is unlikely.  A more likely cause of this Arab praise may have something to do with Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East, as well as the Islamic Republic’s technical improvements in weaponry and technology.  This is precisely why Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be worried:  the smaller Sunni nations on the Arabian Peninsula view Iran as a force that should not be reckoned with.

While Khamenei may be dealing with trouble at home, his decision to thwart internal democracy may have helped his regime pick up some unlikely allies for the future.  As the Iranians prepare for a potential showdown with the United States and Israel over its nuclear program, the addition of any Gulf ally is a remarkable achievement for Tehran’s mullahs.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Reuters and the Associated Press (authors Ali Akbar Dareini and Nasser Karimi) contributed to this blog

How Ahmadinejad’s Victory Could Actually Bolster Iranian Democracy

Posted in The Iranian Presidential Elections by Dan on June 15, 2009

After months of constant campaigning between incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the results of the Iranian presidential election appear to be in.  Despite the millions of young Iranians pledging their devoted support for the reformist challenger, the Islamic Republic’s conservative president has won a landslide victory over the moderate establishment.  In fact, Iran’s state-run news agency concludes that Ahmadinejad has prevailed with a resounding 2-to-1 margin over Mousavi’s campaign: a detrimental blow to Tehran’s educated elite who often brand the anti-western president as both embarrassing and incompetent.

Unfortunately, the re-election of Ahmadinejad and the resurgence of Iran’s clerical base is only a small part of the country’s looming desperation.  What is more alarming to the international community is the apparent fraud that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed when the ballots were cast and eventually counted.  Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said it best: “I don’t think anyone anticipated this level of fraudulence…this was a selection, not an election.”  Indeed, the fact that President Ahmadinejad carried close to 66 percent of the popular vote only confirms this disbelief.  With so many Iranian citizens citing Mahmoud’s belligerent rhetoric and destructive handling of the national economy, how can this high figure possibly reflect the will of the Iranian electorate?

Certainly, the clerical regime’s ordering of mass fraud at the polls and the imprisonment of protesters in Tehran’s streets are a cause for concern throughout the international community.  This is especially the case given that an Ahmadinejad re-election may further complicate the already tense relations between the west and the Islamic Republic (not to mention relations in the Middle Eastern region between Iran and its Arab neighbors).  Yet, as young Iranians continue to voice their frustration through demonstrations and looting, this election creates an opportunity that many moderates inside the country may soon recognize.  The formation of a new era in Iranian politics is fast approaching.

A widespread popular movement against the oppressive rule of Ayatollah Khamenei may very well strengthen throughout Iran itself.  In particular, a feeling of anger is quickly expanding in a way that Tehran’s theocracy has yet to experience in their 30-year rule.  Small businessmen/women, professors, academics, and even some officials within the Republic’s bureaucracy are beginning to question the absolute authority of the Supreme Leader.  Should the constitution be changed in a way that would curtail the powers of the Ayatollah?  Is it time for Iran’s moderate candidates to unite and publicly undermine the very tenants of Islamic Government?  Is the democratic movement picking up steam?  These are the questions that will inevitably be asked in the days and months ahead:  the same questions that may generate a diverse anti-Khamenei coalition with the firm backing of ordinary voters.

These predictions may simply be personal beliefs of an optimistic American democrat.  Or if these predictions come to fruition, they may be crushed by a wave of government-sponsored coercion aimed at protecting the current Iranian power structure (we have seen this use of force practiced many times in the past).  Indeed, a popular overthrow of Iran’s religious autocracy seems impractical, if not downright irrational, to many scholars of Iranian politics.  However, the unrest that is currently being unleashed within Tehran’s many neighborhoods lends certain credence to this view.  Yes, Ahmadinejad may have won a massive victory in the face of numerous challenges.  But the scenes on the ground point to a much different perspective: the public is sick and tired of the Ayatollah’s illegitimate behavior.  Couple this with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s (the head of the Council of Experts) apparent anger towards the corrupt-ridden electoral system and it may be safe to conclude that the strings of democracy within Iran have captured more and more supporters.  Ironically, Khamenei may have dug his own grave and the graves of his religious backers.

As is long due, people that have supported the regime’s principles may slowly discover its central motive:  suppressing the interests of the majority in order to protect the power of the few.  So far, the mass resentment among Tehran’s students and scholars is a welcoming sign.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Laura Rozen of Foreign Policy Magazine contributed to this blog

“Much Ado About Nothing”

Posted in The Iranian Presidential Elections by Dan on June 15, 2009

June 13, 2009 by Daniel R. DePetris

In the last couple of weeks, there has been a tremendous amount of fascination with the June 12 Iranian presidential election.  Washington, in particular, is perhaps one of the leading participants in the monitoring of the Iranian elections.  Of course, such a statement is understandable to officials within the United States Government:  through a popular ousting of a belligerent and anti-western incumbent (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), a new form of diplomatic dialogue may open up in the near future.  This is certainly what millions and millions of educated and middle-class Iranian citizens are hoping for, all too evident in the millions of Persian voters taking to the streets and advocating for the reformist challenger, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.  Yet, while a Mousavi victory would be a detrimental blow to the conservative establishments within the Islamic Republic’s clerical regime, American and Israeli policymakers would be wise not too view this scenario as a “saving-grace” for democracy, toleration, and political cooperation in Iran.  The history of Iranian politics only confirms this:  despite past presidents who have labeled themselves within the reformist camp, foreign policy towards the west has remained essentially unchanged.

Michael Singh of Foreign Policy magazine is quite right when saying that “true power on vital issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the United States remain strictly in the hands of Khamenei.”  In other words, it is the Supreme Leader, not the president of the regime, which determines what course of action is acceptable.  This is precisely why Mr. Ahmadinejad’s consistent hardline stance towards the United States is essentially viewed as mere rhetoric:  the ability to dictate Iranian foreign and defense policy is beyond his immediate grasp.  With the Grand Ayatollah controlling every aspect of decision-making in these realms, it appears that a Mousavi victory on June 12 would bask more in symbolism than a 21st century Iranian revolution.

Even if Mr. Mousavi does defeat President Ahmadinejad by a slim margin, there is no reason to believe that his moderate initiatives towards the west would be successful in the face of the Iranian conservative ranks.  In fact, Mousavi’s tenure may prove as fruitless as the presidency of Mohammad Khatami:  an official that was virtually kept in check by the Islamic religious establishment, as well as the increasingly powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.  With this being the case, it is rather difficult to imagine that a reformist victory would translate into a willingness to curb the country’s controversial nuclear program.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already made it known that an effort to weaken Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities will be met with universal resistance.  Therefore, while the ouster of an Ahmadinejad administration is indeed impressive, we should all keep our optimism in check.  A new age in Iranian politics, one that will open up society and destroy the country’s Islamic tendencies while embracing personal freedoms, is not upon us at this time.  Of course, the death of Khamenei is a whole different story.

-Information from Michael Singh of Foreign Policy contributed to this blog

Israeli Cooperation is Needed

Posted in Israel by Dan on June 15, 2009

June 8, 2009 by Daniel R. DePetris

As President Barack Obama caps his first trip to the Middle Eastern region in Cairo since his election, the state of Israel is continuing to implement policies that all but contradict the president’s reformed plan for the region.  Certainly more controversial, Israel is responding to the Obama administration’s plans for the Middle East with outright defiance.  In fact, not only are members of the Israeli Government beginning to criticize U.S. actions in an open forum, but are dangerously endorsing radical anti-Palestinian initiatives that all but threaten to disembark any prospects for a cordial relationship with a large Arab and Muslim community in the Holy Land.  The Jerusalem pledge of expanding Israel’s conquest of Palestinian land and its stark opposition to the formulation of an independent Palestinian state are dramatic examples of this newly-held political sentiment.   As President Obama was correct in declaring, it is crucial for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gradually begin the halting of Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.  This would have a direct effect on the Palestinian leadership by showing Prime Minister Netanyahu genuine interest in negotiations.  More importantly, the move would be a symbolic and necessary gesture to Isreal’s Arab neighbors.  By slowing the growth rate of Jewish settlement activity, the Middle East may eventually perceive the Netanyahu coalition as a government that is finally respecting the universal human rights of all Palestinians.  Although these results may seem overly optimistic, Mr. Obama has recognized the settlement policy’s essential doctrine.  Indeed, the president reiterated these same conclusions this past week to the Israeli Prime Minister.  Of course, the presidents remarks have generated a number of hostile responses from pro-Israeli lobbyists.  In fact, many in Congress still hold the belief that the White House has a special responsibility to continue its unconditional support for an ally that is consistently threatened by Islamic terrorism.

Certainly, Mr. Netanyahu is unconvinced of such a U.S. demand, one that he has characterized as an unreasonable precondition for a possible peace plan with the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement. Israel’s continued construction along the West Bank of new settlements only adds testament to its unwillingness in compromising on the settlement issue: a problem of significant concern given the decades of stalled peace agreements between the Israelis and its Arab neighbors.

Scholars and students of international politics should certainly be surprised that Washington is slowly but surely acting contrary to what Netanyahu’s center-right government desires for a greater Israel in the Middle East. After all, previous administrations have been all too hesitant in establishing a set of pre-conditions necessary for a stable coexistence with Arabs and Palestinians alike. Rather, Obama’s predecessor has made it known throughout the international community that the United States is, and will always be, on the side of Israel: made all the more evident in Mr. Bush’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric.

It appears as if the eight years of unquestioned support towards the Jewish state has finally come home to roost. Israelis now expect the United States to unquestionably support their national-interests from hostile terrorist organizations, an assumption that is currently being rethought under President Obama’s direction for the Middle East.

There is no question that Israel is our most important friend in a region that has been historically dominated by ethnic and religious violence. There is a universal consensus around the world that the U.S.-Israeli alliance may strengthen as a result of Iran’s nuclear-program.   Yet, with this being said, it may be time for the Israeli’s to recognize their own actions in the context of a wider peace with the Palestinians.  Continuing the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank will only hinder the prospects of reconciliation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Just as Arabs are expected to modify their political behavior, so too should Israeli’s be expected to hold up their end of the bargain. Whether or not repeated American pressure on the settlement issue will change Israel’s stance remains to be seen. What is certain today, however, is that Obama’s desire to improve diplomacy between the west and the Muslim world may be at the expense of Washington’s most trusted friend.

-Information from Cynthia Osterman of the Reuters News Organization and Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy Magazine contributed to this blog