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An attack on Iran would be disastrous | Richard Norton-Taylor

An attack on Iran would be disastrous

Britain must resist US pressure for military action. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons, engagement is the only course to take

Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Natanz Nuclear Enrichment Facility

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visits a nuclear enrichment facility south of Tehran. Photograph: HO/Reuters/Corbis

“Would a British prime minister ever refuse a plea from a US president to join America in a controversial military operation?” This was the response, rhetorical and unanswerable as far as they were concerned, by Whitehall mandarins whenever they were asked why Tony Blair agreed to invade Iraq. It was not a matter of whether the invasion was wrong or right; it was that the occupier of 10 Downing Street would simply not turn down such a request from the White House.

For the US, Britain could offer not only political and “moral” support but a juicy physical asset – Diego Garcia, the base conveniently placed for American bombers, on the British Indian Ocean Territory.

This is what so worries Whitehall, and Britain’s top brass in particular – a growing fear that Barack Obama will find it difficult to oppose increasing pressure for military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next 12 months. British military commanders may be gung-ho, perennially optimistic and eager to please their political masters. They are also pragmatic, fully aware of the potential failure as well as the catastrophic consequences of such military action. And it would be hard for anyone to defend the legality of such pre-emptive strikes.

Amid such death and destruction what would be the end game, and the battles on the way? US and British military commanders have for years warned of the disasters that would follow missile strikes on Iran.

Iran’s forces may not be up to much but, with the help of Hamas and Hezbollah, they could wreak havoc. British and US troops in Afghanistan would be exposed to even greater danger than they are now – their bases in the Gulf, notably in Qatar and Bahrain, would be easy targets. The Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Gulf, the canal through which more than 50% of the world’s oil is shipped, would be closed. What would arise from the ashes?

Some may say that is a price worth paying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The suggestion is that there is a “window” now that would enable Israel on its own to strike Iran’s nuclear sites. Next year, the “window” would be left open to the US (and the UK) before Iran’s nuclear weapons reached the point of no return.

Such reasoning, if this is what it can be called, is that of the dangerous fool. How crushed and devastated would Iran have to be before it could no longer restart a nuclear programme, even one just involving fissile material as a weapon for terrorists?

Israel is fast developing its arsenal, giving it a nuclear “triad” – weapons that could be delivered by land and air, and by submarines.

That’s fine and understandable because Israel is not Iran – unstable, unpredictable, under a president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wants to create havoc across the Middle East. So runs the argument.

Why attack, or even threaten to attack, a country whose leaders are increasingly worried, more worried, about the state of the economy and internal dissent than any perceived threat from Israel? Iran is a far more sophisticated and divided society than the picture generally painted in the west.

An attack on Iran would halt and reverse moves to reform. The Arab spring would become an Arab winter with disastrous consequences for US and European interests as well as Arab societies, including Saudi Arabia. The alternatives are many – to continue to apply economic sanctions, a policy of carrot and stick, but with much more emphasis on the carrot. Embraces are far more difficult to withstand than attacks.

Engagement with Iran is essential even if it continues to appear determined to possess nuclear weapons, or the ability to produce them – “the art, but not the article”. It is status, after all, rather than military practicality, that led Blair to keep the Trident nuclear missile system for Britain, according to his autobiography.

If the pressure continues to mount, we can only hope there are enough influential voices left in Whitehall to tell the prime minister, and in Washington to tell the president: “No!”

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

A secret campaign of surveillance, sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations has slowed but not stopped Tehran’s programme

President George W Bush in 2007

Iran’s nuclear ambitions led then US president George W Bush to launch a covert war in 2007 to thwart the programme. Photograph: Jim Young/REUTERS

The covert war on Iran‘s nuclear programme was launched in earnest by George Bush in 2007. It is a fair assumption that the western powers had been trying their best to spy on the Islamic Republic since the 1979 Iranian revolution, but the 2007 “presidential finding” put those efforts on a new footing.

Bush asked Congress to approve $400m for a programme of support for rebel ethnic groups, as well as intelligence gathering and sabotage of the nuclear programme. Part of that effort involved slipping defective parts such as centrifuge components into the black market supply to Iran, designed to blow apart while in operation and in so doing bring down all the centrifuges in the vicinity. The UK, Germany, France and Israel are said to have been involved in similar efforts. Meanwhile, western intelligence agencies stepped up their attempt to infiltrate the programme, seeking to recruit Iranian scientists when they travelled abroad.

That espionage effort appears to have paid dividends. In 2009, the US, British and French intelligence agencies were able to confirm that extensive excavations at Fordow, a Revolutionary Guard base near the Shia theological centre of Qom, were a secret uranium enrichment plant under construction. The digging had been seen by satellites, but only human sources could identify its purpose. Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy were able to reveal Fordow’s existence at the UN general assembly in September 2009, a diplomatic setback to Iran. Russia, which had been Iran’s principal protector on the world stage, was furious with Tehran at having been taken by surprise.

It is harder to gauge the impact of sabotage. Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said: “I never saw any direct evidence of sabotage. We could see that they had breakages but it was hard to say if those were the result of their own technical problems or sabotage. I suspect a little of both.”

Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, complained to the press in 2006 about sabotage but vowed that Iran would overcome the challenge by making more of the centrifuges and other components itself.

But it was impossible to make everything at home. The computer systems which run the centrifuge operations in Natanz, supplied by the German engineering firm Siemens, were targeted last year by a computer worm called Stuxnet, reportedly created as a joint venture by US and Israeli intelligence. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conceded that Stuxnet had caused damage, and last November, Iranian scientists were forced to suspend enrichment to rectify the problem. A few days later, however, the centrifuges were working once more.

The black operations have not been confined to hardware and computer systems. They have also targeted Iran’s scientists. In July 2009, an Iranian nuclear expert called Shahram Amiri vanished while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. A year later, he surfaced in the US claiming he had been abducted by American agents, and in July 2010 he returned to a hero’s welcome in Tehran.

US officials said he had been a willing defector who had been paid $5m for his help, but who had since had a mysterious change of heart. There have since been claims Amiri had been an Iranian double agent all along. The truth is unclear.

Other attempts to remove Iran’s scientists have been blunter and bloodier.

Starting in January 2010, there were a series of attacks in Tehran on Iranian physicists with links to the nuclear programme. The first target was Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a physicist and lecturer at the Imam Hussein university, run by the Revolutionary Guards. He was on his way to work when a bomb fixed to a motorbike parked outside his house exploded and killed him instantly.

In November that year, assassins on motorbikes targeted two Iranian scientists simultaneously as they were stuck in morning traffic. In both cases, the killers drove up alongside their targets’ cars and stuck bombs to the side. Majid Shahriari, a scientist at the atomic energy organisation, who had co-authored a paper on neutron diffusion in a nuclear reactor, was killed.

The other target, Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani, suspected by western officials of being a central figure in experiments on building a nuclear warhead, was only injured. Three months later he was promoted to the leadership of the nuclear programme.

A third scientist, Darioush Rezaeinejad, was killed in an attack in July this year, when gunmen on motorbikes shot him in a street in east Tehran. He was initially described in the Iranian media as a “nuclear scientist”, but the government later denied he had any involvement in the programme.

Iran has blamed the attacks on the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and in August sentenced an Iranian, Majid Jamali-Fashi, to death for his alleged involvement in the Ali Mohammadi killing. He had confessed to being part of a hit-team trained in Israel, but it appeared likely he had made the confession under torture.

Despite the millions spent, stalled machines and deaths of leading scientists, Iran has steadily built up its stockpile of enriched uranium to 4.5 tonnes – enough for four nuclear bombs if it was further refined to weapons-grade purity. At most, the covert war has slowed the rate of progress, but it has not stopped it.


Torture is Systemic in Afghan Prisons, UN Report Finds — News from Antiwar.com

Torture is Systemic in Afghan Prisons, UN Report Finds

 John Glaser On October 10, 2011

Detainees in Afghan prisons are hung from the ceilings by their wrists, severely beaten with cables and wooden sticks, have their toenails torn off, are treated with electric shock, and even have their genitals twisted until they lose consciousness, according to a study released Monday by the United Nations.

The study, which covered 47 facilities sites in 22 provinces, found “a compelling pattern and practice of systematic torture and ill-treatment” during interrogation by US-supported Afghan authorities. Both US and NATO military trainers and counterparts have been working closely with these authorities, consistently supervising the detention facilities and funding their operations.

The report detailed instances where detained suspects not yet charged with crimes signed confessions only after days of torture, sealing their fate as a convict in Afghanistan.

Before the report was published, the Afghan government got word of its findings and officials sternly denied the claims of torture. Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, saw a draft of the report and halted transfers of suspected insurgents to 16 of the 47 facilities uncovered in the report.

The Afghan government claims that although the torture was widespread and systemic, they do not condone torture. It has reportedly set up an “assessment unit” to look into the issue and has already dismissed some of the employees at one particularly abusive facility. No prosecution for the torturers has yet been initiated.

The negligence of the US and NATO administrators, and of the Obama administration in Washington, overseeing the detention facilities in Afghanistan could be prosecutable, although chances for accountability in that respect are very remote. The revelations may trigger restrictions on US aid to Afghanistan, under a provision of law called the Leahy law.

Abu Mazen’s Gambit » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Abu Mazen’s Gambit

by URI AVNERY

A WONDERFUL SPEECH. A beautiful speech.

The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear and convincing. The delivery flawless.

A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie. A blatant lie: the speaker knew it was a lie, and so did the audience.

It was Obama at his best, Obama at his worst.

Being a moral person, he must have felt the urge to vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to do it, if he wanted to be re-elected.

In essence, he sold the fundamental national interests of the United States of America for the chance of a second term.

Not very nice, but that’s politics, OK?

IT MAY be superfluous – almost insulting to the reader – to point out the mendacious details of this rhetorical edifice.

Obama treated the two sides as if they were equal in strength – Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis.

But of the two, it is the Israelis – only they – who suffer and have suffered. Persecution. Exile. Holocaust. An Israeli child threatened by rockets. Surrounded by the hatred of Arab children. So sad.

No Occupation. No settlements. No June 1967 borders. No Naqba. No Palestinian children killed or frightened. It’s the straight right-wing Israeli propaganda line, pure and simple – the terminology, the historical narrative, the argumentation. The music.

The Palestinians, of course, should have a state of their own. Sure, sure. But they must not be pushy. They must not embarrass the US. They must not come to the UN. They must sit with the Israelis, like reasonable people, and work it out with them. The reasonable sheep must sit down with the reasonable wolf and decide what to have for dinner. Foreigners should not interfere.

Obama gave full service. A lady who provides this kind of service generally gets paid in advance. Obama got paid immediately afterwards, within the hour. Netanyahu sat down with him in front of the cameras and gave him enough quotable professions of love and gratitude to last for several election campaigns.

THE TRAGIC hero of this affair is Mahmoud Abbas. A tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless.

Many people may be surprised by this sudden emergence of Abbas as a daring player for high stakes, ready to confront the mighty US.

If Ariel Sharon were to wake up for a moment from his years-long coma, he would faint with amazement. It was he who called Mahmoud Abbas “a plucked chicken”.

Yet for the last few days, Abbas was the center of global attention. World leaders conferred about how to handle him, senior diplomats were eager to convince him of this or that course of action, commentators were guessing what he would do next. His speech before the UN General Assembly was treated as an event of consequence.

Not bad for a chicken, even for one with a full set of feathers.

His emergence as a leader on the world stage is somewhat reminiscent of Anwar Sadat.

When Gamal Abd-al-Nasser unexpectedly died at the age of 52 in 1970 and his official deputy, Sadat, assumed his mantle, all political experts shrugged.

Sadat? Who the hell is that? He was considered a nonentity, an eternal No. 2, one of the least important members of the group of “free officers” that was ruling Egypt.

In Egypt, a land of jokes and jokers, witticisms about him abounded. One concerned the prominent brown mark on his forehead. The official version was that it was the result of much praying, hitting the ground with his forehead. But the real reason, it was told, was that at meetings, after everyone else had spoken, Sadat would get up and try to say something. Nasser would good-naturedly put his finger to his forehead, push him gently down and say: “Sit, Anwar!”

To the utter amazement of the experts – and especially the Israeli ones – this “nonentity” took a huge gamble by starting the 1973 October War, and proceeded to do something unprecedented in history: going to the capital of an enemy country still officially in a state of war and making peace.

Abbas’ status under Yasser Arafat was not unlike Sadat’s under Nasser. However, Arafat never appointed a deputy. Abbas was one of a group of four or five likely successors. The heir would surely have been Abu Jihad, had he not been killed by Israeli commandoes in front of his wife and children. Another likely candidate, Abu Iyad, was killed by Palestinian terrorists. Abu Mazen (Abbas) was in a way the choice by default.

Such politicians, emerging suddenly from under the shadow of a great leader, generally fall into one of two categories: the eternal frustrated No. 2 or the surprising new leader.

The Bible gives us examples of both kinds. The first was Rehoboam, the son and heir of the great King Solomon, who told his people: “my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions”. The other kind was represented by Joshua, the heir of Moses. He was no second Moses, but according to the story a great conqueror in his own right.

Modern history tells the sad story of Anthony Eden, the long-suffering No. 2 of Winston Churchill, who commanded little respect. (Mussolini called him, after their first meeting, “a well-tailored idiot.”). Upon assuming power, he tried desperately to equal Churchill and soon embroiled Britain in the 1956 Suez disaster. To the second category belonged Harry Truman, the nobody who succeeded the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt and surprised everybody as a resolute leader.

Abbas looked like belonging to the first kind. Now, suddenly, he is revealed as belonging to the second. The world is treating him with newfound respect. Nearing the end of his career, he made the big gamble.

BUT WAS it wise? Courageous, yes. Daring, yes. But wise?

My answer is: Yes, it was.

Abbas has placed the quest for Palestinian freedom squarely on the international table. For more than a week, Palestine has been the center of international attention. Scores of international statesmen and -women, including the leader of the world’s only superpower, have been busy with Palestine.

For a national movement, that is of the utmost importance. Cynics may ask: “So what did they gain from it?” But cynics are fools. A liberation movement gains from the very fact that the world pays attention, that the media grapple with the problem, that people of conscience all over the world are aroused. It strengthens morale at home and brings the struggle a step nearer its goal.

Oppression shuns the limelight. Occupation, settlements, ethnic cleansing thrive in the shadows. It is the oppressed who need the light of day. Abbas’ move provided it, at least for the time being.

BARACK OBAMA’s miserable performance was a nail in the coffin of America’s status as a superpower. In a way, it was a crime against the United States.

The Arab Spring may have been a last chance for the US to recover its standing in the Middle East. After some hesitation, Obama realized that. He called on Mubarak to go, helped the Libyans against their tyrant, made some noises about Bashar al-Assad. He knows that he has to regain the respect of the Arab masses if he wants to recover some stature in the region, and by extension throughout the world.

Now he has blown it, perhaps forever. No self-respecting Arab will forgive him for plunging his knife into the back of the helpless Palestinians. All the credit the US has tried to gain in the last months in the Arab and the wider Muslim world has been blown away with one puff.

All for reelection.

IT WAS also a crime against Israel.

Israel needs peace. Israel needs to live side by side with the Palestinian people, within the Arab world. Israel cannot rely forever on the unconditional support of the declining United States.

Obama knows this full well. He knows what is good for Israel, even if Netanyahu doesn’t. Yet he has handed the keys of the car to the drunken driver.

The State of Palestine will come into being. This week it was already clear that this is unavoidable. Obama will be forgotten, as will Netanyahu, Lieberman and the whole bunch.

Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, as the Palestinians call him – will be remembered. The “plucked chicken” is soaring into the sky.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.