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Regime Blocks Pro-Reform Ayatollahs' Websites; Woos Lebanon

05 Oct 2010 09:18No Comments

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THE LEAD

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In Sign of Discord, Iran Blocks Web Sites of Some Clerics

New York Times | Oct 4

The web sites of two senior clerics have been blocked by government censors, a possible sign of a hardening political divide at the highest level of Iran's religious establishment.

The web sites of the clerics, Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat-Zanjani, who are both "sources of emulation," the highest clerical rank in Shiite Islam, were first reported blocked by news sites linked with Iran's political opposition movement on Sunday. The official site of a third top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali-Mohammad Dastgheib, was reported blocked early last month.

While there was no official announcement that the sites had been blocked, Internet users who attempted to access them on Monday were automatically redirected to a standard Iranian government filtering page which offers links to government-authorized web sites such as marriage advice sites, state-run news services and the official web site of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In response, an announcement on the top page of Grand Ayatollah Sanei's web site, which can only be accessed in Iran with the aid of illegal anti-filtering software, stated that the offices of the Grand Ayatollah were still be open to serve his followers in the fields of "worship, politics and cultural resistance against oppression."

"Let it not go unsaid that freedom of expression is emphasized under Islam," the statement reads.

The fresh restrictions on the clerics' web sites appears to be a further sign of the widening gulf between Iran's leadership and top ayatollahs who have refused to align themselves with an increasingly authoritarian regime.

"Filtering their sites is precisely because of the public positions that they have taken," said Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a political columnist for Tehran Bureau, a news website for the Iranian diaspora. "This is part of the 'cyberspace war' that the hardliners have publicly announced against the Green Movement and its supporters."

Senior Clerics' Websites Blocked In Iran

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | Oct 4

A statement posted on Ayatollah Zanjani's website said that "in the age of information," no one can block people's sources of information and knowledge. "Without any doubt, these moves will have the opposite effect," the statement says.

Ayatollah Dastgheib has also criticized the filtering of his website, saying that it goes against the claims of Iranian authorities who have said that freedom of expression prevails in Iran.

Dastgheib, a member of the Assembly of Experts [the constitutional body authorized to elect, supervise, and, if necessary, dismiss the Supreme Leader], is quoted as saying that his website has been blocked for a month. "When our friends asked about the reason in letters [to the authorities], they were told that Ayatollah Dastgheib has spoken about the Assembly of Experts and he has expressed support for people such as [opposition leaders] Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, so the website should be shut down."

Islamic Republic Blocks Sites of Dissident Clerics

Radio Zamaneh | Oct 4

Filtering of internet sites is under the supervision of the prosecutor general of Iran, Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejei. The authorities have not yet announced the reason for interference with the sites of [the] clerics.

Ayatollah Sanei condemned the filtering of his site and announced in a statement that "restrictions on this information site and all print and internet media gauge the level of free speech in the country."

Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheib, another dissident cleric whose website was blocked by the government, announced: "These gentlemen on the other side of the world contend that Iran is a free country and everyone can speak their mind and nothing will happen. These people are riding the train of lies but we cannot join them in their lies. We have spoken as usual and only want the truth to be said; what is written in the Quran and Islam to be said."

Iran Ready to Give Lebanon Military Aid

Press TV | Oct 4

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki expresses Tehran's readiness to provide "unlimited" economic and military support for Lebanon.

"Stability and peace in Lebanon is a gift that benefits all countries," Mottaki said on Monday.

"Iran is ready to provide unlimited economic and even military support for the Lebanese government and people," IRNA quoted Mottaki as telling the Syrian daily Al-Watan.

"The Middle East has reached political maturity...and American mischief to create discord in the region remains futile," Mottaki concluded.

'Iran Ready to Provide Lebanon with Electricity'

IRIB | Oct 4

IRI's energy minister [Majid Namjoo] said investing problems facing Iranian companies in Lebanon will be resolved in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's upcoming visit to Beirut.

The Energy Minister also expressed the Islamic Republic of Iran's readiness to provide Lebanon with electricity.

He added that prior to President Ahmadinejad's trip a technical team would be dispatched to the country to examine appropriate measures for providing Lebanon with its needs concerning electricity.

After Israeli Gas Finds, Iran to Aid Lebanon Exploration

Globes | Oct 4

The Lebanese and Iranian ministers of energy have reached an agreement over oil and gas exploration efforts in Lebanese economic waters. The agreement will result in Iranian involvement in the search for gas and oil close to the border with Israel, the Iranian media reported today.

Lebanon will use Iran's engineering experience in setting up a joint project of the two countries to look for oil and gas in Lebanese economic waters. The initiative follows huge gas finds off Israel's Mediterranean coastline over the past two years.

From Iran's point of view, this latest project will deepen its involvement in the region and strengthen Lebanon's dependence on Tehran, above and beyond [the] connection with Hezbollah. Lebanon hopes for gas discoveries in order to reduce its energy dependence on foreign countries and upgrade its electricity sector.

See also: "Mir Kazemi: Syria, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon to Hold Quadripartite Meeting on Exporting Natural Gas" (SANA via Tabnak) | "Iran to Facilitate Business in Lebanon" (Press TV)

Iran: Middle East Supports Lebanon

Press TV | Oct 4

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says in the event of an Israeli attack on Lebanon and Syria, all regional countries will support Beirut and Damascus.

"If the Zionist Regime [of Israel] attacks Lebanon and Syria, all regional countries including Iran will stand behind Beirut and Damascus," Mottaki said on Monday.

"Iran and Saudi Arabia are two important regional countries and cooperation between them is in the interest of the region and the Islamic World," Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying in an interview with Kuwait's Al-Anba.

Call for Robust Lebanon Ties

Iran Daily | Oct 5

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil ahead of his first official visit to that country.

He told the visiting minister on Sunday that cementing relations between the two countries is in the interest of both nations, Presstv reported.

Lauding the resilience and resistance of the Lebanese people against the US-backed occupying power, the president said Iran is a friend of the Lebanese people nation and wants to boost relations with the country. The Lebanese minister said Israel has targeted his country's very existence.

"The Lebanese people's resistance and their unity led to defeat of the Zionist regime," IRNA quoted Bassil as saying.

In a meeting with Bassil, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said stability and unity in Lebanon would help foil the plots of enemies and "peace and stability will create the grounds for development" in that country.

Ahmadinejad's Visit to Lebanon Stirs Controversy

Ynet | Oct 4

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's impending visit to Lebanon has reportedly stirred controversy among Beirut's political circles, as some in the country view it as provocation meant to serve the Iranian leader's future plans for war.

Antwone Andreus, deputy chief of the Al-Mustaqbal Movement, warned Sunday that Ahmadinejad's visit is a provocation of the Lebanese people: "Ahmadinejad is an enemy of Lebanon because he gives Hezbollah weapons, and they walks into Beirut's streets and gun us down."

Fares Saeed, a senior member of the March 14 Alliance, the political bloc headed by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, added: "At a time when there are peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the Iranian president wants to underscore the fact that Lebanon is land belonging to the resistance and that his war plan against Israel in ongoing.

"Ahmadinejad [wants] to remind the international community that Israel's security is in Iran's hands via Hamas and Hezbollah."

The March 14 Alliance issues an official statement denouncing the visit, as well.

Deputy Secretary of the Hezbollah Sheikh Naim Kasse, on the other hand, stressed that Ahmadinejad's visit was legitimate, given Iran's contribution to the country's rehabilitation after the Second Lebanon War.

Israel Has No Right to Protest to Ahmadinejad's Visit of Lebanon

IRNA | Oct 5

Lebanon's President Michael Suleiman said here [in Beirut] Monday, Israel has no right to protest to IRI President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's state visit of Lebanon.

According to IRNA['s] office in Beirut, President Suleiman, who was addressing the Lebanese cabinet Monday night, added, "The Lebanese National Government is independent and receiving the presidents of various countries is related to the sovereignty of countries, about which Israel has no right to interfere."

OTHER NEWS

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Iranian Regime Stages Mock Protest Maneuvers

Planet Iran | Oct 5

In the midst of all the internal crisis inside Iran, the Iranian regime which is looking to prevent further unrest, has staged a new set of security maneuvers in order to intimidate protesters.

The state-run media reported that the 'maneuvers', staged on Sunday were meant to be reenactments of street protests and were organized as a means of empowering the security forces in the face of future anti-regime demonstrations and rallies. In the photos published by the media inside Iran, a number of the Iranian regime's own militia members who were comically dressed up as protesters holding placards and signage with equally comical slogans, are seen pretending to be attacking the special guards.

A number of the Iranian regime's own officials such as Deputy Commander of the Security the Iranian Security Forces Ahmad-Reza Radan and Attorney General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeii were present and participated in overseeing the 'maneuvers'. Both Radan and Mohseni-Ejeii are among the eight named in the list named by Hillary Clinton, and are facing economic sanctions for human rights abuses since last year's disputed elections.

Radan [said] that he had it on good authority that another wave of protests was under way and that 'the eyes of the instigators and reactionaries will be plucked out'.

Iran Blames Bushehr Delay on 'Small Leak,' Not Virus

Reuters | Oct 4

A small leak in a pool near the reactor caused a delay in starting up Iran's first nuclear power plant but it has now been fixed, a senior official was quoted as saying on Monday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, also said the delay had nothing to do with the global Stuxnet computer virus believed mainly to have affected Iran.

When Iran began loading fuel into Bushehr in August, officials said it would take two to three months for the plant to start producing electricity and that it would generate 1,000 megawatts, about 2.5 percent of the country's power usage.

But Salehi said last week the fuel would soon be transferred to the core of the reactor and the plant would begin supplying energy in 2011, signalling a delay in its start-up.

He gave further details on Monday, saying "a small leak was observed in a pool next to the reactor and was curbed," the official IRNA news agency reported.

Salehi added: "This leak caused the activities to be delayed for a few days. The leak has been fixed and the core of the reactor is working properly."

Mark Fitzpatrick, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Salehi might have been referring to a pool for receiving spent fuel rods from the reactor.

Number of Jailed Iran Students 'Highest In Decades'

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | Oct 4

An Iranian opposition website says 73 students are currently being held in Iranian jails over their activism, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Daneshjoonews.com published the names of the jailed students and said the number is the highest it has been in decades. It said the students are being held throughout the country, from Tehran's notorious Evin prison to jails in Ahwaz, Tabriz, Isfahan, Babol, Rajaee Shahr, and in Gohardasht, which is outside of Tehran.

Amir Rashidi, a student opposition leader in Iran, told Radio Farda that the government has been using a new strategy to stop opposition political activism on university campuses.

"The regime is shifting everything it does to control universities to militarization; they are trying to control the situations by using military tactics," he said.

Rashidi added that prior to the disputed 2009 election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the authorities always tried to control the atmosphere at universities rather than suppressing it. But he said the regime has changed its policy from controlling students to stopping them from being politically active.

"The regime has found out that simply trying to control the atmosphere at universities is useless and they have to respond to any opposition from students with an iron fist," Rashidi said.

He noted that students have been given lengthy prison sentences compared to other political activists.

"We see now the longest prison sentences being given to the student activists, for instance the ones given to Bahare Hedayat and Abdullah Momeni," he said.

Hedayat, a senior member of Iran's largest pro-reform student group, Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, was sentenced to nine years and five months in prison. Momeni, a prominent figure in Iran's student movement, was given an eight-year prison term that he is serving in Gohardasht.

Iran Clears Ex-British Embassy Staffer of Espionage

AFP | Oct 4

Iran has cleared a former British embassy employee who was jailed last year on espionage charges, and commuted his sentence to a suspended one-year jail term, his lawyer said on Monday.

"The appeals court dropped espionage charges for which Hossein Rassam was sentenced to four years in prison," the lawyer, Babak Farahi, told AFP.

"He was sentenced to one year in jail, suspended for five years, for propaganda against the establishment...as he had no previous record and held no managerial posts," he said.

But the court "upheld a previous ruling that bans him from working for foreign embassies for five years," the lawyer said, adding the appeals verdict was issued on Sunday.

Rassam, the embassy's chief political analyst, was arrested in June 2009 along with eight other local employees of the mission on charges of taking part in riots after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The eight were later freed and Rassam released on bail after three weeks, before being paraded on television in a mass trial in August 2009 and later handed the four-year jail term amid protests from Britain and the European Union.

Flow of Imports Increased Unemployment among Workers

Tabnak | Oct 4

Iran's labor minister's prediction of seven percent unemployment rate in near future requires creation of more than one million job opportunities annually by the government, a report by the Iranian Labor news agency, ILNA, said on Monday.

ILNA considers excessive flow of imports as a major cause of unemployment in the country saying that it has brought the criticism of economic experts alongside workers and employers and have become more and more apparent among ordinary people.

The report implicitly criticized the labor and social affairs minister who has said supporting domestic producers is the priority of Ahmadinejad government, adding that despite such statements, private sectors underline lack of transparency in the government's plan on imports.

Iran's Currency Slumps against Dollar amid Renewed Economic Concerns

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | Oct 4

Doubts about Iran's long-term economic prospects have intensified amid a slump in the value of the national currency, the rial, against the U.S. dollar.

With the economy already straining under the effect of international sanctions, the rial declined 13 percent against the dollar last week as demand for the U.S. currency soared among businessmen and ordinary people. On September 29, the rial was 12,500 to the dollar; a week earlier, a dollar was worth 10,500 rials.

Some currency traders in Tehran reportedly stopped selling dollars in the face of long lines gathering to buy them.

The retail exchange rate was reportedly 10,900 rials to the dollar today -- higher than the 10,700 rials the Central Bank of Iran said a dollar would buy.

The Central Bank's governor, Mahmoud Bahmani, pledged on September 30 that the rial would return to what he termed a "normal" level of 10,600 to the dollar this week. He urged Iranians not to flee the rial to buy foreign currencies or gold, insisting that the bank was not facing a hard-currency shortage.

Iran's Rial Stays Fragile Despite Central Bank Move

Reuters | Oct 3

Iran's currency, the rial, defied central bank attempts to revive its value on Sunday, remaining weak after falling 13 percent against the dollar last week.

Last week's rial slump stirred talk of an unannounced policy of devaluation or a scramble for dollars amid fear of a scarcity in hard currency due to economic sanctions. But the central bank said later it would intervene to shore up the rial.

The retail exchange rate was 10,900 rials to the dollar on Sunday, softer than the 10,700 target set by the Central Bank of Iran after it pumped hard currency into the local market.

The rial picked up slightly on Saturday, but fell back again on Sunday, although not to its lowest point of 12,200 registered last Wednesday.

Iran Central Bank Tries to Contain Drop in Value of Rial

Radio Zamaneh | Oct 4

A senior official of Iran's Central Bank, Mohsen Abbasi, threatened Iranian currency traders with loss of their trading licence if they continue blocking trade.

The recent extreme fluctuations in the exchange rate of foreign currency in Iran have led traders to refrain from selling their foreign currencies.

Abbasi told ISNA that Tehran's currency traders bought the US dollar at 10,750 rials yesterday and traded it at 10,800 rials. He added that all banks also had an inspector to supervise the distribution of the foreign currency."

He added that by tomorrow the dollar will fall between 500 to 1000 rials.

Central Bank Freezes More Iranian Accounts

Emirates 24/7 | Oct 4

The UAE Central Bank has taken action against Iranians in the country including freezing some bank accounts in line with UN resolutions, an official said on Monday.

"The UAE, with its commitment towards the UN, implemented all UN resolutions against Iranians as these resolutions are implemented against others," Abdul Rahim Al Awadi, head of the Central Bank's anti-money laundering unit, said in Abu Dhabi.

"Some of the UN resolutions said you have to freeze accounts. The resolution has been implemented," he added.

No End in Sight for Gold Bazaar Strike as Government Plays Down Economic Woes

Babylon & Beyond/Los Angeles Times | Oct 4

Gold markets across Iran remained shuttered in recent days as a strike against a 3% value-added tax entered its second week.

Video of the markets uploaded to the Internet from the capital of Tehran all the way to the southern provincial capital of Ahvaz showed darkened, locked stalls and empty corridors.

Monday was a religious holiday in Iran, and observers are waiting to see whether the strike will continue Tuesday.

Merchants and jewelers claim the government is looking to fill its coffers by taxing small businesses unfairly. The government continues to paint the union of goldsmiths and jewelers as a group of greedy and corrupt businessmen.

Lawmaker Hasan Khastehband, a member of the parliamentary economic committee, blamed the strike on a handful of gold sellers involved in illegal smuggling.

"[These gold sellers] are agitating the goldsmiths to impede the implementation of the VAT because they do not want to make their illegal transactions transparent and revealed," he was quoted as saying by local media outlets.

Japanese Sanctions May Cut Iran Oil Exports by 25%, Nomura Says

Bloomberg | Oct 4

Japanese sanctions against Iran, the second-largest oil producer in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia, may reduce crude exports from the Persian Gulf nation by 25 percent, according to Nomura International.

"Recent Japanese sanctions against Iran could force oil exports to below 1.5 million barrels a day in the near term from 2 million barrels a day currently, negatively affecting global supply while helping push oil prices higher," the unit of Japan's largest brokerage said in a note today.

Japan said Sept. 3 it is suspending new oil and gas investments in Iran and freezing the assets of 88 organizations and 24 individuals in its latest round of sanctions. Inpex Corp., Japan's biggest energy explorer, said Oct. 1 that it is considering withdrawing from the Azadegan oil project in Iran.

"We reckon oil production capacity will likely decline by 15% from 2010-15, compared with Iran's pre-sanction target of 35% growth," Nomura said in a Sept. 30 note, when it first wrote on the theme. "Also, gas production is unlikely to go as planned, forcing Iran to abandon all of its liquefied natural gas plans."

Friday Congregational Prayers Threaten Society

Rooz | Oct 4

Family members of those Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) veterans who were arrested last Friday on charges of holding "illegal" Friday prayers told Rooz, "it is unfortunate that one must have a permit to hold a congregational prayer on Friday in the Islamic Republic of Iran while in no other place in the world does a congregational prayer need a permit."

In speaking with Rooz, family members of Dr Gharavi said that they had spoken with their prisoner but Dr Yazdi and Mr. Farzadi said they had no information about their detainees.

Khalil Yazdi, the son of Ibrahim Yazdi, [...] spoke with Rooz and said, "We have no news what so ever and only know what websites have published." He further said, "This is the first time we hear that Friday prayers are illegal and we have not ever had illegal Friday prayers and this is unfortunate that one needs a permit to even say your prayers in the Islamic Republic. In no other place in the world do they do this. Even in America and Israel, engaging in prayers needs no permits. Even in Russia Muslims can easily hold their prayers."

Ibrahim Yazdi's son expressed his concern about his father's situation, adding, "This is the ultimate cruelty and the government is not even ashamed to say that it has arrested people for not having a permit. Such issues never existed in our country and I am sorry to hear of them." Khalil Yazdi also said that these measures were to pressure his father to stop his political activism. "They had pressured in the past for my father to end his political activities, and now they are stopping him from performing his prayers. It is unfortunate that the Islam that was brought in to liberate people is now being used to imprison them."

BP May Have Violated U.S. Sanctions on Trade with Iran, Says Government Audit

Huffington Post | Oct 4

BP is one of 16 international companies that may have violated U.S. sanctions against selling gas to Iran, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

Under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA) signed by President Obama in July 2010, companies or individuals that sell refined petroleum products to Iran in excess of $1 million during a year are subject to three or more out of a possible nine sanctions.

[Under its former identity as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, BP was a prime mover behind the 1953 coup that overthrew the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.]

Investigators at the GAO claim that BP sold the petroleum between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, based on open sources, which includes trade publications and company statements. Though the GAO examined sales before the signing of the updated sanctions in July 2010, the report "highlights open source information that, following further investigation by the State Department, could contribute to the identification of persons of firms whose activities may be sanctionable under ISA [Iran Sanctions Act of 1996], as amended by CISADA."

Yet BP notified GAO that it stopped selling gasoline to Iran in October 2008 and maintains that information that reported "BP sold gasoline to Iran in 2009 or 2010 was inaccurate," according to the report.

The GAO stands by its research, emphasizing that "we required multiple corroborating sources of information for every entry in our tables of firms reported to have sold refined petroleum products to Iran at any time during the period between January 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010."

Turkey Says Can Not Tolerate US Pressure on Banks over Iran

World Bulletin | Oct 4

Turkish State Minister for foreign trade Zafer Caglayan said Monday that Turkey would abide by the UN decision to impose new round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, adding, "but decisions made by the United States do not bind us."

Caglayan, who is currently in the Syrian port city of Latakia to attend the second meeting of the High-level Strategic Cooperation Council, told reporters, "there are only weapons and missile heads on the list of embargoes approved by the UN about the sanctions on Iran. But despite the list, they are trying to put embargo on all kinds of trade including baby food."

When asked whether Turkish bankers were subject to pressure because of embargo imposed on Iran, Caglayan said, "a delegation from the USA came to Turkey and held talks with Turkish bankers. But they did not meet with me although I am the minister in charge of coordination of banks. Turkish banks have been put under pressure, which is completely against the principle of rule of law. We cannot tolerate it."

Baha'i Citizen Vahid Ghodrat Detained in Yazd

RAHANA | Oct 5

Vahid Ghodrat, a 54 year old Baha'i resident of Yazd, has been detained.

The authorities have stated that the reason for his arrest has been anti-regime propaganda.

According to the RAHANA reporter, he was in temporary detention for a while and was then transferred to the Yazd Detention Center. According to the verdict, he has to serve a one year sentence.

As it is usual in the case of Baha'i arrests, has been detained under the pretext that someone has filed a complaint against him. The government of Iran engages in such conduct in order to put the Baha'is under pressure and to scare the people who have connections to the Baha'i citizens.

See also: "Labor Activist Behnam Ebrahimzadeh on Hunger Strike in Prison" (RAHANA)

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Iran and the Power of Small Acts of Resistance

Saeed Kamali Dehghan (Guardian) | Oct 3

Some of the small acts of resistance used by the green movement to challenge the regime have become internationally known -- such as shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) from rooftops at night -- but there are some brilliant examples that have not been reported sufficiently.

One of them happened after the arrest of a prominent student activist, Majid Tavakoli, who is still in jail. A year ago, he was invited to give a speech at Amirkabir university in Tehran to mark Iran's national student day. He was arrested during the event and a veiled photo of him was published by the state-run news agencies, claiming he was cross-dressing in order to escape from the police.

The veiled photo was published in order to humiliate him, but in a matter of days thousands of Iranian boys posted veiled photos of themselves on Facebook and their blogs and launched a campaign named "We are all Majid". Many even went further and posed as girls -- to challenge the regime over its oppression of women's rights -- just to say that even if Majid had put on women's clothing it's not humiliating.

In another act of resistance last year bloggers and internet users decided to post the phrase "Ahmadinejad is not my president" on the internet as much as possible -- in the hope that when people began typing "Ahmadinejad is ..." in Google searches, Google would automatically suggest they were looking for "Ahmadinejad is not my president".

Forcing the Iran Warriors to Talk Honestly

Matt Duss (Wonk Room) | Oct 4

A new 60 minutes/Vanity Fair poll raises an important point about the prospect of an escalating military conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Respondents were asked "Which one of the following would be most likely to cause you to support a U.S. war with Iran?"

[25% responded yes to "Only if Iran attacks U.S. soil"; 25% responded yes to "If Iran attacks the U.S. fleet"; 11% responded yes to "If Iran tests a nuclear bomb; 10% responded yes to "If Iran attacks Israel"; and 24% responded yes to "Nothing."]

It's an oddly phrased question, but one which nevertheless indicates pretty strongly that Americans are not in favor of a U.S. war with Iran. I suspect that those who are in favor of a war with Iran understand this, which is why they like to talk exclusively about "air strikes," "military strikes," or my favorite, "surgical strikes."

Last month's Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll showed that Americans "were about evenly divided" on the question of whether the U.S. should undertake "military strikes" on Iran as a last resort, after diplomatic and sanctions efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program had been exhausted. It would be interesting to see how those numbers change if "military strikes" was changed to "war."

As Ali Gharib astutely observed the other day, talk of "air strikes" are for Iran what "cakewalk" was for Iraq -- the false idea that, through large-scale preventive military action, the U.S. can accomplish its goals with a minimum of fuss. It was a fantasy then, and it's a fantasy now.

Iran versus Sanctions, Part 1: A History of Failure

Hossein Askari (Asia Times) | Oct 5

An examination of 30 years of sanctions demonstrates how ineffective they have been. In 1979, the United States froze Iranian financial assets but returned the frozen assets after the Algiers Accord in 1981, an agreement brokered by Algeria between Iran and the United States to solve the hostage crisis. The unresolved item was the foreign military sales assets (FMS). Washington had confiscated military equipment that Iran had paid for -- some of it the United States used and some rotted in storage -- and the US has been engaged in a tedious process at The Hague to compensate Iran on a line-by-line basis.

The United States banned the importing of Iranian crude into the United States, but allowed refined products to enter the country. Then there was a ban on importing refined products and of all non-oil products from Iran, so Iran sold all it had to sell to other countries, albeit in the case of non-oil exports at a slightly lower price. Iran hardly felt even a side blow.

In the mid-1980s, the United States embargoed all US exports to Iran. You surely wouldn't know it if you have been to Tehran, where most American goods are abundantly available, sometimes at a lower price than even in the US. Dubai is forever the fan of US sanctions policies because most imports from the United States go through Dubai, and their merchants take a 5% to 10% commission that has hurt Iran little; although since 2008 this has been more costly for Iran as the US Treasury has isolated Iranian banks, raising the cost of letters of credit (more on this below). More importantly, US sanctions have afforded Iran's intelligence services and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) another source of revenue as they also take a cut of these transactions.

Iran Eyes Closer Pakistan Ties

Meir Javedanfar, Head of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company (The Diplomat) | Oct 4

Last month, the Islamic Republic of Iran's leadership pledged $100 million to Pakistani flood victims in the form of reconstruction assistance, in addition to the tonnes of relief goods Iranian officials say are sent there every week. Yet this potentially key development has gone largely unnoticed by the international media.

It shouldn't, not least because the level of assistance is unusually large by Iranian standards. Indeed, it's one of the largest aid pledges by the Iranian leadership to date.

But humanitarian considerations aside, there's one thing that has been repeatedly clear in Iran's post-revolutionary history -- its leadership doesn't pledge sums like $100 million unless it also sees some kind of political benefits to doing so.

Iran is, of course, by no means alone in making such calculations -- international aid frequently comes with strings attached, no matter who's giving it. Yet there's little doubt that with this move Iran is hoping to cash in on Pakistan's frustration with the perceived slowness of Western countries to respond with aid -- striking while the iron is hot to secure closer ties with its neighbour.

Syria, Iran and Strife

Abdullah Iskandar (Dar Al Hayat) | Oct 3

The fatwa recently issued by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on the issue of Lady Aisha was met with relief within the circles of those working to bring Muslim denominations closer together. But will it be sufficient, these days, to prevent strife between Muslims? And will it be sufficient to solve the problems and political disputes between Muslims, on the background of some of them, i.e. the Sunnis, considering that there is an Iranian assault on all fronts targeting them?

Indeed, at a time when media outlets in Iran and its supporters in the region placed great emphasis on the fatwa, despite it having been preceded by many fatwas from both sides, Sunni and Shiite, on Muslim unity and respecting denominations, Iran's political assault reached an advanced stage in targeting Arab policies viewed as expressing a Sunni stance or issued from Arab countries with an overwhelming Sunni majority. This is a matter that translates in popular and congregational consciousness as targeting Sunnis, directly or indirectly, while relevant fatwas lose their stated meaning.

[A] massive campaign is being waged against the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try those suspected of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. And despite the justifications included in this campaign, it is difficult to clearly separate between it and the fact that the former Prime Minister was a major Sunni, Lebanese and Arab figure. This thus places the campaign engaged in by Iran's supporters in Lebanon and in the region within the framework of Shiite-Sunni opposition. The campaign also targets Saad Hariri, as Rafic Hariri's son, as a Sunni leader and as Lebanon's Prime Minister. In other words, it is doubly symbolically charged, whether within the framework of relations between Sunnis and Shiites or within that of sharing power in Lebanon. Proceeding from the campaign against the Special Tribunal, veiled doubt is being shed on the role played by Saudi Arabia, by constantly bringing up its failure to fulfill a supposed pledge to stop the Special Tribunal's formal accusation, according to an understanding, also supposed, with Syria.

Tehran Counts Cost of Lost Oil Swaps

Ebrahim Gilani (Asia Times) | Oct 5

Three months since Iran's oil ministry announced it was ending an import deal with three Caspian states, future plans remain unclear.

The ministry announced in June that it would not be renewing contracts with four companies that had been bringing in oil from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Under an arrangement known as an oil swap, the imported crude was refined locally in northern Iran, and an equivalent amount of Iranian oil was then made available for export from seaports in the south.

For Iran, the swaps with nearby producers meant it could supply northern areas from oil processed at the Tehran, Tabriz and Arak refineries without having to transport it all the way from wells in the south. Just as importantly, the arrangements provided Tehran with opportunities to position itself as a player in the Caspian energy market.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, successive Iranian governments tried to attract investment in pipelines to take Caspian oil and gas to the Persian Gulf -- an easier route to international markets than going through Russia.

But mounting international sanctions meant this never happened, and the Baku-Ceyhan oil route and the projected Nabucco gas pipeline through Turkey and southeast Europe reduce Iran's ability to sell itself as the shortest and cheapest route.

For geopolitical reasons, the firms involved in oil swaps now appear less motivated to maintain the arrangement, especially if Tehran is going to demand higher fees.

The Iranian Freedom Movement and Israel

Fathiyeh Naghibzadeh and Andreas Benl, Founding Members of the German Chapter of Stop the Bomb (Jerusalem Post) | Oct 3

After the Mavi Marmara incident, a group of Iranian leftist and Muslim intellectuals and artists from abroad signed a statement claiming to find "similarities between the violence exhibited by the occupying regime of Israel and the suppressive regime of the Islamic Republic" and supporting the "admirable and brave struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and democracy."

In a counter petition, Saeed Ghaseminejad, speaker of the liberal students of Iran and other Iranian intellectuals and activists denounced this equation as an insult to the peaceful protest movement in Iran and as a tragic failure to correct the anti-Semitic past of the Iranian Left.

Since the rigged elections of June 2009 it has become clearer every day for Iranians that effective resistance against a totalitarian dictatorship is only possible if its opponents are willing to challenge openly all its ideological foundations -- and besides gender apartheid, anti-Zionism is the most important one.

Many have claimed that the anti- Israel aggressions of the Islamic Republic should be documented separately from its human rights record to protect the opposition against regime charges of being "agents of Zionism."

This has always been futile because "Zionist" has been a regime accusation against all serious opponents from the beginning -- regardless of their relation to Israel and the Jews.

'May Iran Shut Down Evin University Forever'

Golnaz Esfandiari (Persian Letters/RFE/RL) | Oct 4

Blogger Chahar Divari (Four Walls, a reference to the privacy of home) hopes that one day "Evin University" will be shut down.

In recent years, critics have come to attach that nickname to Tehran's Evin prison because of all the student activists, journalists, and intellectuals who've spent time there.

"We shouldn't be unfair, [Iranian officials] have kept their promise in this regard. There are professors in there, students; and it's the hangout of artists and thinkers. It has a great pluralistic atmosphere when it comes to thinking.

"I wish there'd be another cultural revolution and they would shut down [Evin University] forever."

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