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Eye on Iran

Contributor: Scott Allswang 


TOP STORIES

NYT: 
"President Obama is pressing United Nations nuclear inspectors to release classified intelligence information showing that Iran is designing and experimenting with nuclear weapons technology. The president's push is part of a larger American effort to further isolate and increase pressure on Iran after accusing it of a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. If the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog group, agrees to publicize the evidence, including new data it says it has gathered in recent months, it would almost certainly revive a debate that has been dormant during the Arab Spring this year about how aggressively the United States and its allies, including Israel, should move to halt Iran's suspected weapons program. Over the longer term, several senior Obama administration officials said in interviews, they are mulling a ban on financial transactions with Iran's central bank - a move that has been opposed by China and other Asian nations. Also being considered is an expansion of the ban on the purchase of petroleum products sold by companies controlled by the country's elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps." 

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WSJ: 
"The Obama administration should put sanctions on Iran's central bank in response to allegations that Tehran was behind an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, a senior Democratic lawmaker said. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) said the case that Iran's Qods Force was behind the plot was 'dead bang' and that if the U.S. wanted to avoid a collision course with Iran, it should tighten sanctions now. The Qods Force is an elite special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Speaking on 'Fox News Sunday,' Ms. Feinstein said there was clear evidence that senior figures within the Qods Force, including Kassim Suleimani, were involved in the attempt, although she said there was no evidence that the scheme extended to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the regime. Mr. Suleimani is believed to be a senior commander within the Qods Force, as well as an adviser to Mr. Khamenei. 'I don't think the sanctions have been as complete as they should be,' Ms. Feinstein said. 'I wish they had sanctioned the central bank of Iran because that affects oil and that would make a big difference.'"

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WashPost:
"When nearly $100,000 landed in an undercover FBI bank account from a source linked to an Iranian paramilitary force, officials began taking seriously an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador that at first had seemed outlandish. And as the investigation unfolded over recent months, a name emerged that chilled some in the U.S. government. The Iranian cousin of the man accused of plotting the assassination was Abdul Reza Shahlai, a senior commander in Iran's Quds Force, who had been linked to the killing of American troops in Iraq. Shahlai was known as the guiding hand behind an elite group of gunmen from the feared militia of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. They had dressed as American and Iraqi soldiers and, in a convoy of white SUVs, stormed a provincial government building in Karbala on Jan. 20, 2007. Five Americans were killed and three were wounded in the attack, whose brazenness rattled the military." 

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ARTICLES ON TERROR PLOT

NYT: 
"Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised on Sunday that Iran would deliver 'an unforgettable response' to any 'improper actions' from the United States over an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The ayatollah appeared to be responding to an American campaign to further isolate and pressure Iran, an effort that received a push on Sunday with reports that President Obama is pressing United Nations nuclear inspectors to release classified data showing that Iran is working on nuclear weapons."

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Reuters: 
"Iran said on Monday it would examine 'seriously and patiently' U.S. allegations it planned to assassinate a Saudi ambassador and called on Washington to send evidence of the plot it has dismissed as baseless propaganda. 'We are prepared to examine any issue, even if fabricated, seriously and patiently, and we have called on America to submit to us any information in regard to this scenario,' Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency." 

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Reuters: 
"Saudi Arabia has taken a first step to have Iran reported to the United Nations Security Council, a move that could lead to new sanctions, over an alleged plot to assassinate its ambassador in Washington, Saudi-owned newspapers reported on Sunday. 'Saudi Arabia's permanent mission to the United Nations... formally requested the United Nations Secretary General notify the Security Council of the heinous conspiracy,' the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported, citing a statement from the kingdom's U.N. mission." 



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ARTICLE ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM & SANCTIONS 

AFP:
"Iran, OPEC's second-biggest oil producer, is threatened with new economic sanctions by US President Barack Obama, who has vowed to make it 'pay a price' for an alleged assassination plot in Washington. Western and UN sanctions in force over Iran's controversial nuclear programme already weigh heavily on the country, which is dependent on its rich oil and gas sector... 'The oil bounty has allowed it to mitigate the effects of the Western embargo,' a European economist in Tehran said on condition of anonymity. 'Trade

circuits have become more complicated because of the sanctions against the main Iranian banks, but Iran has the cash to keep the country running,' he said... 'But Iran still has a currency problem because it is selling more and more oil, especially to Asia, against consumer products to get around the bank sanctions,' one European expert said, also declining to be identified. Tehran spends $3 to $4 billion dollars a month shoring up its currency, the rial, and to pay handouts to the population to compensate for energy subsidies that were cut last year, according to estimates by several Iranian and foreign experts... Another symptom appears to be delays piling up in government payments to suppliers, mainly because the state is believed to be drawing money from ministerial budgets to pay the public handouts, according to parliament... Iran's main financial problem is that Western investment has dried up. And new partnerships forged with Chinese, Turkish and Russian companies have not plugged the gap, according to a European analyst in Iran." 

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ARTICLES ON HUMAN RIGHTS

AFP: 
"The UN's human rights committee will on Monday begin questioning Iran over its attempts to reduce executions and other extreme judicial sentences, while probing the country's efforts at promoting key rights. Iranian officials will face questions from the 18 independent experts who make up the UN committee that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among state-parties. The review is set to begin Monday with the presentation of a 224-page report produced by the experts and will wrap on Tuesday when the committee presents its conclusions. Iran was last reviewed by the committee in 1993, when its experts condemned 'the extremely high number of death sentences that are pronounced and carried out, in many cases after a trial where the guarantees of a regular hearing were not applied in an appropriate manner.'" 

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AFP:
"A Tehran appeals court has upheld a six-year jail sentence and 20-year filmmaking and travel ban against international award-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi, his family told AFP on Saturday. The verdict, handed down around two weeks ago, has not yet been carried out, the family said. The government-run newspaper Iran confirmed the ruling in its Saturday edition, saying: 'The charges he was sentenced for are acting against national security and propaganda against the regime.' Panahi was convicted in December last year over a documentary he tried to make about the unrest that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

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DOMESTIC POLITICS

Reuters:

"Iran could do away with the post of a directly elected president, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday, in what might be a warning to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and possible successors not to overstep the executive's limited powers. Khamenei's comment came with Ahmadinejad battling constant criticism from hardline conservatives accusing him of being in the thrall of 'deviant' advisers who want to undermine the role of the Islamic clergy, including the office of supreme leader. Khamenei dropped the suggestion -- of what would be the biggest change in Iran's constitution for two decades -- into a wide-ranging speech, saying there was 'no problem' in eliminating the directly elected presidency if deemed desirable."

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

WSJ:
"Rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are raising concerns that a renewed proxy war between the two powers could break out in Iraq, where the expected withdrawal of at least some U.S. military troops at the end of the year is expected to leave a new vacuum of power. One of the side effects of the Arab Spring uprisings has been an upending of the regional equilibrium between Saudi-backed and Iranian-backed governments and political actors. Riyadh blames Tehran for much of the political instability on its borders in Bahrain and Yemen, while Iranian officials have watched its popular support in the region falter amid support for Syria's crackdown on anti-regime protesters there. Iraq, a border state for both Saudi Arabia and Iran, is a likely new location for such a confrontation given the two powers' recent history in supporting sectarian warfare in that country and their current drive to shore up their political and military might at a time when each feel vulnerable, say Iranian and Arab analysts. The Obama administration has expressed its concerns about Iran's attempts in recent months to expand its influence in Iraq and the broader Middle East." 



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OPINIION & ANALYSIS

Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard: 
"Arbabsiar for his involvement in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States and bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies. Arbabsiar's cousin, Gholam Shakuri, an official in the Quds Force, the military arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, was also indicted and remains at large in Iran. While the White House has been careful to suggest that the operations may have been plotted without the knowledge of the Iranian regime's highest officials-namely, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei-it is highly improbable that a Quds Force project could go forward without sanction from the top. It's no wonder the Obama administration was reluctant at first to believe the evidence brought forth by the FBI and DEA. After all, engagement with the Islamic Republic has been Obama's goal since before he assumed office. Even recently, Washington sought to establish a hotline with Tehran to prevent small episodes from blossoming into confrontation. Not surprisingly, the Iranians rejected the offer. Still, the notion that his potential dialogue partners plotted to kill an American ally in the nation's capital, without any concern for American casualties, must be a bitter pill for the president to swallow... It is one of the worst-kept secrets of post-9/11 U.S. Middle East policy that the Iranians and their proxies are responsible for many American casualties in the United States' two regional wars. Both the Bush and Obama White Houses have been well aware of the camps across the Iranian border where Tehran's Iraqi allies are trained in using the IEDs that have killed or maimed thousands of young Americans. And yet the last two administrations have shied away from taking the fight to the Iranians-who have shown no such hesitation in taking the fight to us. Why would the Iranians fear American retaliation for plotting to attack the American homeland when all the evidence shows that Washington will look the other way no matter what Tehran does? The reality is that the Islamic regime is not clever or subtle and relies on nothing but brute force to ensure its rule domestically and project power externally. After oil, gas, and pistachios, all the Islamic Republic exports is terror. The botched culture that the Islamic Republic has imposed on Iran does not produce deep thinkers and subtle strategists, but rather a nation in which drug addiction and alcoholism are rampant. The collapse of Iran's birth rate over the last 20 years, from 7.0 to below replacement at 1.9, is the fastest decline ever recorded. The Islamic Republic is dying. And so is the supreme leader. We are witnessing a culture in its death throes, and its leaders mean to take as many people with it as possible-especially Americans. That's why the Quds Force is zeroing in on the U.S. homeland. For decades, U.S. officials have ignored every sign that the Islamic regime was making war against American citizens, diplomats, soldiers, interests, and allies. There was nothing subtle or clever about the regime-led chants of 'Death to America.' Tehran's campaign against us has always been out in the open. Last week it just got closer to home. If the Obama administration is going to prove reluctant to do anything about it in an election year, then Iran's war against the United States should move to the top of any Republican candidate's agenda. The Iranian regime's 30-year war against us must end." 



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Amir Taheri in the NYPost: 
"Thanks to an accident of official schedules, last Tuesday, almost at the same time that President Obama was charging the Islamic Republic with plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Iran's 'Supreme Guide' Ali Khamenei was announcing 'the imminent end of America.' The coincidence was uncanny because Khamenei was unleashing his lava of hate against the American 'Great Satan' at the headquarters of the Qods Corps, the very body named by Obama as the architect of the alleged plot. Standing by Khamenei in suitably solemn attitudes was Qods Corps Commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani, flanked by some of his closest associates, all named in connection with the plot. The Qods Corps, or 'The Jerusalem Army,' is an autonomous unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under the direct supervision of the Khamanei. Created by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in 1984, its stated task is to help 'export the revolution' throughout the world. The new force's slogan was 'On Our Way to Jerusalem, via Baghdad!' The idea was that once Jerusalem had been 'liberated' and Israel wiped off the map, the Khomeinist revolution would spread beyond the Middle East with the ultimate aim of destroying the United States as 'the principal manifestation of Satan's power' in the contemporary world.Iran's Khomeinist rulers have always been fascinated by the idea of 'exporting revolution.' Initially, this was limited to propaganda and financial support for radical groups friendly to the Islamic Republic. In 1982, however, Khomeini decided to create a network of foreign radical groups, known under the generic term 'Hezbollah' (Party of Allah) directly controlled by Tehran. Very quickly, Hezbollah branches were set up in more than a dozen Muslim countries, with sub-branches among Shiite communities across the globe. Over the years, the Qods Corps absorbed these various organizations, along with the foreign intelligence department of the Revolutionary Guard... In Lebanon, Qods has carved an army of around 10,000 men under the banner of Hezbollah to prepare for war against Israel. For Qods commanders, Iraq and Afghanistan are special targets. The unit operating in Iraq is led by Gen. Hussein Mussavi and controls a number of armed groups including the Mahdi Army, the Ramadan Corps and the Brigades of the Right, with the aim of killing as many Americans as possible and, eventually, driving the US out of Iraq 'in humiliation.' Qods has a similar strategy in Afghanistan, where it operates through the Ansar (Companions) Corps. It also provides the Taliban with money, a range of weapons, including IEDs and, more importantly perhaps, safe haven. Qods is a strong supporter of the Palestinian Hamas movement both in terms of cash support and arms deliveries. However, divisions within the Hamas leadership have so far prevented it from offering Qods a direct presence in Gaza. While Hamas has maintained a degree of independence from Qods, another Palestinian group, the Islamic Jihad, has developed into an arm of the Iranian regime in all but name. Qods Commander Gen. Suleimani advertises his commitment to 'liberating Jerusalem' by wearing a checkered scarf of the Palestinians. He also carries a rosary of beads supposedly molded from soil taken from Jerusalem. Gen. Suleimani is reported to be the only Iranian military commander with unlimited access to the Khamenei... Khamenei and Qods represent Iran as the vehicle for a global Khomeinist revolution, which has its own agenda. It is, therefore, quite possible that Qods is used in pursuit of goals that do not necessarily reflect the interests of Iran as a nation." 



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Robert Haddick in FP: 
"Residents of Washington, D.C., may have been both disturbed and relieved to hear that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officers this week skillfully foiled an alleged plot by Iran's Quds Force to blow up the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States while he dined in a local restaurant. Investigators were no doubt assisted by the plot's seeming ineptitude, which involved a used-car salesman from Texas and a paid informant in Mexico who posed as a drug gang member. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed up the conclusions many had reached about the bizarre story: 'The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder for hire to kill the Saudi ambassador? Nobody could make that up, right?' Even so, the U.S. Justice Department did charge Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Quds Force, with a long list of conspiracy offenses and thus connected the Iranian government to the plot... U.S. policymakers will now be under pressure to find ways to actively prevent or deter future attacks. However, a variety of barriers will prevent the Obama administration from taking any strong action against Iran, at least until a major attack actually succeeds... Without an attack having actually occurred, with the plot seemingly out of character for the elite Quds Force, and with U.S. intelligence claims now suspect, U.S. diplomats seem unlikely to get cooperation on additional sanctions that would alter the behavior of Iranian policymakers. What about military retaliation, such as a night of airstrikes against Quds Force targets inside Iran? The purpose would be to correct the impression seemingly held by policymakers in Iran that they don't risk consequences from a bomb attack on Washington. If, on the other hand, the Washington plot was engineered by midlevel 'rogues' in the Quds Force, military retaliation would be a signal to top-level Iranian officials that they will be held responsible for their subordinates' actions. My FP colleague Will Inboden noted that in 1993 President Bill Clinton ordered the destruction of Iraq's intelligence headquarters after a failed attempt to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush. The message this time would be that Quds Force operations are no longer risk-free. However, the Obama administration, with undoubtedly much support from the Pentagon brass, is in no mood right now to start another shooting war... Deterrence doesn't seem to be working against Iran. Either Iran's top leaders don't fear U.S. retaliation, or they aren't in control of their subordinates -- neither explanation bodes well for deterrence theory. If the U.S. government hopes to dissuade a future Quds Force operation against Washington or some other important target, it will have to make some demonstration that will impress Iranian decision-makers. Until that happens, Washingtonians will have to brace and hope for the best." 



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