Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can’t Put The Cart Before The Horse

Over the past 30 years the opposition groups, and I am referring to those exiled after the 1979 revolution, have gone to great lengths deliberating over the form and nature of a future political system in Iran. And for 30 years these less than cordial clash of ideas have done nothing but leave a negative social impact on the consciousness of the Iranian people, while at the same time, alienating many from political participation, both in Iran and across the diaspora.

From monarchists, to republicans, to the Mojahedin Khalg to born again Islamic democrats, all have spent endless time and energy pushing their own self-interest at the exclusion of the other, not realizing that such hollow posturing and self aggrandizing behavior has had no real impact on the lives of 72 million Iranians inside the country. The result of all this huffing and puffing, ZERO.

Why do I say this?

Well, in my opinion the opposition has made two fatal errors over the past three decades. First, they have dramatically underestimated and misjudged the level of political maturity on the part of their compatriots who have lived through 30 years of dictatorship inside the country, and two, they have mistaken priorities by focusing on partisan politics as opposed to leading a coalition national movement.

Allow me to elaborate.

On the first point, the opposition needs to realize that there is a new generation of social and political activists in Iran, the 20 and 30 something, born after 1979. This generation has a completely different outlook on politics that is uniquely their own having spent 30 years in agony under an absolute regime that has been accountable to no one.

This generation knows full well what tyranny looks and feels like when every aspect of their life has been under constant scrutiny. And so it is only natural for them to become less concerned with outdated debates of three decades ago and more preoccupied with finding a solution out of this dire state of misery caused by lack of political transparency and accountability.

In a nutshell, this generation is more concerned with uniting Iranians in support of establishing a political system that can protect their inalienable rights and freedoms, establish better relations with the free world, and laying the foundation of a political system where Iranians would no longer have to live in fear of political persecution. On this point, the opposition has failed dismally to recognize this immediate priority and to address the need for solidarity and unity, and unless they can recognize the pillars of this struggle and develop a common language and a collective set of actionable goals that can meet this immediate need as oppose to preaching division, they will undoubtedly become obsolete.

The second failure is in the opposition’s inability to recognize priorities. The way they are currently behaving is as if democracy has already been won in Iran. It hasn’t, and unless they can accept this fact that all ideological differences must be set aside for the greater good of a more noble cause, the opposition will become isolated from the movement that is taking place within the country and as a result they will become irrelevant. What we are seeing before our eyes is a real page turner in Middle East history. Iran is once again at an unprecedented juncture and the country is on the verge of a major political shift.

However this shift can go in one of two directions, the transformation of the country into a complete militarized dictatorship, or alternatively, the making of a secular democracy. In my opinion as a citizen of that great country, for the latter option to become a reality the opposition groups need to dramatically rethink their strategy and modify their behavior. And for that to happen, the various groups can no longer afford to put the cart before the horse by continuing to bicker over ideologies that are divisive to the battle at hand and one that is taking place within the country today. I hope they can get it right.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Change Movement In Iran Isn’t Over By A Long Shot

February 11th 2010 marked the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran, an event that commemorated a political victory for the people over an authoritarian system, the Monarchy. The symbolism of this occasion was once again enough to bring the green movement out in to the streets in protest of a stolen election, but more so, a hijacked opportunity for greater freedoms, openness and democratic rule in Iran. But what made this year’s event different from past gatherings was in how well the regime aggrandized the venue while in parallel muzzling the voices of change in its attempt to save face and maintain legitimacy, both domestically and internationally.

Knowing that people would come out in numbers to oppose the regime on this day, the coup government yet again resorted to brutal force and oppressive tactics. These moves started weeks in advance of February 11th with mass arrests of human rights leaders, student activists, journalists, and allies to Mir Hossein Mousavie and Mehdi Karoubi, followed by more kangaroo trials and the execution of two youth that were falsely accused. What made the regime even more insecure was that days prior the anniversary, residents of Tehran had received random phone calls and SMS’s warning them not to turnout for rallies or be prepared to face severe consequences. This hysteria was intended to create fear and to send out a clear warning that the regime would not tolerate insubordination.
Then came February 11th, 2010.

To overpower the opposition movement and to prevent it from consolidating, a full brigade (10,000) armed anti-riot police and plain clothed basij militia forces were unleashed to clampdown on people of all ages. These attacks did not exclude the leaders of the movement either. Mehdi Karoubi’s car and entourage was attacked and his motorcade was vandalized, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi had been attacked and assaulted by the basij elements, and Mohammad Reza Khatamie, the brother of the former president, and his wife the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini were also held for a few hours before being released with the condition that they would not take part in any rally. But it did not stop there, more street clashes ensued and more protesters were injured, teargased, and reports of two deaths have also been made.
But while all of this was happening away from the cameras the celebrations continued. To create a favorable visual the coup government had carefully installed a lineup of loud speakers on all major roads leading to Azadi (freedom) square in an attempt to lessen the voice of opposition and to reduce sounds of gunshots if fired. Furthermore, to make sure enough heads were present and flags waving for the live national broadcast, roughly 100,000 people were bused in from rural areas, often villages, schools, and members of the bureaucracy were give paid leave for their participation. The event was staged and lacked one important element of years gone by, authenticity.

And so, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a foreign policy speech from the podium at Azadi square to his crowed of people and to foreign governments, and warned the West of their scheming plans to control the energy resources of the Middle East in a power grab for wanting to control the world, the green movement once again displayed their bravery and showed their desire for change. I just hope the world is watching and readying itself to be more supportive.

Monday, February 1, 2010

War Games

Eight months after a rigged presidential election that infuriated millions of Iranians by having their vote stolen followed by a series of street protests that lead to violence and the death of hundreds, the imprisonment of thousands, and the execution of many protesters, the calendar date approaches yet another occasion for Iranians to demonstrate their discontent with the regime, February 11th, the day the Islamic revolution was won back in 1979.

The social media networks are already in full communiqué, twitter and facebook are blistering with messages, posters and fliers in preparation for yet another showdown between the people and the junta. This time however the tone and nature of the demands are very different. It’s no longer about the election or votes, but rather, the legitimacy of the theocracy and its incompetent rulers is in question.

But while an historic movement is going in Iran, America has sent warships to the Persian Gulf and additionally has announced the installation of surface to air antimissile systems in neighboring Persian Gulf states such as the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Why is military build-up, this option of last resort as President Obama had stated, all of a sudden become an imminent option?

The answer can come from three different assumptions with three possible scenarios.

The first, as reported by various Middle East analysts is the assumption that in response to international sanctions namely the blockage of oil and gas into and from Iran, the Islamic regime may consider this an act of war and retaliate by launching missiles into Israel and other US interests in the region. With this assumption it is necessary for the United States to protect its allies and to prevent such strikes from hitting hard targets. Thus to build assurance in the event of an escalation of tension between the United States and Iran, America has prepared itself to defend its allies, including Israel.

The second assumption is that Israel may engage in adventurism of its own by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. In anticipation of such a scenario, an American presence will in fact reduce the likelihood of such a devastating move that can enflame the entire region into war by curbing Israeli interest in an airstrike.

And the third assumption is that once the sanctions regime starts to have impact on the Islamic regime Iran, as part of its defense strategy, may attempt to block the straits of hormoz thus crippling the global economy by preventing oil flow from the Persian Gulf. In such a case the American warships will be able to deter such destabilizing maneuvers or in a worst-case situation be able to unblock the water way expeditiously and protect it from Iranian influence.

However, what really concerns me is the thought that America and the free world have somehow given up on the democracy movement in Iran ahead of February 11th and the subsequent days and months thereafter. In my opinion any thought of war with Iran at this stage is a grave mistake now that Iranians have found the courage to stand up to this brutal and anti-Iranian regime. A movement that is rapidly uniting workers unions, teachers, diplomats, clerics, students, professors, women’s groups and other sectors of society who no longer want to live a life under the Islamic regime.

It would be a grave mistake if America would once again give in to outside pressures and foreign influence on matters of foreign policy with respect to Iran by marginalizing or dismissing the green movement as a serious and viable option that can bring about peace and stability not only within Iran but to the greater Middle East. I hope this does not happen while democracy is on the march in that country.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Quicksand Effect

It is a prediction by political pundits and Iran analysts that on February 11th, or 22nd of Bahman in the Iranian calendar, of this year, Ali Khamenei and the revolutionary guards will once again be set on a collision course with the Iranian people. The significance of this date is that in 1979 Iranians did the unthinkable; they not only overthrew the Shah and the Pahlavi dynasty but managed to change an entire political system, the monarchy and all that it represented. This monumental day is thus important in Iranian history because it epitomizes a break with the past and with a government that had lost touch with its people.

Today, a new confrontation has emerged that once again puts the Iranian spirit and its political aspirations to the test as a new generation voices its demands for a secular democracy and human rights, while at the same time, standing united against a theocracy that no longer represents the will of the majority.

Over the past seven months Iranians have seen the merciless nature of the Islamic regime and have come to realize that its sole purpose is to function as an instrument of repression while serving the interest of a few disguised behind Gods name. With the brutal crackdown that followed the elections in June of 2009 and during Ashura (holy day of Shia muslims), the imprisonment of opposition leaders, and the continuous human rights violations, show trials, executions and tortures of protesters whose list of names are growing longer by the day it has become self-evident that the Islamic regime has lost its legitimacy and the right to rule.

But like all dictatorships, the junta wants Iranians to believe that it's in full control disregarding any social discontent or uprising as marginal. It has even tried to put on a brave face by conducting TV debates between reformers and hardliners while in the late hours of the night the secret police conduct more arrests and staged courts hand down long prison sentences to human rights activists who stand trial on bogus charges. The Islamic regime senses an inevitable demise and an incapacity to run the affairs of a nation. With its inability to function both domestically and internationally it has reached a stage I call the “quicksand effect” where no matter what it does, no matter how it reacts and no matter what decision it takes its doom is inevitable and resistance only makes death come even quicker. Word on the streets of Tehran is that 22nd of Baham will be yet another big day for the people, let’s see how deep in quicksand will the regime go this round.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why the Regime in Iran is so afraid of Change, Regime Change

With the fall of the Shah on February 11th 1979 and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran, a group of clerics masterfully orchestrated a coup d’état within a peoples revolution. In a power grab supported by Islamists and lead by clerics to the likes of Rafsanjani and Khamenei a referendum vote was cunningly drafted that combined two ideologically distinct political systems together. This deceiving move meant that only one option was to be presented on the ballot, the Islamic Republic of Iran – YES or NO.

With momentum and an iconic Islamic figure on their side, a fractured and disillusioned opposition group, and a people in state of disbelief that they had managed to oust a King, the plot was complete and 99% of votes was cast in favor of a new regime that was by nature elitist, fundamentalist, and anything but democratic. To solidify the rein of power and to prevent the cohorts of the revolution from regrouping upon realizing what had just taken place, the new theocracy wasted no time in systematically eliminating opposition political activists either through mass execution or by forcing them into exile. It was fate accompli and a zero – sum game had been won by the Islamists, but at what cost?

The Social Contract is Broken

30 years later and with the coming of age of a new generation of Iranians that have lived under the theocracy and have experienced all that it represents it has become clear first and foremost to the Iranian people and second to the world, that this political system is unable to meet the needs and wants of its people.

People in Iran are frustrated with all the inadequacies, depravity and moral depravation of those in power and are fed up with the false promises and missed opportunities that should have made life easier for Iranians. The turn of events since the June 12th 2009 election are indicative of this sentiment, while the regime on the other hand, has shown no intention of respecting the will of its people, and to maintain its grip on power, much like 1979 has embarked on a series of violent tactics and ruthlessness to silence its opposition, acts of which the world has now witnessed firsthand via YouTube.

However, what the Islamic regime fails to realize is that unlike 1979 where it played the role of opposition to the Shah and riding on the good faith and beliefs of the people, today it is undermining its own legitimacy as a political system by depriving its citizens the right to determine their political future.

This failing has lead to the expansion of a protest movement that no longer wants a recount of votes but has turned into a national unity campaign to change the entire Islamic system of governance and the way to go about it as agreed to by political thinkers, activists and protesters both inside the country and overseas is through a national referendum with more than just one option on the ballot as was the case in 1979.

Regime Change

History at times has a habit of repeating itself so one has to wonder, will the Islamic regime bow its head and abdicate power much like the Shah did back in 1979 or will it resist. Now I’m not a betting man but if I was to put up money down I would have to consider the odds in favor of the 40 million Iranian youth under the age of 35 who today are ready to risk their life and limb for freedom, human rights and a secular democracy. A system that in its totality would guarantee Iran and Iranians long term political stability, opportunity for divers political groups to form parties and compete within a representative form of government and an openness for Iranians to engage with the free world.

Most Iranian political analysts would agree that what makes this national movement so unique unlike its predecessor in 1979 is that the political movement back then knew what it didn’t want, an appointed strongman with absolute power. This generation on the other hand knows exactly what it does want and from a young protester in Iran by the name of Vahid who wants you the read to know, “this February 11th 2010 will be an history day in Iran and a turning point that will put us one final step closer towards our goal of freedom and democracy, something our parents started in 1979 but we get to finish.”

Stand united with IRAN.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Israeli Factor on Iran’s move towards Democracy

When people like Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis try to influence political decision makers in America by painting a false picture of Iran it worries me. Today, men of such nature hold the belief that Israel’s existence in is imminent danger of a nuclear Iran and therefore this threat must be eliminated through what has been coined as a “strategic surgical strike” on the country’s nuclear facilities in Natanz (near Isfahan) and near Qom (holy city of Iran) . General David Petraeus a week ago on CNN’s Amanpour echoed this belief that America still reserves such an option in case dialogue between the P5+1 countries and the government in Tehran failed to achieve its objectives.

Evidently the talks have broken down and so my question is why is the option of dragging America into yet another war in the Middle East is still on the table when there is a low cost alternative plan available that will meet regional stability goals more effectively? Why are the so called experts trying to push for military confrontation based on false assumptions much like those presented to support the war against Iraq? The facts are clear but let’s recap for a second.

Fact - Many in the nuclear science community including the IAEA have come out on record stating that Iran’s capabilities for acquiring nuclear bomb grade enrichment is far from reach and while president un-elect Ahmadinejad likes to make outlandish statements against Israel, the reality on the ground is that his rhetoric’s are more for domestic consumption and political posturing in the region than anything else. Today Mr. Ahmadinejad and those behind him have lost all credibility both in Iran and abroad.

Fact – With the current turn of events in Iran since the June 12th 2009 election and the emergence of a movement that now demands democracy, human rights and peaceful engagement with the world, any talk of a military confrontation will derail this revolt and unite the nation behind the Islamic regime against a foreign enemy.

Fact – Any form of military strike on Iran under international law is an act of aggression and an act of war, and Iran has the right to use any and all means to defend herself. This will not only mean direct military confrontation through traditional warfare but what is of grave concern is the launch of unconventional warfare with the awakening of sleeper cells across the Middle East and in Europe.Fact – One of Iran’s strategic retaliatory moves will be to destabilize world markets by cutting oil flow through the straits of Hormouz in the Persian Gulf. This will have catastrophic impact on the global economy.

Fact – A war on Iran will unite Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Islamist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan against America. Once this conflict escalates the Arab countries in the region, unlike their position during the US - Iraq war will also be pulled into the conflict against Israel. We are already hearing the murmurs from some of the rulers of the Arab countries. Furthermore Russia and China will take sides once America backs Israel and we could potentially be looking at world war 3. And last but not least,

Fact – Israel, without the United States will have no chance in a war against Iran and for this reason it needs to think long and hard before it draws up battle plans.

So why are so-called supporters of Israel sounding the drums of war in Washington, well the answer in my view is three fold. A) They sense that once Iran and America rekindle new ties Israel may potentially lose its most favorite nation status and therefore become less important as an ally of the United States in the Middle East. It will also put a lot of lobbyists in Washington who raised millions of dollars in the name of Israel out of work but I digress. B) In the absence of any regional distraction, Israel will have to focus on dealing with the Palestine issue and addressing the final status agreement for a two state solution. In doing so it is certain that Israel will be encouraged by the Obama administration to make hard concessions on key issues such as stopping settlement building on occupied land, the border disputes and the status of Jerusalem. And, C) To neutralize A and B Israel will need a war to eliminate Iran’s hopes of bettering ties with America and at the same time by taking out Iran's involvement in the Arab - Israeli conflict win a decisive victory on the two state solution with more favorable terms.

In my view those who take a hard-line stance benefit from conflict because they believe in a doctrine that gives them the moral authority to wage war even if it is contrary to the will of most Israeli’s today who after 60 years of conflict want nothing more than peace, first and foremost with the Palestinians and second with the Middle East community of nations.

And so I strongly believe that war between Israel and Iran is not the right answer when we have a much better option before us, supporting the people of Iran to achieve their rights to a free and democratic regime. I hope America will understand what's at stake.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Leaderless Revolution

Today, many political analysis’s and Middle East experts agree that one of the most defining characteristics and manifestations of the green movement is the fact that it has no official leader. A movement that started as a skirmish over a flawed and fraudulent election between Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi as the two main rivals has now rapidly turned into a coalition movement against a common foe, the regime itself. And, while the green movement started as a protest demanding its citizens votes be counted it soon evolved into something bigger. Today, it represents a battle between Iranians on the one hand who demand nothing less than their inalienable human rights, the right to economic opportunity, and the right to a representative government elected by the people and not appointed on behalf of the people, verses a political system that is clearly incapable of delivering on such rights due to its inherent, and now as we have seen, violent nature.

And so unlike the revolution of 1979 lead by the iconic Ayatollah Khomeini this movement has a different aura and identity advantage of its own, and in my view, with three distinctive characteristics.

First, is that the movement is by no means ideological and unlike 1979 where political factions such as the toodeh party (communist party), the jebhe melli (the national front party), the mojahedin khalg (MKO) and the religious groups played a zero-sum game in trying to outmaneuver one another over ideological lines, today’s movement revolves around a common theme and a common ideology that is universal, Democracy, economic opportunity and human rights are at the top of the agenda. These demands reflect the wishes of a generation with a new outlook on life and of the world. But what stands in their way is a political system that views any and all forms of openness and freedom as a threat to its stability and ultimately existence without an iota of consideration for its people. This political self-righteousness has therefore created a collective frustration amongst and across various segments of society whom today have taken their demands to the streets.

The second unique characteristic of this movement is that it is homegrown and spreading like brushfire into more rural areas across Iran. What is also of significance is that the green movement is building traction with every tragic story of torture, rape, beating and dead bodies being broadcast over YouTube. These acts of violence further infuriate the movement and allow it to multiply across social layers from students to teachers to doctors and nurses, to diplomats, to political figures, all the way to the bazaar (the merchant groups). So no matter how hard the clampdown on protesters and no matter how many people the anti-Iranian regime imprisons, a network of distributed leadership is always ready to further the cause be it in the form of writing “death to Khamenei” slogans on the walls, printing protest messages on money, sending out twitters, blogging on facebook, and or organizing protests at every opportunity presented, as was the case during Ashura.

And the third characteristic of what makes the green movement uniquely different from thirty years ago is the role of the exiled opposition groups that while still in disarray are starting to come together and rally behind the people of Iran and their aspirations for civil liberties. This allegiance comes in the form of a two step process. The first is in their support for Iranians greater civil liberties which by design will illustrate the regimes incapacity and unwillingness for reform. Once this is established which we are almost at the end of this stage now 6 months into the protests the second step will then be to push for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the regime. This tactical support will allow Iranians to move closer together as a united front with a united voice calling for a secular democratic political system much like other democracies around the world e.g. India, Turkey, Austria , Germany, Czech, South Korea, Poland and many others.

The advantages of this leaderless revolution at this stage has served the movement well but I do believe that at some point this frustration will need to be harnessed and channeled before it either loses momentum and is defused or alternatively turns into anarchy and civil war.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The New Balance of Power in the Middle East (part II of II)

In part I of the New Balance of Power in the Middle East, I wrote of a political scenario that relates to the current turn of event in Iran followed by a question where I asked whom you thought would most benefit if this reality never took place. In part II, I aim to answer this question by looking at the self-interest of those countries that have profited from an isolated, closed off and weakened Iran over the past 30 years and why there is great apprehension from a possible rekindling of ties between the United States and Iran in the region.

Having lived and traveled across the Middle East since 2000 I can unequivocally state that the normalization of relationship between Iran and the United States is a political reality least desired by countries in the region purely based on socio-economic reasons as this new bond will forever shift the social and political balance of power in Iran’s favor.

So what has happened since 1979?

We all know that not long after the US hostage crisis in Tehran, Iran was hit with a US imposed trade embargo that stopped all American companies from doing business with the new Islamic regime that came to power, at least on paper. This trade and commerce handicap gave new born countries in the region such as the United Arab Emirates enormous lead time to build up their economies by capitalizing on the established good relationships with the West. As such, city states such as Dubai soon became a transit gateway of goods, commodities and services for Iran making the United Arab Emirates a profiteer of circumstance.

Since the early days of the 1979 revolution the volume of re-export trade from around the world including smuggled American goods such as computers, home electronics, car parts, grain, wheat, sugar, all the way to insurance and banking services have amounted to well over US $ 14 billion dollars, annually. In 1994, US trade officials estimated that more than a quarter of the $1 billion worth of American goods alone entering Dubai were in fact shipped to Iran. In 1997, the U.S. shipped almost $11.6 billion worth of goods to the U.A.E., the bulk of which went to Dubai. That was a 230 percent increase over the previous five years which meant that despite growing tensions in the Middle East the flow of American contraband on its way to Iran didn’t slow down, it surged. Experts estimate that between 30 and 40 percent of those goods (between $3 billion to $5 billion worth) were then reexported, and according to US embassy figures, that’s only from transactions that could be accounted for since most experts know there are no official numbers. Thus over the past 30 years Iran has been the U.A.E.’s No. 1 trading partner and what a one-sided relationship it has been.

In an interview done by Christopher Stewart in 1998 with Nasser Hashempour at the time deputy president of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai Hashempour talks about the importance of Iran to Dubai. “Iranians have a very big role here, and Dubai knows it.” Iranians have partnerships in about 9,500 businesses in the emirates, according to Hashempour, the bulk of which are involved in exporting. Some are connected to the Iranian government and military (the Sepah). There are 450,000 to 500,000 Iranians living in the U.A.E., with three-quarters of them in Dubai. The number of Iranians in Dubai has almost doubled in the past five years, and they account for about a quarter of the city’s total population. Iranians here also have a lot of money—estimates run as high as $300 billion in assets. Many Iranians would not be in Dubai, Hashempour says, had it not been for American policy.

Without a doubt, American companies such as HP, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Dell, Black and Decker, Apple, Xerox, pharmaceuticals and healthcare companies such as Procter & Gamble and many others are all operating in Iran through a network of distributors. In 2007 Xerox for example stated that the company had terminated its ties with Iran and as a result its profits dropped from US $9.6 billion to US $7.7 billion dollars which clearly shows the value of the Iranian market.

So, it is evident that under the current climate and Dubai’s dependency on Iran it would be to Dubai’s disadvantage if a US – Iran relationship were to blossom any time soon especially now that Dubai is experiencing a US $120 billion dollar debt.

On a sociopolitical level Saudi Arabia has also profited from Iran’s Islamisization as it has eliminated the pressure on the Kingdom to modernize its legal and political system over the past 30 years. With a focus on Islamic way of governance and the implementation of its Sharia law any talk of democratization has been a nonstarter discussion which has worked well to the advantage of Saudi ruling elite. In the absence of Civic participation and openness in political affairs, Saudi Arabia has been given a Cart Blanche to rule the country as it pleases. Needless to say that in 30 years we have only seen a glimpse of a few cases where world media has drawn attention on Saudi’s violations of human rights, in cases of child abuse (child brides), women’s rights violations and harsh and inhumane punishments of its citizens under Sharia law. With a democratic Iran Saudi’s closed society will come under the spotlight as it will now have an open society to compete with in the Middle East region.

As for Russia the interest is purely tactical. Russia has profited from Iran’s isolation in a number of ways. Over the past 30 years Moscow has had exclusive access to the Iranian market in areas of heavy industry such as oil and gas, the airplane industry, infrastructure projects and what is now a point of contention Iran’s nuclear plant development not to mention military and arms sales. The other tactical interest has been with regards to the Caspian Sea. Despite a unified non-aggression stance, disagreements among the Caspian Sea states go back to the treaties of 1920 and 1941 between Imperial Iran and the Soviet Union. These treaties divided the Caspian Sea between Iran and the USSR, delineating both water and seabed rights based on the shoreline of each state. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of three new states on the shores of the Caspian in 1991, Russia and Iran have had to draw new lines that allow each of the new states shares of the Caspian resources. Yet what has been cleverly designed by the Russians is their independent treaties with each of the new states - Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan that reduced Iran control from 20 percent down to about 14 percent of the seabed and thus putting Russia in greater control of the Caspian sea.

One final interest of Russia worth mentioning is over Irans natural gas reserves and how Russia aims to prevent Iran from laying a pipeline that would connect the country with European markets. While Iran has the second largest gas reserves in the world, Russia aims to prevent its southern neighbor from creating a direct pipeline into Europe. The reason is very simple. With such a gas pipeline in to Europe Russia will lose its monopoly and price fixing leverage. For this reason, Russia is attempting to push Iran to take its focus off of cash rich markets of Europe to build a pipeline heading east between Iran, Pakistan and India. The manifestation of such a plan will place Iran at a disadvantage as the country will no longer be able to make better profits from such a relationship and will leave Russia as the exclusive provider of natural gas into Europe.

So I conclude that Iran is in a very challenging position with many players actively trying to prevent any hopes of democratization plans from taking root in this strategic country in the Middle East region. I sincerely hope that the people of Iran will wisely seek their own best interest and recognize that the solution to Iran’s success lies only in a path towards democratization and the enhancement of strong relationship with the United States and the FREE world. We have a lot to gain and so does the free world. Payandeh Iran.

The New Balance of Power in the Middle East (part I of II)

I want you to picture this scenario for a second. It’s March 21st, 2010 and in Iran the campaign of unity, solidarity and peaceful resistance lead by the green movement has triumphed in a hard fought battle over tyranny and oppression of the past 30 years. Many of the Sepah and Basij rank and file responsible for committing heinous crimes against humanity since the June 12, 2009 fraudulent election and subsequent coup d’état that followed have either repented or surrendered. While a number of the top commanders have chosen to flee the country rather than face justice.

On the streets of Iran from Tabriz in the north to Bandar-Abbas in the south, from Hamedan in the west to Birjand in the east, young and old are jubilant, dancing, cheering and rejoicing over their new found freedoms and hope of a brighter future on this glorious day. While the celebrations are taking place the radio announces that all political detainees have been set free from the notorious Evin prison, women are emancipated from having to wear the forced chador and roosari (Islamic hejab) and that President Mousavi is sworn in to take the office as Iran’s interim elected President with the army and the people now firmly behind him. At the airport, planes from British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates Airlines, Air France and others cover the runway filled to capacity with Iranians, only this time and contrary to 1979 where most liberals were fleeing the country they were making their way back home after 30 years of fear from persecution.

Now, while you still have this picture in mind, visualize this, President Obama in a breaking news announcement on CNN broadcasts his second video message addressed to the people of Iran. The message goes something like this, “As the president of the United States and on behalf of the people of America I congratulate you, the brave and courageous people of Iran on your resolve to see democracy and human rights be restored in the land where such principles was first founded. On this very important day of Norouz (Persian New Year) America once again extends its hand of friendship and we make a commitment to having a strong and lasting relationship with Iran and the Iranian people, eid e shoma mobarak.” Within hours, the president of Iran reciprocates with a message to the American people expressing his appreciation for the gesture and looks forward with hope and optimism to fostering a new beginning in Iran-US relations based on mutual respect and mutual trust”.

Now, I want you to ask yourself this question, in whose interest is it that this reality never materializes? In other words who stands to lose the most if Iran – US relations strengthens and what would it mean to the new balance of power in the region if America and Iran were no longer enemies to each other?

Leave me your thoughts and comments in who you think has the most to loose both domestically and internationally and I will post my opinion as a follow up to this introduction on who I think are the obstacles to a better US – Iran relations. You will be surprised to know who they really are ....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Has the United States made up its mind ...

The United States Congress has today introduced a bill that would ultimately cut off Iranian banks from transacting internationally. The bill would prevent all international banks from accepting money transfers from any and all Iranian banks. So far 100 internationally recognized financial institutions have agreed in principle to follow this law if and when it becomes law.

So the question arises, is this step a tactical move on the part of the United States to keep the pressure on Iran to come clean on its nuclear intentions or has the United States come to the conclusion that the Islamic regime is incapable of truth telling and therefore compliance can only come through strict sanctions.

The second round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran is scheduled for October 25th and in all likelihood the mood in the room will not be as easygoing as it was in round one for the simple fact that Iran is now expected to not only agree to the terms of the IAEA inspection regime but also to handover its nuclear scientific knowhow. This is a hard pill for Iran to swallow since the Islamic regime has spent the past four years denouncing pressure of any sorts from the West to open up its facilities which it regards as its national rights. Thus to backtrack will be viewed as a sign of weakness and humiliation.

Now the question is can Iran be persuaded to comply with the demands of the world or will it walk away from the negotiation table and prepare for the worst? My guess is, and I make this assessment based on the realignment and reshuffling of hard-line “Basij and Sepah” leaders into key posts in Iran, is that coup government will walk away from the talks and rather than comply, Ahmadinejad and his cohorts will prepare themselves for sanctions with the belief that the country can withstand international pressures as it has done in the past. Cutting Iran off from the world will also give them the opportunity to go after the opposition groups and in doing so the regime will rule with an iron fist by clamping down on any form of uprising. Already we are seeing signs of more arrests, executions and long sentences for many of the people who took part in the green movement and with all indications the regime will soon go after Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karoubi and Mohammad Khatami as the final blow to the Green Movement.

Will this move serve the United States and the world order, in the short-term no. But once the sanctions start having their effect on the Iranian economy the people of Iran will once again be emboldened to leave their mark on Iranian politics the same way they did 30 years ago. But this time there is a visible difference in that the Iranian people know exactly what they want and know what to expect from the International community, which is nothing more than their moral support for bring a free and democratic Iran back into the community of nations.