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Friday, March 30, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iran airs second sailor ‘apology’:

A second member of the Royal Navy crew captured in the Gulf has apologised for trespassing in Iranian waters, in a broadcast on Iranian television.

He was quoted as saying: “We entered Iranian waters without permission and were arrested by Iranian coastguards.

“I would like to apologise to the Iranian people for that.”

The Foreign Office described the latest “confession” video as “disgraceful exploitation”. The UK denies the crew had trespassed.

This is a disgraceful exploitation of these prisoners which underscores the authoritarian nature of the Iranian regime. Further, it casts them in the role as the rogue and the tactic of using faked, coerced statements of this nature by kidnap victims is the stuff of terrorist groups.

One has to think that this move is being played out primarily for domestic consumption, as while it may impress a few regional actors, it is difficult to see how this maneuver helps Iran’s international standing.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the Times of London:
Iran ‘to try Britons for espionage’-News-World-Middle East-TimesOnline

FIFTEEN British sailors and marines arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards off the coast of Iraq may be charged with spying.

A website run by associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, reported last night that the Britons would be put before a court and indicted.

Referring to them as “insurgents”, the site concluded: “If it is proven that they deliberately entered Iranian territory, they will be charged with espionage. If that is proven, they can expect a very serious penalty since according to Iranian law, espionage is one of the most serious offences.”

The warning followed claims by Iranian officials that the British navy personnel had been taken to Tehran, the capital, to explain their “aggressive action” in entering Iranian waters. British officials insist the servicemen were in Iraqi waters when they were held.

At this point one of the more important words in the above paragraphs is “may” as in they may be tried for espionage. My guess is that ultimately they will not be tried, as I think that Iran is trying to leverage this situation towards some goal and wishes to turn up the heat as much as possible in an attempt to achieve that goal. Precisely what that goal is remains to be seen. It could be securing the release of Iranians captured in Iraq, or it could be an attempt to force some sort of talks on the sanctions passed this week. There is also the clear usage of such prisoners as tokens for internal political consumption as evidence that the current regime can stand up to he powers from the West.

My guess is that it is a combination of the domestic politics angle, the prisoner swap scenario and anger over UN sanctions. The piece notes:

Iranian student groups called yesterday for the 15 detainees to be held until US forces released five Revolutionary Guards captured in Iraq earlier this year.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper based in London, quoted an Iranian military source as saying that the aim was to trade the Royal Marines and sailors for these Guards.

The claim was backed by other sources in Tehran. “As soon as the corps’s five members are released, the Britons can go home,” said one source close to the Guards.

He said the tactic had been approved by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who warned last week that Tehran would take “illegal actions” if necessary to maintain its right to develop a nuclear programme.

And, I suppose, we can’t rule out a fit of pique by high ranking officials over recent events:

Intelligence sources said any advance order for the arrests was likely to have come from Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards.

[…]

Safavi is known to be furious about the recent defections to the West of three senior Guards officers, including a general, and the effect of UN sanctions on his own finances.

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Friday, March 23, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: UK sailors captured at gunpoint

Fifteen British Navy personnel have been captured at gunpoint by Iranian forces, the Ministry of Defence says.

The men were seized at 1030 local time when they boarded a boat in the Gulf, off the coast of Iraq, which they suspected was smuggling cars.

The Royal Navy said the men, who were on a routine patrol in Iraqi waters, were understood to be unharmed.

The Foreign Office has demanded the immediate and safe return of the men, who are based on HMS Cornwall.

That vessel’s commander, Commodore Nick Lambert, said he was hoping there had been a “simple mistake” over territorial waters.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they [British personnel] were in Iraqi territorial waters. Equally, the Iranians may claim they were in Iranian waters.

“I hope we find this is a simple misunderstanding at the tactical level.”

One guesses that this is likely the case.

The basic situation was as follows:

The Ministry of Defence said: “The group boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.

And, there are these details:

The incident comes as British Army Colonel Justin Masherevski, who is based in Iraq, says most of the violence against UK forces in Basra is being engineered by Iranian elements.

Col Masherevski said Iran was providing “sophisticated weaponry” to insurgents and “Iranian agents” were paying local men to attack British troops.

In 2004, Iran detained eight British servicemen for three days after they allegedly strayed over the maritime border.

The UK claimed the men were “forcibly escorted” into Iranian territorial waters.

While they were being held, the men were paraded blindfold and made to apologise on Iranian TV before their release was agreed.

The story continues to develop.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iran ‘failed to meet UN deadline’:

Iran failed to suspend its uranium enrichment activity by Wednesday’s UN deadline, a report by nuclear watchdog the IAEA has said.

The report said more than 300 centrifuges were set up in a plant planning industrial-scale enrichment.

The refusal to observe the deadline could lead to further UN sanctions against Iran.

The report came as the US secretary of state said fresh attempts would be made to get Iran to the negotiating table.

Hardly a shocker.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Paul Campos, CU law prof and Rocky Mountain News columnist calls Glenn Reynolds The right’s Ward Churchill. Why does he do this? Glenn recently promoted the assassination of Iranians scientist and mullahs involved in Iranian nuclear program (see here) Writes Campos::

Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet’s most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.

“We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . Basically, stepping on the Iranians’ toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq,” Reynolds wrote.

Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he’s now dutifully repeating the administration’s claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq’s civil war.

Moreover, even if Iran were at war with the United States, the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.

He goes on to say:

All this raises several interesting questions. For instance, does academic freedom insulate a law professor from any institutional consequences when he advocates murder? Reynolds and Hewitt, after all, certainly didn’t object when University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s celebration of the murder of American civilians raised serious questions about why the university had chosen to employ and tenure such a person, and led to an investigation of Churchill’s academic record.

Indeed, Hewitt and Reynolds both went out of their way to publicize the Churchill affair, as an example of left-wing extremism in our universities.

I would note that Campos was not an apologist for Churchill (see here).  However, Churchill’s sin were far more than just being extreme in his views on 911.  More to the point, he was an academic fraud with highly questionable credentials (see here, here and here). As such, the comparison to Churchill here is unwarranted.  Regardless of what one thinks about Reynolds’ politics, there is no reason to question his academic credentials.

Having established all of that, I must confess that I find Reynolds’ assassination recommendations to be highly problematic.  First, I question whether such a policy would be efficacious as how would we know the precise persons to kill, and would those killings actually achieve the desired policy goals?  Second, there are serious moral considerations regarding the targetting of non-combatants.  Indeed, the murder of civilians for the purpose of forcing a government to change its policies has a name, and I am afraid that it is terrorism.  (And I am not one to throw that word around lightly).

Beyond all of that, Campos is correct about the legal issues that such a policy raises, and his concerns about overreacting to the administration’s rhetoric on Iran is worth serious consideration.

Indeed, in considering the appropriate response to Iran, I would argue that we need to take a sober and serious evaluation regarding what the real odds are that they will produce and then use a nuclear weapon against Israel or the United States.  I continue to believe that they are not as high as many of the doomsayers believe, if anything because regardless of whatever else one may think about Iran and its leaders, I see no evidence of suicidal tendencies.

For some other views on the issues see Glenn Greenwald, who objects to the whole enterprise and James Joyner who comments on Greenwald and on the overall question of assassination policy.

Not surprisingly, Hugh Hewitt is all for the policy suggestion.

Glenn Reynolds responds to Campos here and discusses, at length, the question of assassination. The main problem with Reynolds’ rebuttal is that he seems to be talking exclusively about heads of state and the leaders of terrorist organizations-both of which are a far cry from scientists in particular, but even mullahs, depending on how wide he thinks the assassination net ought to be cast.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iranian bombing ‘kills 11 people’:

Eleven people have been killed in a bomb blast near a bus in city of Zahedan in south-eastern Iran, the official Irna news agency has reported.

The bomb, hidden in a car, targeted members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the agency said, although it is unclear if all the dead belonged to the guard.

Qassim Rezai, a military commander, described the act as “terrorism” and blamed “rebels” for the attack.

Reports say suspects behind the bombing have been arrested.

Correspondents say an attack of this size and nature is unprecedented in Iran - hitting an elite force in broad daylight in an open street.

[…]

Irna said five suspects were arrested, including two suspects apprehended by members of the public.

The city lies in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It has been hit by a string of attacks and kidnappings blamed on a hardline Sunni group called Jundallah (Allah’s Brigade).

Iranian officials have accused Britain and the United States of supporting ethnic minority rebels operating in the Islamic republic’s sensitive border areas.

The Reuters version of the story (Bus bombed in southeast Iran killing at least 11) points out that the area is one where drug smuggling takes place (which stands to reason, as it near the border with Afghanistan):

A booby-trapped car blew up a bus owned by the Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, killing at least 11 people, in a border city in southeast Iran where security forces and drug smugglers often clash, state media reported.

[…]

The semi-official Fars News Agency said Jundollah (God’s soldiers), a shadowy Sunni Muslim group Iran has linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility. The group has been blamed for past kidnappings and killings in the area.

[…]

Iran has said Jundollah was behind the murder of 12 people in a roadside attack in May, and other incidents. Officials previously said Rigi was a cell leader of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network in Iran.

The al Qaeda/Osama links are of interest, to be sure.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

As has been noted here in numerous posts, and ad infinitum elsewhere, there are good reasons to take the administration’s assertions about Iran with a grain of salt, given the poor intelligence used to make claims about Iraq.  Indeed, such caution should have nothing to do with partisanship or philosophical preferences, but rather because they got it wrong.

Now, via Editor and Publisher, we have a similar phenomenon, but in regards to reportage:  ‘NYT’ Reporter Who Got Iraqi WMDs Wrong Now Highlights Iran Claims:

Saturday’s New York Times features an article, posted at the top of its Web site late Friday, that suggests very strongly that Iran is supplying the “deadliest weapon aimed at American troops” in Iraq. The author notes, “Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile.”

What is the source of this volatile information? Nothing less than “civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.”

Sound pretty convincing? It may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

Gordon wrote with Miller the paper’s most widely criticized — even by the Times itself — WMD story of all, the Sept. 8, 2002, “aluminum tubes” story that proved so influential, especially since the administration trumpeted it on TV talk shows.

I must confess, the entire question of exactly how to treat the Iranian question has a certain “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” quality to it.

And, as Glenn Greenwald notes, the LAT’s reporting on this subject has downplayed the Iranian influence.

For example:  Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link and U.S. can’t prove Iran link to Iraq strife.

An irony here, is that those who remain hawkish regarding Iran also tend to be those who think that the NYT  is a worthless rag rife with animosity towards the administration.  So, what can they do?  Do they go with the NYT  out of expediency, or do they allow their skepticism of the NYT to lead them to question their views on Iran?

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Friday, February 9, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP we get word that Iranian’s real leader (i.e., Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) said some inflammatory things about a possible US attack:   Iran warns U.S. it will retaliate if hit - Yahoo! News:

Iran stepped up its warnings to the United States Thursday, with the nation’s supreme leader saying Tehran will strike U.S. interests around the world if his country is attacked.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s words were also likely meant as a show of toughness to rally Iranians, who are increasingly worried about the possibility of American military action as the two countries’ standoff has grown more tense.

Setting aside for a moment whether one likes Iran or not, or whether one thinks that Iran poses a threat to US national interests or to regional stability, isn’t this exactly what one would expect the leader of any given state to say?  Further, wouldn’t we expect that the rhetoric would be particularly confrontative when coming from the mouth of an authoritarian leader?

That the leadership of a sovereign state would declare that they would fight back if attacked hardly qualifies as news.  Nevertheless, the write-up by the AP has frustrated Jules Crittenden of the Boston Herald, who notes, among other things, that:

I performed the meatball surgery on it necessary to make it moderately acceptable for the print edition of the Boston Herald. 

The AP isn’t just opposed to a U.S. attack on Iran. It is actively on Iran’s side.

He goes on to cite the first three paragraphs as evidence.  Two of those paragraphs are listed above, and here’s the third:

Days earlier, an Iranian diplomat was detained in Iraq in an incident that Iran blamed on America. The United States denied any role. The U.S. also says it has no plans to strike Iran militarily, but has sent a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to show strength in the face of rising Iranian regional influence.

Can someone tell me how those three paragraphs amount to the AP actively siding with the Iranian government?  The first paragraph is a pure statement of fact.  The second paragraph some speculation (that is likely accurate) about Khamenei’s motivations.  The third paragraph is a series of factual statements.

That the Iranians might feel threatened by the US, by the way, makes some sense, given that the President has made a number of rather clear statements about Iran that could be construed as threats.  Indeed, it is fair to say that the President wants the Iranians to be concerned as a way of gaining leverage over the nuclear program issue and whether or not the Iranians are causing trouble in Iraq.

Really, if we don’t take a dispassionate and rational approach to the information out there about Iran and elsewhere, we are simply going to make more policy mistakes.  Crittenden’s blog post certainly makes me wonder about his judgment in regards to coverage of Iran and makes me wonder about “meatball surger[ies]” he is doing to other stories that are hitting the pages of the Herald.

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Saturday, February 3, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: U.S. can’t prove Iran link to Iraq strife:

Bush administration officials acknowledged Friday that they had yet to compile evidence strong enough to back up publicly their claims that Iran is fomenting violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.

Administration officials have long complained that Iran was supplying Shiite Muslim militants with lethal explosives and other materiel used to kill U.S. military personnel. But despite several pledges to make the evidence public, the administration has twice postponed the release — most recently, a briefing by military officials scheduled for last Tuesday in Baghdad.

This story underscores why I noted earlier in the week that the administration’s assertion of the existence of a dossier that they couldn’t release to the public was a move that might could be characterized as “too cutsey by half.”

The bottom line in the case of Iranian influence in the region is that the administration is making claims and then going to look for evidence to back those claims.  This sounds altogether too much like the build-up for the Iraq war wherein guesses and assumptions were treated as facts (both in public pronouncements on the subject and behind closed doors).

Hopefully the pull-back on the administration’s arguments about Iran represent a learning of lessons:

Earlier this week, U.S. officials acknowledged that they were uncertain about the strength of their evidence and were reluctant to issue potentially questionable data in the wake of the intelligence failures and erroneous assessments that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In particular, officials worried about a repetition of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 2003 U.N. appearance to present the U.S. case against Iraq. In that speech, Powell cited evidence that was later discredited.

In rejecting the case compiled against Iran, senior U.S. officials, including Hadley, Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, confirmed Friday that they were concerned about possible inaccuracies.

Still, there has been an awful lot of anti-Iranian talk coming out of the administration of late, not to mention the dispatching of  two aircraft carries strike groups to the Persian gulf.  While it is clear that the Iranians are trying to influence the situation in Iraq (as, by the way, would we if there was a similar situation in Canada or Mexico), it is unclear as to the extent and, more importantly, what the proper response should (or even can) be.

This is the type of situation that requires calm, quiet, deliberative action-not an ongoing PR war.

The situation of Iranian influence in Iraq is complicated by the fact that some of the factions allied with Iran are also allied with the US (i.e., various Shia factions).  Such a fact underscores that the issue isn’t necessarily as black and white as some might want it to be.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

FOXNews.com - Officials: White House Holding Back Report Detailing Iran’s Meddling in Iraq - U.S. Senate

A plan by the Bush administration to release detailed and possibly damning specific evidence linking the Iranian government to efforts to destabilize Iraq have been put on hold, U.S. officials told FOX News.

Officials had said a “dossier” against Iran compiled by the U.S. likely would be made public at a press conference this week in Baghdad, and that the evidence would contain specifics including shipping documents, serial numbers, maps and other evidence which officials say would irrefutably link Iran to weapons shipments to Iraq.

Now, U.S. military officials say the decision to go public with the findings has been put on hold for several reasons, including concerns over the reaction from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — as well as inevitable follow-up questions that would be raised over what the U.S. should do about it.

These kinds of stories give me pause.

First by saying that they have the information, but have decided not to release it seems a bit too cutesy by half: it allows the idea that the administration has some hardcore evidence without allowing that evidence to be in the public for scrutiny.

Second, the questions about what to do with Iran are already in the table and since when did the administration start worrying about Ahmadinejad’s reaction to much of anything?

Third, we have been down this path before. Dossiers and irrefutable evidence got us where we are now, so one would think that any such presentation by this administration at this time would be greeted with severe (and understandable) skepticism.

James Joyner notes some of the reaction to this and other Iran-related stories in the news and on the blogs today.

Ultimately I have to concur with his basic assessment:

Iran’s active participation in the killing of American forces, of which there is ample evidence regardless of their involvement of this incident [see here-ed.], is an act of war. On the other hand, it’s not at all clear what we can realistically do about it. We could certainly turn the place into a glass parking lot or topple the mullah’s and occupy the country, overstretched force or no. But the repercussions of either move would be far worse than the status quo.

That the Iranians would be involved in the current Iraqi situation is hardly a surprise. That they would be involved in a way that is antithetical to US interests is hardly a surprise either. The solution to the problem in question is not an easy one-and that fact is actually more because of the failing policy in Iraq than anything else.

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