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Iran postures

This short article from the New York Times is pretty thick with things that deserve more details.  So I’m going to take it piece by piece.

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, said the new missile, first unveiled a month ago and known as the Qader, which means Able in Farsi, had been mass-produced “as quickly as possible,” the country’s state-run media reported. The missile, designed to destroy warships and coastal targets, has a range of about 125 miles, the media said.

There is a picture of the new missile behind Ahmadinejad at the top of the article.  The obvious intention here is to have a weapon that threatens the US naval presence in the Gulf.  Iran’s long term goal is likely to push the US military out of the Gulf, which it views as a destabilizing force (and which we Americans view as a stabilizing force).  I’m not a military person, so I can’t get into technicalities of how effective this weapon might be, or how likely it is that the missile could successfully take down portions of the Sixth Fleet, but Iran surely hopes that our Navy is intimidated.

The announcement coincided with front-page headlines in a number of Iranian newspapers quoting the head of Iran’s navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, as saying he intended to deploy Iranian warships close to the Atlantic coast of the United States to reciprocate for the patrols in the Persian Gulf by the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The patrols are a constant source of irritation to Iran.

The article also points out that the US thinking is that the suggestion is ridiculous.  The Iranian Navy lacks the capability of deploying boats that far from Iran.  Besides, what is the point? Hypothetically, if such warships were understood to have any violent intent, they would have to cross the Atlantic,  where our military destroy them.  Instead, the idea works as a rhetorical device.  For many Americans, Iran approximates evil, and their deployment of warships to our coast would be anathema.  Yet they view us as an enemy too, and our warships have been patrolling their coast for years.

In another slap at the United States, General Vahidi also rejected any thought of creating a telephone hotline between Tehran and Washington. The idea that was floated a few weeks ago by Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a way of avoiding an accidental confrontation in the Persian Gulf, where American and Iranian naval vessels and aircraft sometimes operate within sight of each other.

“We do not need such a line in the region,” General Vahidi said, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. “They are seeking to set up a hotline in order to solve any potential tensions, whereas we believe if they leave the region, there will be no tension.”

The US does not have any diplomatic relationship with Iran.  Perhaps Mullin’s desire to have a military channel of communication reflects the poor logic of that diplomatic stance, which we discussed here a few days ago.  Score one debate Zing! for Vahidi here.

His remarks may also have been an indirect slap at Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who endorsed the idea of a hot line when asked about it last week at a news conference at the end of his visit to the United Nations. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s standing within Iran’s hierarchy is in question because of his clashes with Parliament and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There has been a lot made over the past six months of a fall out between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.  Part of me wonders if it is exaggerated, wishful thinking on the part of those in the media who detest Ahmadinejad and would like to see him removed.  In this case, I’m reminded of when McChrystal was critical of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone interview.  But then this case seems less severe than its American counterpart that I’ve brought up.

Iran’s latest military pronouncements come against a backdrop of continued foreign skepticism about its claims of peaceful nuclear energy development. Even Turkey, which has cordial relations with Iran, recently agreed to be one of the host countries for part of a new missile-interceptor system designed by the United States, which has expressed concern that Iran may be developing a nuclear weapon that can be delivered via a long-range missile.

This paragraph implies that Turkey feels threatened by long-range nuclear missiles flying out of Iran, which I believe is not the case.  My understanding is that the US had to strong arm Turkey into putting up that missle-interceptor system.  So it is the US that is concerned and is working to surround Iran, much like we hoped to contain communism, which reminds me of a fantastic Foreign Policy article from last year.  Continuing…

Last week, American officials confirmed that the Obama administration had quietly provided Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets, including sites in Iran that could possibly house such a nuclear weapons program. Israel considers Iran its most dangerous enemy, and had been pressuring the United States for a supply of the so-called “bunker-busting” bombs .

I missed this news when it happened.  Bunker-busting bombs implies a preemptive strike on Iran from Israel, or at least that is the implication Iran will take away.  That would be incredibly destabilizing for the region.  I don’t like that the US made this sale.  Maybe it was to comfort Israel in the face of the Palestinian UN bid, I don’t know, but the move removes some ability of the US to control how events might transpire in the future.  If Israel were to use these bunker-busting bombs in a first strike, would Iran’s response not be to deploy as many of those Qader missiles as possible on our fleet in the Persian Gulf?  I know that the popular view is to see Iran as the irrational, militaristic, rogue, evil state, but in my view it seems like the US is doing its share of saber-rattling as well.

Honestly, I am incredibly liberal in my views on Iran.  I would prefer that the US aggressively seek rapprochement.  But what do you all think?  If Iran is damned determined to get nuclear weapons, how do we stop them?

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2 Responses

  1. In all honestly and over the long term, I don’t think there is a way to stop their nuclear ambitions.

    The recent discover of yellow cake sitting uncovered and unguarded in the Libyan desert only reminds us that material and knowledge is out there and up for sale. By the way, AQ Khan, who admitted he helped Libya, Iran, and N. Korea, was released from house arrest in 2009, saying he didn’t care what the US thought. These days the security of Pakistan’s nuclear sites and material is in serious question. Seriously deteriorating relations with the US is not reassuring either. Do we really know if all of the former Soviet Union material is secured? Who knows how far N. Korea has progressed. Lots of potential out there.

    With that, I believe embargoes and Israeli vigilance, can only delay but not permanently stymie Iran. While Iran remains a pariah state, even Iranian progressives feel cornered into defending Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capability as a point of national pride. The only scenario that might alter the situation, I believe, is if Iran actually changed its ambitions. Up till recently that might have seemed unfathomable. But the Arab Spring has toppled long-held assumptions in the region. Iran no doubt is deeply worried that its own opposition might finally succeed. Were the youth and progressive elements to triumph, and Iran to open up and join the world community once again, we might eventually see an agreement to halt their program. A lot of if’s in this scenario, and no guarantees, but short of Israel provoking Iran into a war, which rather defies the purpose, or actual Western boots on the ground, hope for regime change seems strangely more realistic now.

    Could be wrong, but last November I was in Egypt jauntily visiting tombs, and in December in Tunisia as the uprising hotted up, never imagining that in 10 days after my departure Ali would be leaving forever and shortly after that Mubarak would fall.

  2. I like Jeri’s comment that “the only scenario that might alter the situation…is if Iran actually changed its ambitions.” Not only is there the possibility that Iran will experience a “Persian spring” (one more successful than the opposition movement in 2009), but as the poster noted, there is increased talk of the tensions between Ahmadinejad and Khameini. I have no idea what might come of these tensions or if we should prefer the ultimate victory of one over the other (anybody have any info on this or know of a good article that addresses it?), but if the tensions are there then it is possible change is coming. That said, I think the U.S.’s best option when it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambitions is to encourage political change (how actively to do so is part of another debate) rather than move too aggressively against the present regime. My thinking is that to press Iran now would stir up anti-American sentiment in Ahmadinejad and/or Khameini’s favor and allow them to continue their hold on power at a time when reform might be on the horizon.

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