After receding in recent months from public discussion, the question of Iran seemed to resurface with a vengeance within days of Barack Obama's election.  --  Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned in a radio interview on Thursday against dialogue with Iran in remarks directed at Obama.[1]  --  Friday's Jerusalem Post contained renewed speculation that Israel might strike Iran in the period before Obama is inaugurated.  --  Like the New York Times last July, the Post touted Benny Morris's belief that such a strike is acceptable, with Morris "even rais[ing] the possibility that a date had already been chosen."[2; see here for another such article]  --  Voice of America News reported that on Thursday the U.S. Treasury "moved to further restrict Iran's access to the U.S. financial system."[3]  --  AFP reported that on Thursday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a letter of congratulations to Obama.[4]  --  But Robert Dreyfuss, a commentator for the Nation, said Friday that "A whole panoply of hawkish and pro-Israeli thinktanks and lobbies is gearing up to underscore Livni's warning, from AIPAC to the newly formed group, United Against Nuclear Iran, to a panel yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a leading pro-Israeli research group."[5]  --  According to Dreyfuss, however, "AIPAC and WINEP not only are they not running the show anymore, as they did in the 2001-2004 Bush administration, but they're not even getting a seat at the table in the Obama administration."  --  (The choice of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff makes this a dubious assertion, though.)  --  AP reported Obama's stance on Iran in his first press conference after being elected as "declining to say what proposals he might pursue in connection with Iran."[6]  --  But Reuters noted that Obama also said that "An international effort must be made to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."[7]  --  COMMENT:  As has often been the case in recent years, the upshot of all this is inscrutable.  --  On the surface, Obama's comments represent a pro-Israeli stance.  --  However, they could also be interpreted as an attempt to lessen the likelihood that the sort of pre-inauguration strike that Benny Morris advocates will take place....




November 6, 2008

JERUSALEM -- Israel said on Thursday U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's stated readiness to talk to Iran could be seen in the Middle East as a sign of weakness in efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

"We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue -- in a situation where you have brought sanctions, and you then shift to dialogue -- is liable to be interpreted as weakness," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, asked on Israel Radio about policy change toward Tehran in an Obama administration.

Her remarks sounded the first note of dissonance with Obama by a senior member of the Israeli government since the Democrat's sweeping victory over Republican candidate John McCain in the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday.

Asked if she supported any U.S. dialogue with Iran, Livni replied: "The answer is no."

Livni, leading the centrist Kadima party into Israel's February 10 parliamentary election, also said "the bottom line" was that the United States, under Obama, "is also not willing to accept a nuclear Iran."

Obama has said he would harden sanctions on Iran but has also held out the possibility of direct talks with U.S. adversaries to resolve problems, including the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The West believes Iran's nuclear enrichment program is aimed at building atomic weapons, an allegation the Islamic Republic denies.

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, has said Iran's nuclear program is a threat to its existence and that it was keeping all options on the table to stop it.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Philippa Fletcher)


The Iranian threat

By Yaakov Lappin

Jerusalem Post
November 7, 2008

On December 8, 1988, under the cover of night, IDF warplanes, helicopters, guided-missile frigates and an élite force of Flotilla 13 naval commandos and Golani Brigade reconnaissance fighters infiltrated Lebanon.

Their target was a cave-based headquarters 20km south of Beirut, serving the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmed Jibril.

The raid, code-named Operation Blue and Brown, involved the first known use of the IDF's secretive Oketz K9 dog unit.

Four soldiers found themselves left behind, forcing the air force to conduct a dramatic helicopter rescue. The soldiers clung to the helicopters' railings as they choppers took off, with Palestinian gunmen in pursuit.

Lt.-Col. Amir Meital, commander of Golani reconnaissance unit, was killed by enemy fire during the raid.

The operation took place one month after U.S. President George H. Bush was voted into office, and a month before he was sworn in, replacing the popular Ronald Reagan, a leader widely viewed as a staunch ally of Israel.

Operation Blue and Brown says nothing about the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran today. But it does show that IDF operations have been ordered in the interim period between the election of a new American president and his inauguration.

And it is this same period in 2008/09 that provides an "attractive date" for Israel to strike Iran's nuclear program, according to historian Benny Morris.

In June, Morris wrote an op-ed for the *New York Times* in which he theorized that Israel would likely strike Iran between November 5 and January 19, the day before Obama is sworn in. [NOTE:  This is putting it mildly. In his neo-Orwellian article, ( entitled "Using Bombs to Stave Off War" and published on Fri., Jul. 18, Morris argued that "Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months," even giving dates: "the period from Nov. 5 to Jan. 19 seems the best bet." Morris had the gall to say that "leaders . . . even in Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful," because failure would mean that "the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war -- either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb." This crude fear-mongering and cool contemplation of "an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland," which means the cold-blooded mass murder of millions of innocents, unleashed a torrent of criticism on the paper's web site, where, as of Jul. 22, 440 responses had been posted. Readers called Morris's piece "sickening," "irresponsible," "appalling, myopic, destructive," "ridiculous," "completely mad," "beyond belief," "paranoic, threatening," "truly chilling," "frightening," "nothing short of despicable," "very bleak," "reckless, hysterical, and extraordinarily dangerous," "stupid," "reckless and provocative," "unhinged," "disgusting and manipulative," "psychopathic," "categorically nuts," "over the top," "racist, misinformed, hysterical and, most importantly, utterly lacking in any kind of citation or allusion to source material for its sweeping generalizations and demented claims," "sickening and destructive," "extremist," "crazy," "just amazing," "detestable," "macabre and patently irresponsible," "hysterical," and "the crudest kind of propaganda," and his views "simply madness," "self-reinforcing despair and apocalyptic fatalism," "insanity," "a bunch of silliness," "the most irrational commentary I have read in years," "garbage," "a consequence of the moral rot in Israel," "a rant," "nonsense," "bald sophistry," and "the most nonsensical foreign policy article I have ever read. And I have read a lot of nonsense over the years. This analysis would not get a passing grade in sixth grade." —R.T.]

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post this week, Morris said he continued to believe that time period was a "reasonable" one for Israeli action.

"There is certainly a friendly president in the White House until January 20. There is no certainty over what will happen after that, in which direction the wind will blow.

The second thing is the advancement by the Iranians in creating the bomb," Morris said, speaking from his home in Li'on, southwest of Beit Shemesh. Morris said the Iranian regime was guided by messianic clerics who could not be trusted to act logically in a state of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

"These men are not rational like the men who ruled America and Russia during the Cold War. When [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad talks about destroying Israel and denies the Holocaust, we hear no contrary voices from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei saying that Ahmadinejad is crazy," Morris said.

"So long as Iran makes progress, we are under pressure, if we plan on doing something. Iran is supposed to purchase advanced anti-aircraft guns from Russia at the start of 2009. All of these point to the fact that if the U.S. provides support, an Israeli strike is reasonable," he said.

Acknowledging the lame-duck nature of the Olmert administration, Morris said the difficulties posed by a weak government could be overcome by notifying the leaders of the major political parties in advance of the attack. He even raised the possibility that a date had already been chosen.

But Morris's views were challenged by a number of Israeli defense experts, such as Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, former national security adviser and former head of the IDF's Planning and Operation branches.

"I don't agree that Bush has given us a green light to attack in the next three months. Israel can't attack without U.S. approval, which is vital both tactically and strategically. At the moment, we don't have that approval," he said.

Eiland provided an alternative forecast, according to which Obama will spend some months assembling an international front aimed at applying real pressure on Teheran to ends its nuclear program, something Bush had so far failed to do.

"To make the pressure on Iran effective, you have to cooperate with states like Russia. But the Russians say, 'Our main problem is that you [the Americans] are deliberately harming our interests by criticizing our internal policies, our actions in Chechnya, and with your attempts to drag neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. So long as that's the case, don't expect us to help on Iran.'"

Noting that Russia is continuing to supply Teheran with nuclear technology and economic ties, Eiland said it would be impossible to isolate Iran without Russian assistance. This was all the more true in light of the fact that China and India had signaled that they would follow Russia's guidance over Iran, Eiland added.

"So I assume that the Obama government will correctly recognize the Iranian threat, but it will try to construct an international front," he said.

If, however, that policy failed, Obama could seriously consider using force, or support an Israeli strike several months from now, Eiland said.

Col. (res.) Ephraim Kam, formerly of Military Intelligence's Research Division and currently the deputy head of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said a number of questions needed to be answered before determining whether a strike could go ahead.

"We don't know what Bush wants. In order to know whether the time is right for an attack, the government must know the stance of the Americans, and the state of our intelligence. Do we have the precise information that we need? What is the evaluation of an Iranian response? Is the Iranian threat existential?" Kam asked.

The government did not have those answers at this time, "hence the decision to attack cannot be made," he said.

Dr. Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, said that aside from the diplomatic situation that altered with Obama's election, she could see no changes in "terms of the pros and cons of Israel taking some kind of action."

"Iran is advancing its program all the time. Where is the exact window of opportunity? I don't think the timing can be so fine-tuned as to give an exact date. It all boils down to the larger question of what you want to gain through military action. And this is the situation we've been faced with for the past few years," she said.

Landau said military action would likely not stop Iran's nuclear program, or even delay it significantly. Much of the talk of a strike formed part of an attempt to pressure Iran, and to keep it thinking that "there was a credible threat there. And the purpose of that is to get Iran to finally negotiate seriously," she said.

"Even if military action was used, it would ultimately have to lead to some kind of negotiation to get a deal," Landau said.



Voice of America
November 6, 2008

The U.S. Treasury has moved to further restrict Iran's access to the U.S. financial system, by banning certain money transfers.

The Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it will revoke Iran's so-called "U-Turn" license, which currently allows transfers to briefly enter the United States before being sent to offshore banks.

Until Thursday, U.S. banks were allowed to process certain money transfers for Iranian banks and other Iranian customers as long as the payments were initiated by and ended up in offshore non-U.S. and non-Iranian banks.

U.S. officials say the ban is aimed at increasing financial pressure on Iran to end alleged support of terrorist groups and nuclear proliferation.

Iran is under three sets of international sanctions. It has been accused by several Western countries of seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Separately on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said any U.S. talks with Iran may be seen as a sign of weakness.

The statement was Israel first official note of caution over Barack Obama's election as U.S. president. Mr. Obama said during the campaign he would be willing to hold talks with Iranian leaders.

The Israeli government fears it could be the target of an attack by strongly anti-Israeli Iran.

In a highly unusual move, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- one of Washington's harshest critics -- congratulated Mr. Obama on his victory. He said he hopes the U.S. president-elect will change American policy, which he described as arrogant.



Agence France-Presse
November 6, 2008

TEHRAN -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday congratulated U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on his success -- rare praise between two countries which are arch-foes, IRNA news agency reported.

"I congratulate you on being able to attract the majority of votes of the participants of the election," Ahmadinejad said in a message to Obama carried by the official agency.

"You know the opportunities bestowed upon people by God are short-lived," he said.

"I hope you make the most of the chance of service and leave a good name by preferring people's real interests and justice to the insatiable demands of a selfish and indecent minority."

"The great Iranian nation welcomes real, basic, and fair changes in behavior and policies, especially in this region," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the Middle East.

"You are generally expected to make a fast and clear response to the demands for basic . . . change in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, which all people in the world and Americans want on top of your agenda," he told Obama.

The Iranian president said Obama is expected to replace U.S. "militaristic policies, occupation . . . and the imposition of unfair and discriminatory relations with an attitude based on justice, respect for nations' rights, and non-interference."

"The U.S. government's interference should be limited to that country's geographical boundaries," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations for nearly three decades since Islamist students took American diplomats hostage for 444 days following the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

Hostility has since deepened, with the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini branding the United States the "Great Satan." President George W. Bush has denounced Iran as part of an "axis of evil."

The escalation of Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West against a backdrop of defiant and inflammatory rhetoric from Ahmadinejad has even raised the spectre of an American military strike against Iran.

The Americans accuse Iran of meddling in Iraq and sponsoring "terrorism" by backing militant groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, while Ahmadinejad has triggered international outrage for calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

After three decades of outright hostility, many Iranians believe Obama's election may help to improve relations.

The two sides have held a series of meetings on the security situation in Iraq and in July, the U.S. administration for the first time sent a senior diplomat to attend talks between Iran and six major powers on the nuclear row.

The Islamic republic has also expressed a willingness for the United States to open an interests section in Tehran.

The question now is how the new man in the Oval Office will handle the clerical regime in Iran, a key political and economic player in the Middle East.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all key policy issues, has not yet commented on the result of the U.S. election.

Last week the all-powerful leader said hatred of Washington was deep-seated, and he praised the Islamist students who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979.

"Besides, they (the United States) have not apologized yet and rather keep on with their arrogant attitude," Khamenei said.

5. The Dreyfuss report

By Robert Dreyfuss

November 7, 2008

In the realm of foreign affairs, the two wars that America is fighting, in Iraq and Afghanistan, may have higher priority for President Obama than the war it isn't fighting, namely, with Iran. But the battle lines are being drawn already, on all sides of the Iran issue.

During the campaign, Obama stated repeatedly that he is prepared for unconditional, but well "prepared," talks with Tehran. Yesterday, seizing the moment, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a meandering open letter to Obama, which included the following, according to the *New York Times* translation: "I congratulate you for attracting the majority of votes in the election. As you know, opportunities that are bestowed upon humans are short-lived.

"People in the world expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations, and imposing discriminatory policies on them and international affairs, which have evoked hatred toward American leaders, to be replaced by ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship, and noninterference in other countries' affairs.

"They also want the U.S. intervention to be limited to its borders, especially in the sensitive region of the Middle East. It is expected to reverse the unfair attitude of the past 60 years to restore the rights of people in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan."

The Post translation, cited here, provides a much fuller sense of the religious-themed rhetoric of Ahmadinejad's letter, such as: "If steps are taken in the path of righteousness, toward the goal of carrying out the teachings of the holy prophets, it is hoped that almighty God will help and that the enormous damage done in the past will be somewhat diminished."

Still, the letter is clearly a serious effort by Iran to reach out to Obama, in expectation that the new president will open a dialogue with Tehran. "The great civilization-building and justice-seeking nation of Iran would welcome major, fair, and real changes, in policies and actions, especially in this region," wrote Ahmadinejad.

On the other hand, in a direct challenge to Obama, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that the U.S. and Israel "could have differences of opinion" on Iran. Speaking on Radio Israel, she warned the president-elect against dialogue with Iran, suggesting that it might be construed as a sign of weakness: "I think that dialogue at this time is liable to send a message of weakness. What the United States or Europe intends is not always interpreted that way in the Arab world. I think that a situation of early dialogue at a time when it seems to Iran that the world is giving up on sanctions can be problematic."

A whole panoply of hawkish and pro-Israeli thinktanks and lobbies is gearing up to underscore Livni's warning, from AIPAC to the newly formed group, United Against Nuclear Iran, to a panel yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a leading pro-Israeli research group.

Speaking on the panel, Patrick Clawson, WINEP's top Iran-Iraq watcher, warned that a U.S.-Iran dialogue could be highly dangerous. "What's wrong with trying? It can explode in our face." To prove his point, he cited the 1979 meeting in Algiers between Zbigniew Brzezinski and Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan of Iran, which was shortly followed by the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and the mid-1980s Iran-contra effort. Those efforts represent two strikes, Clawson said, and a new dialogue would be a "wonderful opportunity to have a third strike." Talking to Iran would probably fuel the suspicions of radicals inside Iran's ruling elite and, "paradoxically, simultaneously" would undermine Iranian reformers.

Still, Clawson said, talking to Iran is the only option. "It's essential. I think we have to do it." But he went on to say that the only reason to talk to Iran is to convince U.S. public opinion and the leaders of other countries, especially our allies, that we have given the idea of talking to Iran the old college try. "What we've got to do is to show the world that we're making a big deal of engaging the Iranians," he said. He doesn't expect results. "Moderates in Iran? Instead of Ahmadinejad, who spits in your eye, the moderates are the people who blow smoke in your eyes." He concluded: "Our prime target with these offers [to talk] is not Iran. Our prime target is American public opinion and world public opinion."

That's a version of Vice President Cheney's old argument that before you can attack a country, like Iraq in 2003, you have to make a pretense of diplomacy, as the United States did by pretending to go to the U.N. in advance of the March, 2003, war. Cheney reiterated this argument, as did many neoconservatives, about Iran more recently. For those who believe that going to war with Iran is the only solution to deal with Iran's nuclear enrichment program, it's important, first, to talk.

Unfortunately for the neocons, AIPAC, and WINEP, not only are they not running the show anymore, as they did in the 2001-2004 Bush administration, but they're not even getting a seat at the table in the Obama administration. Some key Democratic hawks are angling for an in, including Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke. Ross, who's ensconced at WINEP, was an advisor on Middle East policy to Obama, but it's unclear how close he is to the inner circle, and so far he hasn't been mentioned for an administration post, but I wouldn't count him out. Holbrooke, a Hillary Clinton supporter, was shut out of Obamaland, but lately he is using his ties to Joe the Biden to try to get back into the good graces of the Obama team. Still, he isn't often mentioned as a candidate for an important job in the new regime.

Speaking on the same panel as Clawson, Rob Satloff, the executive director of WINEP, claimed that several of Obama's top advisers, including Susan Rice, Tony Lake, and Richard Danzig, have all gone on record supporting what Satloff described a "preventive" measures against Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. In June, 2008, Lake and Rice took part in a WINEP-sponsored Presidential Task Force that issued a report called "Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge." That paper had a hawkish tone that suggested that the U.S. and Israel must work closely together to deal with the Iranian threat, and it criticized those strategists who believe that the United States may ultimately have to reconcile itself to the notion of a nuclear-armed Israel. While the report didn't call for a military attack on Iran, it did portray Iran's nuclear research in the most dire light.

According to Satloff, at a WINEP event more recently, Danzig -- who is a candidate for a top post at the Defense Department -- also endorsed a "preventive" approach, and Satloff added that "Obama's advisers have, almost across the board," all done so.

But neither Lake nor Rice nor Danzig has gone as far as various neocon outlets, WINEP, or AIPAC in emphasizing the need to consider using military force. And though Obama has said repeatedly that he won't rule out the use of force, the entire Obama team seems committed to the negotiations approach that Livni and Clawson warn against.


By Nedra Pickler

Associated Press
November 7, 2008

CHICAGO -- President-elect Obama is declining to say what proposals he might pursue in connection with Iran, saying "we have only one president at a time."

Obama was asked at Friday's news conference what approach he might take with Tehran, given the drawn-out dispute between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program. Obama said he will move deliberately on how to respond to Iran and what the response might be, but that he won't do it in a "knee-jerk fashion."

Obama declared: "I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20."



November 8, 2008

CHICAGO -- An international effort must be made to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama said on Friday.

"Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, I believe is unacceptable," he said at a news conference in Chicago. "Iran's support of terrorist organizations, I think is something that has to cease," he said.

Obama said he would be reviewing a letter from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, congratulating him on his election, and would "respond appropriately." But he said the U.S. approach to Iran could not be done in a "knee-jerk" fashion. "I think we've got to think it through," he said.