US Budget Politics, Israel, Syria and Iran

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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Israel has reportedly attacked inside Syria, near its capital Damascus. The attack’s purpose was to foil a convoy carrying anti-aircraft weaponry bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Syria says the attack was on a research facility.

The geopolitical context in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is once again on the path of brinkmanship. In Egypt widespread mistrust of government institutions has led to protests against the Morsi government of Muslim Brotherhood empowering secular elements seeking a unity government and provoking a less authoritarian reaction on the streets from Cairo to contrast Mr Morsi from Mr Hosni Mubarak; Iran, by some accounts, has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it is planning to upgrade the uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz to speed up enrichment; and Israel, tilting further right in its domestic politics, is eager in its pursuit of decapitating Iran’s nuclear program and so is the consensus on Iran in Washington.

US budget politics have a significant role to play in any of America’s engagements in the Middle East. The quid pro quo is clear: Republicans can get their way on Iran in exchange for not resisting a request by Obama to raise the debt ceiling for his domestic agenda, in particular on energy and climate change which he outlined in his Inaugural speech, especially given the likelihood of a Hezbollah-Syria-Iran response to Israeli strikes near Damascus even as Syria is facing the brunt of the Obama administration after unequivocal support of the United States for a Syria run by the rebel forces.

Should Israel’s incursion into Syria escalate into a regional war involving Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel will have to fight its encirclement following UN Security Council’s due processes in the interest of regional stability because Iran’s nuclear program, Syria’s turmoil and Palestine are not only America’s conflicts.

Persian oil, not a war of the worlds, holds the key to rapprochement and peace.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
This entry was posted in Transformations LLC, Turkey, Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to US Budget Politics, Israel, Syria and Iran

  1. The Saudis are hosting a drone base and are supporting the rebels in Syria.

  2. From United Against Nuclear Iran in an email reproduction of a Foreign Policy article:

    (Our position on the following article is to focus on the North Korean nuclear threat while moving toward rapprochement with Iran)

    Why Is This Man Smiling?
    How the Iranian regime used the Kazakhstan talks as pre-election propaganda.

    By Mark D. Wallace, Kristen Silverberg
    Foreign Policy
    March 8, 2013

    Last week in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Iran discussed its nuclear program with representatives from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — the so-called P5+1. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has no doubt been smiling ever since, and not just because the unproductive talks bought Iran yet more time to advance its nuclear program. Khamenei is likely smiling because in the longstanding game of diplomacy, economic warfare, and clandestine operations between the Iran and the West, Iran won the week.

    Iran’s primary victory out of Kazakhstan was in obtaining an offer from the P5+1 to ease the economic sanctions that have been battering the Iranian economy as an interim step, rather than as a part of a comprehensive deal. Widely referred to as “sanctions relief,” the Almaty proposal was leaked before talks even began, and described by the P5+1 as a “confidence-building step.”

    “Sanctions relief” can indeed be seen as a confidence-builder, but not in the way its proponents intended. In reality, the Kazakhstan offer simply allowed Iranian officials to effectively convey competence and the hope of improved economic conditions to their own people, just as the June 2013 presidential election approaches. At a time when Iran has suffered from worsening economic conditions including hyperinflation and an 80 percent currency devaluation, this is exactly what the regime was hoping to achieve.

    To be sure, the upcoming election will be illegitimate and result in Khamenei’s hand-picked candidate assuming power. But even with that ultimate result determined, the regime is taking every step possible to ensure that the election proceeds smoothly and is not a repeat of 2009 — when hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in protest — particularly given the lessons of the nearby Arab uprisings.

    In January, Khamenei made rare public comments demanding that Iranians honor the results of this year’s election, stating that “[a]ll people should be careful that their remarks do not serve this desire of the enemy.” That followed numerous statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others blaming Western sanctions for the deterioration of the Iranian economy. The ayatollah and his cronies are taking great pains to fight the narrative that their own incompetence, both in domestic policy and foreign policy, is responsible for the nation’s current economic troubles.

    Unintentionally, the P5+1 played right into this propaganda effort with its offer of “sanctions relief.” While nothing was accomplished in Kazakhstan diplomatically, Tehran held up the P5+1’s offer as evidence that sanctions would soon be eased. Subsequently, the Iranian rial, which was recently trading at an all-time (semi-official) low of 40,000 to one dollar, rose in value to 33,000 to 1. Regime officials spoke effusively of the meeting, with spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast stating that “[a] positive atmosphere was created in the talks,” and that “if this atmosphere prevails, an acceptable outcome for both parties may be reached.”

    The value of an unstable currency like the rial is about confidence, and the regime rather gamely used the talks to manipulate the rial and reassure its populace at a key political time. The P5+1 must learn from this manipulation and avoid complicity in further domestic victories by the regime.

    “Sanctions relief” as a bargaining chip — rather than as a key component of a comprehensive deal — is also tremendously unhelpful to the effort to pressure corporations and other countries to pull out of Iran. Over the last five years, our NGO, United Against Nuclear Iran, has sought to compel companies around the world to end their Iran business. And while hundreds have cooperated and pulled out, some have only done so after considerable public pressure. A number continue to operate in Iran with impunity today.

    In the most difficult cases, we have had success appealing to a company’s bottom line, and explaining that because of escalating sanctions, doing business in Iran is financially risky and will result in considerable losses. Unfortunately, developments such as what just happened in Kazakhstan give these companies less incentive to leave Iran, as they calculate that they can just wait the sanctions out.

    Rather than making half-baked offers of “sanctions relief,” the P5+1 must make clear that absent substantive negotiations resulting in a comprehensive solution, sanctions will increase, and culminate in a full economic blockade of Iran that will cripple its economy.

    Unless meaningful progress occurs, the negotiators ought to say, there will be no “relief” — only escalation. In other words, if the regime continues to pursue a nuclear weapon, then it will be doing so at the expense of its economy — and perhaps its grip on power over its people. And in the case that Iran continues using P5+1 talks to just stall for more time, like-minded countries should join Barack Obama in fulfilling Vice President Joe Biden’s recent promise that “big nations cannot bluff” when it comes to the military option.

    At this point, the only side that is benefitting from the current negotiating process is Iran. That doesn’t mean diplomacy shouldn’t continue, but it does mean that future negotiations need to be based on substantive progress with real outcomes. It’s time to recognize this, and never again repeat the great mistake of Almaty.

    Mark D. Wallace is CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and representative for U.N. management and reform. Kristen Silverberg is President of United Against Nuclear Iran. She served as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

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