Ten Days in Iran

The number of people who said don’t go to Iran was really astounding, even more so now that I’ve been there and back. The country is a pleasant surprise in many respects. It is very clean, very green, very organised. People are friendly but few move over the line into what tourists often consider harrassment. I was intending to book a fixed itinerary with the travel agent through which I got a visa but due to some last minute flight changes the bookings were never made, so I went there free to move as I pleased but nervous that that would expose me to trouble with the authorities. I decided  anyway to stick to the hotels that I had agreed on with the travel agent. I didn’t even have a guide book. At the airport on the way out I got myself a decent camera and a pair of sunglasses but there was no time for more than that in the rush. When I arrived, on a Friday afternoon in mid-April, there was no form to fill out at Shiraz airport and the immigrations officials only poured over the British visitor’s credentials for a few minutes more than the others in the queue. It was all incredibly easy and ad hoc for a country that gives the impression of being closed and unfriendly. Once you are in, it’s anything but. I was concerned though about the fact that I was a journalist, so didn’t want to ask too many questions and take too many photos in non-touristy locations. But part of the point of the trip was to improve my Farsi so I wasn’t going to keep quiet, as some people suggested. Continue reading Ten Days in Iran

The Iran nuclear debate: preserving regimes vs. destroying peoples

Debate has raged in recent days over an article in Foreign Affairs in which Matthew Kroenig of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the United States should not flinch from launching a military operation, and soon, to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities before Iran achieves nuclear weapons capability. In “Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option”, Kroenig writes that: “…skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease – that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.” Continue reading The Iran nuclear debate: preserving regimes vs. destroying peoples

Iran says Bahrain plot claim “baseless”

By Andrew Hammond and Mitra Amiri

DUBAI/TEHRAN, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Iran denied on Monday it had any link to an alleged plot to stage attacks in Bahrain and a lawyer for two accused men said reports they had confessed were not true.

Bahrain said last week Qatar had handed over four men who Manama accuses of planning to attack the Interior Ministry, the Saudi embassy and a causeway linking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It said a fifth was arrested in Bahrain.

On Sunday, a Bahraini prosecution spokesman said the plot was coordinated with Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia as well as two Bahraini opposition figures in London.

He told state media that some of the men had confessed to this. But a lawyer for two, speaking to Reuters, said they told their family by telephone that they had not confessed at all.

The allegation surfaced before the expected release of an independent rights commission report on the government’s crushing of a democracy protest movement earlier this year.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, says it is implementing measures to expand democratic government and accuses the main opposition parties of organising protests in coordination with Iran with a Shi’ite sectarian agenda.

Most of the island state’s population is Shi’ite but the Saudi-allied royal family is Sunni Muslim.


Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the plot was a fabrication driven by “Iranophobia”, replicating a U.S. claim last month to have uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

“Instead of propagandising and presenting baseless claims, Bahraini officials should do something about the large rift that has opened between the government and the people,” Abdollahian said in comments carried by the website of Iran’s al-Aalam TV.

“(These) baseless accusations repeat the comical and fabricated scenario of America.”

Mohsen al-Alawi, lawyer for two of the men, said Isa Ahmed Shamloh, decided to join his friend, driver Ali Abbas Mubarak on a trip to Saudi Arabia for a change of air. He said the driver picked up the two others, Mohammed Sahwan and Emad Abdelhussein, in Saudi Arabia and it was not clear why they had gone to Qatar.

“Shamloh said by telephone that they had not confessed,” Alawi said, adding he hoped to have access to the men next week.

Bahrain named an Iranian, Asad Qasir, as the Revolutionary Guards link who trained one of the arrested men in machinegun and explosives use during a trip to Iran.

Alawi said Qasir was also cited in the case of 21 men sentenced this year for leading the protests of February and March. “They are trying to link the cases,” Alawi said.

Eight of the 21 men, including politicians, clerics, rights activists and a blogger, were found guilty of charges including “forming a terrorist group to change the constitution”.

Tension between Iran and U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states has been high over Iran’s nuclear energy programme, which Gulf rulers fear will give Tehran a nuclear weapon and increase its prestige among ordinary Arabs as a regional leader.

In Kuwait, the Foreign Ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador on Monday over the arrest of two Kuwaitis whom Tehran had said were detained with “spying equipment”, Kuwaiti state media said.

Kuwait’s journalists association said they had entered Iran legally to prepare a TV programme.

‘Springtime in Riyadh’: Wagging the dog over Iran

Although Saudi Arabia has been manoeuvring to stymie the “Arab Spring” wherever it can, with the drama of an apparent Iranian conspiracy to murder Adel al-Jubair one might say, taking a bad metaphor further, its Springtime in Riyadh. Quite a few bottles of champagne were possibly pulled out in royal palaces and the villas of commoner henchmen across the capital. For the plot to Get Jubair in Washington has taken the United States one step closer to a military conflagration with Tehran: it’s still neither imminent nor on the horizon at any vaguely definable point in the short or medium term. But 1. Washington is one significant step further down that road and 2., and what I want to point out here, getting the US administration to that stage has been a Saudi foreign policy goal of the King Abdullah – “reformer”, “king of hearts”, etc. – era. Continue reading ‘Springtime in Riyadh’: Wagging the dog over Iran

SaudiLeaks: US reports on Shi’ite loyalties

This Wikileaks cable from May 2006 – one of the latest released concerning Saudi Arabia – is interesting in light of the uprisings: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/05/06RIYADH3312.html (released 2 July 2011). It appears to be the conclusion of considerable research by the embassy – and hats off to them for undertaking it, but not for doing nothing about it – on the situation of Shi’ites in the Eastern Province. It says the loyalty of most to the Saudi state is assured as long as the kingdom’s reform discourse continues. Leaders among Shi’ite communities returned to the country in the early 1990s in an agreement with King Fahd. The end of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and his persecution of Shi’a as of 2003 raised people’s hopes. Then in 2005 Abdullah became king. Things haven’t gone as planned though and with the Saudi response to the protest movement within Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, the image of King Reform is, let’s say, rather battered and bruised. I wonder what such a study would say were it conducted now. Continue reading SaudiLeaks: US reports on Shi’ite loyalties

Assassination of Iranian scientist

I wasn’t so keen on writing this when I was asked to look into it – it’s highly speculative and who can know. It’s also tough to get anything concrete from Iranians inside Iran. I can see the value in going over the state-of-play though.

Analysts believe Iran scienist death was a foreign hit

July 26 (Reuters) – Western security agencies were most likely behind the killing of an Iranian scientist in an operation that underlines the myriad complications in the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program, analysts say.

Darioush Rezaie, 35, a university lecturer, was shot dead by gunmen in eastern Tehran Saturday, the third murder of a scientist since 2009. One was killed in a car bomb, the second by a device detonated remotely. The Iranian government’s responses to past such incidents have appeared confused but the Rezaie case has surpassed previous levels, with the authorities speaking in strikingly different voices from the outset. Continue reading Assassination of Iranian scientist

Egypt PM’s trip to Gulf

Abdelbari Atwan, the editor of al-Quds al-Arabi, says the Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was looking for investments not direct aid handouts during his Gulf tour last week. But while he was received in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, the door was slammed in his face when it came to the UAE: “He was told politely that officials were busy with prior engagements, which in diplomatic and undiplomatic parlance means a veiled rejection”.  (Of course, I liked this reference:اندرو هاموند، مراسل وكالة أنباء ‘رويترز’ في منطقة الخليج أماط اللثام عن الموقف الخليجي من ثورة مصر في تقرير إخباري بثته وكالته يوم أمس الأول ونقل فيه شعور أحد مساعدي الشيخ محمد بن زايد ولي عهد أبوظبي، والرجل الأقوى فيها بخيبة الأمل لسقوط نظام الرئيس حسني مبارك، وقوله، أي المسؤول الاماراتي نفسه ‘كيف يفعلون هذا به.. كان الأب الروحي للشرق الأوسط.. كان رجلا حكيما قاد المنطقة دوما.. نعم الشعب يريد الديمقراطية ولكن ليس بهذه الطريقة.. هذا أمر مهين’.) Yup, anger over Egypt’s attempt to have an independent foreign policy is visceral and the Gulf countries have proven incapable of preventing the prosecution of Mubarak, his family and the gang of hangers-on who steadily ruined Egypt over three sad decades. Atwan thinks that, one, Sharaf didn’t go “begging” and, two, he didn’t appear to get anything anyway. Since the old/new colonial powers often come looking to cash in chips for services rendered – remember the investments British PM Gordon Brown got out of Qatar in 2008 – Atwan asks فلماذا لا يفعل رئيس وزراء مصر، الشقيقة الكبرى، الشيء نفسه؟ – Why shouldn’t Egypt do the same? The Gulf countries are not so united on Iran and other issues as the image they present through the GCC suggests. Qatar and Oman maintain their own independent ties with Iran. Mubarak made Egypt-Gulf relations a one-way street but even if the Gulf has the resources, now the fact is it’s Saudi Arabia et al. who are worried about Egypt, not the other way round. Saudi Arabia’s cordon sanitaire in Arab media is, for a start, under threat now that Egypt has broken the shackles of Mubarak rule. And even if Al-Jazeera/Qatar is helping Saudi Arabia circle the wagons by ignoring the repression in Bahrain, it doesn’t share the distaste for the new Egypt that it would like to think its gung-ho coverage helped create.

Iran leader wins plaudits over sectarian strife fatwa

DUBAI Oct 13 (Reuters) – Arab Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims have welcomed a rare religious edict from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against insulting revered Sunni figures that could help stem sectarian tensions in the Gulf region. The fatwa issued on Sept. 30 was not unusual in itself but the fact that Saudi Shi’ites publicly requested Khamenei’s opinion and that it has been so widely welcomed by Sunnis and Shi’ites suggests Iran is winning the regional clout it craves.