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U.S. Sends Top Iranian Leader a Warning on Strait Threat

Elisabeth Bumiller, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is relying on a secret channel of communication to warn Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that closing the Strait of Hormuz is a “red line” that would provoke an American response, according to United States government officials.

… Senior Obama administration officials have said publicly that Iran would cross a “red line” if it made good on recent threats to close the strait, a strategically crucial waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, where 16 million barrels of oil — about a fifth of the world’s daily oil trade — flow through every day.

… Iran has two navies: one, its traditional state navy of aging big ships dating from the era of the shah, and the other a politically favored Revolutionary Guards navy of fast-attack speedboats and guerrilla tactics. Senior American naval officers say that the Iranian state navy is for the most part professional and predictable, but that the Revolutionary Guards navy, which has responsibility for the operations in the Persian Gulf, is not.

“You get cowboys who do their own thing,” Mr. Connell said. One officer with experience at the Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain said the Revolutionary Guards navy shows “a high probability for buffoonery.”

The Revolutionary Guards navy has been steadily building and buying faster missile boats and stockpiling what American experts say are at least 2,000 naval mines. Many are relatively primitive, about the size of an American garbage can, and easy to slip into the water. “Iran’s credible mining threat can be an effective deterrent to potential enemy forces,” an unclassified report by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the American Navy’s intelligence arm, concluded in 2009. “The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow chokepoint that could be mined effectively in a relatively short amount of time” — with disruptions within hours and more serious blockage in place over days.

Although the United States would respond with minesweepers, analysts said American naval forces might encounter layers of simultaneous attacks. The Iranians could launch antiship missiles from their coastline, islands or oil platforms and at the same time surround any American ship with missile-armed speedboats. “The immediate issue is to get the mines,” Mr. Connell said. “But they’re going to have to deal with the antiship cruise missiles and you’ll have small boats swarming and it’s all going to be happening at the same time.”

… The tight squeeze of the strait, which is less than 35 miles wide at its narrowest point, offers little maneuvering room for warships. “It would be like a knife fight in a phone booth,” said a senior Navy officer. The strait’s shipping lanes are even narrower: both the inbound and outbound lanes are two miles wide, with only a two-mile-wide stretch separating them
(12 January 2012)

Who is responsible for the Iran nuclear scientists attacks?

Julian Borger, Guardian
Suspicion falls on Israel and the US as another scientist linked to Iran’s nuclear programme is assassinated

… there has been no mistaking the fury of the Tehran government in the two years since as, one by one, its scientists – the crown jewels of its nuclear aspirations – have been picked off. It would be a huge irony if the killers were simply emulating the Iranian security apparatus.

… Wednesday’s killing of Ahmadi-Roshan was a carbon copy of the November attacks on Shahriari and Abbasi-Davani: the masked helmeted assassins on their bikes, a limpet bomb shaped to do maximum damage inside the car, minimum damage outside. Even the victim’s car was the same, a silver Peugeot 405.

The Iranian government has blamed the US and Israel for the murders, mostly Israel, and the Israelis themselves are doing little to deflect that blame. While the White House and US state department denounced the killing, the Israeli military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, remarked on Facebook: “I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear.”

… “If you look at the choice of target it really could only be Israel,” says Robert Baer, a former CIA agent in the Middle East, currently working on a book on assassination called The Perfect Kill. “If it was an internal group, like the MeK ([Mujahedin-e-Khalq] it would be security official or policeman who had been torturing their guys. If you look at the motivation, it must be Israel.”

However, Baer adds that it is quite likely that Israel is acting in tandem with an Iranian dissident organisation. “To do this in the middle of the day, with a limpet charge and then getaway, you need a lot of people on the ground,” he says. ” You need an extensive network of the kind only someone like MeK can provide.”

An executive order dating back to the presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan prevents the CIA from carrying out political assassinations. Exceptions have been made for Taliban and al-Qaida suspects on the grounds that the US is at war with those organisations.

… David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security, says: “The effect is not so much eliminating people, as they are replaceable. It is a classic terror tactic, designed to make people feel their own government can’t protect them. It prevents people from participating and so leads to a loss of recruitment.”

Baer argues that the impact on the nuclear programme itself is likely to be so minimal, it is unlikely to be the aim of the murder campaign.

“It’s a provocation,” he says. “My theory is that Israel couldn’t get the White House to agree to bombing. It is not satisfied with sanctions, so the Israelis are trying to provoke the Iranians into launching a missile and starting a war.”
(12 January 2012)

Russia Warns of US Strike on Iran

Agence France-Presse via News Now (Kenya)
Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev warned that military escalation is likely in Iran, with “real danger” of a US strike, in an interview published on Thursday.

He added that Syria, which has refused to break its ties with Tehran, could also be a target for Western intervention.

“There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, and Israel is pushing the Americans towards it,” Mr Patrushev said in an interview published on the website of the daily Kommersant.

“There is a real danger of a US military strike on Iran,” the senior Russian security official said.

“At present, the US sees Iran as its main problem. They are trying to turn Tehran from an enemy into a supportive partner, and to achieve this, to change the current regime by whatever means,” he added.
“They use both economic embargo and massive help to the opposition forces.”
(12 January 2012)

Preventing the Coming War with Iran

Tom Hayden, The Peace Exchange Bulletin
During the past decade, this writer has remained skeptical about prospects of a US-supported war against Iran. The potential costs outweighed the benefits. Now, as the 2012 election year unfolds, I am not certain. The political and geo-political dynamics underscore the growing threat of war.

It’s not that Barack Obama wants an airstrike against Iran, whether by the Israelis, the Americans, or the Israelis with covert US support. My respected friends Juan Cole and Mark Weisbrot are not so sure. They think Obama is laying the groundwork, and may be right. Obama hardly needs another war with unknown costs and consequences. But presidents are not all-powerful, and Obama can be forced to acquiesce unless there is a sharp increase in serious public opposition. As Trita Parsi, director of the National Iranian American Council, told DemocracyNow on January 12:

“We may very well end up in a situation in which, rather than the governments controlling the dynamic, the dynamics will control the government…this could escalate into a full-scale war.”

Here’s the dynamic at work:

First, the Israeli government and the powerful Israeli lobby, in evaluating the Arab revolutions in Egypt and beyond, are extremely concerned that time is against them. They perceive the diplomatic efforts of the Palestinians to secure United Nations recognition as a mortal peril, and went to great extremes to pressure Obama to threaten a veto of the Palestinian bid. This was an overreaction inimical to US interests, leaving the Obama administration extremely isolated from the rest of the world on these issues. Employing a US veto threat played into the hands of all those in the Palestinian and Islamic worlds who believe that armed struggle is the only path open to them.

Second, the Israeli Lobby, or AIPAC, already has learned that Obama is isolated at home, or at least from Congress, on these questions. Obama was forced under pressure to back down on his demand for an end to settlements. His more progressive appointees, whether Chas Freeman or George Mitchell, were forced from their positions or resigned in frustration.

Third, the Iranians have been far from helpful, if they ever intended to be. They reinforce the depiction of themselves as irrational, unstable, fundamentalist, theocratic extremists. Any ideas that they are rational actors in an ongoing crisis — which began with the US overthrow of their democratically-elected government in 1954; which continues to threaten regime change on a daily basis; in which the Israelis have scores of nuclear weapons available for use — are dismissed as fuzzy foolishness.

Fourth, and most important at the moment, the Israeli Lobby is using the Republican Party as a Trojan Horse.

About Tom Hayden
After over fifty years of activism, politics and writing, Tom Hayden is still a leading voice for ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, for erasing sweatshops, saving the environment, and reforming politics through a more participatory democracy.

He currently writes for The Nation, organizes, travels, and speaks constantly against the current wars as founder and Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Culver City, CA. He also recently drafted and lobbied successfully for Los Angeles and San Francisco ordinances to end all taxpayer subsidies for sweatshops.
(11 January 2012)