Global News Journal

Iran’s military warnings: what does history tell us?

July 9, 2008

iran.jpg    It can be an unnerving experience wandering among the graves of Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, just outside Tehran.
    Photographs of the dead from the 1980-88 war with Iraq, “martyrs” as they are called here, stare out in seemingly unending rows. Often horrifyingly young. Many tombs are tended as if the dead died yesterday. Flowers are fresh. Small Korans are tucked into neat glass cabinets that serve as headstones.
    For a nation which still weeps for Hussein, one of the 12 Shi’ite Imams and who died in a hopeless battle at Kerbala in the 7th century, family heroes killed in a war that ended just two decades ago are still caught in a close embrace.
    So why are they relevant now? Because these dead have become caught up in a war of words that is escalating around the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear programme.
    Israel has vowed never to let Iran build an atomic bomb, which Tehran insists it doesn’t want. Washington says force is a last resort — but it remains an option.
    To that, Iran’s leaders say, remember our brave boys.
    Our “martyrdom-seekers”, like the men (and teenagers) who lined up in human waves against Iraq, will be ranged against you. The Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Gulf’s vital oil wells, will be shut down by those who spurn death. And these courageous individuals are only part of our armoury: missiles, ships and planes, even allies in the region, stand ready.
    The message is clear: Attack at your peril, Iran’s retaliation will be decisive, wide-ranging and devastating.
    But will it? Military experts accept Iran could cause havoc in the area. But what kind of match will it really be for the world’s only superpower when some of Iran’s weapons pre-date the 1979 revolution while others are modified Chinese and North Korean designs? Iran speaks proudly of its “martyrs”. But what use are rows of soldiers if strikes are carried out by U.S. and Israeli warplanes or guided missiles fired from afar?
    And then there is a bigger question: Iran may hark back to its all-out defence against the Iraqi assault in 1980 but does that really tell us about a future response?
    A study by two senior Washington-based researchers, Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt ( suggests not.
    Their study, called The Last Resort, aims to explain the consequences of what they call “preventive military action” against Iran, should Israel or the United States choose to act. Context, they write, matters. Whether Israel or America carried out the strike will matter. The kind of case Washington has made before staging any attack may determine whether it wins international backing or not. These kind of issues could help determine how Iran reacts — which is far from clear.
    “The Islamic Republic’s track record of responding to military provocations is decidedly mixed,” they write before listing seven such “provocations” with reaction. Three of these times Iran engaged in “no significant retaliatory action”.
    For example, when Iraq started targetting Iranian cities and oil facilities late in the 1980s war, Iran replied by sending its own missiles against Iraqi civilian population centres, striking international shipping and trying to destabilise nearby Arab governments. (The tactic backfired by strengthening international resolve against Iran, they write.)
    But when, in the closing stages of that war with Iraq when the ship USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner — an action Iran to this day insists was intentional — Iran never apparently retaliated, they write. Instead, Tehran seemed to view it as showing U.S. readiness to close ranks with Iraq and Iran shortly after agreed a ceasefire. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the later revolutionary leader, said it was like drinking poison. (Washington says the airliner was hit by accident and agreed to pay compensation.)
    “Tehran recognizes that at times its interests are best served by restraint, although it will react when circumstances permit,” the researchers write. “Tehran has not always reacted swiftly to foreign attacks to assuage nationalist passions — and it has sometimes not responded at all.”
    Those fallen men, and the youths who never grew up to have more than wispy beards, are testimony to admirable bravery. They died in defence of their country and cause. But whether this tells you how Iran would handle any future conflict is more open to discussion.

Turkey and the art of the coup

July 9, 2008

erdogan.jpgThere can be few countries where the art of the coup is so finely honed as in Turkey, adapting as it does constantly to the spirit of the age, spawning over the decades its own enigmatic lexicon – the “Coup By Memorandum”, the “Post-Modern Coup”, the “Judicial Coup”, the ill-starred “e-Coup”.

Should G8 leaders tighten their belts?

July 8, 2008


G8 leaders are debating the interconnected themes of climate change, food and fuel. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for less food waste in the rich world. The World Bank has said rising food prices threaten 30 million Africans with poverty. VIP menus at the G8 summit in Japan have been lavish — hairy crab, asparagus, lamb, all manner of vegetables and wild leaves.  And of course regional sake rice wine. Newspapers printed the menu in full. Britain’s The Guardian heaped scorn: “the most powerful bellies in the world were last night compelled to stave off the Hokkaido Hunger by fortifying themselves with an eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs.” Is it fair criticism?

Israel’s West Bank barrier

July 7, 2008

west-bank-barrier.jpg Four years ago this week, on July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, known as the World Court, ruled in an advisory opinion that the wall and fence barrier which Israel was building in the West Bank was illegal under international law and that Palestinians affected by it should be compensated. Israel responded  by dismissing the decision as politically motivated and defended the barrier, which it calls the “security fence”, as an effective response to “Palestinian terrorism”. Israel says the barrier, whose projected route of fences and walls snakes through the West Bank for over 700 km, has saved Israeli lives by preventing a continuation of attacks, notably suicide bombings.

Iran – a young revolution with plenty of life?

July 7, 2008

khatami.jpgIn the late 1990s, not long after pro-reform politician Mohammad Khatami swept to a landslide victory in the Iranian presidential elections, some Western observers started wondering if this was the step that would herald a collapse of the Islamic Republic — rather like the Soviet Union tumbled on Mikhail Gorbachev’s watch a decade earlier.

from Africa News blog:

How has the G8 delivered on its Africa Action Plan?

July 7, 2008

g8_bush_kikwete.jpgThis week's G8 summit in Japan marks 6 years since the group of the world's top industrial nations adopted a comprehensive action plan to support initiatives to spur the development of Africa. The G8 Africa Action Plan adopted at a summit in Kananaskis, Canada, in 2002 was seen as the biggest boost to Africa's own home-grown development initiative, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD. The G8 Plan pledges to help Africa tackle the main obstacles to its development -- from promoting peace and security, to boosting trade and implementing debt relief to expanding education, health facilities and fighting HIV/AIDS.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and their nuclear bombs

July 5, 2008

May photo of PML-N party protest in favour of A.Q. KhanBy pure coincidence, Pakistan and India are both embroiled at the same time in domestic rows over their nuclear bombs.

Is Africa beginning to stand up to Mugabe?

July 4, 2008

Nigeria is unhappy at Robert Mugabe’s continuing presidency in Zimbabwe.

The opinion of Africa’s most populous nation and its second biggest economy is hard to ignore, although some may observe Nigeria’s own presidential elections last year were not above reproach. “We express our strong displeasure at the process leading to the election and its outcome,” Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe told reporters, saying any negotiations over the future shape of Zimbabwe’s government should set the flawed election process to one side.

Could hotel scandal threaten Kenya’s government?

July 3, 2008

Grand Regency hotelKenya’s parliament and critics are calling loudly for Finance Minister Amos Kimunya to be fired for his role in the secretive government sale of a luxury hotel under murky circumstances. Pressure is mounting for Kimunya to resign or for his political patron, President Mwai Kibaki, to fire him over the sale of the Grand Regency hotel to a company that includes Libyan investors and at least one senior Kenya Central Bank employee.

New U.S. embassy: symbol of U.S.-German relations

July 3, 2008

The ferocity of the reaction in the German media to the fortress-like new U.S. embassy in Berlin, which former U.S. President George Bush will inaugurate on Friday, strikes me as a reflection of the strains in German-U.S. relations since 2003’s Iraq conflict.