Stop the War Talk

The New York Times – The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington,

purportedly to be part of the Obama administration’s relaunch of peace negotiations. But the urgent talk is of war, thanks to Jeffrey Goldberg’s much-discussed Atlantic Monthly cover article, which faithfully reproduced the logic of Israeli military and political leaders.

According to this, even Israelis who doubt that a nuclear Iran would immediately attack Tel Aviv argue that the threat is “existential.” An Iranian bomb would provide a “nuclear umbrella” for Hezbollah missiles and Hamas terrorism. It would force the Gulf states to ally with Iran against the United States and its cornered ally. Israel’s only option is a pre-emptive strike, like the ones it carried out against nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria. It is only a matter of time.

The logic seems to be pushing on an open door. In the United States, an impressive 65 percent of Americans would support military action, according to a recent FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. Indeed — so the logic continues — the U.S. military would do a better job against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the United States would surely be blamed for, and suffer the consequences of, any pre-emptive attack by Israel. So shouldn’t the U.S. carry out the strike itself? Shouldn’t Israel’s friends in America prepare the ground?

This drumbeat must be silenced, and only President Obama can silence it.

An Israeli attack on Iran would almost certainly precipitate a devastating regional war with unforeseeable global consequences.

Iran is not Syria, with no immediate capacity to retaliate against a surprise attack on its nuclear sites. Iran is a country of 70 million people, and its commanders, battle-hardened by a brutal eight-year stand-off with Iraq, have the ability and will to engage in a long, protracted war against Israel and American interests. Iran maintains a large military equipped with Russian-made weapons systems, surface-to-surface missiles, combat aircraft, unmanned drones and high-speed torpedo boats capable of destroying large warships.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard has extended its reach from southern Lebanon to South America and maintains proxy forces — again, Hezbollah and Hamas — positioned in Israel’s back yard. They’ll force Israel to fight a war of attrition on multiple fronts.

Israel would likely be compelled to extend its military operations to include Lebanon. That would instantly plunge the entire region into war, likely bring a new intifada onto Jerusalem’s streets and place enormous pressure on leaders in Cairo and Amman to renounce their peace treaties with Israel. If Israeli planes use Saudi airspace, Iran has threatened to attack the kingdom, too.

The United States, for its part, could forget about the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. There are up to 30,000 Iranian operatives in Iraq ready to do Iran’s bidding. And Iran enjoys significant loyalty from Afghan officials and warlords, particularly those in the trouble-prone region of Herat.

Iran has repeatedly said that it would, in the case of an attack, shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly 17 million barrels of oil pass every day, spiking oil prices and devastating America’s financial recovery.

All of this could engender a serious diplomatic crisis between the United States and Russia — respectively Israel’s and Iran’s patrons — at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are improving.

Netanyahu says Iran is led by “a messianic apocalyptic cult” and that failure to attack is appeasement. But surely not every year is 1938, not every statesman who fears the nemesis of war is Chamberlain.

Iran’s leaders, ruthless as they clearly are, are not crazed men looking for a 10-megaton exploding belt. They know that Israel has up to 200 warheads and a second-strike capacity in missile-carrying submarines. They also know that incinerating Tel Aviv means irradiating all of Palestine — that destroying Israel means the destruction of Tehran, Qum and their other great cities. They have repeatedly and formally declared they would make peace with Israel along any lines acceptable to the Palestinians. Nothing will reinforce their hold on power like a surprise attack in which hundreds, if not thousands, are killed.

And exactly what is a “nuclear umbrella”? Did the absence of a nuclear Iran stop Hezbollah from attacking Israel in 2006? If war resumes, God forbid, would a nuclear Iran keep Israel from attacking Hezbollah missile sites in Lebanon any more than, say, the images of bombed out Beirut apartment buildings on CNN?

Most plausibly, Iran wants a nuclear weapon for much the same reason Israel developed one: as an ultimate hedge against invasion by superior conventional forces.

In the Atlantic Monthly article, Goldberg — stretching the words of one ambassador from the Emirates — argues that if Iran becomes a nuclear power, “the small Arab countries of the Gulf would have no choice but to leave the American orbit and ally themselves with Iran.” But to suppose that the Gulf states — utterly dependent on the West culturally, technologically and militarily — would ally with Iran because of a bomb is fatuous.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency and an Egyptian, has called a strike “completely insane,” arguing that it would “turn the region into one big fireball” and that the Iranians “would immediately start building the bomb — and they could count on the support of the entire Islamic world.”

A former Israeli intelligence boss, Ephraim Halevy, and a former military chief of Staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, have issued similar warnings.

Clearly, an Iranian bomb would cause irreparable damage to the global anti-proliferation regime, add a threat to Israel and complicate American foreign policy. All nonviolent diplomatic means should be used to prevent this.

But if a year from now we are confronted by an Iran crossing the nuclear threshold, that would be a lesser evil than what we will confront in the wake of an attack to prevent this.

If President Obama has the nerves for risk, he should rather gamble on rallying the international community to force through an Israeli-Palestinian deal within a year. That would not mean an end to the anti-Western leaders clinging to power in Tehran, but it would certainly do more to reduce their motivation to attack Israel than a temporary setback to their nuclear program would.


Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American writer, is a member of the faculty at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of “Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized World.” Aslan is also a NIAC Advisory Board Member.  Bernard Avishai is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University and the author, most recently, of “The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace At Last.”




BBC Persian Covers NIAC’s Efforts to Address Bus Ad Campaign


BBC Persian covered NIAC’s efforts to address a controversial ad campaign running on buses in the nation’s capital. These ads create a toxic political environment that could help pave the path to war with Iran.





Reuters: Powers should consider Iran fuel offer: experts


World powers should seriously consider a newly-drafted fuel swap plan for Iran to part with some of its nuclear material, even if it is not perfect, a group of high-profile experts said in a statement organized and distributed by NIAC.




CNN: Iranian-American group: Ad sends a wrong, dangerous message


CNN has published a story highlighting NIAC’s work to address a controversial ad campaign running on buses across the Eastern Coast, which creates a toxic political environment that could help pave the path to war with Iran.




Since When Is Iran a Champion For Women’s Rights? — The United Nations Economic and Social Council yesterday elected Iran to serve a four-year term — beginning in 2011 — on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The U.N. calls the Commission “the principal global policy-making body” on women’s rights and claims it is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women.” Yet Iran was elected by acclamation. It was one of only two candidates for two slots allocated to the Asian regional bloc – in other words, a fixed slate and a done deal.

Among other Iranian qualifications to serve in a leadership role in advancing the rights of women, is the country’s criminal code, which includes punishments like burying women from the waist down and stoning them to death for adultery.

The 2009 U.S. State Department report on Iran outlines other highlights of Iran’s women’s rights credentials. For instance, “spousal rape is not illegal” and when it comes to any other kind of rape “most rape victims did not report the crime to authorities because they feared…punishment for having been raped…Four male witnesses or three men and two women are required for conviction. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.”

Other features of Iran’s legal system, according to the State Department, include: “a man may escape punishment for killing a wife caught in the act of adultery if he is certain she was a consenting partner….[I]n 2008, 50 honor killings were reported during a seven-month period…” In general, “the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man.” Moreover, “a woman has the right to divorce only if her husband signs a contract granting that right, cannot provide for his family, or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband was not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife.

As USA Today has reported, women have borne the brunt of Iran’s crackdown on civil liberties. Laws permit polygamy, employment laws favor men, and family laws entitle women to only half the inheritance of a man.

In an effort to prevent Iran’s election to the Commission, the National Iranian American Council reported prior to the meeting: “in the past year, Iran…has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere…with threatening national security…Its prison guards have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male civil rights protesters…In universities…the government is now banning women from key areas of study. Childcare centers are being shut down to hamper women’s ability to work…Women’s publications that addressed gender equality have been shut down. The regime is attempting to erase decades of struggle and progress.”

None of that made the slightest difference to the U.N. bosses. The Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1946 with the usual stated lofty goals. CSW was charged with “promoting women’s rights” and making “recommendations on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.” The forty-five member states meet annually at U.N. headquarters in New York, boasts the U.N. website, to “identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

Having welcomed Iran into its exclusive club with open arms, the challenges facing Iranian women will obviously not be on the CSW agenda any time in the future. It should be noted that the likelihood of CSW caring one whit about the fate of Iranian women was remote. For years the CSW has only ever adopted one resolution naming any country for violating women’s rights — you guessed it – Palestinian women’s rights allegedly violated by Israel. The Commission is “gravely concerned” about Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. The right to life of Palestinian women and girls subject to honor killings, coerced into becoming suicide bombers or child soldiers at the hands of non-Israelis somehow has never made it on to their radar screen. And the same is true of the rights of women and girls violated by any other specific state on earth but Israel.

Along with Iran, other human rights stalwarts elected to the Commission yesterday were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Zimbabwe. They will join current CSW members and human rights enthusiasts like Belarus, China, Cuba, and Libya.

Iran’s election to the leading U.N women’s rights agency indicates two things. First is the low regard held for women’s rights on the U.N.’s list of priorities. Iran had originally wanted to become a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council but various players decided that Iranian membership might be even more embarrassing than current HRC members and U.N. human rights authority figures like Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Angola, Egypt, and Krygyzstan. Women’s rights were the consolation prize. Second is the continuing muscle of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the U.N. Nobody challenged Iran’s entitlement to membership on at least one major rights body. Nobody dared to.

This is another example of just one more U.N. body created to do one thing and now doing the opposite, for which American taxpayers foot 22% of the bill. And it will continue unless those with their hands on the spigot in Congress finally decide to turn off the tap.

Anne Bayefsky is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.




The Hill: Changing Course on Iran Sanctions

Washington, DC – New sanctions on Iran are about the surest bet in Washington these days.

Both the House and the Senate have passed a “crippling” gasoline embargo, and the administration has all but given up talk of negotiations in favor of pressing for UN Security Council sanctions “that bite.” In fact, the only thing left that the administration and Congress disagree on is whether the new sanctions should target all of Iranian society or just the hardliners in power — not an insignificant disagreement by any measure, but one that underscores the broader acceptance of the argument that new sanctions are the only game in town.

But given the fact that the U.S. has sanctioned Iran for decades with little to show for it, the debate over U.S.-Iran policy should not be boiled down to a question of how much more damage we can do. Rather, smart power dictates that the U.S. use every tool available, including those that have been taken off the table, such as lifting certain sanctions.

No one expects the U.S. to unilaterally lift its embargo on Iran. But certain sanctions have unambiguously failed to achieve their objective, contributing instead to the suffering of ordinary Iranians. These should be reexamined, and where appropriate, lifted.

This has already been done once this year. As Iranians were using Twitter and Facebook to mobilize after the June election, U.S. sanctions actually made some of these vital tools illegal for Iranians. Luckily, the State Department and the Treasury acted to remove this restriction. This actually increased the pressure on the regime, since every tweet made Ahmadinejad sweat a little more.

This idea has support across the political spectrum. The Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said, “It’s exactly what I think OFAC needs to be doing, not simply designating new targets or tightening sanctions, but also loosening sanctions when it can further our foreign policy goals.” Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy celebrated the decision to waive the Internet sanctions, calling it “an extremely prudent move,” and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) even introduced legislation to enact this very change last year.

Relaxing Internet sanctions on Iran was an important step in helping the Iranian people utilize the free flow of information to plot their own destiny, but it was only a first step. Similar steps should be taken, in concert with multilateral engagement and targeted pressure on Iran’s human rights abusers, to give the Iranian people the best chance they have to realize their century-long struggle for democracy.

American NGOs are the world’s leaders in promoting human rights, basic humanitarian assistance, and vital aid for some of the Iranian people’s most vexing problems. But sanctions prevent groups like Relief International and Mercy Corps from working in Iran. These and other groups assisted the victims of the Bam earthquake in 2004 under a rare special exemption from sanctions issued by the Treasury Department. Never before has the United States carried out such effective public diplomacy than when American relief workers dug through rubble in Iran to the cheers of Iranian onlookers.

However, after the 180-day exemption period expired, the Americans were told to hastily pack up their things and return home, lest they violate U.S. sanctions.

Surely, lifesaving medical care and disaster relief services are not somehow “dual-use.” Sanctions that prohibit legitimate aid organizations from saving lives do nothing to punish the Iranian government, and only add to the misery of the Iranian people.

The same can be said of human rights organizations. Human rights are the No. 1 problem facing the Iranian people today. And though the Iranian government would likely bar organizations like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International from entering the country, they currently don’t have to: U.S. sanctions prohibit rights groups from working on the ground in Iran.

As members of the House and Senate set out today to finalize legislation imposing yet greater burdens on the Iranian people by cutting off Iran’s gasoline supply, conferees should sit up and take note. When the final version of the bill is sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, it should include constructive provisions like those put forward by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Moran. Ellison authored the Stand With the Iranian People Act, which would remove sanctions on U.S. NGOs and punish companies that provide repressive technology to Iran’s government; and Moran is championing H.R. 4301, the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act, to expand the Internet software waiver to include anti-censorship and anti-surveillance tools to make the Internet safer for Iranians.

Enacting these and other similar measures would send a powerful signal that the U.S. is able to distinguish between the Iranian government and its people.

Much more than the “crippling” sanctions that nearly everyone supports but that no one believes will work, Congress and the administration should make reforming existing sanctions a central element of their Iran strategy.

This article appeared in The Hill newspaper today.




Listen: Iran, the Bomb, and American Policy

NIAC President Trita Parsi appeared today on NPR to discuss U.S. policy options for Iran on the KCRW radio show “To the Point”.




Iranians Count 2010 Census Coalition Launches

2010 CensusLos Angeles, CA – The Iranians Count 2010 Census Coalition (“ICCC”) is continuing its proactive role to ensure that statistics for the Iranian-American community are accurately reflected in the upcoming 2010 United States Census (“Census”). Currently comprised of 30 organizations spread throughout the United States, ICCC today launched itsofficial website,, as an informational resource for the community. ICCC has also produced two Public Service Announcements (“PSA”) to help raise awareness about the importance of participating in the Census and how to accurately fill out Census forms to assure that Iranians/Iranian Americans can be counted.

Furthermore, through the utilization of viral networking and micro-blogging websites, such as FacebookTwitter, and YouTubeICCC is expanding the reach of its message nationally. 

These efforts are extremely important since the Census provides the Iranian community in the United States the opportunity to stand up and be counted.

Census results are used as a benchmark for businesses, professional organizations, and government officials in determining how social services are allocated, the influence of a minority community, and funding for critical community programs. Yet, the number of Iranians residing in the United States has been historically significantly undercounted by at least two or three times the actual figure.

By uniting and mobilizing for the 2010 Census, the Iranian-American community will achieve greater prominence while also gaining a better understanding of its unique needs.

The Iranians Count 2010 Census Coalition includes national and regional Iranian-American organizations.  Please visit for an up-to-date listing of the participating organizations and for information about joining.




BBC Investigates Neocon Attacks on NIAC


BBC Persian investigated recent politically motivated attacks on NIAC. Watch the report here.




LA Times: LA’s Iranians Welcome Persian New Year – and Obama’s Overture to their Homeland

Los Angeles, CA – Along Westwood Boulevard south of Wilshire Boulevard — a.k.a. “Tehrangeles” — Iranian merchants on Friday had reason beyond the Persian New Year’s holiday to shout out cheerful greetings to friends and customers.

They also praised President Obama for extending an olive branch to the Iranian people and government, as he did in a speech to mark the start of the 12-day Nowruz holiday.

“Somehow you have to break the ice,” said Farhad Djavanshir, 58, manager of Flame restaurant. “This is not the Stone Age. Iran has to communicate.”

In a video with subtitles in Persian, Obama urged Iran to take its “rightful place in the community of nations” through peaceful actions and meetings with other countries. The White House distributed the greeting to news outlets for broadcast early Friday, the start of the ancient nonreligious celebration of the arrival of spring.
Obama spoke of his administration’s commitment to diplomacy and to developing constructive ties through “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”
Declaring the president’s overture “fantastic,” grocer Farid Khanlou, 53, owner of Jordan Market, spoke of his love for his homeland.

“America has been good to me,” said Khanlou, who has lived here for 32 years and is a U.S. citizen. “But I’d love to be in my home country.”

Tears spilled down his cheeks as he talked of his two children, who were born here and have steered clear of learning about Iranian traditions.

“My kid said to me, ‘What’s the new year?’ ” Khanlou said.

Up and down the boulevard, it was tough to miss the “Happy Nowruz” banners and symbolic displays of flowers, wheat grass, goldfish and brightly colored eggs situated prominently in rug shops, bookstores, beauty salons, markets and restaurants. Signs written in flowing Persian script in store windows signaled Iranian ownership.

U.S. census data put the number of Iranians in Los Angeles County at about 100,000, but community estimates run as high as 500,000.

Many left Iran after Shiite Muslim revolutionaries seized control in 1979. They often refer to themselves as Persian — rather than Iranian — in a nod to their cultural heritage and the country’s historical name.

Drawn by family connections and a climate similar to that of Tehran, they settled on the Westside, notably in Beverly Hills, Westwood, West Los Angeles, Brentwood and Santa Monica. In Beverly Hills, about one-fifth of the roughly 35,000 residents are Iranian.

Jimmy Delshad, who in 2007 became Beverly Hills’ first Iranian mayor, called Obama’s speech “a beautiful humanitarian gesture.”

“I was happy to hear he reached out to the people of Iran,” Delshad said in a telephone interview after spending Friday morning at a Nowruz celebration in Los Angeles City Council chambers. “We have a tradition of equality.”

Delshad cited Cyrus the Great, a benevolent Persian king who 2,500 years ago wrote the earliest known charter of human rights.

Its principles included equality for all, Delshad said. According to biblical accounts, Cyrus freed Jews who had been enslaved by the Babylonians, forging a bond of friendship between Jews and Persians.

Former President George W. Bush routinely denounced Iran’s regime for its nuclear program and threats to Israel. Neither supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referred Friday to Obama’s attempt at a new beginning.

Sam Beygzadeh, an Iranian journalist working in Pars Books & Publishing on Westwood Boulevard, said Obama will need time to draw Iran into a fruitful conversation. The United States and Iran must cooperate, he said, using this analogy: “If somebody riding a horse wants to shake hands with another person who is walking, the person on the horse must reach down and the person walking must reach up.”

Article originally appeared in the LA Times.