Archive for the ‘Iran / Israel War’ category

Manufacturing Excuses So Iran Can Get Nukes

September 24, 2014

Manufacturing Excuses So Iran Can Get Nukes, Gatestone InstitutePeter Huessy, September 24, 2014

(Islam is the religion of peace death and a nuclear armed Iran will act accordingly. — DM)

We assume Iran’s leaders will abide by the very international rules they are dedicated to destroying.

When we refer to Iranian missiles as a legitimate form of “deterrence,” we just fool ourselves into imagining that Iranian missiles, which support aggression, are no different from American and allied missiles, which prevent and deter aggression.

The U.S. has said it would not address Iran’s 30-plus years of sponsorship of terror nor is extensive ballistic missile program, even though the U.S. officially designates Iran as the leading state-sponsor of terror in the world.

While security threats have been increasingly serious, the United States and its allies have not been willing honestly to face the challenges of our time — especially from the coalition of oil-rich, rogue state sponsors of terror and their jihadist affiliates.

Instead they have been content to push for declining defense budgets and jettisoning their security obligations. This has — and is — making it increasingly difficult to find the leadership necessary to lead a coalition of nations to defeat the threats we face.

The United States is making three critical mistakes.

First, much of the deterrent effect of U.S. military power is being squandered. Not only have the U.S. and its NATO allies neglected their defense needs and cut defense budgets by a collective $2 trillion from the base budgets of 2009[1], but many leaders have adopted the view that military power is the problem, not part of the solution.

In the United States, critics of wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq have claimed that U.S. military power was the cause of much of the terrorism and aggression we see around the world. They see less military presence — even a complete withdrawal from parts of the world — as the key to a more peaceful world.[2]

This “blame America first” view was wrong in 1984 — as Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick explained then — and it is wrong now. “They [San Francisco Democrats] said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do,” Kirkpatrick said then. “They didn’t blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians — they blamed the United States instead. But then, somehow, they always blame America first.”[3]

The second mistake the U.S. is making is not taking the threats we face seriously. Oddly, this seems true even when we admit that the threats are real and warrant action.

In June 2000, for instance, the top administration counter-terrorism expert, Richard Clarke, told a private Congressional briefing that, “we [the U.S.] could not prioritize the terrorist threats we faced because there were too many.” He concluded that therefore the administration could not “prioritize how to spend counter-terrorism funds.”[4]

The third mistake, also one of long standing, is that we have relied on false assumptions. One is that our adversaries adhere to international law, support “stability,” hold similar humanitarian concerns and are afraid of “being isolated.”

The other is we can persuade our adversaries to change by threatening them with paying an economic price for aggressive behavior. We hope that our adversaries will fear that “tough” economic sanctions levied on them will be painful enough to compel them to stop acting aggressively.

Then we hope that our adversaries will conclude that there is no long-term benefit even to starting aggression in the first place, and that therefore a series of peaceful deals are possible — theoretically as the only “reasonable alternative” our adversaries have.

From this rosy, wishful view we often see our adversaries’ intransigence only as a reaction to our “unfair” negotiating position, or to our supposedly threatening behavior — and not due to our determination to prevent them from carrying out their aggressive designs.

The late Senator Arlen Specter, for instance, traveled to Iraq in June 1990 and concluded that Saddam Hussein was “sincere” and had no territorial designs on his neighbors. On his return to Washington, he led a successful effort to block the imposition of sanctions against Iraq by the Bush Sr. administration, arguing Saddam Hussein had no territorial ambitions against Kuwait. Two months later Saddam invaded Kuwait.[5]

Taken together, dismantling a credible military capability, minimizing dangers to our security and failing to understand the intentions of our enemies markedly increases the danger to our Republic and our allies especially at a time when strong U.S. leadership is increasingly uncertain.

Probably the most serious of these mistakes is undermining the respect once given America’s combined military and diplomatic power. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt bombed Libya this past month without consulting the U.S. — this a time when Washington believes there is an effective central government in Tripoli, a conclusion clearly not shared by the UAE or Egypt.

Adam Garfinkle of the Foreign Policy Research Institute explains with understated disbelief: “According to [US] Administration fantasists, a competent and democratically elected Libyan central government exists and is in basic control of the country—excepting maybe a little militia kerfuffle, you know—so outsiders should not be dropping ordnance on warring groups so that the United Nations can work its diplomatic magic.”

In addition, Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is going to unveil a new initiative to resolve (he claims) the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but has announced the plan will not be shared beforehand with the United States.

When the red line on Syria’s use of chemical weapons disappeared during the first political sandstorm, it was clear the U.S. was contributing to this enfeebled state of affairs.

Meanwhile, even as U.S. intelligence sources for the past year have warned both Congress and administration officials of the expansion and growing danger to both Syria and Iraq from the armed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ISIS], it was dismissed by the administration as a “JV” [junior varsity] affiliate of the more “serious” threat of Al Qaeda.

A Congressional Reference Service had reported to Congress in June 2014: “Senior U.S. officials have [over the past year] stated that ISIL poses a serious threat to the United States and maintains training camps in Iraq and Syria”.

After three videotaped beheadings of American journalists and British aid worker, even the American people, who have no stomach for more war, are said by at least one recent poll — by an overwhelming margin approaching 90% — to want a strong U.S. response to the threat from ISIS.[6]

Withdrawing precipitously from the international arena — avoiding “war” — does not buy peace. Avoiding war buys only more bad actors who march in wherever a vacuum has been created — creating, ironically, even greater threats.

American leaders have failed to lead the country toward what needs to be done simply because what needs to be done looked unpopular.

As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned: “A free standing diplomacy is an ancient American illusion. History offers few examples of it. The attempt to separate diplomacy and power results in power lacking direction and diplomacy being deprived of incentives.”

When confronted with similar isolationist public perceptions, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan, because of their extraordinary “complete cultural self-belief” succeeded. “[T]he world shifted toward them” as they led the U.S. and Great Britain with a policy of “peace through strength,” not “peace through retreat.”

The lawyer and constitutional scholar, John W. Howard, summed matters up:

“America has squandered 60 years of assiduous diplomacy and expanding American influence in the Middle East… Successive presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, carefully navigated the esoteric alleyways of shifting Middle Eastern politics to American advantage. American primacy was solidified by the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving a uni-polar sphere of influence. If there is one principle underlying Middle Eastern political culture, it is an acute sense of the importance and consequences of power and alliances.”

In confronting even those threats we admit must be faced, consider the deployment of missile defenses in Europe. They are a good thing, especially if you happen to be a state near Russia.

Many in the media, Hollywood, politics and academia, however, have charged that U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe “might upset the Russians” or “fuel an arms race.”

Their criticism started with the first proposed defense deployments early in the George W. Bush administration and continued long after the Polish and Czech governments had agreed to install the missiles and their associated radars.

The Bush-era pledge of a missile defense shield was scrapped, however, in 2009 by the current U.S. administration. Today, as Russia violates the Budapest memorandum of 1994 by invading Ukraine, we are still — again! — told that the new deployments of missile defense elements will “inflame tensions.”[7]

The missile defense components in Europe, specifically those now in Spain and England, but also those planned for Poland and Romania, were initiated primarily in response to missiles deployed by Iran, not the other way around.

Today, it is both Russian and Iranian missiles that are creating tensions. Both countries are carrying out terrorist acts or acts of aggression, safe in the belief that they are secure from being challenged because there is no threat from the West or its missiles.

This lack of seriousness extends to our allies as well. We are about to deploy a limited number of new THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Air Defenses] batteries in South Korea. These missile defenses are also a good thing, especially if you happen to be a state near North Korea, Russia or China.

But a spokesman for the South Korean government felt compelled to reassure Russia and China that the missile defenses are “only to protect American troops” and not part of any emerging South Korean “missile defense cooperative effort” with the United States.[8]

Conversely, Russia threatens to deploy Iskander nuclear-tipped missiles in the Crimea along with other nuclear-armed cruise missiles with the range to threaten all of Western Europe. Missiles of between 500-5500 kilometers are currently forbidden by the 1987 U.S.-Russia INF treaty — an agreement the US has formerly charged Russia with violating. If such missiles were deployed in the Crimea, their range could cover all of Europe.

Opponents of U.S. and NATO missile defense deployments admit Russia has already deployed such threatening missiles even absent any US missile defense. However, they are already charging that should the U.S. accelerate its plans for missile defenses in Europe to defend against these Russian missiles, “it would do nothing to reduce the Russian threat and would likely give Moscow reason to move Iskander short-range missiles closer to NATO.”[9]

In the face of recent Russian aggression against Ukraine, the U.S. initially put into place only relatively weak and limited sanctions against certain Moscow entities.

One part of those sanctions would prohibit prominent Russians from banking in New York City, but Russians have long since moved their money out of Russia, and would certainly not give up their pretensions to reconstituting their empire; they will continue to try to “shoot” Ukraine back into being the subsidiary of a new Russian state.

Since then, U.S. sanctions have been measurably strengthened, but the first action was what was noticed, and it was lacking in seriousness. Even today, as it is still not clear what further sanctions the U.S. is prepared to put into place, the sheer lack of resolve is associated with a lack of seriousness.

Another example of the U.S. lack of seriousness regarding national security threats is what former Army War College Russian expert Steve Blank calls the “cottage industry” of manufacturing excuses for Russian aggression.

One essay published by The Nation proclaimed that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was really not an invasion because, after all, Ukraine was not a real country. The essay went on to excuse Russian aggression even further with the explanation that the “non-invasion” had simply taken place out of concern for “corruption” in the Kiev government — corruption being long known as a key concern of the Russian government![10]

Then, in addition to making excuses for our enemies, we go out of our way to announce to our adversaries that the U.S. military power will be used only in a very limited way. Airstrikes are to be only “pin pricks.” Military campaigns are advertised as “unbelievably small.” There will be “no boots on the ground,” or only “for limited objectives” or “only to protect American personnel.”

Years ago, President Eisenhower is reported to have warned his successor: “Never tell your enemies what you willnot do.”[11] Minimalist tactics, while perhaps popular, denote a lack of seriousness, which our adversaries see as incentives for continuing their aggression, while our friends further doubt our resolve and strength.

We appear to pick only those tools of war designed not to upset our political supporters rather than the tools needed to get the job done.

Then we assume that our enemies actually share some of our common objectives — such as “stability”, not being “isolated” and wanting “approval” from the “international community.”

The U.S. also deliberately handicaps itself by apparently believing that some kind of UN-sponsored “deal” — which no one will implement, that is if they even try — purporting to uphold international law, is the only workable solution to the threats we face.

After 9/11, Admiral James Loy, the Commander of the Coast Guard, explained to the author how helpful the United Nations International Maritime Organization [IMO] was in working to guard against attacks on our ports. The IMO effort was successful, he explained, because members of most host countries, and associated private commercial interests, all had an extremely strong economic interest in maintaining free trade and international commerce.[12]

Other U.N. institutions, however, are far less serious in the extreme. Not only has the UN’s Human Rights Council, for example, been chaired by Iran, but its current members include such “champions” of human rights such as Venezuela, Cuba, China, Pakistan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Further, over 70% of all the council’s past decade of inquiries have been about the supposed crimes or human rights violations of the only open, transparent, democratic human-rights adherent in the region: Israel.

The newest U.N.-approved inquiry about Gaza is being directed by London professor William Schabas, a Canadian citizen who reportedly refuses to describe Hamas as a terrorist outfit. That the U.S. continues to fund nearly a quarter of the budget of such a fraud once again shows the degree of contempt in which the U.S. holds its taxpayers.

Nowhere is this disingenuousness more evident than in the more than three decades of U.S. relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. During this period, the U.S. has engaged in a variety of charades with Tehran, always with the Americans assuming that they would end with a deal in which the U.S. would no longer be the “Great Satan” and the mullahs would no longer seek nuclear weapons.[13]

In the current discussions with Iran over its nuclear program, however, the U.S. has said it would not address Iran’s 30-plus years of sponsorship of terror nor its major ballistic missile production programs — even though the U.S. officially designates Tehran as the leading state-sponsor of terror in the world and has repeatedly assessed its missile programs as dangerous.

The U.S. also seems not to understand that Iran calls America the “great arrogance” for a reason — because America was the major country putting together the “rules of the road” internationally after World War II.

Naturally, it is precisely these rules or “norms” — such as those governing international trade, the right to have nuclear weapons, which currencies are convertible, and, most critically, the rules against the use of force, assassinations and terrorism in conducting international relations — that Tehran seems to want to drop into the next ash-heap of what it considers historically bad ideas.

There is a message there, but we are not listening. We assume Iran’s leaders will abide by the very international rules they are dedicated to destroying.[14]

The U.S. administration also seems to be trying to downplay the extent to which Tehran’s extraordinarily robust missile production program, costing tens of billions of dollars, is now a threat now to the U.S., or will be into the future.

When asked whether a third East Coast missile-defense site would be beneficial to protect America from Iranian missiles, the administration reassures the American people that the mullah’s missiles cannot reach New York. (Yet.)

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Post, in a February 24, 2012 essay, quotes intelligence officials: “Calm down, Iran’s missiles can’t (and won’t) hit the East Coast.” Former CIA Mideast analyst Paul Pillar assures us that, “the intelligence community does not believe the Iranians are anywhere close to having an ICBM”.

Even when the U.S. acknowledges that Iranian missiles can hit targets throughout the Middle East and much of Europe, especially U.S. allies and key security facilities, some intelligence analysts find a way to make such missiles seem less threatening.

709An Iranian “Khalij Fars” mobile ballistic missile on parade in Iran. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. intelligence reports to Congress, for example, proclaim in all seriousness that Iran’s missiles, and even its nuclear programs, exist merely to ensure regime survival.

The Arms Control Association, for instance, approvingly quotes an administration report that, “Since the revolution, Iran’s first priority has consistently remained the survival of the regime” and that is why they are building and deploying ballistic missiles.

Iran’s missiles, we are told, are a “deterrent.” The deterrent, it is implied — is to protect Iran from the US and its allies.

Well, who can argue with that? Without their missiles and their nuclear weapons program (which, we are repeatedly assured they do not have — yet), they would be wide open to a U.S. invasion, don’t you see? And if the United States or Israel has nuclear weapons, why cannot Iran? So, the thinking seems to go, if we just leave Iran alone, then Iran’s missiles and bombs might very well go away.

This viewpoint is more widespread than many might believe. The former Director General of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Administration [IAEA], Mohamed Mustafa ElBaradei, admonished the United States and the Bush administration: “You can’t bomb your way through countries” to stop nuclear proliferation. He was implying that the U.S wanted to end nuclear proliferation in Iran, Iraq and Libya to give the U.S. a free hand to commit serial aggression against them.

During his entire time as head of the IAEA, ElBaradei also repeatedly downplayed or ignored the nuclear weapons threats from North Korea, Iran and Iraq. He said it was unfair for some countries such as the U.S. to have nuclear weapons while denying them to others, such as Iran.

He was also opposed to the liberation of Iraq, and claimed that the use of military force made terrorist problems worse. He ridiculed the U.S. and British elimination of the Libyan nuclear program largely because his agency, the IAEA, had “mysteriously” missed its very existence although it was their responsibility to monitor exactly such activities.[15]

One Times of India story put it this way: “Disarmament is for wimps. Go get your nukes if you can”.

The Washington Post ran an essay on December 2, 2013, in which nuclear-abolitionist Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund was quoted complaining, “Why is the U.S. okay with Israel having nuclear weapons but not Iran?” — again implying that U.S. concern over Iran’s potential nuclear proliferation was “unfair.”

A Christian Science Monitor essay concluded about the troubling lesson of Libya’s President Muammar Qaddafi giving up his nuclear weapons: that if he hadn’t, the U.S. and NATO would not have bombed him out of power.[16]

This sounds logical, but it is wrong. The U.S. government worked with the Libyan government to get rid of its nuclear program — which had not produced nuclear weapons fuel, let alone nuclear warheads. The two governments discussed normalizing relations after the elimination of Qaddafi’s nuclear program.

The bombing of Libya in 2011-12 took place in reaction to the terrorist threat emerging in Benghazi and the potential for mass killings in Libya. The bombing may have been misguided, but it was not triggered by Libya giving up its nuclear program in 2007.

Thus, by alleging that the US concern with Iranian or Libyan nuclear weapons programs is less than genuine, arms controllers and others in the U.S. then claim that Iran’s reluctance to abide by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — which prohibits all but the permanent five members of the UN Security Council from having nuclear weapons — is understandable.

This view then leads to calls for even greater U.S. concessions to Iran — in order to “get a deal.” After all, it is claimed, Iran obviously has a legitimate reluctance to give ups its nuclear program with the knowledge that once Libya gave up its nuclear centrifuges in 2007, the U.S. then bombed Libya and helped overthrow the Qaddafi government four years later in 2011.

That supposed lesson is also being applied to Ukraine. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine transferred its nuclear arsenal back to Russia with the assurance that Russia would guarantee Ukraine’s borders.

Today, some lawmakers in Kiev and critics of the 1994 deal have concluded that if Ukraine still possessed nuclear weapons, Russia would not have invaded either Crimea or Donetsk.

Yet at the time, Ukraine’s new leaders had no desire to become a new nuclear power and so they happily worked with the U.S. government to remove the Soviet-era nuclear weapons from their soil.

Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, echoes the idea that U.S. adversaries such as Iran have to keep whatever nuclear program they have because such weapons — once acquired — would allow Iran to “deter U.S. attacks.”[17]

The implication is that, as the U.S is such an out-of-control threat, Iran has every good reason to seek and build nuclear weapons.

The entire premise, however, that rogue states should resist having their nuclear programs dismantled because they are then more likely “to be invaded,” is wrong.

There are roughly 190 countries in the world with no nuclear weapons. Although they all lack nuclear weapons, the U.S., and its NATO and East Asian allies, have not invaded any of them and have no intention of invading them.

Afghanistan and the Taliban were removed from power because, with Osama bin Laden, they were partners in the 9-11 attacks.

Iraq was liberated from the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein because, since 1991, the Baghdad government had done everything not to comply with 17 UN resolutions; it had undermined and violated sanctions; it had armed and gave sanctuary to terrorists, and it remained committed to securing WMDs.[18]

When we refer to Iranian missiles as a legitimate form of “deterrence,” we just fool ourselves into imaging that Iranian missiles, which support aggression, are no different from American and allied missile defenses, whichprevent and deter aggression.

We have come to see Iran as a mirror image of ourselves. We assume Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are solely for deterrence and regime survival because, after all, that is why we in the US have both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles — to protect our security.

But Iran’s ballistic missiles and potential nuclear weapons are to protect Tehran’s projection of power and terrorist activities, which are critical to its goals of dominating the Middle East, uniting all Muslims under its version of Islamic Shariah law, and gain the prize of having control over nearly 70% of the world’s conventional oil and gas resources — a hardly benign objective.

Judging from recent failures to counter Syria, Libya, Russia and ISIS, the U.S.’s squandering of its military might, taking a casual view of threats, and misunderstanding its enemies has led it to becoming an object of ridicule, instead of an object of fear, trust or respect.

Those can only be gained through the serious waging of war — economic, political, diplomatic and militarily — until our adversaries and enemies are defeated. Only then will they cease to fight.


[1] America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder by Bret Stephens (forthcoming Nov 18, 2014)

[2] See Sandy Davis, Progressive Democrats of America, “We Need To End the Disastrous Failure Of The War On Terror by Sandy Davis, February 4, 2014; or ABC News Blog: “Ron Paul Recruits Anonymous to Attack Rudy’s Foreign Policy,” May 22, 2007; and Jack A. Smith, “Terrorism–Cause and Effect”, May 29, 2010, anti-War.com; and Glen Greenwald on Salon: “A Rumsfeld-era reminder about what causes Terrorism”, October 20, 2009.

[3] Jeanne Kirkpatrick “They Always Blame America” from Jim Geraghty, The Campaign Spot, National Review, April 24th, 2013.

[4] This was explained in a detailed June 2000 letter from Congressman Chris Shays to Richard Clarke following the latter’s appearance before Shays Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations of the Committee on Government Reform.

[5] This is but one example of many cited by Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute in his new book “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes“, 2014, p. 209. Rubin notes that Senator Specter later acknowledged he had been “played by Saddam”.

[6] CNN poll as reported in FDD, 8 Sept 2014, “Majority of Americans Alarmed by ISIS”

[7] MDA Digest, September 4, 2014

[8] MDA Digest, September 4, 2014

[9] MDA Digest, August 29, 2014; and Tom Collina, “Nukes are Not the Answer to Containing Russia,” in Breaking Defense, April 11, 2014

[10] Stephen Cohen cited in the Daily Kos, February 20, 2014, “Stephen Cohen accuses Obama Administration of Coup Attempt in Ukraine” by Mark Lippman

[11] This quote was referenced by General Jack Keane, (US Army-Ret) on Fox News, Monday September 8, 2014.

[12] Admiral John Loy told me this about the IMU in a 2006 conversation we had at one of my NDUF Congressional breakfast seminars where he was the featured speaker. For an excellent review of the distortions of the UN see “UN Perversion of Human Rights“, J. Puder, Frontpage, September 8, 2014.

[13] Michael Ledeen in his “Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West”, 2009; and Michael Ledeen, “How to Protect Against a Bad Deal With Iran“, The Hill, July 9, 2014.

[14] In a January 2014 Carnegie Europe report titled “Tehran Calling: Understanding a New Iranian Leadership”, Cornelius Adebahr says the norms Iran has had difficulty adhering to are “prohibitions against using assassinations and terrorism as legitimate tools of diplomacy” although he says the use of such tools by Iran is only “alleged” although he does admit “Iran does not accept all norms governing today’s international system”.

[15] Match Blog, October 26, 2004 and Ben Smith in Politico, January 31, 2011, quoting Malcolm Hoenlein, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

[16] See Reza Sanati, in the Christian Science Monitor, August 30, 2011, “A troubling lesson from Libya: Don’t give up nukes”. And NewsMax, “Ukraine Pays Price for US Advice to Give Up Nuclear Weapons” March 20, 2014; Ukrainian legislator Pavlo Rizanenko sums up the Crimea crisis: “If you have nuclear weapons, people don’t invade you.” See also “Ukraine’s Broken Nuclear Promises”, by Owen Matthews, March 19, 2014, Newsweek.

[17] Critics of US policy toward North Korea and Iran often assert both rogue states have or seek nuclear weapons to deter the United States from attacking — a variation on the “Always Blame America First Theme”. Here are two such essays: “DPRK Briefing Book: Confronting Ambiguity: How to Handle North Korea’s Nuclear Program”, by Phillip Saunders, Arms Control Association, March 3, 2003; and Glenn Greenwald, “The true reason US fears Iranian nukes: they can deter US attacks” in theguardian.com, Tuesday 2 October 2012. Greenwald also asserts “GOP Senator Lindsey Graham echoes a long line of US policymakers: Iran must not be allowed to deter US aggression”.

[18] On March 17, 2014, former Congressman Ron Paul wrote an essay in USA Today in which he said we have no interest in a fight “many thousands of miles from the US” about a country and people of “which we know almost nothing.” In the 2008 book “Munich: The 1938 Appeasement Crisis” by David Faber, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is quoted saying this on September 27, 1938, just before traveling to Munich to sign a peace agreement with Chancellor Adolph Hitler:

“How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel that has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war.

In light of the lack of seriousness with which we are treating the threats we face, it is instructive to refer to an exchange that reportedly took place between then Prime Minister Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. In this story Churchill told Prime Minister Chamberlain when the latter complained that preparing to defend England against Nazi aggression “might upset trade with Germany”: “Well, yes, Mr. Prime Minister”, said the representative from Epping/Woodford, “That would be the idea.”

Todays Zaman: Erdoğan slams New York Times for ISIL story

September 18, 2014

Erdoğan slams New York Times for ISIL story

Erdoğan slams New York Times for ISIL story

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu leave Hacı Bayram Veli Mosque in Hacıbayram neighhborhood of Ankara after Friday prayers on Aug. 22. (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Mevlüt Karabulut)

September 17, 2014, Wednesday/ 13:17:52/ TODAYSZAMAN.COM / ISTANBUL

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at The New York Times on Wednesday over a report saying the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been steadily attracting Turkish recruits, calling the report “shameless.”

The New York Times ran the story on Monday with a photo of Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu leaving a mosque in the Ankara neighborhood of Hacı Bayram, which the report said has become a recruitment hub for ISIL.

“A media organization in the US accuses us of supporting terror organizations by posting a photo of me and Davutoğlu,” Erdoğan told a gathering of the Chamber of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen’s (TESK). “This is, in the clearest of terms, shameless, ignoble and base.”

The New York Times report focused on Hacı Bayram, where it said about 100 people have joined the ranks of ISIL, indicating that its locals tried to approach Erdoğan and Davutoğlu to raise the issue of ISIL recruitment when the two went to the historic Hacı Bayram Veli Mosque in the neighborhood.

The report said as many as 1,000 Turks have joined the ranks of the extremist group, citing local media reports and Turkish officials.

Erdoğan had just on Tuesday targeted The New York Times for a separate report it published on Saturday that said the US cannot convince Turkey to stop the flow of ISIL oil, a major source of revenue for the extremist group.

“This newspaper [The New York Times] … is very skilled at fabricating false reports. I also told [US Secretary of State John] Kerry that the US media made up false reports. These [reports] aim not to show Turkey’s real face but to harm Turkey-US ties and Turkey’s relations with other countries. These are not true. These methods are evil-minded,” he said of the Saturday report.

On Wednesday, Erdoğan again denied allegations of oil trade with ISIL. “They say Turkey buys oil [from ISIL] and they [ISIL militants] are treated in Turkey. Such things are out of the question,” Erdoğan said.

Turkey, one of the most vocal opponents of the Syrian regime, has been accused of helping the expansion of ISIL by turning a blind eye to the passage of foreign fighters transiting its territory to join ISIL in Syria in order to tip the military balance against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Ankara vehemently denies allegations and says Western countries where ISIS recruits come from should cooperate more closely with Turkey to stem flow of foreign fighters.

Ankara is also reluctant to publicly confront ISIL because of concerns over the fate of 49 Turks who were seized by the group in June in Mosul, Iraq.

“For us, the 49 people who are held in Mosul are more important than anything. We have responsibilities; we have to be careful in our statements,” Erdoğan said, underlining the Turkish concern for the hostages.

Erdoğan also stated that what he called the “perception operation” to create a negative image of Turkey will be taken to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“Turkey is a great country that cannot drop to its knees before such false reports. For us, the 49 people [46 Turkish nationals and three others] who are held in Mosul are more important than anything. We have responsibilities; we have to be careful in our statements. I regret to state that some treasonous networks that don’t have this sensitivity carry water to the mill of the others [ISIL militants]… We will tell world leaders about this ugly perception operation during the UN General Assembly on Monday,” he said.

Turkey claims that its hands are tied due to the 46 Turkish nationals who were kidnapped by ISIL from the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul over three months ago. Turkish officials have imposed a gag order on Turkish media coverage of the hostage issue, claiming that they do not want news stories to put the hostages’ lives at risk.

Turkey also refused to sign an anti-ISIL communiqué at a counterterrorism meeting in Jeddah last week. A senior Turkish official said Ankara had refrained from signing the communiqué in part due to the sensitivity of efforts to free the 46 Turkish hostages captured by ISIL fighters in Iraq. However, pro-government elements of the Turkish media have run articles expressing broader skepticism about Obama’s plans.

IS ‘mafia’ cash flow poses difficult target for West

September 18, 2014

IS ‘mafia’ cash flow poses difficult target for West

Western governments are facing an uphill battle trying to squeeze the finances of Islamic State militants, as the extremists operate like a “mafia” in territory under their control in Syria and Iraq, experts said Wednesday (Sep 17).

WASHINGTON: Western governments are facing an uphill battle trying to squeeze the finances of Islamic State militants, as the extremists operate like a “mafia” in territory under their control in Syria and Iraq, experts said Wednesday (Sep 17).

Unlike the Al-Qaeda network, which has relied almost exclusively on private donations, the IS group holds a large area in Syria and Iraq that allows it to generate cash from extortion, kidnapping and smuggling of both oil and antiquities, analysts said.

As a result, the group’s funding presents a much more difficult target for Western sanctions compared to Al-Qaeda’s finances, said Evan Jendruck, an analyst at IHS Jane’s consultancy.

A sanctions regime of more than 160 countries eventually succeeded in limiting Al-Qaeda’s ability to move funds through charities and banks, he said, but IS has its own sources of cash in areas under its grip.

“While such robust sanctions could somewhat limit the follow of funds to IS from outside Iraq and Syria, the groups organic funding inside its areas of control – oil fields, criminal networks, smuggling – are very difficult to curtail,” Jendruck told AFP.

Even conservative estimates portray IS as the world’s richest extremist organization, raking in at least a million dollars a day. US officials acknowledge the group has plenty of cash and is relentless about securing it.

“It is flush with cash from a variety of illicit activities such as extortion, kidnapping, robberies, and the like,” said a US intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The group is “merciless in shaking down local businesses for cash and routinely forces drivers on roads under its control to pay a tax,” the official said. “Its cash-raising activities resemble those of a mafia-like organization.”

IS has allegedly extracted multi-million dollar ransoms from some European governments after taking several reporters hostage, despite Washington’s appeals not to pay off the militants. The French government has denied making ransom payments.

Although IS is awash in cash, reports that the group got a hold of hundreds of millions of dollars from banks in Mosul are overstated and inaccurate, experts said.

OIL SMUGGLING NETWORK

The most crucial source of income for the group comes from an estimated 11 oil fields it has seized in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, allowing the militants to sell crude at cheap prices for cash or refined fuel products in neighboring countries.

The revenue from the oil sales could come to as much as US$2 million a day, according to Luay al-Khatteeb at the Brookings Doha Center.

Exploiting an area long known for smuggling, the oil is treated at rudimentary refineries, transported by truck, boat or mule to Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Jordan and sold at bargain basement prices – between US$25 to US$60 per barrel instead of the going world rate of about US$100, Khatteeb said.

“It has successfully achieved a thriving black market economy by developing an extensive network of middlemen in neighboring territories and countries to trade crude oil for cash and in kind,” Khatteeb wrote in a recent commentary.

The US Treasury Department has vowed to crack down on the group’s funding from oil smuggling, extortion and other criminal activity, without specifying how it will go about it.

Since 2003, Washington has imposed sanctions on more than 20 people affiliated with IS or its predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and in recent months added two more names to the list, according to David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Washington also hopes to undercut IS’s access to the international financial system, Cohen said in a statement last week.

But it remains unclear if Gulf countries will fully back the effort. Qatar and Kuwait in particular have been widely accused of allowing money to be funnelled to the jihadists, despite denials from those governments.

TERRITORY HOLDS KEY

In any case, the IS does not rely heavily on rich donors, and financial sanctions hold little promise of shutting off its cash flow, said Howard Shatz, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation think tank.

Oil sales possibly could be restricted if Turkey and Jordan tightened border controls, or if middle men for the smuggling could be identified, he said.

The group is not invincible, however, and IS suffered setbacks in the past, said Shatz, who studied the ledgers of IS’s precursor organizations.

The militants started running out of money in 2009, after losing hold of territory amid an uprising by Sunni tribes and an offensive by Iraqi and US forces that killed senior leaders. “It does come down to territorial control,” Shatz said.

Todays Zaman: Turkish sanctuary for MB leaders may further strain regional relations

September 18, 2014

Turkish sanctuary for MB leaders may further strain regional relations
Turkish sanctuary for MB leaders may further strain regional relations

Former Prime Minister Erdoğan and Egyptian then-President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood are seen together in this file photo from 2012.(Photo: AP)

September 16, 2014, Tuesday/ 10:38:23/ DENİZ ARSLAN / ANKARA

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement welcoming Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders, who have recently been asked to leave Qatar after pressure was placed on the oil-rich state by other Gulf Arab countries, is expected to further strain Turkey’s already troubled relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“If they [the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in exile in Qatar] request to come to Turkey, we will review these requests case by case,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying to a group of journalists late on Monday on his return flight from an official visit to Qatar.

According to international press reports, several members of the group are attempting to relocate after Qatar came under enormous pressure from other Gulf Arab states to cut support for the Islamist group.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt accuse Turkey and Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the region.

“If there are no reasons preventing them from coming to Turkey, we can facilitate their requests [to come to Turkey]. They can come to Turkey as any foreign guest comes,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying.

Turkey and Qatar are known as the two staunchest supporters of the MB, while other regional countries see the MB as a threat, especially after its role in the Arab Spring. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi designated the MB as a terrorist organization last year.

A number of the MB’s exiled leaders have been living in Qatar since the ouster of Morsi, but after being asked to leave, they may relocate to Turkey. The MB insists it is a peaceful group.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Adana deputy Faruk Loğoğlu told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday that Erdoğan’s welcoming remarks may further strain Turkey’s regional relations.

“Qatar was finally forced to expel Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Now, President Erdoğan has opened the door for their admission to Turkey. Certainly we are a country with a tradition of extending our hand to those in need. However, national interests should prevail over other considerations in the case of political personalities,” said Loğoğlu.

Loğoğlu continued: “It is clear that hosting Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Turkey would be source of added strain to our relations with Egypt, relations that are at their lowest point at the present time. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and perhaps others in the region might also express discomfort. Turkey needs friends, not new enemies. In short, granting refugee status to the persons in question would be counter to Turkey’s interests. Turkey cannot and should not be the protector of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.”

Erdoğan’s ‘diplomatic statement’

 

Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the İstanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), has pointed out that Erdoğan’s statement on the MB has a “diplomatic tone.”

Speaking to Today’s Zaman on Tuesday, Ülgen said: “If you read his [Erdoğan’s] remarks carefully, there is no blank check. He welcomes them under certain conditions and says it will be evaluated case by case.”

Ülgen said that Erdoğan’s diplomatic tone is a sign that Turkey wants to leave its troubled relationship with Egypt in behind and start afresh to build a new relationship. Asserting that Turkey’s close ties with the MB was one of the factors behind the country’s troubled relationship with Egypt, Ülgen said: “Of course Turkey will not withdraw its support to the MB but it seems Turkey understands the need to pursue a more balanced foreign policy. They [AK Party officials] have long been supporting the MB and could not tell them not to come. But Erdoğan’s rhetoric was diplomatic and he said possible arrivals will be reviewed case by case, rather than embracing all without any conditions.”

Turkey has been very critical of the Egyptian administration, which came to power after the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsi, a politician from the MB, last summer. Turkey’s refusal to accept his ousting prompted the new Egyptian leadership to cut ties with Turkey and expel the Turkish ambassador to Cairo. Ankara responded in kind, declaring Egypt’s ambassador to Turkey persona non grata.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Ankara deputy Özcan Yeniçeri has expressed support for Erdoğan’s welcoming of MB members who are asked to leave Qatar.

“It is the right approach for Turkey to embrace these people who can’t enjoy their democratic rights and freedoms,” Yeniçeri told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday.

Yeniçeri added that he thought it sad that MB members are being forced out of their own country just because they have different political views to an Egyptian government which came to power after a military coup.

Erdoğan has repeatedly said that it is not possible for him to accept the military coup in Egypt that took place only a year after Morsi was democratically elected.

On Tuesday, local media reported that a senior leader from the banned Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of Egypt — a party affiliated with the MB — left Qatar and moved to Turkey.

In the meantime, the head of the Egyptian Judges’ Club, Ahmad El-Zend, lashed out at “terrorists” in reference to the MB, which is thought to be supported by Turkey and Qatar, the Al-Ahram news website reported on Sept. 11. El-Zend claimed that the MB is behind the recent deadly attacks against Egyptian judges.

“Go to Turkey and fill your bellies with money generated by prostitution, and it will lead you to hell. Go to Qatar and kneel at the feet of its rulers so you can obtain the crumbs of humiliation,” said El-Zend, addressing “terrorist groups” in his speech.

President Erdoğan was in Qatar on Sept. 14-15 for an official visit upon the invitation of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Erdoğan landed in Doha on Sunday evening. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan and Erdoğan’s senior advisers Binali Yıldırım and Yiğit Bulut accompanied Erdoğan during his first visit to the Arab world as president.

Before departing for Doha, Erdoğan described Turkey’s approach toward regional developments as closely aligned with Qatar’s.

Al Monitor: Turkish villages smuggle IS oil through makeshift pipelines

September 18, 2014

Villagers in Hacipasa lay new pipelines for the oil, September 2014. (photo by Fehim Taştekin)

Turkish villages smuggle IS oil through makeshift pipelines

HACIPASA, Turkey — For some time now, Turkey has been accused of either supporting or tolerating the activities of the Islamic State group (IS). Turkey’s hesitation to contribute to the coalition Washington is trying put together has only intensified the accusations. Since Turkey opened its borders without restriction to those fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, others have been exploiting the lax border control. More than facilitating the crossings of militants, the security loophole has also contributed to substantial financial resources for the armed groups dominating the liberated areas of Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. The group profiting the most has been IS, which has been transporting to Turkey the oil it’s extracting with primitive methods in its occupied areas.

Анотация⎙ печать In the village of Hacipasa, almost every house is connected to an illegal oil pipeline smuggling IS oil into Turkey.
Автор Fehim TaştekinОпубликовано Сентябрь 15, 2014

In the Hacipasa village of Altinozu in Hatay province, the scope of this oil smuggling mechanism is clear. On the Turkish side of the Asi river, which forms the border with Syria, lies the village of Hacipasa, with the village of Ezmerin on the Syrian side. The saga of Hacipasa is surely one of the most telling outcomes of the Syria policy then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu so passionately defended in parliament when he boasted, “We will lead the wave of change in the Middle East. A new Middle East is being born. We will continue to be the owner, pioneer and servant of this Middle East.”

Here is how the oil trade fills IS coffers:

From Ezmerin, about 500 illegal oil pipelines, small-diameter plastic pipes normally used for irrigation, extend to the Turkish side of the Asi River. On the Turkish side, they are buried under agricultural fields to reach the village. Just like the village’s underground water distribution lines, oil pipelines crisscross under streets to reach the back yards of private houses. Diesel fuel pumped from a tanker on the Syrian side fills the private tanks. Simple “pump” and “stop” commands are given over cellular phones.

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Villagers laying the makeshift pipeline. (photo by Fehim Taştekin)

Consumers come to the houses of sellers and buy the diesel for 1.25 Turkish lira per liter ($0.56). This is how the system worked for a long time.

The state began to intervene only after the international media started to question whether Turkey was supporting IS and whether IS oil was being sold in Turkey. At the end of March, soldiers that had until then been watching the goings on from a hilltop about 100 meters from the river began digging up the pipes from the fields and cutting the ones that lay visible in the streets. Checkpoints were established to prevent the diesel from leaving Hacipasa. But the smugglers always found ways to bypass the gendarmerie, the latest being shipping the fuel in barrels.

Confessions of smugglers

After seeing the pipelines, Al-Monitor’s correspondent spoke to a villager involved in the smuggling operation. From the balcony of his house, five or six pipelines are visible going into other houses. Six people in the house told Al-Monitor that some 80-90% of the village’s families are involved in the diesel fuel smuggling. Many pipelines have been cut, but some fuel still comes through, which is why the price went up to 3 lira ($1.36) from 1.25. There is a saying in the village: “If you have not been in smuggling, you won’t find a bride.”

The state knows what is going on, said the villagers. Everything was happening in front of its soldiers. Some people even imported machinery from Japan to dig and lay the pipes. That can’t be done secretly. Every day, about 30-50 tanker loads of diesel is transferred. In Hatay, there are 4,500 semi trucks. They all use this fuel. Trucks come from central Anatolia to buy cheap fuel.

One man said that he once got stuck in mud next to a pipeline, and soldiers came and towed him out. He said, “We were legal then but illegal now? What changed?”

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Soldiers dismantle a pipeline (Fehim Taştekin)

When pipes and oil barrels were confiscated and some people were detained, there was popular reaction. The villagers demonstrated and soldiers beat up a few people.

The villagers said that when the Syrian refugees came, they opened their houses to them. They carried that burden for three years, they said, without any help. “We helped to transfer relief supplies over the Asi to Syria. We evacuated the wounded to hospitals. One night, there was a call from the minaret loudspeakers of our mosque asking for people with cars to go and evacuate wounded people from the river.” One man added, “That night, I transferred three casualties to the hospital. In return for all that, we made money from oil. Everyone looked the other way. Things changed after March. Soldiers now fire on people going near the border. People have been killed.”

People now watch for the changing of the guards, sometimes waiting up to three days for the right time to get to work.

They said, “We helped everyone in Syria. We even helped Turkish officials to cross the border but suddenly, we are criminals. Fine, they punished us, now they should leave us alone. They should allow us to return to our work, to our fields. But soldiers now want to see our land deeds to before they let us go to the fields. Not everyone has a land deed. Some of the deeds are under the names of their relatives in Syria. I am running around in courts for years to get my own deed.”

Free Syrian Army, not IS

The villagers of Hacipasa who voted for the ruling AKP in the last elections consider the illegal income they make from oil a fee for their support of Syrian refugees. When reminded that the oil smuggling has made IS rich, they object, protesting, “If it was illegal, why did the state allow it?” They prefer to think of the Free Syrian Army, not IS, as benefiting from the trade.

From Hacipasa, where the streets smell of diesel fuel, Al-Monitor went to Cilvegozu, a border crossing near Reyhanli, and spoke with truck drivers protesting the new restrictions. Their problem, they say, is that drivers who use smuggled oil and fuel are fined heavily. Those caught a second time can lose their trucks. Drivers say it is not only Hacipasa making money from smuggling, but also the village of Besaslan. One driver said, ”There still two pipelines operating in Besaslan. Villagers share the money they make. But because the flow of oil has decreased, you may have to wait two days.”

When asked, “You are objecting to the measures taken, but aren’t you uncomfortable with the money IS makes from this business?” their answer was: “Fine, let’s say they cut off the oil as a measure against IS. But militants are crossing the border freely. Go to Esentepe and you will see it.’’ Esentepe is a Reyhanli neighborhood where most cars have Syrian license plates. People believe many militants reside in that neighborhood.

In the province of Hatay, Altinozu and Reyhanli both carried the burden of the civil war in Syria and also made a living from it. Those whose incomes are now affected by the measures taken by the state talk nostalgically of the unique situation they dealt with and made a living from.

 

Turkey’s ILLEGAL trade deal with Iran

September 18, 2014

ABDULLAH BOZKURT

a.bozkurt@todayszaman.com

ABDULLAH BOZKURT
September 15, 2014, Monday

Turkey’s bad trade deal with Iran

The last action Parliament performed in terms of legislation before going into recess on Sept. 10 was to approve a controversial preferential trade agreement (PTA) with Iran when, in fact, a large number of crucial bills and international agreements had been piling up on the agenda, waiting to be debated.

The fact that the PTA with Iran represents the first concession agreement Turkey has ever committed to with any other country — with the exception of the customs union with the EU as part of accession talks and free trade agreements (FTA) with 17 countries — is by itself an indication of how the Iranian regime has accumulated a significant amount of political capital in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which is heavily dominated by political Islamist zealots.

The pro-Iranian lobby in the government has been silently pushing the legislation through the Turkish Parliament after Iran ratified it in its own legislature, or Majlis, in May. Cevdet Yılmaz, the development minister who made no secret of his love affair with the Iranian revolution, is the chief architect of this deal and has worked very hard to carry it through. As the co-chairman of the Turkey-Iran Joint Economic Commission, and with the blessing of his boss President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Yılmaz pushed the legislation through the bureaucratic channels and made it happen.

The agreement was signed during Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran at the end of January this year when he was still serving as the prime minister. It almost fell apart, though, when the Iranians played a last-minute Persian diplomacy trick. In fact, the whole saga was recorded by reporters. The scene captured on camera revealed how Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi, who was visibly uneasy at the ceremony, refused to sign the deal when Iranian Minister of Industries and Mines Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh produced no Turkish version of the agreement.

But in the end Zeybekçi had to put his name on the document, albeit reluctantly, after Erdoğan instructed him to do so with a hand signal in front of the Iranian delegation present at the bilateral meeting in Tehran. This was completely against established diplomatic protocols and received a harsh rebuke from Turkey’s main opposition party at the time.

The timing of the agreement also raised questions about Erdoğan, who openly called Iran his second home during this visit, despite a host of policy differences Turkey has with the country ranging from Syria to Iraq. Moreover, Erdoğan poked the eye of his key ally, the United States, by disregarding the friendly warning from Washington that was conveyed to his government by visiting US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen just a day before Erdoğan went to Tehran.

The US official urged Turkey to be cautious, saying there are still significant sanctions in place against Iran and that business deals with Iran should be postponed. “Iran is not open for business. Sanctions [on Iran] remain in place and are still quite significant, and businesses that are interested in engaging with Iran really should hold off,” he said publicly in Ankara. “The day may come when Iran is open for business, but that day is not today,” Cohen emphasized.

Negotiations on the agreement started in the first term of the AKP government and took 10 years to conclude. When looking at the details of the agreement, one may get the feeling that the Turkish side has been cheated and has offered more concessions than Iran.

For example, Iran received tariff and quota reductions on 140 agricultural products, while Turkey obtained discounts on only 125 industrial products. Considering the fact that in 2013 Turkey exported a total of $4 billion worth industrial goods to Iran, the agreement covers only $612 million worth of this trade (or some 15 percent of Turkish exports to Iran), leaving a substantial amount of industrial goods out of the scope of the PTA.

In fact, the percentage of goods covered by the PTA was higher in 2010 and 2011 (28 percent and 27 percent, respectively). That means Iran recognized an area where Turkey was already losing competitiveness and took advantage of it.

I’m not sure that what the Iranians say on paper will actually be enforced on the ground. Turkish firms have been facing significant red tape in Iranian markets despite the agreements to the contrary, and Turkish truckers have effectively given up crossing through Iran en route to Central Asia because of illegal fuel subsidies, fees and technical hindrance by Iran. The fact that the trade volume between Iran and Turkey is mostly based on hydrocarbons purchased by Turkey — and that it fails to reflect the true strength of both economies in terms of gross domestic product — is a testament to Iran’s consistent efforts to block Turkey’s penetration of Iranian markets.

The trade volume between Turkey and Iran was $14.6 billion in 2013 and dropped a sharp 47 percent from $21.9 billion in 2012, when Iran had moved gold through Turkey to circumvent financial sanctions. The trade imbalance heavily favors Iran, with a $6.2 billion surplus as of 2013 figures.

In the first seven months of 2014, the trade volume took another dive, declining 17 percent to $7.8 billion from $9.4 billion in the same period last year. As the trade volume dropped two consecutive years, the trade imbalance working against Turkey grew bigger. Under the circumstances, the target of reaching a trade volume of $30 billion by the end of 2015 — a target announced publicly by Erdoğan in 2009 and later reconfirmed during his January visit this year.

But this trade deal holds advantages for Tehran. It enables Iranian firms to get a firmer hold on the Turkish market, and many of the companies are simply fronts for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). That is why the pro-Iranian lobby in the Turkish Parliament carefully navigated the deal through parliamentary commissions in order to not attract any noise. Since this is essentially a trade agreement, first and foremost, it should have gone through the parliamentary Commission on Industry, Trade, Energy, Natural Resources and Information Technology. Instead, it was sent to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission on June 24, 2014 for review. The Planning and Budgetary Commission must have also examined the deal to conduct “impact analyses.”

That did not happen, either. Instead, the Foreign Affairs Commission debated the agreement and approved it on July 3, 2014. It was interesting that the commission met only to discuss this deal and that it was approved in half an hour without much debate, before Volkan Bozkır, the chairman of the commission (now the EU minister), closed the session.

The key person who managed the traffic between Erdoğan’s government and Parliament was Beşir Atalay, who served as deputy prime minister from 2011 until the end of last month, when he became the AKP deputy chairman and party spokesperson. Atalay has been a long-time Iranian sympathizer, according to the anonymous Twitter account @ACEMUSAKLARI, which posted documents, photographs and video footage of what appears to be the original investigation file into the deadly Iran-backed terrorist organization, Tawhid-Salam. The leak claims that Atalay’s family origins extend to Iran, even though his family settled in the Keskin district of Kırıkkale province, an hour’s drive to the east from Ankara.

Atalay’s family has been very active in the Shiite Bab-ı Ali (Ehl-i Beyt) İlim Vakfı foundation in the province. The contact address for this foundation in Kırıkkale is listed as the Çile Bookstore, whose owner, Bahattin Atalay, is the brother of Beşir Atalay. The file on Atalay revealed that he was exposed to Iranian propaganda throughout his youth. He even went to Iran to attend annual celebrations of the Iranian revolution.

A confidential police document dated Feb. 26, 1982 indicates that Atalay, at the time a research assistant in the department of sociology at the faculty of management and economy of Erzurum Atatürk University, went to Tehran to attend the third annual celebrations for the Iranian revolution. He was arrested on April 27, 1983 in Erzurum when police raided different cells of an Iranian-linked network in the eastern province. Police found Iranian revolutionary documents and materials in Atalay’s house. He told the police he had spent 12 days in Iran.

In 1984, police sent a confidential memo on Beşir Atalay to the rector’s office at Erzurum University, detailing his activities, which included seminars in student houses praising the Iranian revolution and recruiting for an Iranian group at the university. He reportedly espoused a doctrine claiming Turkey could also be saved through a similar revolution. The police also exposed Atalay’s links to then-Iranian Consul M. Tahari at the Iranian Consulate in Erzurum.

Atalay also served as the rector of Kırıkkale University between 1992 and 1997 and appointed pro-Iranian sympathizers to key positions at the university. The investigation file claims that he also established the Fifth Way group at Kırıkkale University, which was officially organized under the Fifth Season Association. Its members subscribe to a radical Shiite doctrine and praise Shiite ideology as the fifth true school of thought in Islamic law, which generally accepts the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafii and Hanbali schools as the leading Sunni schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.

Atalay is also believed to have been the architect of Turkey’s tilt toward Iran during AKP rule. He was identified as the key pro-Iranian official in helping Iran sympathizers move to senior positions in the Turkish government. Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Interior Minister Efkan Ala are among many of his protégés, according to @ACEMUSAKLARI. He publicly admitted in 2012 that he was the one who helped Fidan make a name for himself in the government.

Hence, Turkey’s trade agreement with Iran, though it appears to be an innocent deal at first glance, raises a lot of questions as to the way it was managed, how it was pushed through Parliament and the extent of involvement of pro-Iranian figures in Turkey. It smells bad, and I would say having no deal with Iran is certainly better than having a bad deal.

Signs of concern in Tehran

September 14, 2014

Signs of concern in Tehran, Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, September 14, 2014

Nearly a year into Hassan Rouhani’s first term as president, the Iranians understand the cards have been re-dealt in the Middle East and that they suddenly also have a lot to lose.

The Iranians like the existing situation, which allows them to buy time (the target date for reaching an agreement on the nuclear issue is Nov. 24) until they can finally acquire their bomb. They know that war is a fluid proposition, and that someone along the way may find it appropriate to take out their nuclear program along with ISIS.

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Only a few days have passed since U.S. President Barack Obama’s declaration of war — without much of a choice — against the Islamic State (ISIS), and with every passing day the U.S. is realizing how difficult the job will be. Two important regional players will not stand at its side in Iraq and Syria: Turkey won’t help, and Iran, not surprisingly, will be a bother.

The campaign against ISIS cannot be won from the air alone. It is hard to expect the coalition’s jets to be effective against the Sunni terrorists hunkered down in Mosul and Tikrit. Obama’s coalition cannot accommodate too much harm to Muslim civilians.

Even before the onset of the war, the president’s advisers understood there would be few if any partners among the countries in the region eager for a ground offensive. Even the Kurds are not rushing to fight outside their autonomous region, even though they would be the primary benefactors of the war against ISIS: An independent state awaits them, perhaps right around the corner.

And this is precisely what concerns Iran these days. Nearly a year into Hassan Rouhani’s first term as president, the Iranians understand the cards have been re-dealt in the Middle East and that they suddenly also have a lot to lose.

The campaign against ISIS is bringing the United States back to the region. The Iranians were unhappy about it in 2003, and they don’t like it today either. Then, incidentally, it froze their nuclear project. We can only hope that this time the Americans will use their return to terminate it once and for all.

Additionally, Baghdad will have to reappoint Sunnis to key government positions, after they were kept out during the era of Nouri al-Maliki, who considered Iran his central ally. The Iraqi Sunnis have different plans. Moreover, the establishment of an independent Kurdish state has never appealed to Iran — not only because such a development could spark the aspirations of the Kurdish minority living in Iran itself, but because a future Kurdish state is expected to have good relations with Israel and the United States.

The Iranians also know Obama’s coalition will put Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria at greater risk. While the war could, on the one hand, solidify him as a recognized, albeit negative player in the region, it could also become an opportunity to eliminate him along with ISIS and crown someone else in his stead.

The Iranians like the existing situation, which allows them to buy time (the target date for reaching an agreement on the nuclear issue is Nov. 24) until they can finally acquire their bomb. They know that war is a fluid proposition, and that someone along the way may find it appropriate to take out their nuclear program along with ISIS.


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