Posts Tagged ‘Iran’
Here’s the trailer of a documentary-in-the-making, How To Start A Revolution, about the revolutions of the past decades and the influence on them of Gene Sharp: the “Von Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare“.
Sharp is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who in 1973 published a book about methods of non-violent revolution called The Politics of Nonviolent Action. In the book (which I didn’t read), Sharp presents an analysis of the state as a power complex designed to keep citizens subservient, through a variety of political and administrative institutions (courts, policy, regulatory bodies) and cultural norms (religion, leadership cult, moral norms).
If that doesn’t sound too original (think Foucault and every theorist concerned with despotism and state power since Hobbes), what’s special about Sharp is that he presents a whole list of possible methods of nonviolent resistance. From boycotts to strikes, to using colors, to sit-ins, to empowering women and children, to employing peaceful symbols, Sharp seems to draw on methods and techniques of protest and revolution from Louis Blanqui to Gandhi to the New Left.
Sharp’s work (which includes way more titles, check his bibliography here), in turn, seems to have influenced to some extent the Eastern European revolutions of the late 1980s, the color (almost-)revolutions of Ukraine and Iran, to the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia. Check the trailer to see how that plays out.
Now, I’m a bit hesitant to say that this person was “the brain” behind all those complex revolutions, and have the idea that Sharp’s influence is exaggerated a bit much by Western commentators (like as usual at the NYT). Yet, his ideas have been denounced by dictators ranging from Hugo Chavez to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sharp’s other important book From Dictatorship to Democracy, moreover, seems to have influenced civic youth movements from Serbia (during the overthrow of Milosevic) to Ukraine to Belarus, who again are said to have taught nonviolent revolutionary skills to each other and to the Arab youth protesters.
So anyway, check the trailer below, interesting stuff!
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION is a new documentary film revealing how one man’s work has helped millions of people achieve freedom in the face of oppression and tyranny.
Gene Sharp is a shy, modest and little-known man. But his work has inspired a generation of people to challenge dictators through non-violent action in a tidal wave of revolutionary spirit and reform that has swept from Eastern Europe, though Asia and to the Middle East and North Africa.
18 months ago we started work on this feature-length documentary. Through the candid and intimate testimony of the people responsible for non-violent revolutions our film seeks to tell the story of how people power can be used topple dictators.
To make this film our director (Ruaridh Arrow pictured above) slept overnight in Tahrir Square in Cairo at the height of the February revolution. He’s met the leaders of the Syrian pro-democracy movement and the people responsible for overthrowing dictators in Serbia and Ukraine. He has spent time with Gene and his colleagues as they spread their message of effective non-violent revolution.
The film reveals how the leaders of an uprising in one country train the participants in the next and how social media now threatens dictators and tyrants around the world in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
Not only is this documentary an important film of record of the civil uprisings that have shaken the world in the last decade but we also hope it will help inspire future pro-democracy movements develop their strategies for non-violent revolution in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.
One of the better analyses I have read of the Egyptian Revolution thus far can be found in the New Statesman. In the European and American media, there’s been an awful lot of concern about the role of islamists in and after the uprising. Earlier on, we’ve pointed to differing interpretations of the Muslim Brotherhood as either a democracy-minded middle class institution, or as a fundamentalist conservative organization (the truth is probably that they have different wings). On the American right, in particular, ‘Iran’ has been frequently invoked to actually denounce protesters, and voice support for the Mubarak regime.
Olivier Roy in the New Statesman, however, paints a picture of a young generation that is not so affected with the political islamism of their fathers. Even though they might shout ‘Allah akbar’, what they want is basic democratic rights and liberties (and work). They’re pluralistic, individualistic, and connected through social media. A particularly interesting analysis, I find, is that, true, Middle Eastern countries have in past decades experienced a process of islamization, but this has effectively pulled the angle out of islamist political movements. Islam has been de-politicized. This puts a different perspective on organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as on the sympathy among the young for fundamentalist dictatorships like Iran’s (which is non-existent).
Thus, the bipolar divide that is often drawn in Western media between the old secular regimes and chaos or islamism (only to be curbed by the military, or an Atatürk-like despot) may be incorrect, and the reason may be the young. I don’t know to which extent this is wishful thinking, but either way: read this article! In addition to giving this persuasive view of the young, it’s also amazing in its breadth and depth of analysis of Middle Eastern society at large.
The New Statesman:
In Europe, the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been interpreted using a model that is more than 30 years old: the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Commentators have been expecting to see Islamist groups – the Muslim Brotherhood and their local equivalents – either at the head of the movement or lying in wait, ready to seize power. But the discretion of the Muslim Brotherhood has surprised and disconcerted them: where have the Islamists gone?
Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation. For them, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history, their parents’ affair. The members of this young generation aren’t interested in ideology: their slogans are pragmatic and concrete – “Erhal!” or “Go now!”. Unlike their predecessors in Algeria in the 1980s, they make no appeal to Islam; rather, they are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.
This generation is pluralist, undoubtedly because it is also individualist. Sociological studies show that it is better educated than previous generations, better informed, often with access to modern means of communication that allow individuals to connect with one another without the mediation of political parties – which in any case are banned. These young people know that Islamist regimes have become dictatorships; neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia holds any fascination for them. Indeed, those who have been demonstrating in Egypt are the same kinds of people as those who poured on to the streets to oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. (For propaganda reasons, the regime in Tehran has declared its support for the opposition movement in Egypt, though this is little more than a settling of scores with Hosni Mubarak.) Many of them are religious believers, but they keep their faith separate from their political demands. In this sense, the movement is “secular”. Religious observance has been individualised.
It is a mistake, therefore, to link the re-Islamisation that has taken place in the Arab world over the past 30 years with political radicalism. If Arab societies are more visibly Islamic than they were 30 or 40 years ago, what explains the absence of Islamic slogans from the current demonstrations? The paradox of Islamisation is that it has largely depoliticised Islam. Social and cultural re-Islamisation – the wearing of the hijab and niqab, an increase in the number of mosques, the proliferation of preachers and Muslim television channels – has happened without the intervention of militant Islamists and has in fact opened up a “religious market”, over which no one enjoys a monopoly. In short, the Islamists have lost the stranglehold on religious expression in the public sphere that they enjoyed in the 1980s.
What has been perceived in the west as a great, green wave of re-Islamisation is in fact nothing but a trivialisation of Islam: everything has become Islamic, from fast food to women’s fashion. The forms and structures of piety, however, have become individualised, so now one constructs one’s own faith, seeking out the preacher who speaks of self-realisation, such as the Egyptian Amr Khaled, and abandoning all interest in the utopia of an Islamic state.
[The Islamist political movements] have also learned lessons from Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK party have succeeded in reconciling democracy, electoral success, economic development and national independence with the promotion of values that are, if not Islamic, at least “authentic”.
However, the embourgeoisement of the Islamists is at the same time an asset for democracy, because it pushes them towards reconciliation and compromise, and into alliances with other political forces. It is no longer a question, therefore, of attempting to establish whether or not dictatorships are the most effective bulwark against Islamism; Islamists have become players in the democratic game. Naturally, they will try to exert control over public morality, but, lacking the kind of repressive apparatus that exists in Iran, or a religious police on the Saudi model, they will have to reckon with a demand for liberty that doesn’t stop with the right to elect a parliament.
Aldus NOS Teletekst. PVV-Kamerlid Wim Kortenoeven, overigens, is oud-onderzoeker van het CIDI, directeur van het Netherlands-Israel Public Affairs Committee (NIPAC), en bovenstaand plaatje werd geplukt van de site van het AIPAC – de zogenaamde “joodse lobby” in de Verenigde Staten.
Het Westen moet een preventieve oorlog tegen Iran beginnen, zo zegt PVV Tweede Kamerlid Wim Kortenoeven. De PVV’er gaat er namelijk van uit dat Iran binnen korte tijd over kernwapens zou kunnen beschikken. “Via een aanval moeten we onze eigen vernietiging voorkomen”, zegt hij.
Kortenoeven zegt dat zijn collega’s in de Tweede Kamer ‘het gevaar van de islam’ niet voldoende serieus nemen. “Terroristen zijn geen eenlingen. Hun denkbeelden zijn in de islam geen uitzondering”. Een reactie van minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Rosenthal is er nog niet.
- Edit: Hier de maiden speech van Kortenoeven, waarin hij de bewuste uitspraken deed. Ik vind het een briljant plan: dan hebben we straks van Syrië tot Pakistan één groot permanent conflict in de islamitische wereld. Leve de clash of civilizations.
One of the most important revelations from the WikiLeaks classified diplomatic cable publication is possibly that, as we blogged about earlier, not only Israel is urging the U.S. to go military on Iran before it acquires nuclear weaponry, but so do Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. For the Sunni leaders of these states, the prospect of the Shiite republic having an atom bomb must be awful.
And not only that: the sense is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, this might set off a Middle East arms race, with other states scrambling to arm themselves as well. On the other hand: imagine the prospect of either Israel unilaterally attacking Iran, or the US engaging in its third war against an Islamic state in a decade.
Yet since, whether we like it or not, a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by either Israel or the US is increasingly in the air (the war drums are already being beaten by American conservatives), this is pretty consequential information.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.
The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.
The Saudi king was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”, one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.
The cables also highlight Israel’s anxiety to preserve its regional nuclear monopoly, its readiness to go it alone against Iran – and its unstinting attempts to influence American policy. The defence minister, Ehud Barak, estimated in June 2009 that there was a window of “between six and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable”. After that, Barak said, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”
The leaked US cables also reveal that:
• Officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran’s nuclear programme to be stopped by any means, including military.
• Leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil”, an “existential threat” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.
• Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, warned in February that if diplomatic efforts failed, “we risk nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, war prompted by an Israeli strike, or both”.
• Major General Amos Yadlin, Israeli’s military intelligence chief, warned last year: “Israel is not in a position to underestimate Iran and be surprised like the US was on 11 September 2001.”
[In] a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister earlier this year, Gates said time was running out. If Iran were allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, the US and its allies would face a different world in four to five years, with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. King Abdullah had warned the Americans that if Iran developed nuclear weapons “everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia”.
No US ally is keener on military action than Israel, and officials there have repeatedly warned that time is running out. “If the Iranians continue to protect and harden their nuclear sites, it will be more difficult to target and damage them,” the US embassy reported Israeli defence officials as saying in November 2009.
It’s on: despite a cyberattack on their website just hours ago, WikiLeaks has published more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from American embassies around the globe. In major newspapers, there’s now talk about a worldwide diplomatic crisis.
What’s in it is, well, huge and encompassing, with lots and lots of information on countless international matters.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.
These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cache of cables contains specific allegations of corruption and against foreign leaders, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from tiny islands in the Caribbean to China and Russia.
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” and Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium. They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other newspapers: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
They are classified at various levels up to “SECRET NOFORN” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. The embassies which sent most cables were Ankara, Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait and Tokyo.
So we promised to blog about the release by WikiLeaks of nearly 400,000 classified military documents on the Iraq war, but due to circumstances we’re blogging about it two days after the fact. That means that a whole lot of news outlets have already scrutinized the raw material, and that a lot of commentary is already out there. Assessing this, I can’t help but get the feeling that this release, although quantitatively bigger than the Afghanistan leak, somehow seems to resonate less than did the first one, back in July. Perhaps it’s because the revelations from the Afghanistan leak were more “shocking” or unexpected than this one, perhaps it’s because everybody’s already used to things in Iraq going very badly. Perhaps it’s also that WikiLeaks in the public view is losing its innocence as heroic battlers of government secrecy, and, due in large part to the quirks of its leader Julian Assange, is now seen as a more ambiguous organization.
One thing’s for certain though: far more than painting a picture of American or British abuse (although it’s certainly there), these war logs especially show war crimes, abuse and misconduct by Iraqi “security forces”; a question is to which extent American forces stood by. Also – as in the case of Pakistan when it came to Afghanistan - it shows Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs. The total death toll of the Iraq War, moreover, is way higher than ever publicly acknowledged.
Anyway, here’s the commentary that I thought most to the point. As always, things starts with the NYT (I very much recommend the “War Logs” section they have put up especially for the WikiLeaks releases):
A huge trove of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq sheds new light on the war, including such fraught subjects as civilian deaths, detainee abuse and the involvement of Iran.
The secret archive is the second such cache obtained by the independent organization WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations. Like the first release, some 77,000 reports covering six years of the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq documents provide no earthshaking revelations, but they offer insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war.
A close analysis of the 391,832 documents helps illuminate several important aspects of this war:
- The war in Iraq spawned a reliance on private contractors on a scale not well recognized at the time and previously unknown in American wars. The documents describe an outsourcing of combat and other duties once performed by soldiers that grew and spread to Afghanistan to the point that there are more contractors there than soldiers.
- The documents suggest that the so-called surge worked not only because the American military committed to more troops and a new strategy but because Iraqis themselves, exhausted by years of bloody war, were ready for it. The conditions, the documents suggest, may not be repeatable in the still intensifying war in Afghanistan.
- The deaths of Iraqi civilians — at the hands mainly of other Iraqis, but also of the American military — appear to be greater than the numbers made public by the United States during the Bush administration.
- While the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans, particularly at the Abu Ghraib prison, shocked the American public and much of the world, the documents paint an even more lurid picture of abuse by America’s Iraqi allies — a brutality from which the Americans at times averted their eyes.
- Iran’s military, more than has been generally understood, intervened aggressively in support of Shiite combatants, offering weapons, training and sanctuary and in a few instances directly engaging American troops.
Here’s Salon’s analysis:
Military documents laid bare in the biggest leak of secret information in U.S. history suggest that far more Iraqis died than previously acknowledged during the years of sectarian bloodletting and criminal violence unleashed by the American-led invasion in 2003.
The accounts of civilian deaths among nearly 400,000 purported Iraq war logs released Friday by the WikiLeaks website include deaths unknown or unreported before now — as many as 15,000 by the count of one independent research group.
The field reports from U.S. forces and intelligence officers also indicate U.S. forces often failed to follow up on credible evidence that Iraqi forces mistreated, tortured and killed their captives as they battled a violent insurgency.
The 391,831 documents date from the start of 2004 to Jan. 1, 2010. They provide a ground-level view of the war written mostly by low-ranking officers in the field. The dry reports, full of military jargon and acronyms, were meant to catalog “significant actions” over six years of heavy U.S. and allied military presence in Iraq.
Wired has separate pieces about several aspects of the documents leak. One piece relates how the search for WMD’s in Iraq continued after the idea – the core rationale of the Iraq War - had been given up that Saddam Hussein actually had a WMD program. The WikiLeaks documents reveal that a few remnants of an infrastructure to create WMD’s have actually been found – chemicals, labs, weapons and the like.
WikiLeaks’ newly-released Iraq war documents reveal [that] U.S. troops continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins, and uncover weapons of mass destruction.
An initial glance at the WikiLeaks war logs doesn’t reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime — the Bush administration’s most (in)famous rationale for invading Iraq. But chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents.
The WMD diehards will likely find some comfort in these newly-WikiLeaked documents. Skeptics will note that these relatively small WMD stockpiles were hardly the kind of grave danger that the Bush administration presented in the run-up to the war.
But the more salient issue may be how insurgents and Islamic extremists (possibly with the help of Iran) attempted to use these lethal and exotic arms.
Another Wired article goes into the brutalization of detainees mainly by Iraqi security forces years after the Abu Ghraib scandal:
Torture was a signature feature of the state terror that Saddam Hussein inflicted on Iraq. The voluminous Iraq-war documents released by WikiLeaks today show that getting rid of Saddam didn’t eradicate the brutal tendencies of the revamped Iraqi security forces. Detainees were roughed up with pipes, knives, cables, electricity — even a cat in the face. Some suspects were so scared, they confessed to being terrorists, just so they could be shipped to the Americans.
WikiLeaks proved at least one thing through its release of nearly 400,000 U.S. military reports from the Iraq war: the brutalization of detainees continued years after the Abu Ghraib scandal, perpetrated largely by Iraqi police and soldiers whom the U.S. trained.
Searching the WikiLeaks Iraq trove for incidents of reported detainee abuse results in literally thousands of accounts of brutality. Some of them involve U.S. troops allegedly inflicting harm upon detainees in their custody.
Some of the more gruesome and unseemly accounts of abuse are the result of Iraqi security forces.
There are accounts of U.S. troops trying to stop the abuse.
Finally, a summary Wired article goes into what seem to be the big revelations of the whole WikiLeaks document leak: the Iranian influence on the war, the high civilian death tolls, and the widespread detainee abuse by Iraqi forces.
The nearly 400,000 documents are still being perused around the world, however, so more insights may be around the corner. Already, Nick Clegg of the governing Liberal Democrat party in Great Britain has called for an investigation into (two) claims of abuse by British coalition forces in Iraq. Also, the UN special rapporteur on torture Alfred Nowak has called on the US to investigate allegiations of torture. I would, finally, particularly like to recommend the New York Times’ suspenseful profile of WikiLeaks’ aggravated leader Julian Assange – a man who is always on the run, but in his quest for transparency seems to alienate some of his closest associates.
I read about this at Yahoo News a few days ago, and now it’s also featured at the New York Times: Stuxnet, a piece of malware software that is capable of infecting and wreaking havoc upon industrial systems. Some experts call it a new ”cyber weapon”, that for the first time is able to cross the boundary from the digital realm into the physical world.
It’s pretty complex in a number of ways. First of all, Stuxnet doesn’t require an internet connection to spread; a usb stick simply plugged in is enough. Secondly, it infiltrates software used to run industrial plants, like chemical factories and nuclear plants (to be specific, it infiltrates software run in industrial equipment from Siemens). Thirdly, it is able to wait until the right moment is there to become active. On its own.
Now apparently, the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran – part of what international observers see as the Iranian project to acquire nuclear weapons - has been infected with Stuxnet. So that raises the question who “launched” this cyber weapon at the facility. The malware is so complex that it apparently takes a state to develop it, and only a few states at that. The U.S. is one, China and Russia are others, the U.K., Germany, France and Israel also come into the picture.
It is tempting to point to the U.S. here, as it was published about a year ago that the government is secretly investing in new cyberweapons to undermine industrial systems. In fact, this NSA-based research has accelerated since Obama took office. Another example of the way in which Obama fights wars – through secret high-tech weaponry, employed around the world in a clandestine way, much like the unmanned drones the U.S. employs?
Yahoo (via the Christian Science Monitor):
Cyber security experts say they have identified the world’s first known cyber super weapon designed specifically to destroy a real-world target – a factory, a refinery, or just maybe a nuclear power plant.
The cyber worm, called Stuxnet, has been the object of intense study since its detection in June. As more has become known about it, alarm about its capabilities and purpose have grown. Some top cyber security experts now say Stuxnet’s arrival heralds something blindingly new: a cyber weapon created to cross from the digital realm to the physical world – to destroy something.
At least one expert who has extensively studied the malicious software, or malware, suggests Stuxnet may have already attacked its target – and that it may have been Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, which much of the world condemns as a nuclear weapons threat.
The appearance of Stuxnet created a ripple of amazement among computer security experts. Too large, too encrypted, too complex to be immediately understood, it employed amazing new tricks, like taking control of a computer system without the user taking any action or clicking any button other than inserting an infected memory stick. Experts say it took a massive expenditure of time, money, and software engineering talent to identify and exploit such vulnerabilities in industrial control software systems.
Unlike most malware, Stuxnet is not intended to help someone make money or steal proprietary data. Industrial control systems experts now have concluded, after nearly four months spent reverse engineering Stuxnet, that the world faces a new breed of malware that could become a template for attackers wishing to launch digital strikes at physical targets worldwide. Internet link not required.
“Until a few days ago, people did not believe a directed attack like this was possible,” Ralph Langner, a German cyber-security researcher, told the Monitor in an interview. He was slated to present his findings at a conference of industrial control system security experts Tuesday in Rockville, Md. “What Stuxnet represents is a future in which people with the funds will be able to buy an attack like this on the black market. This is now a valid concern.”
Stuxnet surfaced in June and, by July, was identified as a hypersophisticated piece of malware probably created by a team working for a nation state, say cyber security experts. Its name is derived from some of the filenames in the malware. It is the first malware known to target and infiltrate industrial supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software used to run chemical plants and factories as well as electric power plants and transmission systems worldwide. That much the experts discovered right away.
By August, researchers had found something more disturbing: Stuxnet appeared to be able to take control of the automated factory control systems it had infected – and do whatever it was programmed to do with them. That was mischievous and dangerous.
But it gets worse. Since reverse engineering chunks of Stuxnet’s massive code, senior US cyber security experts confirm what Mr. Langner, the German researcher, told the Monitor: Stuxnet is essentially a precision, military-grade cyber missile deployed early last year to seek out and destroy one real-world target of high importance – a target still unknown.
The Iranian government agency that runs the country’s nuclear facilities, including those the West suspects are part of a weapons program, has reported that its engineers are trying to protect their facilities from a sophisticated computer worm that has infected industrial plants across Iran.
Stuxnet, which was first publicly identified several months ago, is aimed solely at industrial equipment made by Siemens that controls oil pipelines, electric utilities, nuclear facilities and other large industrial sites. While it is not clear that Iran was the main target — the infection has also been reported in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and elsewhere — a disproportionate number of computers inside Iran appear to have been struck, according to reports by computer security monitors.
Given the sophistication of the worm and its aim at specific industrial systems, many experts believe it is most probably the work of a state, rather than independent hackers. The worm is able to attack computers that are disconnected from the Internet, usually to protect them; in those cases an infected USB drive is plugged into a computer. The worm can then spread itself within a computer network, and possibly to other networks.
[The] Iranians have reason to suspect they are high on the target list: in the past, they have found evidence of sabotage of imported equipment, notably power supplies to run the centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium at Natanz. The New York Times reported in 2009 that President George W. Bush had authorized new efforts, including some that were experimental, to undermine electrical systems, computer systems and other networks that serve Iran’s nuclear program, according to current and former American officials.
The program is among the most secret in the United States government, and it has been accelerated since President Obama took office, according to some American officials.
President Obama has talked extensively about developing better cyberdefenses for the United States, to protect banks, power plants, telecommunications systems and other critical infrastructure. He has said almost nothing about the other side of the cybereffort, billions of dollars spent on offensive capability, much of it based inside the National Security Agency.
Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist writing primarily for The Atlantic, has a huge article in the September 2010 edition of the magazine about a looming foreign policy question: the possibility of a military attack by Israel on the nuclear facilities of Iran. The article can be read here.
It’s based on interviews with 40 past and present Israeli decision makers, as well as American and Arab officials since March 2009. While of course in the Netherlands, no media outlet has paid any attention at all to this very important article, in the U.S. it has unleashed a debate. No surprise: according to the article, there is consensus among the policy makers Goldberg spoke to that there is a more than 50 percent chance of Israel attacking Iran by July 2011.
How this is, what consequences this might have for Middle East (and global) politics, but also what the ramifications of a nuclearized Iran could be, is explored in-depth in the article. Because the latter possibility is what probably no one wants; yet the consequences of Israel taking military action are grave. It will shake up Middle Eastern politics by igniting retaliation actions, for example by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, and possibly a complete regional war (which will make Afghanistan look like a minor problem in Obama’s hands), with all the human, social and economic misery that entails; it might solidify the Iranian theocratic regime; it could drastically raise oil prices and havoc the world economy; and in general, it will make so much more problematic the position of Israel in the Middle East, not to mention the standing of the US in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, consider the possible ramifications of Iran acquiring nuclear weaponry. Not only does a large segment of the Israeli governing elite and population view this as an ‘existential threat’ comparable to the Holocaust (if you take some of the anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad literally, that is not such a overblown thought; on the other hand, the chances of Iran actually using it on, for example, Tel Aviv are probably slim); it would in the first place indisputably raise Iran’s raw geopolitical power, thus drastically altering the balance of power in the region. Arab regimes would feel threatened (maybe sparking an arms race) and militant groups supported by Iran like Hezbollah would feel empowered under a nuclear umbrella. It would also mean a possibly fatal blow to international nuclear non-proliferation efforts (led by Obama), and a huge slap in the face of the United Nations and the IAEA.
The US, EU and UN currently have sanctions in place, as Iran has repeatedly ignored Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium, and keeps building nuclear reactors. A May 2010 report by IAEA inspectors (who are denied access to facilities) indicated that the country currently has enough nuclear fuel to, when enriched, make two nuclear weapons. According to Goldberg’s article, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a NATO meeting in June that “most intelligence estimates” predict that Iran is a few years away from building a nuclear weapon. So, like with Iraq at the time, the question of whether they are pursuing nuclear weaponry is open – but they’re not doing themselves a favour by not cooperating with the international community, and regularly threatening Israel with annihilation. The Obama administration has called the nuclear program “a threat” to the region and has consistently not ruled out the option of a military strike against the reactors, but in all probability are not very keen on doing so.
So that leaves the question what Israel’s gonna do… Which is what Goldberg’s article is about.
Yet, Goldberg is not without his critics. This especially has to do with a 2002 article in The New Yorker, in which he wrote that Iraq’s nuclear program posed ‘a significant threat’ to the US, and went into ‘evidence’ that Saddam Hussein had close connections with Al Qaeda… In short, almost exactly the message he seems to have now. According to Robert Wright as the NYT Opinionator blog, this article is remembered “on the left” as a “monument to consequential wrongness”. Goldberg also supported the Iraq war. This leads blogger Glenn Greenwald (in a rather ad hominem piece, I have to say) to point out that in his current article, Goldberg paints the 1981 Israeli strike against the Osirak reactor in Iraq as a succesful effort to halt that country’s nuclear program, while in his previous article, he constructed it as unsuccesful, leading Saddam to double his efforts – making Goldberg a propagandist for military action against Iran. Greenwald asserts that it is the 1981 strike against the Osirak reactor that led Iraq to pursue a nuclear program.
In short, Goldberg is accused of trying to shift the debate with this huge piece; of making the prospect of a military strike against Iran seem inevitable, of making it a question who is going to undertake it, rather then whether it should be undertaken. Critics like Greenwald assume a warmongering neoconservative agenda behind his writings. Goldberg, again, is to some extend defended by writers like The Atlantic‘s James Fallows and TIME’s Joe Klein, who are saying he is just trying to expose the Israeli government’s thinking.
Personally, I’m not sure; while definitely more an attempt at in-depth, resource material rich journalism rather than “propaganda”, I do think the article leans towards an understanding of Israel, and too much of a closed case against Iran (and the possibility of a military strike). The best way to form an opinion, however, is to read it yourself; because whatever you may think of it, it’s definitely the most consequential piece on this looming crisis you’ll read in a while.
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.
It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.
But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft.
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.
- Edit: Also see Christopher Hitchen’s exposition of reasons on Slate why Iran acquiring nukes would be so problematic, and Rob Grace’s argument on Foreign Policy Blogs Network why a military strike against Iran would be both harmful and unfeasible.
What a lovely interview with former vice-president Dick Cheney, openly advocating waterboarding, military tribunals and Guantánamo Bay. Read the piece, it’s funny how he perfectly matches one’s expectations of him. Oh, he also wants to invade Iran.
That seems to me to be the big news out of Jonathan Karl’s interview with the former vice-president today. There is not a court in the United States or in the world that does not consider waterboarding torture. The Red Cross certainly does, and it’s the governing body in international law. It is certainly torture according to the UN Convention on Torture and the Geneva Conventions. The British government, America’s closest Western ally, certainly believes it is torture. No legal authority of any type in the US or the world has ever doubted that waterboarding is torture. To have subjected an individual to waterboarding once is torture under US and international law. To subject someone to it 183 times is so categorically torture is it almost absurd to even write this sentence.
So the former vice-president has just confessed to a war crime. I repeat: the former vice-president has just confessed to a war crime.
The question is therefore not if, but when, he is convicted as a war criminal – in his lifetime or posthumously.
08:00 am EST
Everyone we have spoken to so far this morning has said about the same thing — in a word or two: “A big anticlimax,” “defeat,” “An overwhelming presence from the other side. People were terrified.”
In fact, it appears that the regime was so confident, it did not feel the need to disrupt cellphone or messaging services, or even the internet for that matter.
One Tehran Bureau correspondent relayed the following:
Today has been a bust. Lots of people left town, left the country. There was extra security. I was down at Azadi Square, and they [regime] couldn’t even get the huge crowd they wanted. It didn’t matter though, because the Greens either didn’t show up or authorities were successful in keeping them out.
The square was crowded, but not super crazy. There were definitely a lot of people, but compared to the way it’s been filled by Greens a couple of times, it was much less than that. One could move around and it wasn’t the crush of people you sometimes see (except in the front). I think they used all their resources to get people there, but the fact is this was a five-day weekend this year and many people (even from their side) just decided to get out of town. They also blocked all of the entryways into the area, so it was hard to get in without permission.