Playing The Israel Card

By Amir Taheri
Posted Wednesday, July 19, 2006

”When nothing else works, there is always Israel!” This is how the late Egyptian journalist Lutfi al-Khuli liked to describe the motto of Arab radicalism decades ago. The analysis was apt because the Arab obsession with Israel did work on countless occasions.

Despots used Israel as an excuse for their brutal rule. Corrupt leaders adopted an anti-Israel rhetoric as a diversion from their misdeeds. Confused intellectuals used Israel as an object of hate to hide their ineptitude.

During the past 10 weeks arms supplies to Hezbollah have increased and Iran’s Defense Minister has met with Hezbollah leaders.

Arab radicals were not alone in using Israel as the “other,” whose hoped-for destruction would be the ultimate act of redemption for peoples seemingly abandoned by history. The late Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Republic in Iran, also used anti-Israel rhetoric whenever he found himself in a tight corner.

More recently, three men have tried to play the Israel card as a means of getting out of their respective tight corners: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic, President Bashar Assad of Syria, and Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah. The reason is that these members of the triple alliance are under increasing pressure both from their domestic constituencies and from international opinion.

Ahmadi Nezhad is under pressure to respond to a carrots-and-stick offer by the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany. He knows that a positive response to the offer could mark the end for his strategy of extending the Islamic Republic’s influence throughout the Middle East. At the same time he knows that a rejection of the package could isolate his regime, bring about international sanctions and weaken his already shaky rule inside Iran.

To avoid that choice Ahmadinejad decided to play the Israel card. This meant moving the Hezbollah pawn that the Islamic Republic created in Lebanon in 1982 and has financed, trained and armed for the past quarter-century.

It is no accident that during the past 10 weeks arms supplies to Hezbollah have increased dramatically. In the same period the Islamic Republic’s defense minister has met with Hezbollah leaders and commanders on at least two occasions.

According to Iranian media, the Islamic Republic has also increased the size of its military advisory delegation to Hezbollah as a “precaution against Israeli aggression”.

Syria’s Assad also found himself in need of an “Israel diversion.” He and members of his family and administration risk indictment for alleged involvement in the murder of Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Worse still, his regime’s opponents have just created a united front in which senior ex-Ba’athists sit alongside leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and prominent liberal and social-democratic figures.

Assad has tried to survive by becoming a liege of Teheran; but he knows that his Iranian masters might abandon him at any time.

Provoking a new conflict with Israel over Lebanon could give Assad a chance to cast himself in the role of the peacemaker. Buthaina Shaaban, one of Assad’s aides, has hinted that, if allowed to return to Lebanon, the Syrians would be prepared to disarm Hezbollah and make sure that the Lebanese border with Israel is as calm as the cease-fire line between Israel and Syria has been for decades.

Assad may also be prepared to drop Hamas, just as he dropped the PKK as part of a deal he made with Turkey a decade ago.

The third member of the triple alliance, Hezbollah, also needs an Israeli diversion. With the departure of the Syrians and the beginnings of democratization in Lebanon, Hezbollah has found itself increasingly isolated. Its performance in Lebanon’s first democratic general election was disappointing, to say the least.

Even more disappointing was its failure to fight the new democratic forces in the streets. Each time Hezbollah organized a demonstration against democratic forces, the latter responded with even bigger crowds. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of Lebanese want to see Hezbollah disarmed so that the country can have a single army under government control.

So what better tactics for Hezbollah than inventing a new war with Israel to remind the Lebanese that they still need the militia as their “national resistance”?

Most Arabs refuse to be dragged into a bigger war and most Lebanese do not see why they should risk their nation ruined solely to allow Hezbollah to remain a state within a state.

The trouble for Ahmadi Nezhad, Assad and Hezbollah is that the Israel diversion may not work this time as it has done in the past.

The current conflict may have diverted some attention at the G-8 from the Iranian nuclear dossier. But the issue is unlikely to fade away.

Ahmadi Nezhad knows that there is no substantial anti-Israel constituency inside Iran. His hope, therefore, is to win the support of the Arab regimes and masses for his ultra-radical stance against Israel. However, that has not happened. With the exception of Syria, no Arab regime has rallied behind the Islamic Republic over the nuclear issue. As for the mythical Arab Street, there is no evidence that it is about to explode in support of Ahmadi Nezhad.

As for Syria, it is unlikely that the current conflict in Lebanon will divert international attention from the Assad regime’s involvement in the Hariri murder. Nor is there any evidence that Washington may be prepared to make a deal with Damascus to insure the Assad regime in exchange for its cooperation on other issues, including disarming Hezbollah.

The biggest loser from this new Israel diversion may well be Hezbollah. Neither the Islamic Republic nor Syria is prepared to risk a bigger war in order to save it from destruction.

This was made clear Friday, when Ahmadinejad, speaking during a provincial tour, called on the “international community” to end the conflict by “restraining Israel.” This was strange – coming from a man who, before the current fighting, had vowed to destroy Israel on more than a dozen occasions.

Inside Lebanon, Hezbollah has failed to enlist the support of General Michel Aoun, the Maronite politician who has signed an alliance with Nasrallah.

Ahmadi Nezhad, Assad and Hezbollah may well have planned for a limited conflict with Israel, one in which the Jewish state would ultimately back down, handing them a moral victory. Their plan may have been based on the assumption that Israel would not dare widen the scope of the war triggered by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Today, the trio find themselves alone. Most Arabs refuse to be dragged into a bigger war – in the shaping of which they had no say. Moreover, most Lebanese do not see why they should risk the destruction of their country solely to allow Hezbollah to remain a state within a state. The “Israel diversion” tactic may have passed its sell-by date. ENDS ISRAEL HEZBOLLAH 19706
Editor’s note: Mr. Amir Taheri
is a well known Iranian journalist, commentator, political analyst and writer.

The above article was published on 18 July by “The Jerusalem Post”.

Highlights are by IPS

God’s Army Has Plans to Run the Whole Middle East

By Amir Taheri
Posted Wednesday, July 26, 2006

‘You are the sun of Islam, shining on the universe!” This is how Muhammad Khatami, the mullah who was president of Iran until last year, described Hezbollah last week. It would be no exaggeration to describe Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shi’ite militia — as Tehran’s regional trump card. Each time Tehran has played it, it has won. As war rages between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Tehran policymakers think that this time, too, they can win.

“I invite the faithful to wait for good news,” Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last Tuesday. “We shall soon witness the elimination of the Zionist stain of shame.”

What are the links between Hezbollah and Iran? In 1982 Iran had almost no influence in Lebanon. The Lebanese Shi’ite bourgeoisie that had had close ties with Iran when it was ruled by the Shah was horrified by the advent of the clerics who created an Islamic republic.

Seeking a bridgehead in Lebanon, Iran asked its ambassador to Damascus, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a radical mullah, to create one. Mohtashamipour decided to open a branch in Lebanon of the Iranian Hezbollah (the party of God).

After many meetings in Lebanon Mohtashamipour succeeded: in its founding statement it committed itself to the “creation of an Islamic republic in Lebanon”. To this end hundreds of Iranian mullahs, political “educators” and Islamic Revolutionary Guards were dispatched to Beirut.

Within two years several radical Shi’ite groups in Lebanon, including some with Marxist backgrounds, had united under the Hezbollah name and became the main force resisting the Israeli occupation of Lebanon after the expulsion of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1983.

Terror has been its principal weapon. Throughout the 1980s Hezbollah kidnapped more than 200 foreign nationals in Lebanon, most of them Americans or western Europeans (including Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy). It organised the hijacking of civilian aircraft and more or less pioneered the idea of suicide bombings against American and French targets, killing almost 1,000 people, including 241 US marines in Beirut and 58 French paratroopers.

The campaign produced results. After Hezbollah’s attacks, France reduced its support for Saddam Hussein. America went further by supplying Iran with TOW anti-tank missiles, shipped via Israel, which helped to tip the Iran-Iraq war in favour of Iran. In exchange Iran ordered Hezbollah to release French and American hostages.

Once the Iran-Iraq war was over, Tehran found other uses for its Lebanese asset. It purged and then reshaped Hezbollah to influence the broader course of regional politics while using it to wage a low-intensity war against Israel.

In 2000, when the Israelis evacuated the strip they controlled in southern Lebanon, Tehran presented the event as the “first victory of Islam over the Zionist crusader camp” and Hezbollah was lauded across the Arab world. Hezbollah taunted the Israelis with billboards on the border reading, “If you return, we return”.

To prop up that myth, Tehran invested in a propaganda campaign that included television “documentaries”, feature films and books and magazine articles. The message was simple: while secular ideologies — from pan-Arabism to Arab socialism — had failed to liberate an inch of Arab territory, Islamism, in its Iranian Khomeinist version working through Hezbollah, had achieved “total victory” over Israel in Lebanon.

Since 1984 Iran has created branches of Hezbollah in more than 20 countries. None has equalled the success of the Lebanese branch, which until recently enjoyed something akin to cult status among Arabs, including non-Muslims, because of the way it stood up to Israel.

It has not even cost Iran very much. Hezbollah was launched with just £13m. After that, according to best estimates, Iran spent £32m to £54m a year on its Lebanese assets. Even if we add the cost of training Hezbollah fighters and equipping them with hardware, Hezbollah (the strongest fighting force in the Middle East after Iran and Israel) has not cost Iran more than £1.3 billion over two decades.

According to Naim Kassem, Hezbollah’s number two, the party has an annual budget of £279m, much of which comes from businesses set up by the movement. These include a bank, a mortgage co-operative, an insurance company, a travel agency specialising in pilgrimages to Muslim holy places, several hotels, a chain of supermarkets and a number of urban bus and taxi companies.

In its power base in southern Lebanon, particularly south Beirut and the Bekaa valley, it is possible for a visitor to spend a whole week without stepping outside a Hezbollah business unit: the hotel he checks into, the restaurant he eats in, the taxi that takes him around, the guide who shows him the sights and the shop where he buys souvenirs all belong to the party.

Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. It controls some 25% of the national territory. Almost 400,000 of Lebanon’s estimated 4m inhabitants live under its control. It collects its own taxes with a 20% levy, known as “khoms”, on all incomes. It runs its own schools, where a syllabus produced in Iran is taught at all levels. It also runs clinics, hospitals, social welfare networks and centres for orphans and widows.

The party controls the elected municipal councils and appoints local officials, who in theory should be selected by the central government in Beirut. To complete its status as a virtual state, the party maintains a number of unofficial “embassies”: the one in Tehran is bigger and has a larger number of staff than that of Lebanon itself.

I invite the faithful to wait for good news. We shall soon witness the elimination of the Zionist stain of shame.”

Hezbollah also has its own media including a satellite television channel, Al-Manar (the lighthouse), which is watched all over the Arab world, four radio stations, newspapers and magazines plus a book publishing venture. The party has its own system of justice based on sharia and operates its own police force, courts and prisons. Hezbollah runs youth clubs, several football teams and a number of matrimonial agencies.

Its relationship with the rest of Lebanon is complex; it occupies 14 seats in the 128-seat national assembly and holds two portfolios in the council of ministers. But it still describes itself as “a people-based movement fighting on behalf of the Muslim world”.

The backbone of all that is Hezbollah’s militia, a fighting force of about 8,000 men, trained and armed with the latest weapons by Iran and Syria. Of these about 2,000 men represent an elite force under the direct command of the party’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, a former pupil of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who founded Iran’s Islamic republic. But the party also claims more than 30,000 reservists.

Arab and western experts concur that Hezbollah’s militia is a stronger fighting force than the Lebanese army that is supposed to disarm it under United Nations resolution 1559. Also, most soldiers in the official Lebanese army are Shi’ites who would balk at fighting their own.

Accounts concerning Hezbollah’s arsenal of weapons vary. The militia is said to be armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and an Iranian rapid-fire gun initially modelled on the Israeli Uzi. The party’s crown jewels, however, are an estimated 14,000 rockets and missiles shipped in from Iran over the past six years. Most of these are modified versions of the Soviet-designed Katyusha. The party also has some Chinese-made Silkworm missiles for special use in naval warfare.

“The Israelis would be foolish to think they are dealing with nothing but a bunch of mad fanatics,” says a former Iranian diplomat now in exile. “Hezbollah in Lebanon is a state in all but name: it has its territory, army, civil service and economic and educational systems.”

A few minutes’ drive south from central Beirut takes you into what appears to be a different country. Beirut itself has European-style architecture, shops, hotels and cafes with men and women mostly wearing western clothes.

Once you enter Hezbollah land, the scene changes. You feel as if you are in Qom, the Iranian holy city, with men sporting bushy beards and women covered by mandatory hijab, milling around in noisy narrow streets fronted by nondescript shops. Billboards that advertise global bands in Beirut are used in Hezbollah land for pasting giant portraits of Khomeini and the Iranian “supreme guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Not surprisingly Hezbollah describes its territory as “Dar al-Iman” (House of Faith).

When it took over southern Lebanon, Hezbollah found a territory devastated by years of domination by the Palestinian al-Fatah (the area had once been called Fatahland) and the Israeli invasion of 1982. There were almost no schools, no hospitals, few jobs and certainly no security.

Hezbollah provided all that. At the same time the movement imposed a strict religious code that gave the poor Shi’ites a sense of moral superiority over other Lebanese who aspired after western lifestyles. A generation of Shi’ites in southern Lebanon has grown up in a world shaped by Hezbollah’s radical ideology.

Over the years the Lebanese branch has been woven into Iran’s body politic. Many Hezbollah militants and officials have married into Iranian religious families, often connected to influential ayatollahs. Dozens of Lebanese Shi’ites have worked and continue to work in the Iranian administration, especially in the ministries of security, information and culture. Since the mid-1980s, most of the Lebanese Shi’ite clerics have undertaken training in Iran.

In exchange, thousands of Iranian security officers and members of the Revolutionary Guards have lived and worked in Lebanon. As Ali Yunesi, Iran’s former intelligence minister, said: “Iran is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Iran.”

Throughout the 1980s Hezbollah kidnapped more than 200 foreign nationals in Lebanon, most of them Americans or western Europeans

Support for Hezbollah cuts across the political divides within the Iranian ruling establishment. Whether “reformist” or “hardliner”, Iran’s ruling mullahs and their political associates look to Hezbollah as a reflection of their own revolutionary youth. Last week parliamentary members of the Islamic Majlis in Tehran set aside their disputes to unite in their demand to go and fight alongside Hezbollah in Lebanon if Sheikh Nasrallah called them.

Why has Tehran decided to play its Lebanese card now? Part of the answer lies in Washington’s decision last May to reverse its policy towards Iran by offering large concessions on its nuclear programme. Tehran interpreted that as a sign of weakness. Ahmadinejad believes that his strategy to drive the “infidel” out of the Islamic heartland cannot succeed unless Arabs accept Iran’s leadership.

The problem is that since the Iranian regime is Shi’ite it would not be easy to sell it to most Arabs, who are Sunni. To overcome that hurdle, it is necessary to persuade the Arabs that only Iran is sincere in its desire and capacity to wipe Israel off the map. Once that claim is sold to the Arabs, so Ahmadinejad hopes, they would rally behind his vision of the Middle East instead of the “American vision”.

That strategy pushed Israel to the top of Tehran’s agenda. This is why, in May, Tehran became the first country to grant the Hamas government in the occupied territories an emergency grant of £27m to cope with a freeze imposed by European Union aid and other international donations. As moderate Arab countries have distanced themselves from Hamas, Iran along with Syria has stepped in.

The pincer war launched by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel is also related to domestic politics. In the occupied territories, Hamas needs to marginalise Mahmoud Abbas’s PLO and establish itself as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In Lebanon, Hezbollah wants to prevent the consolidation of power in the hands of a new pro-American coalition government led by Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, and Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader.

(Shi’ites make up about 40% of the population, Christians 39% and Sunnis, Druze and others the remainder.) If the pincer war against Israel is won, Iran would be able to expand its zone of influence, already taking shape in Iraq and assured in Syria, to take in Lebanon and Gaza. This would be the first time since the 7th century that Persian power has extended so far to the west.

The strategy is high risk. If the Israelis manage to crush Hamas and destroy Hezbollah’s military machine, Iran’s influence will diminish massively. Defeat could revive an internal Hezbollah debate between those who continue to support a total and exclusive alliance with Iran until the infidel, led by America, is driven out of the Middle East and those who want Hezbollah to distance itself from Tehran and emphasise its Lebanese identity. One reason why Hezbollah has found such little support among Arabs in Egypt and Saudi Arabia this time is the perception that it is fighting Israel on behalf of Iran, a Persian Shi’ite power that has been regarded by the majority of Arab Sunnis as an ancestral enemy.

In Lebanon, for the first time in two generations, a consensus is emerging among the country’s different ethnic and religious communities that the only way they can live together in peace is by developing a sense of Lebaneseness.

This means that Arab Sunnis must abandon their pan-Arab aspirations while Christians must stop looking to France as their “original motherland”. In that context Hezbollah’s Iranian ideology cannot but antagonise the Sunnis, the Druze and the Christians, many of whom are angry at the destruction of their country that Hezbollah has brought about by once again antagonising Israel.

The mini war that is taking place between Israel and Hezbollah is, in fact, a proxy war in which Iran’s vision for the Middle East clashes with the administration in Washington. What is at stake is not the exchange of kidnapped Israeli soldiers with Arab prisoners in Israel. Such exchanges have happened routinely over five decades. The real issue is who will set the agenda for the Middle East: Iran or America? ENDS HEZBOLLAH26701

Editor`s note: Mr Amir Taheri is a veteran Iranian journalist, commentator and writer. HE CONTRIBUTE THE ABOVE ARTICLE TO tIMES; WHICH PUBLISHED ON 23 July 2006

Highlights are by IPS

Lebanon: Prelude to a Bigger, Longer, Costlier, and Deadlier Struggle

By Amir Taheri
Posted Monday, August 21, 2006

Riyadh, (Arab News) With the mini war between Israel and the Lebanese branch of the Hezbollah halted, at least temporarily, the usual “who-won-who-lost” debate is raging in the media.

Since, in politics, perceptions are often more important than reality, it would be futile to try to establish a clinical assessment of what happened. Hezbollah and its supporters are confident that they won, and nothing will shake their belief. The same is true of Israel whose Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has had the temerity to claim that he achieved all his objectives.

Thus, what matters are not the conflicting claims of victory that one hears? What is important is the conclusion that the protagonists draw from their rival claims.

The initial dispute, over exchanging two captured Israeli soldiers against some 1000 Hezbollah prisoners could have been resolved through diplomatic channels.

Let us start with the immediate protagonists – Israel and Hezbollah.

The initial dispute, over exchanging two captured Israeli soldiers against some 1000 Hezbollah prisoners, that triggered the war, could have been resolved through diplomatic channels as in the past. The fact that Olmert chose to use force meant only one thing: The new Israeli leader wanted to try something different. That “something different” was military action against Hezbollah. If Olmert now believes that he won, we must assume that he will play the military card more often. And that could mean major changes in Israeli policies as developed since 2000.

The truth, however, is that Olmert’s “something different” did not work. He did not get the captured soldiers back, and there is no guarantee that he will see Hezbollah fully disarmed by the so-called “international community.”

As for Hezbollah’s claim of victory the logical conclusion is that the price paid, in Lebanese lives and the destruction caused, was worth paying. Logically, Hezbollah should reject all talk of laying down its arms. If Hezbollah won the “historic and strategic victory” that Hassan Nasrallah has claimed, this is no time to abandon the struggle. A victorious army does not disarm; it pursues the war until the enemy is forced to surrender. The truth, however, is that the United Nations managed to obtain a cease-fire after the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is part, agreed to put southern Lebanon, nearly 10 percent of the national territory, under virtual UN mandate. Hezbollah will also lose most of its arms caches south of the Litani River.

While the mini war was fought between Israel and Hezbollah, everyone knows that the real clash was between the United States and Iran over their conflicting scenarios for the Middle East.

It is certain that Israel would not have taken military action without at least a nod and a wink from Washington. Thus, President George W. Bush’s claim that the war would help his “Grater Middle East” project matters beyond mere diplomatic considerations. The logical conclusion from Bush’s assessment of the outcome of the war is that the use of force remains a live option for removing obstacles to the American project for the region.

The truth, however, is that the military option does not enjoy the level of popular support that any US president would need before he sends in “the boys.” Worse still, the latest Israel-Hezbollah duel may persuade more Americans that force does not work against enemies who fight asymmetric war and are not impressed by the so-called “shock-and-awe” style of warfare.

Many observers see Iran as the biggest winner from the conflict. That view has been endorsed by President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad who has spoken of a “divine victory” and renewed his promise to wipe Israel off the map. He has also said that the “American dream of the Greater Middle East” has been buried in the rubbles of south Lebanon.

While the mini war was fought between Israel and Hezbollah, everyone knows that the real clash was between the United States and Iran over their conflicting scenarios for the Middle East.

The logical conclusion from that analysis would mean a more aggressive Iranian diplomatic, political and propaganda campaign in support of Ahmadi Nezhad’s vision for the region. However, such a campaign would make no headway if Iran were to bow to the pressure over its alleged nuclear weapons’ program. If Iran has won such a great victory against the United States in Lebanon, it could not adopt a defeatist posture by accepting the humiliating resolution passed against it by the UN Security Council last month.

Logically, Ahmadinejad should reassert Iran’s right to pursue its nuclear program unhampered, and tell the US-led coalition to take a walk. And, that would force the US-led coalition either to push the conflict one notch higher or to eat humble pie, thus emboldening Ahmadinejad further.

Syria’s position is also interesting to note. At the start of the Israel-Hezbollah war, Damascus insisted that it was in no way involved and denied any prior knowledge of the Hezbollah plans.

Now, however, Syria is anxious to claim a share of the victory it believes Hezbollah has secured.

In what must be rated as the most important speech of his career so far, President Bashar Assad hailed Hezbollah’s victory, claimed a share in it, and forecast the defeat of “American plans” for the Middle East. But he did two things that may prove to be of greater importance in the long-term.

The first was his energetic attack on other Arab regimes, thus emphasizing Syria’s alliance with Iran in support of an anti-American vision of the Middle East. By doing so, he ended more than a quarter of a century of ambiguity, generated by President Hafez Assad, about the strategic nature of the Damascus-Tehran axis.

President Bashar’s second important move was his re-commitment of Syria to a strategy of armed struggle to liberate the Golan Heights, and other Arab territories occupied by Israel. By doing so, he ended another ambiguity cultivated by his illustrious father who talked of war but never directly fired a bullet against Israel, and kept channels open to Washington at all times.

The upshot of all this is that the idea of wiping Israel off the map, something that no one seriously advocated even a year ago, is now forcefully presented as a realistic and achievable goal. Suddenly all the talk about the “road map”, a “two-states formula”, and even “unilateral transfer of land to Palestinians” appears out of context. If the whole of Palestine, including the part known as Israel, can be “liberated”, there is no reason why those who always saw the creation of the Jewish state as a “nakbah”(catastrophe), should settle for only a small parcel of the “usurped land.”

If one takes the conflicting claims of victory seriously, only one conclusion seems possible: The protagonists are in no mood to modify, let alone abandon, their rival projects to remove the threat of war. There will be no place for the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Ba’athist regime in Syria and the Hezbollah in an American-designed “Greater Middle East”. At the same time, there could be no place for Israel, US influence, and pro-American regimes in a Middle East where the Islamic republic and its allies, including non-state players, set the agenda.

The mini war fought in Lebanon was one battle in what could be a bigger, longer, costlier, and deadlier struggle for setting the agenda for the Middle East that would also affect the global balance of power. Because the prospect of such a war is looming larger than before, it may be too early to draw hasty conclusions from the five-week test of wills that Lebanon had to witness this summer. ENDS HEZBOLLAH 21806

Editor’s note Mr. Amir Taheri is a veteran Iranian journalist, author and commentator, covering for several international media.

The above article was posted by the Saudi Arabia daily “Arab News” on 19 August 2006

Highlights are by IPS

IRAN GOVERNMENT URGING THE HIDDEN IMAM TO HELP

 

Posted Friday, October 21, 2005PARIS, 21 Oct. (IPS) “You don’t understand. These non turbaned men like the Iranian President Mahmmoud) Ahmadi Nezhad and others like him are the real believer in Shi’a scripts, not most of the akhound, who are aware of the theatre their ancestors have written and they continue to play. Have you ever heard of an akhound going to war or commits suicide except some crazy like Moqtada (al Sadr, the Iraqi rebel cleric manipulated by the Iranians)?” my friend, probably one of best Iranian connoisseurs of the mollah’s mind system told me.We were talking about this unbelievable news that the ministers, at a recent meeting, on suggestion from the first Vice President, had written a “misaq”, or Promise or Pact” with the hidden imam Mehdi, (the Shi’a’s twelfth imam who went into hiding at the age of eight centuries ago) and thrown it into the Jamkaran well, near the city of Qom, by the Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister.First Vice President proposed that a misaq, or Pact must be passed with Mehdi, the Imam of All Times.According to some Shi’a superstitions, Mehdi is supposed to come out from that well and anyone with any wish can help advancing the time of his apparition by writing to him and recite one thousand times “Mohammad is the Prophet of God and Ali is His Representative”.The well has now a big hotel and other modern amenities to receive thousands of pilgrims who flock there, mostly by tours that brings them to the place usually on Wednesdays for a 24 hours “wish filling” holiday that included also a visit to Qom (the cradle of the militant Shi’ism), where is buried Ma’soumeh, the sister of Reza, the eighth imam of the Shi’ites, who has his shrine in Mash-had, the Capital city of the north eastern Khorasan Province.Entekhab (Choice), an internet news site that first reported the incredible event, said the misaq, with the “Imam of All Times”, that is the hidden imam Mehdi was drafted and signed by all the ministers.“At the start of the meeting”, Entekhab reported, “First Vice President (Parviz Davoudi) proposed that the same as a misaq had been signed between the ministers and the President, one such promise letter must also be passed with the Imam of All Times. The proposal was greeted by all the members of the cabinet who, after discussing the terms of the Pact, they signed it.“However, the report continue, ”as any pact has two sides, therefore the question aroused of what will happen to the Imam’s signature?”“The members then devised an arrangement and Mr. Saffar Harrandi, the Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister was entrusting to take the Letter to His Eminency the Imam of All Times. On the next Friday night, he took the Letter of the Cabinet members to Jamkaran and threw it into a well in which worshippers and pilgrims put their demands”.
It was after this report that Mr. Ali Zadsar Jirofti, a conservative deputy from Jiroft and Anbarabad wrote a letter to the President, asking him to spell out “clearly” his and his government positions to questions raised recently in the press, like:A) Ahmadi Nezhad considers himself as chosen by the Imam of All TimesB) Ahmadi Nezhad take order from Mesbah YazdiC) Ahmadi Nezhad favours the fossilized (dogmatists)D) Ahmadi Nezhad helps and encourages panegyrists and eulogists etc.. questions that are aimed at indulging the people to believe that their hope in the President is the best, since linked to the highest Authority.Iranian observers says that since the arrival to power of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad, there an “escalation” on religious superstitions and adds that “extremist personalities” around the President are “unabatedly” tell him about the signs pointing to the resurrection of the Mehdi, going as far as “convincing” him that the controversial issue of Iranian nuclear activities is “in direct relation” with the appearance of the Imam of All Times.Some influential hard line clerics had ruled that Ahmadi Nezhad is the “chosen” of Imam Mehdi and therefore it is a religious duty to vote for him.“In private and public meetings, these figures insists that the Government must stand firm to international pressures over the legitimate and natural right of Iran to have nuclear technology for the question is one of the ways to prepare the re apparition of Mehdi”, one source close to the President told Iran Press Service on condition of not being named.Before his surprise election, some influential hard line, orthodox clerics like Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi used to propagate that Ahmadi Nezhad is the “chosen” of Imam Mehdi and therefore it is a religious duty for the faithful to vote for him.It was no surprise to see the new President devoting half of his precious speech time at the last General Assembly of the United Nations in New York to explain the so-called “doctrine of Mehdi”, or the principle of Waiting, telling the leaders of the world that they should first learn and then do “their best” to help paving the path for the coming of Mehdi in order to establish peace and justice on earth.Going back to the beginning of this story, I was telling my friend about my astonishment to understand how is it possible for a Government that has plenty of urgent difficulties both at home and abroad spending its time to draft a pact with some one, in this case an eight years old boy who, for unknown reasons, took refuge in a well centuries ago, asking him to help solving the problems the nation faces?“May be this is the reason of hate between the leaders of the Islamic Republic with those ruling in Washington and Tel Aviv”, my friend said, adding: “don’t forget that all of them claim to be the sole envoy of God. Peace be on all of them”. ENDS JAMKARAN 211005 

Fact Sheet: Ahmadinejad’s Extremist Religious Views

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Shia Muslim within Iran’s dominant “Twelver” sect, known for his devotion to the Hidden Imam, a Messiah-like figure of Shia Islam. The President believes that his government must prepare Iran for the Imam’s imminent return. Ahmadinejad believes that it is his duty to trigger a period of chaos, war and bloodshed, which will lead to the coming of the 12th Imam who will eventually rule the world. 

  • Ahmadinejad claims a “private personal channel” to the Hidden Imam, also known as the Mahdi, who disappeared during the 9th century.  When Ahmadinejad was Mayor of Tehran, he allegedly had a highway re-paved so that the Mahdi would not experience a bumpy road back. Now, as President, he has asked Cabinet members to sign an oath of allegiance to the Messiah.  In his speech on Sept. 14, 2005 to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad called for the Mahdi’s re-emergence. 
  • Recalling his speech afterwards, Ahmadinejad said: “One of our group told me that, when I started to say ‘In the name of God, the almighty, the merciful’, he saw a light around me and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt the atmosphere suddenly change and, for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink.”
  • “Have no doubt… Allah willing, Islam will conquer what?  It will conquer all the mountain tops of the world.” 
  • “Today, we should define our economic, cultural and political policies based on the policy of Imam Mahdi’s
    return.”
  • “We must prepare ourselves to rule the world and the only way to do that is to put forth views on the basis of the Expectation of Return [the return of the Mahdi].” 
  • In 2005, Ahmadinejad announced his intention to stand for President. Now, as President, he is boasting that the Imam gave him the Presidency for a single task: provoking a “clash of civilizations” wherein the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the “infidel” West, led by the United States, and defeats it in a slow but prolonged contest. 
  • “In Ahmadinejad’s analysis, the rising Islamic ‘superpower” has decisive advantages over the infidel. Islam has four times as many young men of fighting age as the West, with its aging populations. Hundreds of millions of Muslim ‘ghazis’ (holy raiders) are keen to become martyrs while the infidel youths, loving life and fearing death, hate to fight. Islam also has four-fifths of the world’s oil reserves, and so controls the lifeblood of the infidel.” 

Iranian President to Arrive in New York Monday, Scheduled to Address United Nations Tuesday

 
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said he wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” is scheduled to arrive in New York City Monday for a three-day visit during which he will participate in the United Nations’ 61st General Assembly. He is scheduled to give a speech at 7 p.m. Tuesday to the international body, of which Iran is a member. 

Iran, which has a long history of human rights abuses, is currently in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696, which requires that Iran halt its uranium enrichment activities. Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, financing terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad at a rate of about $200 million annually. It also has recruited more than 40,000 youths to carry out suicide operations around the world. Ahmadinejad has boasted that divine powers gave him the presidency so that he could provoke a “clash of civilizations” in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, would defeat the West, led by the United States, in a slow, prolonged contest.  Continued

I signed a petition from The Israel Project to Kofi Annan today. Iran should not be permitted to develop a nuclear bomb.

MUSLIMS SEEK DIALOGUE OVER PAPAL REMARKS

MUSLIMS SEEK DIALOGUE OVER PAPAL REMARKS

Posted by David Vogel  ~September 18, 2006 at 2:07am

Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday he is “deeply sorry” for infuriating Muslims by criticizing their religion’s association with violence, but the apology has done little to calm Muslim fury.

One Iranian cleric declared the pope’s apology “could only be accepted if the pontiff fell to his feet,” and the few Muslim leaders who have accepted the apology are primarily from Western nations. Meanwhile, two more churches were torched in Palestinian areas, bringing the tally to seven, and a group called the Islamic Salafist Boy Scout Battalions threatened to “kill all Christians in Iraq if the Pope does not apologize in three days in front of the whole world to Mohammed.”

In England, where killing elderly nuns is discouraged as a means of political expression, Muslims contented themselves with gathering outside Westminster Cathedral to chant violent slogans and wave signs threatening the Pope. Joee Blogs reports from London (photo from the same source),

Holy Mass on a Sunday is the very source and summit of the Catholic week, so my family decided this Sunday to make the trip to Westminster Cathedral together. As we came out about 100 Islamists were chanting slogans such as “Pope Benedict go to Hell” “Pope Benedict you will pay, the Muja Hadeen are coming your way” “Pope Benedict watch your back” and other hateful things.

Waleed Aly notes the underlying irony in The Age:

Let me get this straight. Pope Benedict XVI quotes the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus asserting before a Persian Islamic scholar that the prophet Muhammad brought nothing new to the world except things “evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. Some Muslims clearly interpret Benedict to be quoting Manuel with approval, and take offence at the suggestion that Islam is inherently violent. The response is to bomb five churches in the West Bank, and attack the door of another in Basra. In India, angry mobs burn effigies of Pope Benedict. In Somalia, Sheikh Abu Bakr Hassan Malin urges Muslims to “hunt down” the Pope and kill him, while an armed Iraqi group threatens to carry out attacks against Rome and the Vatican.

There. That’ll show them for calling us violent.

The most incisive analysis of the strategy behind the seemingly illogical outbursts of rage comes from Douglas Farah.

The routine teaching of Jews as pigs and monkeys, the multiple references in the Koran to killing unbelievers and the extensive role of Islam in conquering and enslaving entire peoples (thus, eventually, spreading Islam), all bear out the comments made six centuries ago in the discussion the Pope referenced. That the Pope’s decision to discuss this debate in an academic setting led to violence in the name of Islam seems to only confirm those who practice that violence accept that interpretation of the Koran. …

The fundamental misconception in this is the very Western idea that we are fighting a war (if we are fighting one at all) on a level playing field. That is to say, we believe the enemy, Islamists, play by the rules we hold as fair and honest. When crowds can form in seemingly spontaneous reaction to an obscure and lightly-reported Papal speech, it is evidence of an organization that has pre-positioned its people to strike when the opportunity arises. It was the same in the Danish cartoon riots.

In this war, the enemy will use denial and deception, propaganda, front groups ready to react with public outrage at even preceived minor grievances to portray everything that happens as an anti-Muslim crusade. So we don’t mention what Islam really teaches, or what many in Islam teach as Islam-we believe in free speech and freedom of religion, so we don’t want to get involved with what is generally deemed to be protected speech.

Venezuela tightens Iran links with trade pacts

By Phil Gunson in Caracas

Published: September 18 2006 18:38 | Last updated: September 18 2006 18:38

Hugo Chávez’s efforts to build an anti-US coalition received a boost on Monday following a visit by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, to Venezuela and the signing of trade agreements between the two countries.

The two presidents are due to arrive in New York on Tuesday, where both are expected to address the UN General Assembly.

Mr Chávez has been lobbying intensively to win a two-year term on the Security Council. Next month’s vote on the seat, which will pit Venezuela against US-backed Guatemala, will be a “thermometer reading of how anti-US the member nations of the UN are”, according to Alberto Garrido, a political analyst.

Mr Chávez, who supports Iran’s nuclear programme, reiterated with Mr Ahmadi-Nejad their opposition to “US imperialism” and their support for a “multipolar” world order, free of the hegemony of what Mr Ahmadi-Nejad called “the tyrants of the world – above all, the Americans”.

The two leaders signed 29 bilateral agreements in areas as diverse as petrochemicals, health, mining and agriculture.

In a series of international tours this year, the Venezuelan leader has secured support for his Security Council seat candidacy from much of Latin America and Africa, along with Russia, China and a large part of the Muslim world.

However, doubts remain as to whether he will obtain the required two-thirds of votes on the first ballot, not least because voting is secret. “Some governments may not be telling the truth,” said a European diplomat, “especially among the small Caribbean nations.”

Failure to win outright could lead to a protracted series of inconclusive votes, and possibly the emergence of a compromise candidate.

Venezuela, along with Cuba and Syria, voted in the International Atomic Energy Authority against the referral of Iran’s nuclear programme to the Security Council this year.

Mr Chávez has also raised the possibility of collaboration between Iran and Venezuela in the nuclear field, and has vowed to stand with both Iran and Cuba under any circumstances. At last week’s meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, he reiterated this stance. “We will accompany Iran as we will accompany Cuba,” he said. “If the United States were to invade Cuba, Venezuelan blood would flow.”

More than the flow of blood, it is the flow of oil that has Washington worried. Between them, Iran and Venezuela produce almost 7m barrels a day, and both have threatened a boycott in the event of US aggression.

■The US on Monday criticised Venezuela and Burma for doing too little to fight the drug trade but decided not to cut off aid to Caracas, a big oil supplier, Reuters reports from Washington.

Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, was given a waiver allowing it to avoid some US aid cuts that would be triggered by the US determination that it “failed demonstrably” to live up to international commitments to fight the drug trade.

The White House also said it remained concerned about Bolivia’s work against drugs, saying it had pursued policies “that have allowed the expansion of coca cultivation and have significantly curtailed eradication”.

Al-Qaida in Iraq warned Pope Benedict XVI on Monday that its war against Christianity and the West will go on until Islam takes over the world, and Iran’s supreme leader called for more protests over the pontiff’s remarks on Islam.

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Al-Qaida in Iraq warned Pope Benedict XVI on Monday that its war against Christianity and the West will go on until Islam takes over the world, and Iran’s supreme leader called for more protests over the pontiff’s remarks on Islam.

Protests broke out in South Asia and Indonesia, with angry Muslims saying Benedict’s statement of regret a day earlier did not go far enough. In southern Iraq, demonstrators carrying black flags burned an effigy of the pope.

Islamic leaders around the world issued more condemnations of the pope’s comments, but some moderates in the Middle East appeared to be trying to put a damper on the outrage, fearing it could spiral into attacks on Christians in the region.

On Sunday, Benedict said he was “deeply sorry” over any hurt caused by his comments made in a speech last week, in which he quoted a medieval text characterizing some of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman” and calling Islam a religion spread by the sword.

Benedict said the remarks came from a text that didn’t reflect his own opinion, but he did not retract what he said or say he was sorry he uttered what proved to be explosive words.

The Vatican on Monday sought to defuse the anger, ordering papal representatives around the world to meet with leaders of Muslim countries to explain the pope’s point of view and full context of his speech.

Roman Catholic leaders stepped forward to defend the pontiff. At an Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini underlined the bishops'”total closeness and solidarity to the pope” and said they deplored interpretations of the pope’s comments “which attribute to the Holy Father … errors that he has not committed and aim at attacking his person and his ministry.”

Few in the Islamic world were satisfied by Benedict’s statement of regret.

“The pope’s words have caused a deep wound in the hearts of Muslims that won’t heal for a long time, and then only after a clear apology to Muslims,” Egypt’s religious affairs minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, wrote in a column in the government daily Al-Ahram on Monday.

An influential Egyptian cleric, Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, called for protests after weekly prayers on Friday, but maintained they should be peaceful.

Extremists said the pope’s comments proved that the West was in a war against Islam.

Al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies issued a statement addressing the pope as “a cross-worshipper” and warning, “You and the West are doomed, as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere.

“You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad (holy war) and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God’s rule is established governing all people and nations,” said the statement by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups in Iraq.

Another Iraqi extremist group, Ansar al-Sunna, challenged “sleeping Muslims” to prove their manhood by doing something other than “issuing statements or holding demonstrations.”

“If the stupid pig is prancing with his blasphemies in his house,” the group said in a Web statement, referring to the pope, “then let him wait for the day coming soon when the armies of the religion of right knock on the walls of Rome.”

In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used the comments to call for protests against the United States. He argued that while the pope may have been deceived into making his remarks, the words give the West an “excuse for suppressing Muslims” by depicting them as terrorists.

“Those who benefit from the pope’s comments and drive their own arrogant policies should be targeted with attacks and protests,” he said, referring to the United States.

The anger recalled the outrage earlier this year over cartoons depicting the prophet published by a Danish paper. The caricatures, which Muslims saw as insulting Muhammad, set off large, violent protests across the Islamic world.

So far, protests over the pope’s comments have been smaller. However, there has been some violence: Attackers hurled firebombs at seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the weekend, and a nun was shot to death in Somalia.

Some 200 Khamenei loyalists in the Syrian capital, Damascus, held a protest Monday at an Islamic shrine, dismissing the pope’s apology. “The pope’s sorrow was equivocal,” read one banner.

Dozens protested outside the Vatican Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, and schools and shops in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir shut their doors in protest.

“His comments really hurt Muslims all over the world,” Umar Nawawi of the radical Islamic Defenders’ Front said in Jakarta. “We should remind him not to say such things which can only fuel a holy war.”

Islamic countries also asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to examine the question of religious tolerance. Malaysia’s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said Benedict’s apology was “inadequate to calm the anger.”

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood said the anger should not be allowed to hurt ties with the Middle East’s Christian minorities. But worries among Christians in the region are high.

Guards have been posted around some churches, and the head of Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, disassociated himself from Benedict’s statements.

The Dominican mission in Cairo also criticized Benedict’s words, saying he chose a text for his speech that “revived the polemics of the past.”

“These comments, seen by many Muslims as hurtful, risk encouraging extremists on all sides,” it said in a statement, “and put in danger all the advances in dialogue made in recent decades.”