The Middle East Channel

Iran says it will allow access to military site amid Israeli and U.S. meeting

*[Event notice: Tomorrow at 9:00 am, the New America Foundation will be hosting a panel on the U.S., Israel, and Iran, featuring Middle East Channel co-editor Daniel Levy]*

Iran said it will allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigators access to its Prachin military site, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog reported last year that explosives tests were conducted showing "strong indicators" of nuclear weapons development. IAEA officials made comments that they "have heard about possible sanitation" of the site but were denied access to the complex during a visit in February. According to Iranian diplomats in Vienna, "Parchin is a military site and accessing it is a time-consuming process, therefore visits cannot be allowed frequently." The announcement came as Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and IAEA chief Yukya Amano expressed concerns Monday about "activities...ongoing at the Parchin site." Iran has not specified a date for the visit. Meanwhile, concern over Iran's nuclear program was a main topic of a meeting between U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday, during which Netanyahu claimed that time is running out for stopping Iran's nuclear weapons development, while Obama said all options remain on the table but with a clear preference to pursue a diplomatic strategy.

Syria

The Syrian government has agreed to allow visits by the top United Nations relief official and the United Nations and Arab League envoy amid an escalated campaign against rebel-held towns. United Nations humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos is scheduled to travel to Syria on Wednesday after the Syrian regime succumbed to mounting international pressure to allow access for humanitarian aid. She said: "my aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies." Kofi Annan, who was appointed last week as the United Nations and Arab League special representative to Syria will visit Damascus on Saturday, to "initiate the effort to promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis." Meanwhile, U.S. Senator John McCain has called for U.S. air strikes to "protect key population centers in Syria." Syria has continued to deny access to Homs for the International Red Cross, and the government is reported to have expanded military assaults elsewhere including in Daraa, where protests began nearly a year ago. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian forces bombed a bridge that had been used for evacuation for refugees into Lebanon. 

Headlines  

  • In a "one-off pilot project" Israel has authorized the export of goods from Gaza for the first time since a ban was imposed in 2007.
  • An Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan was bombed for the 13th time since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
  • Saudi Arabian diplomat, Khalaf Al Ali, was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in a case being treated as a murder.

Arguments & Analysis

'We can live with a nuclear Iran' (Paul Pillar, The Washington Monthly)

"If Iran acquired the bomb, Israel would retain overwhelming military superiority, with its own nuclear weapons-which international think tanks estimate to number at least 100 and possibly 200-conventional forces, and delivery systems that would continue to outclass by far anything Iran will have. That is part of the reason why an Iranian nuclear weapon would not be an existential threat to Israel and would not give Iran a license to become more of a regional troublemaker. But a war with Iran, begun by either Israel or the United States, would push Israel farther into the hole of perpetual conflict and regional isolation. Self-declared American friends of Israel are doing it no favor by talking up such a war." 

'How I would check Iran's nuclear ambition' (Mitt Romney, The Washington Post)

"As for Iran in particular, I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America's commitment to Israel's security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip." 

'Iran, and a dissident depth-charge' (Nasrin Alavi, Open Democracy)

"Those arrested in the months leading up to the parliamentary elections, however, cannot all be silenced. The respected former editor of the business daily Sarmayeh, Bahman Ahmadi-Amou'ee, is now serving a five-year sentence for criticising the government's economic policies. In a detailed letter to his wife, written on 14 January 2012, he offers a precious glimpse inside Tehran's Evin prison where dissidents of many stripes are held. He tells her, "if the drumbeats of war are ever really played out. It will be to the detriment of the green movement. We are all concerned. When I say 'we', I mean most of our political prisoners.""

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images

The Middle East Channel

Militants attack a Yemeni military base killing up to 85 soldiers

Al-Qaeda-linked militants, from the group Ansar al-Sharia, launched a surprise attack and detonated two suicide bombs outside a Yemeni army post west of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province. The militants killed up to 85 Yemeni soldiers and captured 55 more. Twenty-eight militants were also killed during the full day of fighting. The violence comes amid political turmoil after an election officially replaced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh with Abed Rabbo Manour al-Hadi following a year of protests calling for the long-term leader to step down. Clashes have escalated as the al-Qaeda linked militants have occupied large areas within the Abyan and Shabwa provinces.

Syria

The United Nations reported that up to 2,000 people are currently fleeing from fighting in Syria into Lebanon. Refugees have been discussing conditions after the nearly month-long bombardment of the city of Homs, claiming atrocities committed by Syrian soldiers. Unsubstantiated claims also reported that the army was rounding up and toturing and killing remaining men and boys over 14 in the Baba Amr district of Homs. Convoys from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Red Crescent have distributed supplies in Homs, but have not been allowed access to Baba Amr. Meanwhile, violent clashes spread into the southwestern city of Daraa where Syrian opposition forces killed six soldiers and wounded nine. China is currently sending an envoy to Syria to push for an end to the violence, while Russia announced it would meet with the Arab League on March 10 in Cairo. The United Nations has reported that the death toll in Syria has exceeded 7,500.

Headlines  

  • Gunmen killed up to 27 Iraqi security forces in targeted attacks on checkpoints in the majority Sunni city of Haditha.
  • In preliminary results of Iran's parliamentary election, allies of Ayatollah Khamenei are reported to have won 75 percent of seats, suggesting he will "seek to eliminate the post of president."
  • President Obama spoke at AIPAC committing to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons attainment, but warned those engaging in "loose talk of war" ahead of a meeting with Israel's prime minister.
  • A small bomb exploded near the prime ministry building in the Turkish capital of Ankara, slightingly wounding one person.

Arguments & Analysis

'Netanyahu won't attack Iran -- probably' (Daniel Levy, Foreign Policy)

"If indeed Netanyahu is less keen on a strike than his posturing would have us believe, and if 2012 for Israel's leadership is in fact less about "zones of immunity" that Iranian facilities may acquire and more about "zones of impunity" that a U.S. election year confers on Israeli policy toward Iran, then perhaps this has been the Israeli intention all along: to checkmate the United States by locking it into a logic of confrontation down the road. Israel's position has, after all, been relatively clear in preferring a "stars and stripes" rather than a "blue and white" label on the military taming of Iran. If Obama pursues such a formula and this helps avoid war in the tricky months ahead, it is not to be sneezed at. But at the same time, there is a very real downside to this approach. It carries the promise of greater problems and escalation ahead -- making a negotiated solution ultimately less likely, possibly provoking Iran, and placing Israel in the very unwise position of cheerleading America into a war."

'Beyond NGOs: The Battle for Egypt' (Bahey el-din Hassan, Egypt Independent)

"Last December, a member of the SCAF assembled US correspondents in Egypt to tell them that the parliament, which was still in the process of being elected, did not represent all sectors of the population and that it was unqualified to write the constitution. The next day, another member of the SCAF stated that his colleague had been expressing merely his personal views; since then, both men have disappeared from the public eye. In this context, the question is no longer whether the SCAF will turn over power in June, but rather who has the power to take this decisive step. Has the security apparatus-which has been fed hostility towards Islamists for decades, considering them the primary internal enemy-prepared itself for the day when Islamists come to power? Or for the day after, when Islamists undertake an ideological purge of the apparatus to eliminate members that are perceived as antagonistic to political Islam? The answer to these questions is not unrelated to the crisis of civil society organizations; indeed, it is closely related to the political environment that produced this drama, and the whole tension with the American administration. This political environment indicates an ambiguity in decision-making, one that produced such a messy crises. It is thus crucial to try to understand this battle over ruling Egypt."

'Before attacking Iran, Israel should learn from its 1981 strike on Iraq' (Colin Kahl, Washington Post)

"Short of invasion and regime change -- outcomes beyond Israel's capabilities - it would be nearly impossible to prevent Iran from rebuilding its program. Iran's nuclear infrastructure is much more advanced, dispersed and protected, and is less reliant on foreign supplies of key technology, than was the case with Iraq's program in 1981. Although Barak often warns that Israel must strike before Iran's facilities are so protected that they enter a "zone of immunity" from Israeli military action, Iran would be likely to reconstitute its program in the very sites - and probably new clandestine ones -- that are invulnerable to Israeli attack. An Israeli strike would also end any prospect of Iran cooperating with the IAEA, seriously undermining the international community's ability to detect rebuilding efforts."

--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey

AFP/Getty images