Mosaic Blog

US-Iran war of words: bluster or sign of imminent conflict?

An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran today after a motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to his car. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was a chemistry expert and director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Varying opinions are quickly emerging over who is to blame for the attack. Iran blames the US and Israel for the attack. "Does anyone doubt that some combination of the two nations completely obsessed with Iran's nuclear program...are responsible?" asks Glenn Greenwald of Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, however, is of a different opinion. He asks, "But is it in US national interest to bomb Iran to defend the principle of full cooperation with the IAEA? I would say no." 


Roshan's death comes amid mounting tension between the US and Iran over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Earlier this week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had begun enriching uranium at 20 percent at the Fordow plant near the city of Qom. The plant is buried deep underground a military site and is said to be far more resistant to military strikes than existing plants. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded to the news with a harsh tone."This step once again demonstrates the Iranian regime's blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country's growing isolation is self-inflicted," she said in a statement.

Map of Iran uranium enrichment facilities.


Since November 2011, the US and EU have taken significant steps to cut Iran out of the international financial network after IAEA published a report stating that Iran was involved in activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran immediately slammed the report as politically motivated and a fabrication by the US. Tehran claims its uranium enrichment program is for nuclear research and peaceful energy purposes. "No one has a full sense of the Iranian production plan there," said one diplomat who has studied the few details released by Iran about the Fordow plant. "And I think that’s the point." Meanwhile, former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolten, says the Iranians are "testing Western powers' resolve to stop their advance towards developing a bomb."


Iran's releationship with the West has steadily declined in recent weeks as the US enacted sanctions on Iran's central bank on January 1, and the EU is expected to impose an embargo on Iranian oil by the end of the month. Western sanctions seek to undercut the Iranian government by halting the country's largest source of revenue: oil sales. The Iranian Economic Minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, likened the sanctions to "an economic war." On December 27, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that if the West followed through with its threats, Tehran would shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a 30-mile strategic waterway through which nearly one fourth of the world's oil passes every day. In the back-and-forth war of words, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to the threat by saying that closing the strategic waterway would be a "red line" for the US.


Meanwhile, while Iran concluded a massive ten-day naval exercise last week stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden, some observers remain skeptical that US-Iran relations will escalate into a full-blown conflict. Iran analyst Michael Connel says the most likely outcome is "more bluster." Afshon Ostovar of Foreign Policy Magazine says that initiating a conflict with the US would be "a last-ditch, kamikaze act by the Iranians." However, he added, "as opportunities for compromise evaporate, and as relations continue to sour, the likelihood of war is steadily increasing."


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Tonight on Mosaic: Yemen's Saleh warns of civil war as clashes rage in Sana’a

Yemen: Government forces imposed a strict security cordon around the Yemeni capital Sana'a to prevent the entry of armed tribes to assist head of the Hashid tribe and prominent opposition leader, Sadiq al-Ahmar. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he won't be dragged into civil war as a result of what he called “provocative acts” by the opposition.  Families have been seen evacuating the city as violent clashes continue between both sides, despite mediation efforts. The last two days of clashes in Sana’a has lead to the deaths of nearly 60 people.

Syria: Canada has also imposed sanctions on Syria, following the US and EU, and called on Syria to immediately stop the violence against protestors. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird referred to the repression against protestors as “repulsive and extremely disturbing.” Switzerland also said that it will continue freezing the assets of senior Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad. The EU has released a list of ten Syrian officials to be included in the sanctions, which entail a travel ban and a freeze of assets.

Bahrain: A number of Bahraini regions witnessed demonstrations condemning the death sentences of two Bahraini citizens. Protestors chanted their usual slogans along with demands to rescind the death sentences and release other detainees. The military court also plans to prosecute a 14-year-old boy, the youngest of hundreds being detained in Bahraini prisons. As part of the crackdown, authorities also continue to fire employees and expel students for participating in the protests.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Powerful Yemeni tribe clashes with police in Sana'a

Yemen: A number of people were wounded in Sana'a during violent confrontations between the police and President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s loyalists, and armed supporters of Hasid Tribe leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who supports protestors. Eyewitnesses say clashes erupted after guards at al-Ahmar's house tried to prevent the police from storing weapons in a school in the Hasba neighborhood north of Sana'a. After Saleh’s refusal to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s peace initiative, the GCC has decided to suspend its efforts to mediate the crisis in Yemen due to a lack of “appropriate conditions.”

Syria: The European Union followed the US example and imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad and other top officials in his regime due to the continued crackdown on peaceful protests in Syria. The sanctions include freezing assets and banning top officials from travelling. However, political observers doubt these sanctions will change the course of events and lead to a resolution in Syria.

Egypt: The Journalists Syndicate organized a celebration in the city of Suez to honor the families of those killed and injured during the January 25 Revolution. During the celebration, the families affirmed their hope that the Egyptian judiciary punishes those responsible for the death and injury of hundreds of Egyptians. Residents of Suez expressed their anger over the lack of media in Suez, as the city played a major role in the Egyptian revolution.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Yemen rivals to sign Gulf-backed transition deal

Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemeni opposition have agreed to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s reconciliation initiative, which includes a transfer of power and minor changes to the initiative that was proposed several weeks ago. This agreement came at the end of GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani’s visit to Yemen and after an intervention by American and European diplomats helped mediate the deal. However, Protestors, however, continued to rally in Yemeni streets and have rejected any initiative brokered by the GCC.


Libya: The Tunisian government threatened to report Libya to the United Nations after Libyan shells hit Tunisian territory near the Dhehiba border-crossing. NATO strikes on Gaddafi-controlled regions have now become regular and target vital regime facilities. Most recently, NATO warplanes launched a series of raids on several government buildings in the Libyan capital Tripoli, including the Anti-Corruption Ministry and the Internal Security headquarters.


Syria: President Bashar al-Assad has admitted that security forces made mistakes in dealing with protests over the past two months, during which over 800 people died. Assad said that thousands of policemen will attend new training sessions. The United States and the European Union said they will impose sanctions against Syria in response to the government’s violent crackdown on protestors. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would not support any measures taken against Syria.


Gaza: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) closed its doors after its 11,000 employees called for a general strike. The strike was organized in protest of what is being referred to as the "arbitrary dismissal" of five employees. The agency closed all of its health clinics in Gaza, halting services to nearly 750,000 refugees. The strike is also affecting the more than 200,000 students enrolled in UNRWA-run schools.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Fatah and Hamas sign unity agreement

Al-Jazeera reports that the rivaling Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have signed the reconciliation agreement brokered by Cairo. Over the last several days, Fatah and Hamas delegates met with Egyptian leaders to finalize the agreement before signing it. Many believe that this reconciliation would not have been possible during former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.


New TV reports that the death of al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, does not mean an end to the organization. Three people are being considered to replace bin Laden: Ayman al-Zawahri, the “mastermind” behind the 9/11 attacks; Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch; and Abu Yahya al-Libi, the head of the organization’s military operations. Security experts believe that bin Laden’s successors will launch even fiercer attacks on Western interests around the world.


The BBC reports from Libya, where NATO is searching for a naval mine near Misurata's port that is preventing the evacuation of African workers and wounded people trapped at the port. While sporadic battles continue between Gaddafi and opposition forces in Misurata, thousands of people in the capital Tripoli attended the funeral of Saif al-Arab, Gaddafi's youngest son, and three of his grandchildren who were killed in a recent NATO air strike. People at the funeral chanted slogans demanding that NATO halt airstrikes in Libya.


In Yemen, one person was killed and two were injured in Aden after police fired at protestors demanding the expedition of the trial of security forces accused of killing a detainee. Al-Alam reports that this news comes as demonstrations demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's resignation and prosecution continue throughout the country. The Yemeni people affirmed that demonstrations will continue until the their demands are met.


Future TV reports that new images have been released showing the Syrian army arresting, beating, and insulting demonstrators participating in rallies during Syria’s “week of breaking the siege.” Syrian security forces were heavily deployed in several areas including Baniyas, Daraa, Baida, al-Qamishli, al-Riqqah, and Damscus. As crackdowns on protests continue throughout Syria, France and Britain are urging the EU to impose sanctions against Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad.







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