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November 24, 2007

Egypt

Israel's Cold Peace With Egypt

Warm Peace Requires Clear Orders On Gaza - For Egypt And Israel's Commanders

By C. Hart | November 24, 2007

Israel will attend the Annapolis meeting next week flanked by two partners in peace – Jordan and Egypt. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have been on a recent public relations campaign, trying to convince other Arab nations to attend the Maryland conference. The meetings will reportedly include Israeli and Palestinian points of agreement and disagreement on principles of peace, and may also become an open forum for Arab countries to give their opinions regarding a comprehensive Middle East plan. This paves the way for the Arab Peace Initiative to be discussed by Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s return of the Golan Heights by Syria, presuming both nations will attend the conference.

Meanwhile, Egypt, one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid, knows that it must use its influence among moderate Arab nations to draw them to the Annapolis peace table, especially with an American Congress deciding yearly whether to renew that aid, which Egypt has used to expand its military arsenal including advanced weapons systems.

Egypt’s reputation as being a leader in the Arab world was confirmed by this writer on Wednesday, November 21, during a brunch at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA). Speaking to Counselor Dr. Sameh El-Souefi of the Egyptian Embassy, before attending a JCPA briefing, he assured me that Egypt’s 7,000 years of history, its oil independence, and Mubarak’s ability to control groups opposed to his government (such as the Muslim Brotherhood), gave Egypt its place of honor among the nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in meeting with Mubarak earlier this week, praised the Egyptian leader in comments at a Sharm El Sheikh press conference on Tuesday, November 20. Speaking first about the accomplishments of Mubarak’s predecessor President Anwar Sadat, who arrived in Israel 30 years ago this month to make peace, Olmert said that Sadat’s visit had been a historic turning point that changed the face of the Middle East.

Later, Olmert declared, “I think that the Annapolis meeting cannot fail for the simple fact that it’s very taking place is a success. The fact that one of the most important leaders of the world, certainly the leader of such an important Arab country, President Mubarak, in backing and encouraging the Annapolis meeting, is proof of the success of its being held.”

In answering questions from reporters that day, Olmert commented that the President of Egypt is a friend of Israel, “and we set joint patterns of activity between our countries’ security and intelligence elements in order to prevent continued infiltration of terrorists into the Gaza Strip.”
What Olmert was referring to was the massive influx of weapons, drugs, human trafficking, and money that has poured through Egypt into Gaza over the years, especially since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This has left the area vulnerable to infiltrators.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been blamed for his refusal to listen to the advice of his military generals during the time of the withdrawal. They entreated him to keep a military presence along the porous border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Instead, Sharon received a tacit response from Egypt, indicating that the country would take responsibility for the area referred to as the Philadelphi Corridor. It has now become a source of tension and frustration between IDF soldiers and their Egyptian counterparts.

According to Israeli military research, more than 30,000 guns, 6 million rounds of ammunition, 230 tons of explosives (TNT and C4), 2100 pistols, and hundreds of missiles, rockets, and rocket launchers have crossed the Egypt-Gaza border, falling into the hands of Fatah, Hamas and various Palestinian terror groups. This also includes drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin smuggled through hundreds of underground tunnels. In addition, Sinai Bedouins have reportedly been aiding in the smuggling, collecting monies from human traffickers, and helping armed terrorists penetrate Israel, including those who conducted a suicide bombing in Eilat in January 2007.

Furthermore, while Israel’s relationship with Jordan has been a warm peace, including ongoing joint economic and environmental projects, this has not been the case with Egypt, which Israelis say is a relationship based on a cold peace. This was implied at the JCPA briefing led by Israeli Major General (Res.) Yom Tov Samiah, Former Commander of the IDF Southern Command. In his comments to members of the diplomatic corps and foreign media, Samiah spoke of Israel leaving the Gaza Strip without changing any rules of engagement with the Palestinians. “And, I was begging Ariel Sharon and his people, please put on the table what is the punch line of this engagement. What are the new rules for tomorrow? Why are we leaving Philadelphi?”

According to Samiah, Israel could not count on Egypt to do the job of policing the border for Israel, even before the summer of 2005. He told a story of meeting an Egyptian general on the Egyptian side of the border before the year 2000. Samiah asked the general, “Can you avoid any smuggling or infiltration from the Egyptian side to the Palestinian side?” The general replied, “Yes, I can do it.” Samiah then asked, “What do you need in order to do it?” The general replied, “I just need a clear order that this is my mission.”

In his comments at the JCPA, Samiah stated what he perceived was the current policy failure of the Egyptian government. “There is not any clear order to the Egyptian police or army to avoid any infiltrations or smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. If they will have a clear order, and the tools that they need, they will do it.”

Samiah suggested that the Egyptians could have set up a militarized zone along the Philadelphi route, within the Sinai, to stop the penetration of terrorists, weapons, and smugglers. He claimed that both Israel and Egypt had always agreed that the Philadelphi area would be militarized. “The rules are very clear. So, what happened in the summer of 2005?” Samiah wondered.

Today, the Egyptians continue to pronounce that they are willing and able to handle the border problems, claiming they recently discovered hundreds of underground tunnels. But, they have still not stopped the massive flow of illegal arms and terrorists.

For Samiah, the future looks grim. “The terrorist groups in Gaza, especially the Hamas, including the Islamic Jihad and others, are looking only to the next war with Israel. They are preparing themselves for no other option. The next round is unavoidable from my point of view.” He added that rooting out the problem now will produce many casualties, which would have been unnecessary if Israel or Egypt had previously taken proper measures.

While the IDF waits on an order from Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak to clear out the Philadelphi Corridor, Samiah says the army is also waiting on a clear mission to stop the Kassam rockets from hitting the Israeli border town of Sderot. Once the IDF goes into Gaza, Samiah suggests that Israel do what the Egyptians are refusing to do. “We should occupy again the Philadelphi forever, widen it for 3 kilometers, and destroy all the Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip... The cost will be very high, both for the Israelis and the Palestinians, but we don’t have any other solution.”

Samiah hopes that new leadership will take control of the area once it is cleared of terrorists and weapons. “From my point of view, we should do every step that serves Israel, not that which serves the Hamas today and the Fatah tomorrow, or the Fatah today and the Hamas tomorrow.”

During his remarks, Samiah’s comments were refuted by Egyptian Embassy Counselor El-Souefi. Objecting to most of Samiah’s statements, he said, “I think that the timing of such a narrative is inappropriate. We’ve been hearing such a narrative for the last year from politicians, generals, etc., and even from some regular Israeli officials. This narrative was not only dismissed by us, it was dismissed by the Prime Minister of Israel.”

El-Souefi was referring to the statements made by both Olmert and Mubarak at Sharm El-Sheikh, which implied enhanced coordination in the future. “What they agreed to is to enhance the mechanism, identifying the problem as a management problem,” he explained. El-Souefi insisted that it was now time to concentrate only on the positive aspects of the Israeli-Egyptian relationship.

The disagreement at the JCPA reveals a much deeper problem that exists between Israel and Egypt today as both countries attempt to move the peace process forward with the Palestinians, but without clearly stated objectives in how to deal with matters on the ground. For years, mechanisms have been created to enhance security cooperation, but in Samiah’s opinion, they have failed. “I’m tired of creating mechanisms...A mechanism without a clear order is just a waste of time and money and words,” he pointed out.

Referring to the 40 invitations that the United States has extended to various countries to attend the Annapolis conference, Samiah said going there would be a waste of time. “I’m not expecting anything from Annapolis except frustrations on all sides...If they want to find a solution, they should close themselves in one room, not with 38 witnesses to witness their talks.”

Furthermore, Samiah believes that the international community has strayed away from the intentions of the Road Map. “I believe the Road Map can be something to start with. But, with our zigzag road, we are running away from the Road Map. We are going to other maps and to other roads.”

A majority of Israelis do not think that Annapolis will produce results towards peace and security with the Palestinians. Recently, Fatah, a group under the authority of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, killed an Israeli civilian in a West Bank settlement. Samiah feels that tomorrow it will be Hamas who will fight Israel. “Who will implement an agreement from Annapolis on the Palestinian side? You cannot create any political solution when you don’t have the force implemented,” he declared.

In the meantime, Israelis continue to believe that the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt has been good for both sides, and they hope it will remain strong. Samiah showed some optimism. “I must say very clearly, the peace with Egypt is a strategic asset for Israel as it is with Egypt. I cannot imagine our situation today without the peace with Egypt during the last 30 years.”

For most Israelis today, what’s even harder to imagine is what it will be like during the next 30 years if the current situation continues to remain the same between Israel and the Palestinians.

[C. Hart writes for ThreatsWatch from Jerusalem, Israel.]

November 21, 2007

Israel

Behind Annapolis and Beyond...

Part 2 of Two-Part Series Looking at the Issues

By C. Hart | November 21, 2007

The Middle East peace parley, set to take place in Annapolis, Maryland next week, still does not have a set agenda. As Israel and the Palestinians wrangle over pre-conditions for going to the conference, to-date Arab leaders have not made a decision whether they will attend the meeting. The acceptance of invitations by members of the Arab League, who will be meeting later this week, is said to be a key factor in the ultimate success of Annapolis.

This is Part 2 in a two-part series (See Part 1) looking at issues Behind Annapolis and Beyond...

Continue reading "Behind Annapolis and Beyond..." »

November 20, 2007

Israel

Behind Annapolis and Beyond...

Part 1 of Two-Part Series Looking at the Issues

By C. Hart | November 20, 2007

The Middle East peace parley, set to take place in Annapolis, Maryland next week, still does not have a set agenda. As Israel and the Palestinians wrangle over pre-conditions for going to the conference, to-date Arab leaders have not made a decision whether they will attend the meeting. The acceptance of invitations by members of the Arab League, who will be meeting later this week, is said to be a key factor in the ultimate success of Annapolis.

This is Part 1 in a two-part series (See Part 2) looking at issues Behind Annapolis and Beyond...

Continue reading "Behind Annapolis and Beyond..." »

November 19, 2007

Ethiopia

War Fears on Eritrea-Ethiopia Border

All Agree US Plays A Role - But Do Not Agree On The Policy

By Clay Varney | November 19, 2007

The International Crisis Group, a well-respected international NGO whose aim is to "prevent conflict worldwide" has issued a policy briefing on the rising tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea along their contested border, centered specifically on the status of the town of Badme. The ten page report covers the delicacy of the current situation and does a strong job of taking an even-handed approach towards both sides, while offering concrete solutions to the dispute.

According to ICG: "The risk that Ethiopia and Eritrea will resume their war in the next several weeks is very real. A military build-up along the common border over the past few months has reached alarming proportions." The ICG fears that a potential flash point for hostilities will emerge in November when the Boundary Commission responsible for fixing the border will close its operations unless able to demarcate the line. As to how such a conflict might start, the report offers the possibility of an "Ethiopian-backed coup attempt against President Isaias Afwerki, followed by an Ethiopian military intervention, leading to a long conflict," with the chance that the United States might support such a move.

The likelihood of the US supporting such a coup is largely based upon the Eritrean government's support of central members of the Islamic Court Union (ICU), the al-Qaeda linked Islamist organization in Somalia. This is further compounded by the nature of Afwerki's government. President Afwerki has failed to liberalize his governments position on matters relating to the press and to opposition political parties. Additionally, elections long promised, have failed to transpire.

The ICG recommends that each country follow its obligations under the Boundary Commission as the way to resolve the dispute but states that the root cause of the problem is "the nature of the regimes in both countries and their attitudes towards each other." The report also goes into detail regarding both Eritrea and Ethiopia's support of proxies against one another, including the issues raised in a previous ThreatsWatch article.

Addressing the border and the larger differences between the two nations perceptions of their role in the Horn of Africa is unlikely to be accomplished without significant sacrifice. The Boundary Commission ruled in what Ethiopia's government sees as an illegal form, and in favor of Eritrea. The specifics, including the inclusion of Badme in Eritrea, are quite possibly not the primary cause of Ethiopia's concern. Based on comments by their Prime Minister, it is readily clear that Ethiopia's government continues to maintain aspirations to city's and ports beyond the border area.

The United States and the United Nations are seen by the ICG as the two outside actors with the strongest chance of preventing a conflict. It recommends that the US make clear that "Washington would have no sympathy for a stage-managed coup against the Eritrean regime or any military action to resolve the border stalemate unilaterally." The ICG also believes that the US should remove its threat to put Eritrea on the state sponsors of terrorism list. Regarding the UN, it is suggested that the Security Council pass a resolution in support of the decision of the Boundary Commission and its mission. What role the United Nations could play in actually preventing such a conflict remains unclear as UN peacekeepers are already present on the border and would likely serve as no deterrent if a drive toward war was initiated by either side.

These measures are deemed short-term solutions to the threat of war. For a resolution of the dispute between the two countries in the long term, "the parties will have to cease using proxy forces to damage the other…stop violating the Security Council's arms embargo on Somalia…reopen bilateral channels of communication" and receive help from the international community.

Here the crux of the issue becomes more evident. So long as the economically more successful and democratically more stable state of Ethiopia chooses to oppose its, now independent, former co-nationals, the two will not gain from the potential trade and transport opportunities they share. Likewise, resources which should be focused on alleviating the regions poverty or confronting the threat of terrorism are instead focused on securing what Ethiopia's Prime Minister called a "godforesaken village." It is here that US diplomatic power may best be availed. We should encourage Ethiopia to seek economic opportunities and partnerships with Eritrea, while also encouraging Eritrea to take concrete measures to liberalize its economic, political and press systems. Closing the disparity between the two will not occur by words and dialogue alone, but the US has economic might it can bring to bear, and the positives to be found are worth the effort, particularly given the Horn's importance.

After the report was released, various international players commented on the situation, seeking to defuse tensions. In a statement released November 9 by Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack, the countries were urged to ease tensions along the border. As the statement read: "We call on the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any actions that might further heighten tension or reignite conflict." United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed his concern on November 7 over the tense situation and sought a permanent resolution of the border's status.4 However, despite these calls for restraint, the situation along the border remains fragile. As violence increases in Somalia, the situation along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border does not bode well.

In an op-ed in Thursday's New York Times, two former chiefs of mission at the American embassy in Ethiopia, Vicki Huddleston and Tibor Nagy, take a decidedly pro-Ethiopian stance in addressing the standoff. In the piece entitled "Don't Turn on Ethiopia" the authors declare: "A new war in the Horn of Africa would destabilize the region and bolster radical Islam's push to build a Muslim caliphate." Additionally, Congress is blamed for increasing war tensions as it considers a bill ( H.R. 2003: Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007) that will cut off technical assistance to the African nation unless it behaves in a more democratic manner. The authors offer a list of some measures that have improved transparency in Ethiopia and find that this bill "puts Congress unwittingly on the side of Islamic jihadists and insurgents." Instead, the authors offer that the United States should support Ethiopia by helping to resolve the border issue with Eritrea and facilitate negotiations between the various warring factions. The authors then criticize Eritrea for insisting on the border established five years ago, which in their view needs reconsideration and mutual agreement. The former ambassadors conclude by urging Congress to drop the previously mentioned bill and use "creative diplomacy to deal with the threat of insurgency and war."

As this round-up of commentary on the threat of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia demonstrates, the influence of the United States in the region becomes the overarching theme. Specifically, the ICG report and the op-ed by the two former ambassadors highlight the role the United States could play in preventing such a war. However, the two reports reach widely varying conclusions on the true nature of that role. The International Crisis Group fears that an Ethiopian-backed coup against Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki with American support may touch off a war between the two countries and recommends that the threat to declare Eritrea a state sponsor of terror be dropped. Taking an entirely different tack, Huddleston and Nagy accuse the United States of selling Ethiopia down the river by potentially passing H.R. 2003, thereby emboldening Ethiopia's enemies. Both reports think the US can and should stop the slide toward war, and in this instance, both are correct.

The primary challenge facing US policy-makers with regard to this situation is not dissimilar to those we face in other areas of the world. We seek to encourage further advances in the development of civil liberties and the fostering of democratic institutions and governments, while at the same time attempting to prevent existing governments from being weakened before potential threats - primarily authoritarian and anti-liberty supporting ideologues and organizations supporting terrorism to bring about an Islamic state. Eritrea and Ethiopia must resolve their border issues, with the assistance of the UN and the United States perhaps, but in the end the solution must be amicably found and not forced upon either state. Our task then becomes aiding the two states to see the positives of border resolution, further moves toward a free and democratic society, and expansion of economic cooperation.

US policy in the Horn of Africa should be clear to both African states and in the halls of Congress. We cannot permit governments to harbor, no matter the terminology or rationale used, terrorists leaders or supporters. Nor can we turn a blind eye to those who wrongfully prosecute those seeking no more than a voice in their government. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have issues which must be addressed. However, removing our support from allies, such as Ethiopia, who are making progress - albeit less rapidly that we might wish - serves neither our best interest, the best interest of Ethiopia, or the efforts to secure a peaceful and prosperous Horn of Africa.

This does not imply that Ethiopia should get carte blanche support nor have any openings to seek the overthrow of the Eritrean government. Both governments should be encouraged to consider the eventual negative impacts that will follow war over the border. Likewise, both governments should understand the US position of advocacy is that of their citizens futures, not of their governments maintenance.

Or at least it should be so.

Iran

Is Iran Cooperating?

Any Cooperation In Iraq Is Serving Iranian Nuclear Ambitions

By Joshua Goodman | November 19, 2007

The United States government’s October 25, 2007 “Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism,” was a clear indication of where the administration’s Iran policy will focus on in the near future: namely curbing the threat Iran poses to American forces in Iraq and ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the center of both of these issues is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops (IRGC), the elite Iranian military organization that was singled out as a terrorist entity under Executive Order 13382. As my colleague Steve Schippert rightly noted back in August before the formal State Department designation, “the intent in the President’s Executive Order to specifically designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity may be to increase international pressure to divest from the Iranian regime and injure the elite IRGC.

The IRGC plays a central role in Iran’s activities in Iraq, where the Quds force and the Iranian-proxy Hizballah have been actively training and arming Shi’a militias, and in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, as past United Nations Security Council resolutions have suggested. By targeting the IRGC, a military body whose business operations make it susceptible to economic pressure, the administration may well be trying to pressure those elements close to the source of the problem in the hopes of forcing Iran to cooperate. But will Iran cooperate?

Signs of Iranian Cooperation in Iraq

During his September visit to Washington, Ambassador Ryan Crocker bluntly stated his thoughts of Iran’s role in Iraq. “Iran's role is harmful. There are no two ways about it,” Crocker declared. General David Petraeus provided a more specific assessment during his testimony in front of the joint session of the House armed services and foreign relations committees: “It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into Hizballah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.” While Iran remains the primary obstacle to ensuring stability in Iraq, there are signs that they may be cooperating to bringing a temporary calm. This shift in strategy, however, has more to do with a desire to further its nuclear program than to build a stable Iraq.

In recent meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran made “guarantees” to stop supplying explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). While these guarantees and those before them were met with skepticism, Major General James Simmons, the deputy commanding general of Multinational Corps-Iraq, sees reason to be optimistic: “I’m hopeful… What I see is a diplomatic effort being undertaken by the United States government – and I see a positive response from the Iranian government and that’s good.” A few weeks later, Simmons once again noted additional signs of Iranian cooperation: “We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq.” Simmons' comments echo an early November statement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Iran was playing some role in the reduction of bombings by Shi’a militias. Gates did acknowledge, though, that it was difficult to quantify exactly how much of a positive influence Iran was playing in this matter. Nevertheless, there was a clear recognition that positive steps were being taken.

Similarly, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari noted Iran’s effort to “rein in” Shi’a militias. In a November 6 interview with Ross Colvin of Reuters, Zebari clearly stated that “Iran has been instrumental in reining in the militias and the Mehdi Army by using its influence.” As such, “Part of the security improvement was their [Iran's] control of the militias. We see this as a positive development.”

For its part, the United States is making a few overtures to Iran as a gesture of goodwill. On November 6, Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith announced that the U.S. military would release 9 of the 20 Iranians they have captured in Iraq. And while the 9 released Iranians do not include the highest ranking or “most troubling” of the detainees, the U.S. is clearly offering Iran a carrot in the hopes of continuing the cooperation.

The release of these detainees reflects a shift in policy for the U.S. as well. Among the 9 being returned are 2 of the 5 Iranians captured in a raid on an Iranian consulate in Irbil in January 2007. Last month while speaking to editors and reporters at the Washington Post, Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno argued that “militarily, we should hold on to them.” Thus, the release of these IRGC members indicates that America sees an opportunity to move the diplomatic process forward. The question then, is how long will this stalemate last?

Signs of More Iranian Nuclear Advancement

On the nuclear front, Iranian cooperation seems less likely.

In accordance with an August 21 deal, Iran has engaged in a series of talks with representatives from the IAEA aimed at clarifying the undeclared and disconcerting elements of Iran’s nuclear program. More specifically, the conversations have focused on Iran’s use of P-1 and P-2 centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment. Iran prefers the latter P-2 centrifuges which are far more efficient and therefor much more useful in the production of weapons-grade uranium. At the conclusion of the discussions, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary for International Affairs, Javad Vaeedi declared that his nation had acted in good faith and was fully cooperating with the IAEA. “We have fulfilled the request of IAEA director general (Mohamed ElBaradei) to actively and timely cooperate in implementing the modality plan, with good intentions.” Yet despite Vaeedi’s assurances, recent statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggest that Iran’s nuclear proliferation is moving ahead unabated.

Speaking on Wednesday November 7, at a rally in the South Khorasan province, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran now has 3,000 centrifuges in its underground Natanz facility. As such, Ahmadinejad concluded that, “The Iranian nation has entered the phase of industrial scale of nuclear fuel production and the train of the Iranian nation's progress is irreversible.”

Ahmadinejad and other members of the Iranian regime have also said in the past that they intend to share their technology with other “Islamic nations” once Iran masters the process. This despite supporting their defense with the IAEA that they are fully compliant with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and despite the fact that the acquired much of their current technology through the illicit A.Q. Khan proliferation network anchored in Pakistan.

The announcement of Iran's nuclear progress should not come as a surprise. Ahmadinejad made a similarly bold declaration two months earlier. At the time, the Iranian president’s comments were met with some skepticism. An IAEA report released on August 19 stated that Iran had approximately 2,000 centrifuges operating in tandem in its Natanz facility. It also noted that an additional 650 were in varying stages of installation and testing. And following Ahmadinejad’s proclamation, IAEA inspectors revisited the Natanz plant and found 325 additional centrifuges being installed, thus bringing the total very close to the magic number of 3,000.

But the IAEA report also noted that the 2,000 installed were well below capacity, and thus unable to enrich uranium highly enough to produce a weapon. Similarly, there is currently no evidence that Iran has achieved this critical capacity. In the November issue of Arms Control Today, David Albright and Jacqueline Shire, both of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, argue that “Iran likely has managed to learn how to operate individual centrifuges and cascades adequately, but it may still be struggling to operate a large number of cascades at the same time in parallel.” Moreover, Albright and Shire conclude that it will likely take Iran “several more months to get (3,000 centrifuges fully operational).” Nevertheless, they are clearly making progress while attempting to stall the diplomatic process.

The November 15 IAEA report, which was derived from the latest round of negotiations, bluntly states that Iran’s “cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive.” And while Iran answered questions regarding their joint P-1/P-2 nuclear program – they provided the P-2 centrifuge blueprints they bought in 1996 from the A.Q. Khan network – the IAEA report noted that since 2006, Iran has failed to provide the critical information “pursuant to the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure.” Accordingly, the report concluded that “the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current nuclear programme is diminishing.”

Iran’s Two-Faced Approach

The motives for Iran’s temporary shift in strategy with regards to Iraq are unclear, although a number of dynamics are likely to have factored into the equation. For one, with al-Qaeda in Iraq becoming weaker everyday, the focus of the U.S. military was shifting to Iran’s Shi’a network. In fact, the coalition forces have already taken a number of steps in combating the Shi’a threat with notable success – particularly in Baghdad. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Iran’s involvement in Iraq seemed on the verge of spiraling to direct conflict with the U.S. By following through on its promise to stop the flow of weapons and fighters, Iran seems to have temporarily brought calm to an almost certain clash.

On the nuclear front, there is less pressure on Iran to change its policies despite the rhetoric. While the IAEA report clearly stated that Iran was not cooperating to the standards necessary to determine the objectives of its nuclear program, it was far from an outright condemnation. As such, Iran has clearly dogged a bullet. Though the United States, the United Kingdom, France, France, and Germany have all called for a new Security Council sanctions package, the likelihood of such a resolution passing is slim. China's reaction to the IAEA report has been lukewarm. And on November 17, it announced that it was pulling out of talks on a new set of sanctions discussions – effectively ending any chance that the issue will be resolved through the Security Council in the near future.

The IAEA report has left Iran with a certain degree of confidence. Indeed in response to the conclusions, President Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had been vindicated and was owed an apology by the international community. But how will this chain of events on the nuclear front effect Iranian policy in Iraq?

While Iran has grand ambitions for regional hegemony, it views its nuclear program as a basic necessity to achieve all ends. Iran’s support of Shi’a militias in Iraq was, for the time being, endangering its nuclear endeavors. Although Iran is currently quite secure on the nuclear issue, it is unlikely to take any action in the near future to jeopardize its current position. Thus, in the interim, Iran’s behavior in Iraq will likely continue to foil its actions on the nuclear front.

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