May 5, 2006

CRS Paper On Iran Threat

The Congressional Research Service, whose job it is to provide in-depth analyses of important issues for lawmakers in Washington, has issued a 45 page paper on everything a Congressman or Senator may want to know about the Islamic Republic of Iran and the looming crisis over their nuclear program.

Written by Kenneth Katzman, a longtime U.S. government Middle-East analyst, the paper--entitled "Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses" (pdf file)--is a fact-filled primer refreshingly free of the hysterical fear-mongering we have become accustomed to in the course of monitoring the anti-Iran info-op. Not that the conclusions to be drawn from this study, however, are any different than those pushed by the "opinion-makers" of the "media."

Iran, which has completed a force modernization with Russian-supplied combat aircraft and tanks and Chinese-supplied naval craft in the mid-1990s, is not considered by U.S. commanders in the Gulf to be a significant conventional threat to the United States. However, Iran has developed a structure for unconventional warfare that gives Iran the capability to partly compensate for its conventional weakness...

The Administration and the U.S. intelligence community assert that Iran is determined to achieve a nuclear weapons capability, that it does not need a civilian nuclear program because it has vast oil and gas reserves, and that it has not upheld its obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Many outside experts appear to agree that Iran's goal is to achieve a nuclear weapons capability eventually.

The CRS report does not spare details which might prove useful to politicians seeking to convince their constituents of the worthiness of an attack upon Iran:

Official U.S. reports and testimony, particularly the semi-annual CIA reports to Congress on WMD acquisitions worldwide, continue to state that Iran is seeking a self-sufficient chemical weapons (CW) infrastructure, and that it "may have already" stockpiled blister, blood, choking, and nerve agents--and the bombs and shells to deliver them. This raises questions about Iran's compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8, 1997. Recent CIA reports to Congress say Iran "probably maintain[s] an offensive [biological weapons] BW program ... and probably has the capability to produce at least small quantities of BW agents." U.S. official reports have not asserted that Iran has transferred WMD to third countries or groups, but a Jane's Defence Weekly report of October 26, 2005, said that Iran agreed in July 2005 to provide Syria with CW technical assistance--including advanced equipment and facilities construction--to enable Syria to independently produce CW agent precursors...

Iran's foreign policy is a product of the ideology of Iran's Islamic revolution, blended with and sometimes tempered by long-standing national interests. In the decade prior to Ahmadinejad's election, Iran tried to normalize relations with most of its neighbors, although it did not end all efforts to actively influence internal events in neighboring and nearby states. The State Department report on international terrorism for 2004, released April 23, 2005, again stated, as it has for most of the past decade, that Iran "remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2004," although the report again attributes the terrorist activity to two hardline institutions: the Revolutionary Guard and the Intelligence Ministry.

The U.S. military ousting of Saddam Hussein appears to have benefited Iran strategically. The main thrust of Iran's strategy in post-Saddam Iraq has been to persuade all Shiite Islamist factions in Iraq to work together to ensure political and electoral Shiite dominance of post-Saddam Iraq. However, Iran is increasingly close to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who is influential in Iraq's politics, but whose militia has been clashing with British peacekeeping forces in Basra since mid-2005 and conducted two major uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said on March 7, 2006, that Iran had sent members of its Revolutionary Guard "Qods Force" (its export-of-the-revolution unit) into Iraq to assist militant forces, presumably those of Sadr.

Iran's support for terrorist groups has long concerned U.S. Administrations, particularly since doing so gives Tehran an opportunity to try to obstruct the U.S.-led Middle East peace process.

Successive State Department reports have repeatedly accused Iran of providing funding, weapons, and training to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), all of which are named as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) by the State Department for their use of violence against Israelis and efforts to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process. Of these groups, Hizballah and PIJ are closest politically to Iran.

Iran is not a natural ally of Al Qaeda, largely because Al Qaeda is an orthodox Sunni Muslim organization. However, U.S. officials have said since January 2002 that it is unclear whether Iran has arrested senior Al Qaeda operatives who are believed to be in Iran. These figures are purported to include Al Qaeda spokesman Sulayman Abu Ghaith, top operative Sayf Al Adl, and Osama bin Laden's son, Saad. A German monthly magazine, Cicero, reported in late October 2005 that Iran is allowing 25 high-ranking Al Qaeda activists, including three sons of bin Laden, to stay in homes belonging to the Revolutionary Guard.

We just knew that Al Qaeda would have to be mentioned.

As you can see from the sample of the paper quoted above, we have been long acquainted with the main issues of the manufactured confrontation. Nuclear weapons and other WMD, disruptiveness among their Mid-East neighbors, and support for terrorism are the main selling points of the program to deal with Iran.

It is just interesting to see what the lawmakers who will have to sign off on any sanctions or military action are seeing.

FYI, in case anyone wishes to read the whole paper, the link at the top of this post goes to the Federation of American Scientists website--a non governmental organization.

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