Monday, April 19, 2010

Revolution, 2.0

Of course the regime in Iran would blame foreigners for the agitation in the streets. They have to. Sure, they could admit to a modicum of legitimate disharmony after contentious elections, but in Iran appearances are everything.. If the mullahs owned up to the discontented streets, they would appear weak. No, better to scapegoat unknown alien agents from satanic, godless lands.

Yet, maybe the beards had something else on their minds. It isn’t just the agents of infiltration in public spaces. Virtual space has emerged as a new, increasingly dangerous battlefield, a battlefield strewn with the latest weapons of war: Web 2.0, personal communication technologies and internet monitoring software.

Jim Sciutto, having recently returned to Iran writes:

“The protest movement has lost momentum, suffering from a lack of
leadership and exhaustion after ten months of an often brutal crackdown.”

Part of this crackdown has been on information. Social networking technologies like facebook and twitter acted as a force multiplier in emerging protest movement that erupted after the contentious elections of June 2009. It was a cell phone video bearing witness to the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan that gave the movement a tangible human element. And bloggers continue to challenge the Iranian censors and information police to tell their stories to the rest of the world. The regime’s response to these threats has indeed been brutal, as evidenced by the recent death of Omid Reza Misayafi. Omid, a blogger and journalist, was sentenced to two and half years in prison for allegedly insulting religious leaders and engaging in propaganda against the regime. He died on March 18th while serving his sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Omid was being held with actual convicted criminals, and some believe this may have led to his death. However, if nothing else, Omid’s story - that of a known intellectual expressing his natural right to free speech and being persecuted by a religious tyranny - betrays the boundless audacity of the Iranian government. Furthermore, both the events that shook Iran 10 months ago and the subsequent crackdown on a nascent civil rights movement prove the power of information and the potential for effective organizing through Web 2.0 and related interfacing technologies. If they are shooting at you, it means you’re doing something right, and the mullahs have bloggers and the web in their sights.

Friday, April 16, 2010

No need for toothless allies

A report in Ha'aretz today quotes sources as saying that Hezbollah has acquired SCUD missiles from Syria. These weapons would provide a significant boost in Hezbollah's firepower. In fact, the report says that Israeli officials have suggested that SCUD's could "alter the strategic balance." SCUD's pack significantly more explosive capacity, and greater range, than the Katyusha rockets used extensively by Hezbollah in the 2006 war.

For its part, Syria has denied any such deal and claims that Israeli is manufacturing the story in order to deflect from recent criticisms of its own purported nuclear weapons capabilities.

It makes sense that Syria would provide all the help it can to Hezbollah. The regime of Al-Assad isn't particularly strong, and Hezbollah provides a useful ally, as they can wage a continuous, low-level intensity conflict with Israel. Meanwhile, Syria will align itself with the plight of the South Lebanese and the Palestinians and restate its claims to the Golan Heights. Syria could never hope to confront Israel directly, and by using a non-state proxy Assad gains the ability to influence the conflict and further a Syrian agenda, while simultaneously gaining legitimacy and prestige in terms of Syria's regional profile.

For Israel, the possibility of SCUD missiles in Hezbollah hands is highly problematic. The danger is obvious. However, this may move President Obama to rethink his current strained relationship with Israel and Netanyahu. In as much as Israel plays the role of an American client state, it's security will remain a singular priority, as the U.S. President has stated on numerous occasions. It is no good to have a toothless ally, and increased Hezbollah strategic and military capacity means that the IDF Garrisons must be fully supported.

It bodes badly fore Palestinian aspirations hoping to see a halting of settlement activity in East Jerusalem. If Hezbollah makes moves along the border, Israel will most likely raise the red flag, and while international heads are turned, the settlers will be quietly encouraged to take the backdoor out to the West Bank.