Geopolitics

Why Is Washington Balking On Iran?

Certain Gulf States have joined Israel in sounding the alarm about a nuclear armed Islamic Republic. Washington, in the meantime, has been reluctant to show its cards.

Walking past portraits of Khamenei and late Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran
Walking past portraits of Khamenei and late Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran
Ahmad Ra'fat

-Analysis-

The Islamic Republic's nuclear program is no longer a saga restricted, as it was in the past, to Iran and the world powers known as the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Germany.

The P5+1 powers still play an important role, of course, but new players have stepped in that cannot be overlooked. Indeed, the geopolitical environment has changed since the 2015 nuclear pact, as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman recently observed.

When it was signed, Israel was the only country to consider Iran's nuclear power a grave threat to its existence. Today, in contrast, Arab states and particularly the Persian Gulf monarchies are also alarmed at the prospect of an Islamic Republic armed with nuclear and ballistic weapons. And while Russia verbally supports the regime, it too is effectively concerned, and not just behind closed doors.

A united front?

Israel's defense minister, Benny Gantz, recently confirmed press revelations of past weeks on attempts to forge a military alliance with several Arab states. He said while visiting army units near Gaza that Israel had begun extensive efforts to forge this alliance with states of the Persian Gulf and beyond.

None were named, but one guesses that the countries in question may be the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and beyond the Gulf, will likely include Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. Gantz said talks included all states for which Iran had become a priority.

While Russia verbally supports the regime, it too is effectively concerned.

He also revealed that Israel has updated its plans to strike Iranian nuclear installations. In Syria, Israel has already struck positions manned by Iran-backed militias or the Revolutionary Guards more than 500 times since early 2020. It is reportedly preparing for a major confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Israeli reports suggest will entail hitting some 3,000 targets a day there.

Comments by Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabriel Ashkenazi suggest there may be an unwritten accord between Israel and the Biden administration along two broad axes: collaborating to ensure the Islamic Republic will not have a nuclear arsenal and consulting before any actions against Iran. Ashkenazi has spoken of a small, working group including top Israeli and U.S. officials, though its members were not immediately clear.

Mixed messages

While Israel and regional states are, at the very least, clear on their policy toward the Iranian regime, Washington and its western allies have been conspicuously vague.

Wendy Sherman told senators at her nomination hearing that conditions had changed since 2015, and something more enduring than the nuclear pact was required. In the meantime, however, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken keeps talking about a return to past commitments by the U.S. and Iran. And in a recent speech on U.S. foreign policy priorities, he talked about China, Russia and the environment, but made no mention of the Islamic Republic and its nuclear dossier at all.

Feb. 22 protest in Berlin demanding the EU's policy on Iran be revised— Photo: Fabian Sommer/dpa/ZUMA

The United States seems reluctant to give a decisive or crushing response to Iranian strikes and provocations in Iraq and Syria. Echoing official Iranian media, it has even downplayed the number of victims from its strike on the Kata'ib Hizballah militia in the Syrian district of Abu Kamal.

In the meantime, prior to a meeting of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the EU3 board members and the U.S. had threatened to issue a resolution to chide the Iranian regime for impeding the work of IAEA inspectors on its territory. That would have paved the way for taking Iran's dossier back to the UN Security Council.

Policy contradictions toward the Islamic Republic are far from exceptional.

And yet, no such resolution was put to the vote in spite of 30 out 35 board members expressing support for it. What could have happened at the last minute to scupper the move? One European diplomat told Kayhan London that the Iranian government had taken a step back by suspending the production of uranium metal at a plant in Isfahan.

Anything will do for the West it seems!

Not even the Islamic Republic's 18-month refusal to inform the IAEA on the modified isotope samples found on three sites it had kept secret was enough to push through a resolution. Indeed, U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price confirmed that the U.S. was pleased the Europeans withdrew the resolution.

Double standards

Policy contradictions toward the Islamic Republic are far from exceptional. Days ago, the Biden administration placed sanctions on Houthi naval and air commanders in Yemen, a week after it had lifted sanctions from the most important Houthi group backed by the Islamic Republic, the Ansarullah. There are reports of Ansarullah emissaries talking to members of the State Department in the Omani capital, Muscat.

The Islamic Republic is also prone to weathercock tendencies. Days ago, one of the country's reputed conservatives, journalist Morteza Nabavi, suggested the country may vote to join the international money-laundering outfit it has so far rejected. But 170 legislators including Mojtaba Zolnur, head of the parliamentary Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said they still opposed the pact, as it would block its remaining recourses in sidestepping UN sanctions.

Iran was meant to vote on the matter by the end of March, but has postponed debates on it to late April.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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