While the world's attention is focused squarely on Libya and Syria, and with good reason -- both countries are in rapidly-changing states of crisis -- this focus is allowing other rogue Middle Eastern nations to get away with things that would normally face harsher scrutiny. Case in point: Iran.
Iran recently started moving its uranium enriching centrifuges from its main atomic complex in Natanz to an underground bunker in Fordow. The bunker is reportedly impervious to air-strikes and can accommodate up to 3,000 centrifuges. The Iranian excuse of wanting to enrich uranium for "peaceful purposes" is getting more laughable all the time.
Combine the recent revelation that Iran now has cruise missiles with a 200 km range with all the upheaval in its neighbouring countries, and you have a very different Middle East starting to take shape, in which the balance of power (in the near future, at least) potentially becomes a major security threat to Israel and the West.
And then there's the case of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two victims of horrendous luck. The two Americans were on a recreational hike in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan on July 31, 2009 and accidentally crossed the unmarked eastern border of the mountains, apparently ending up in Iran. (I say apparently because there is still confusion about whether the hikers wondered too far into Iran, or if Iranian soldiers entered Iraq to arrest them.) They were arrested by military forces on the spot.
The vagueness of the circumstances of their capture and arrest is contrasted by the precision of their cruel punishment: both men have been in jail since the incident and were sentenced on August 20 to eight years of prison; three for "illegally" entering Iran and five for "espionage".
That they have been in jail at all is a travesty. But it gets worse: as the concept of "time served" is apparently nonexistent in Iran, serving the eight-year sentence has not, according ti the Iranians, even begun. The past 753 days endured by these men were deemed an "extended pre-trial detention" by the Iranian authorities. Over the past two years, Bauer and Fattal have been able to phone their families three times, and have not been allowed to send letters home.
Bauer's girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, was also caught in 2009 when they allegedly crossed the unmarked border. Luckily, she was released last September on health-related grounds – but only after spending 410 days in solitary confinement and paying $500,000 in bail.
The accusations of espionage are absurd, as even a cursory examination of the background and profiles of these men shows. Bauer is a freelance journalist and Fattal a global health advocate and teaching assistant. Their resumes would lead you to nominate them for a humanitarian award. Yet for allegedly spending (at most) a few minutes on the Iranian side of the border at the civilization-free Zagros Mountains, they are now convicted criminals.
The sentence handed down from Tehran's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi has rightly caused outrage. Even Amnesty International called it a "mockery of justice" designed to be used as "a bargaining chip to allow Iran to obtain unspecified concessions from the US government." Of course, none of this is a surprise considering the endless list of horrors inflicted upon so many others, including theoir own citizens, by the Iranian theocrats over the years.
These events make all the more ridiculous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the UN for the scheduled Durban III conference on September 21 to discuss racism and human rights issues. He will lecture international leaders on those matters after condemning two young Americans to rot in Iran's subhuman prisons.
By welcoming Ahmadinejad in New York in September and by giving him yet another free pass, the chances of seeing Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal freed becomes all the more grim. If only President Obama could decree that those two young men must set foot on American soil before their captor can do the same. Unfortunately, UN rules are that he must be allowed in.