Iran, Israel and the west: some home truthshttp://www.abc.net.au/
In the West, there is a common story about Iranian relations with Israel and the West. It goes like this: Iran is ruled by an unpredictable, terrorist supporting lunatic, whose aggressive rhetoric to Israel rightly makes it concerned for its safety. Israelis have been influenced by their history, particularly the most obvious recent traumas. Appallingly, Iran has denied the Holocaust, and sought to use it as a weapon for cheap political gains. Besides its support for terrorist groups and belligerent rhetoric, Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program, which Israel, the West, and indeed the entire world are right to fear. Its perverse intransigence, and purely aggressive designs in making these weapons, makes a strong prima facie case for bombing Iran. Certainly, we have good reason to fear Iran and be concerned about its behaviour.
Not every single part of this story is false. For example, President Ahmadinejad has given vile, anti-Semitic speeches. What is remarkable about this widely accepted and unchallenged story is that almost all of it can quite properly be reversed.
Though Obama declined to apologise for it, he has admitted that "the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government". Playing a role is a euphemism for saying that the US and UK organised a coup to overthrow Mohammed Mossadeq. Mossadeq, who led the campaign to nationalise the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), was a secular nationalist, who was overwhelmingly elected in April 1951. In May 1951, AIOC was nationalised, and the British quickly moved to overturn this terrible result.
Mark Curtis, who has examined the relevant British archives, uncovered a revealing picture. Mossadeq, they complained, was "regarded by many of the ignorant as a messiah". This was perhaps because of his fanciful view "that morally they are entitled to 50%, or ... even more of the profits" of oil extraction. Of course, they recognised that AIOC was "a great foreign organisation controlling Persia’s economic life and destiny". As Curtis noted, "The Iranian government was being paid royalties of between 10 and 12 per cent of the company's net proceeds, while the British government received as much as 30 per cent of these in taxes alone."
The British considered direct military intervention in response to the nationalisation. The British Foreign Secretary explained that this:
would demonstrate once and for all to the Persians British determination not to allow the... AIOC to be evicted from Persia and might well result in the downfall of the Mussadiq regime and its replacement by more reasonable elements prepared to negotiate a settlement... It might be expected to produce a salutary effect throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, as evidence that United Kingdom interests could not be recklessly molested with impunity.
The British embassy in Tehran soon settled on a "non-communist coup d'état preferably in the name of the Shah", which it understood "would mean an authoritarian regime". According to Curtis, "The files show that the ambassador in Tehran preferred 'a dictator', who 'would carry out the necessary administrative and economic reforms and settle the oil question on reasonable terms'."
The coup was carried out by the UK and US together, and was a success. They proceeded to give strong support to their new ally, the Shah. US officials knew what they have achieved:
" 'The Shah has consolidated all power under his personal authority and suppressed all real opposition', in a context of 'near feudal economic and social conditions', one memorandum from 1958 read. There was 'basic and widespread dissatisfaction with his regime' and it was recognised as 'unlikely that he will effect such a fundamental reform program as would satisfy rising popular demand'. ... Increasing numbers of people 'find Iran’s antiquated and feudal structure and the privileges of the ruling classes anachronistic in a modern world'. However, 'the absence of any constructive, pro-Western alternative' to the Shah's regime makes 'US support of the regime the best hope of furthering US interests in Iran'."
In the words of Amnesty International, the Shah's Iran had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran."
The dreaded Iranian secret police, SAVAK, which carried out much of this torture, was created with CIA support in 1957, and had close ties to the CIA and Israel's Mossad. The CIA's former chief analyst on Iran, Jesse Leaf, declared that the CIA had instructed SAVAK in "German torture techniques from World War II". From 1972 to 1979, the US sold the Shah $21 billion of arms – despite the obvious fact Iran faced no war: it was all used for internal repression. This support continued through to the last days of the Shah, when the famed Human Rights Administration of Jimmy Carter marvelled at the Shah's "leadership, and to the respect, admiration and love which your people give to you". In December 1978, Carter explained that the "Shah has our support and he also has our confidence".
How might Iranians to feel about this history? And what might they suspect about the real reason for our newfound opposition to Iran's system of government? Who has reason to suspect the aggressive designs of whom?
Shortly after the successful revolution to overthrow the Shah, Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980. The US decided this act of aggression warranted a reward. Within half a year, the US Secretary of State Alexander Haig told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he saw the possibility of improved ties with Baghdad. In 1982, Iraq was removed from the list of countries supporting terrorism. In 1984, diplomatic relations were restored between the two countries, for the first time since 1967. Iranian dissident Shirin Ebadi wrote bitterly in her memoirs of the support that the US gave to Iraq, such as providing it:
with satellite images of Iranian troop deployment. It later years it also emerged that a covert American program had extended far more serious battle-planning assistance than that, at a time when US intelligence agencies knew that Iraq was using chemical weapons in most major operations.
Ebadi wrote of the "gruesome" effects of the sarin, and then mustard gas that Iraq used against Iran, with tacit Western support.
At the time, the support given to Iraq was not enough to win the war. The completely senseless conflict dragged on for eight years, with a million killed in total. The war was further prolonged by the US funnelling arms to Iran through Israel. Its utter contempt for human life was frankly explained by Geoffrey Kemp, then head of the Middle East Section of the National Security Council's Middle East section: "It wasn't that we wanted Iraq to win the war, we did not want Iraq to lose. We really weren't naïve. We knew he was an S.O.B., but he was our S.O.B." After the Iran-Contra dealings were publicly exposed, the US titled even more heavily to Iraq, and even shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing the 290 people on board.
When asked to apologise for the coup and shooting down of the Iranian plane, Barack Obama explained that "Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward."
Plainly, nothing comparable to these vicious crimes has ever been committed against the US. Yet one can imagine what might happen if the US were asked to forget about 9/11, and bringing its perpetrators to justice – let alone to be denied even an apology.
However, there are serious charges of Israeli and US support for terrorism against Iran. For example, according to Mark Perry, US memos "describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents". The recruitment occurred in London, despite the fact that "Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children."
Jundallah's atrocities are extensive:
In May 2009, a Jundallah suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque in Zahedan, the capital of Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province bordering Pakistan, during a Shiite religious festival. The bombing killed 25 Iranians and wounded scores of others.... In August 2007, Jundallah kidnapped21 Iranian truck drivers. In December 2008, it captured and executed16 Iranian border guards -- the gruesome killings were filmed, in a stark echo of the decapitation of American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq at the hands of al Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In July 2010, Jundallah conducteda twin suicide bombing in Zahedan outside a mosque, killing dozens of people, including members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Or in October 2009, Jundallah killed some 29 people in a series of attacks. Andrew Bolt responded by noting the "poetry here - a terror-sponsoring regime now the target of terrorists itself". One suspects Bolt would not see similar poetry in a comparable attack on the US or Israel.
More recently, evidence has emerged that the MEK has been assassinating Iranian scientists working on Iran's nuclear program, and the MEK "is financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service". Four such scientists have been mysteriously killed since November 2010.
There has also been evidence that the US and Israel have engaged in "technological warfare against Iran, using sophisticated industrial sabotage measures to weaken and undermine Iran's nuclear industry". Israel and the US may have together conspired in producing a computer worm called Stuxnet, "a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges".
Whose aggressive posture?
There is an endlessly recycled false claim that Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be wiped off the map. It is worth noting, Iran's rhetoric towards Israel was far more aggressive during the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini – when Israel happily sold Iran arms. This was when Yitzhak Rabin proudly declared Israel "Iran's best friend". Plainly, it was not so troubled by hostile rhetoric back then.
What is also rarely considered significant is the aggressive posture of the US and Israel towards Iran. For example, Ehud Barak urged that "action must also be considered", as "Those who say 'later' may find that later is too late". Or Israel officials explaining that its deployment of warships is "a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats". Or Joe Biden saying the US wouldn't block an Israeli attack on Iran.
Or US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta making the by now routine US declaration that "all options" remain on the table. Such options were canvassed by Israel's Vice Prime Minister ("Every military facility in Iran can be hit") and its military chief of staff ("be prepared to use" military capabilities if necessary).
When we consider who is facing aggression from whom, we may also compare military spending. Iran's military budget is rather modest in comparison with its adversaries. Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji noted:
in 2005 Iran spent by far the least in its region: approximately five percent as much as Israel, eight percent as much as Saudi Arabia, and less than half as much as Turkey... Iran is not a serious military threat to any country in the region, nor has it upset the regional balance of power. Setting aside the sensationalist rhetoric of Iranian leaders, any realistic look at the Middle East and Iran must conclude that Iran’s military activities are primarily driven by fear and designed to preserve the regime.
It is also worth recalling that the US is occupying two of Iran's neighbours, and has military bases in several countries surrounding Iran.
Unlike Iran, the US and Israel both have nuclear weapons. The US and Israel both have long records of waging aggressive war and bombing numerous countries between them. I wonder if any readers can think of the last time Iran invaded a foreign country.
Israeli fear-mongering about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons goes back decades.
So, a few relevant facts. Firstly, there appears to be no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Panetta: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No." The Israeli intelligence assessment is that Iran "has not yet decided whether to translate these [nuclear] capabilities into a nuclear weapon". The director of US national intelligence, James Clapper, said "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons".
If they got nuclear weapons, Ehud Barak doubted they would "drop it in the neighbourhood ... They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not totally crazy. They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process, and they understand reality." Similarly, the Defense Intelligence Agency "assesses Iran as unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict".
Given the constant threats against Iran from both the world and region's superpower, it is not hard to imagine why it might seek nuclear weapons. Strangely enough, Barak was asked if he was Iran, "wouldn't you want a nuclear weapon?" He replied: "Probably, probably. I know, it's not -- I don't delude myself that they are doing it just because of Israel ... They look around, they see the Indians are nuclear, the Chinese are nuclear, Pakistan is nuclear ... not to mention the Russians."
The Arab world, even with its state controlled media with pervasive anti-Shiite sectarian agitation, has not been subject to the same kind of propaganda as the West and Israel. The results can be seen in a survey of Arab public opinion. It found in 2010 that 77 percent agreed Iran "has the right to its nuclear program". 57 percent thought the region would benefit even if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. 88 percent regarded Israel as the "biggest threat", followed by 77 percent for the US.
The most appalling spectacle in this propaganda campaign has been the brazen use of the Holocaust by the Israeli government to support its demonisation of Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu declared "We will not allow the Holocaust deniers to carry out another Holocaust against the Jewish people." President Shimon Peres explained that "after being subjected to the Holocaust, we cannot close our eyes in light of the grave danger emerging from Iran". Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said that "This time [Hitler] has a beard and speaks Persian".
To try to use the Holocaust as a political weapon, to justify yet another war of aggression, is obscene beyond belief. There are many reasons to be critical of Iran's system of government. No one should want to see any country with nuclear weapons, let alone a new one.
However, to resolve the conflict between Iran, the West and Israel requires a more sober look at the underlying roots of the conflict, the precise role we have played, and the real reasons for doing so. Such a look is deeply revealing, and not very gratifying. However, as the calls to war grow louder, this kind of honesty is becoming increasingly urgent.Michael Brull is studying a Juris Doctor at UNSW. He tweets at @mikeb476. View his full profile