Iran: Image v. Reality
By Jane Powers
In September, Obama told the UN General Assembly that “a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” and that “it would threaten the elimination of Israel.” This is interesting, given that it’s completely false. Iran poses absolutely no credible threat towards Israel. Rather, Israel and the US pose grave threats towards Iran. The contrast between the US governments position and the facts is great, yet unsurprising. Consider the following:
The degree to which one country represents a threat towards another country can be assessed on two grounds: words and actions. In terms of words, Iran has not offered any substantial threats towards Israel or the US. The issue of Iran’s declarations to “wipe Israel off the map” turned out to be nothing more than a lie. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was actually quoting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and didn’t even use the words “wipe,” “map,” or even “Israel. ” Rather, he was foreseeing the end of “the regime occupying Jerusalem.” A difference equivalent to wishing the end of the Bush Administration versus wiping the US off the map. It is interesting how little coverage there was when, last April, the Israeli minister of intelligence and atomic energy conceded that this was a complete mistranslation. Nonetheless, the propaganda campaign continued. Not only did Ahmadinejad not threaten to wipe Israel off any kind of map, but he even told the Washington Post that the “Israeli-Arab conflict should be resolved by allowing the Palestinians to vote the ‘Zionist regime’ out of existence,” and that there was no need for “nuclear weapons, missiles, rockets or destroying people’s homes.”
A country’s past actions are much more significant than the rhetoric a leader uses. However repressive the conditions are inside Iran doesn’t change the fact that it is not an imperialist state. Iran hasn’t invaded another country in centuries, and if Iran does develop nuclear weapons, it is not likely that it would use them on Israel or the US. Therefore, on both grounds- words and action, Iran represents little threat to either Israel or the US.
The threats that Israel and the US are making towards Iran, however, are very serious. At September’s UN General Assembly, Netanyahu declared that if Iran carries its nuclear program past a certain point, which he says Iran is on course to reach by next spring or summer, Israel will need to take military action. The US ambassador assured Netanyahu that all the “necessary preparations” have been made for military action against Iran.
These threats are very serious since they are credible. In the last decade the US has invaded and occupied countries on both sides of Iran. Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons and routinely resorts to violence. To take just a couple recent examples, in 2006 Israel initiated an aerial bombardment in Lebanon, against Hezbollah. The civilian deaths in this conflict were 43 Israelis versus over 1,000 Lebanese. This may seem grossly disproportionate, but it’s nothing compared to the 100 to 1 kill ratio in Israel’s war in Gaza two years later that is better termed a massacre. Amnesty International reported that the Israeli attacks on Gaza “breached the laws of war”:
“The scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were unprecedented. Some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians who took no part in the conflict were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces… More than 3,000 homes were destroyed and some 20,000 damaged in Israeli attacks which reduced entire neighborhoods of Gaza to rubble and left an already dire economic situation in ruins. Much of the destruction was wanton and could not be justified on grounds of ‘military necessity’.”
So while Iran neither verbally threatens Israel, nor has a history of violent interventions in the region, both the US and Israel routinely threaten and invade when it suits their interests.
Israel’s issue with Iran developing nuclear weapons raises one obvious question: why can Israel have nuclear weapons but Iran can’t? Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons and rejects all calls for disarmament. It is one of the few states that have refused to ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Akiva Eldar, an Israeli journalist, writes that “while no one is overseeing Israel’s nuclear activities, Iran is paying a heavy price for its membership in the NPT, including sanctions and even military threats.” Just last month, Israel refused to participate in a conference in Helsinki on making the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone. Israel refers to such talks as “coercion.” This conference was supported by the Arab states and even endorsed by the US.
Considering that the objective threat Israel poses to Iran and the whole region is much greater than the threat Iran poses to anyone, why has Iran been portrayed as the bad guy?
Importantly, Iran has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. Since 1901 this oil was totally monopolized by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British corporation. In 1951 Mohammad Mossadegh came to power and had the dangerous idea that Iran’s oil should be used to benefit the people of Iran. The US media portrayed Mossadegh as a communist sympathizer and according to the New York Times, a dictator. It’s a funny kind of dictatorship when the government has “the backing of 95 to 98 percent” of the people (according to Truman’s ambassador to Iran).
Truman’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles warned Mossadegh could ease the way for a communist takeover in Iran in which “not only would the free world be deprived of the enormous assets represented by Iranian oil production and reserves, but…in short order the other areas of the Middle East, with some sixty percent of the world’s oil reserves, would fall into Communist hands.”
This was all unacceptable. The CIA therefore orchestrated a coup in which Mossadegh was deposed. In his place, the US installed the Shah. This coup was a great success, as American companies were now granted a huge share of Iran’s oil. Things were less optimistic for the Iranian people, however, since they would spend the next few decades living under a brutal dictatorship.
This all changed in 1979 when the Shah was finally overthrown in a popular revolution. The government that emerged was hard-right fundamentalist and slightly bitter towards the West about the previous decades, and refused to follow US orders. Through the 1980s, the US supported Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran War, a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, in part to drain Iran of its regional clout.
Now, Iran takes an independent course. It supports groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and insurgents in Afghanistan fighting the US occupation. Because of its independent course, Iran represents a threat to US interests in the Middle East, that is, total US domination, and therefore needs to be eliminated in the eyes of US state planners. As Obama’s patron Bill Clinton once candidly said, the US reserves the right to “unilateral use of military power” to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.” In short, putting Iran back in its place has been high on the agenda since 1979.
This is why the US has recently increased the number of troops stationed in the Gulf States (40,000 in the region). When the US pulled troops out of Iraq, many just crossed the border to Kuwait.
Additionally, the US has trained groups like the Mujahideen-e-Khalq for the better part of the last decade. The M.E.K. is an Islamist group that advocates the overthrow of the Iranian Government. The M.E.K. also happened to be on the official US terrorist list while they were trained in a counter intelligence training facility sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas. Since 2007, the M.E.K. has assassinated five Iranian nuclear scientists with Mossad funding and US intelligence support. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the M.E.K. off the terrorist list. In 2007, Congress agreed to spend up to four hundred million dollars on covert operations against Iran aimed to “destabilize the country’s religious leadership” according to the New Yorker. Such operations included funding the Jundallah, a Baluchi militant group (also on the US terrorist list) that has been carrying out bloody attacks inside Iran since it formed in 2003.
And this is why the US has recently imposed sanctions on Iran that are designed to “take the food out of the mouths of the [Iranian] citizens,” (as described by US Senator Mark Kirk). The Washington Post quoted a US official saying that the purpose of the sanctions is to “create hate and discontent at the street level so that the Iranian leaders realize that they need to change their ways,” and start taking US orders. These sanctions have recently had devastating effects on the Iranian economy. Iranian oil exports are down 50 percent, the Iranian currency has fallen by 40 percent, and food prices have sky rocketed.
Considering these facts, Iran’s nuclear program is a convenient pretext for continued US aggression towards Iran. If the US was really concerned about nuclear non-proliferation it would sanction Israel, the true regional threat. Iran represents little threat towards Israel or the region; it just made the fatal mistake of taking an independent course.