(This has been cross-posted from Jonathan’s blog, Passing Nightmare.)
If you’re a casual observer of the mainstream news agenda, you’ll likely know two things about Iran. Firstly, that they wish to acquire (or may have already acquired) nuclear weapons and secondly, they are predisposed to launching a war with Israel and other nations with close ties to the west. Furthermore, we are told that Iran is run by a cabal of psychotic “mad mullahs”, representing an immediate threat to both the Middle-East and to the west as a whole.
The problem with this specific view of Iran is that it simply isn’t grounded in reality. This pattern of demonisation follows closely the now textbook example unleashed by the west against Iraq during the build up to war in 2003, only in the case of Iran, this is taking place somewhat in slow motion.
This week saw the unveiling by the US of an Iranian-backed “terror plot” to kill a Saudi ambassador on American soil, in what Hilary Clinton called “a dangerous escalation of the Iranian Government’s longstanding use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism”.
Putting aside the hilarious hypocrisy of the United States then chastising another nation for a “flagrant violation” of international law, something they themselves engage in on a regular basis, what truth is there to these accusations?
Whilst this plot itself may in fact have be real, it’s difficult to accept claims that Iranian government were directly involved, as Glenn Greenwald notes:
The most difficult challenge in writing about the Iranian Terror Plot unveiled yesterday is to take it seriously enough to analyze it. Iranian Muslims in the Quds Force sending marauding bands of Mexican drug cartel assassins onto sacred American soil to commit Terrorism — against Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel — is what Bill Kristol and John Bolton would feverishly dream up while dropping acid and madly cackling at the possibility that they could get someone to believe it.
Other experienced voices have also commented on the sheer absurdity of the allegations:
It is difficult to believe that [Iran] would rely on a non-Islamic criminal gang to carry out this most sensitive of all possible missions. In this instance, they allegedly relied on at least one amateur and a Mexican criminal drug gang that is known to be riddled with both Mexican and U.S. intelligence agents. … Whatever else may be Iran’s failings, they are not noted for utter disregard of the most basic intelligence tradecraft.
Gary Sick (Iran expert and former National Security Council official)
In a somewhat rare departure for the western mainstream media, these claims prompted a fairly sizeable amount of skepticism, proof perhaps that the US has been beating the drums of war a little too enthusiastically on this particular occasion.
In the Independent, Patrick Cockburn stated that the “bizarre plot goes against all that is known of Iran’s intelligence service”, whilst Channel 4 News quoted heavily from a deeply skeptical Richard Dalton, associate fellow at the Chatham House. In his discussion, Dalton even went as far as to say say that he couldn’t rule out the possibility that “the whole thing has been made up to demonise Iran”.
Reaction was much the same in Australia, where ABC News interviewed ex-CIA intelligence analyst Robert Baer, who warned the Obama administration that they were “dangerously wrong” in blaming the Iranian regime for the plot.
As I mentioned earlier, these allegations are the latest in a long line of tall tales emerging from the west, particularly from the US. In my review of the film Countdown to Zero – written in July – I discussed the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme. I dismissed much of this as fiction and quoted Seymour Hersh’s analysis:
The two most recent National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003. Yet Iran is heavily invested in nuclear technology. In the past four years, it has tripled the number of centrifuges in operation at its main enrichment facility at Natanz, which is buried deep underground. International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) inspectors have expressed frustration with Iran’s level of cooperation, but have been unable to find any evidence suggesting that enriched uranium has been diverted to an illicit weapons program.
A previous assessment, issued in 2007, created consternation and anger inside the Bush Administration and in Congress by concluding, “with high confidence,” that Iran had halted its nascent nuclear-weapons program in 2003.
Iran and the Bomb – Seymour M. Hersh (6th June 2011)
I also compared the mainstream coverage of Iran with that of Israel, whose sizeable and secretive nuclear weapons programme, which actually does exist, prompts almost no discussion – and certainly no condemnation – from world leaders.
Even though this article does not focus specifically on life within Iran itself, I think it’s important at this point, to avoid any accusations of defending the Iranian regime, to briefly discuss life in Iran and why the media coverage matters.
Amnesty International’s latest report on Iran, released earlier this year, documents a horrific set of human rights abuses taking place, including arbitrary arrests, torture and executions, along with various forms of discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.
These abuses must be strongly condemned at every possible opportunity, and pressure should be applied on the regime to reform and to allow full democracy with true freedom and human rights for all citizens.
However – returning to my initial comparisons – much of this could also have been said about the pre-2003 Saddam regime, yet I think we can all agree that the similar demonisation of Iraq (which many forget began way before 2003 with the sanctions regime of the 1990s) along with the subsequent attack on the country by a western coalition was a colossal mistake, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and destruction of infrastructure, leaving the country arguably no safer than it was under Saddam.
As I say, human rights concerns in Iran are doubtless very serious and should be tackled, though here again we can notice a double standard emerge, Saudi Arabian citizens experience human rights abuses on a scale certainly equalling that of Iran, yet obviously no one would dare suggest sanctions or foreign intervention against the Saudi Royal family based on these.
These latest allegations are quickly being utilised as an excuse for further diplomatic action against Iran. Earlier this week, Democracy Now reported on how the US was planning to push for new sanctions in the aftermath of the thwarted terror plot.
The Obama administration is calling for intensified international sanctions on Iran in the wake of its allegations the Iranian government plotted to carry out an attack inside the United States. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to rule out the use of military force on Iran, but said the United States will press for sanctions.
Additionally, in a rather bizarre development to the recent Liam Fox scandal, the Sunday papers reported yesterday that Adam Werritty (as part of his “unofficial advisor” role) had become involved in an ‘audacious plot to topple Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’. This apparently included high-level meetings with Israeli officials who, the Independent claims, believed Werritty to be Fox’s chief of staff. Further evidence of the increasingly secretive, hawkish and neo-conservative foreign policy developing in the west with regard to Iran.
It is still not clear if and when an attack on Iran could take place – and indeed who would carry it out – but so long as the pressure is kept up, this could theoretically happen at any point, under any government.
We must not allow ourselves to be psychologically conditioned for yet another Middle-East war for oil. It’s often said that if you throw enough shit, some sticks. In the case of Iran, we must not allow it to.
You can read more from Jonathan at his blog, Passing Nightmare.