Friday, September 19, 2008

Iran's Conundrum


Iran's Conundrum
Published: September 19, 2008

Commentary by William O. Beeman: The world is caught in distress over economics, but the danger of an armed attack on Iran continues. As Cesar Celala accurately points out, Iran poses no real danger to either the United States or Israel, but is itself under siege. Unfortunately Iran has become the universal bogeyman for American politicians in this election year--a matter that favors political extremists such as the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is relentless in its call for action against Iran. The likely new Israeli prime minister, Tzipi Livni, is more moderate than her predecessors, having last year confided in private talks that Iran was not an existential danger to Israel. In the course of the campaign for leadership of the Kadima Party, she became more hawkish in her public statements. Iranian presidential elections take place in 2009. With the leaders of the United States, Iran and Israel changing, a new day could dawn on Middle East relations, if only the world can survive the Bush/Cheney presidency.

The pressures for both the U.S. and Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities have received an additional impetus from two recent House and Senate resolutions. According to William O. Beeman, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, there is tremendous danger in two almost identical resolutions in the House and Senate calling upon U.S. President George W. Bush to "immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities."

While the House resolution calls for "stringent inspection requirements," the Senate resolution calls for an embargo of refined petroleum products to Iran, which lacks the facilities to process it itself. To achieve both goals would require a naval blockade, in itself an act of war. As Professor Beeman states, days before both resolution were introduced, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued a memo outlining the measures that should be taken to increase pressure on Iran in a language that mirrors both resolutions.

Russian government sources acknowledge that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has already approved the sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran. This only adds fuel to an already dangerous situation, since these missiles could greatly improve Iranian defenses against air strikes aimed at the country's strategically important sites, including its nuclear facilities.

One of the main alleged reasons for attacking Iran is that it threatens Israel's survival. However, neither Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nor Iran's leadership ignore that any Iranian attack on Israel would exact not only massive retaliation from Israel itself but also from the U.S. Such a massive counterattack would provoke huge losses in human lives and it would devastate Iran's infrastructure and its weapons' facilities, a fact that Iran's leaders cannot ignore. Are we to believe that their thinking is as sinister and irresponsible as to face those risks that threaten their country's own existence?

In addition, Thomas Fingar, a top U.S. government intelligence analyst, confirmed recently that Iran's work on the "weaponization portion" of its nuclear development program was in effect suspended in 2003, as indicated by the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007.

As aggressive as President Ahmadinejad is in his pronouncements against Israel, he is not the deciding voice in Iran. Scott Ritter, the United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq has pointed out, "Ahmadinejad does not make foreign policy decisions on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the sole purview of the 'Supreme Leader,' the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2003 Khamenei initiated a diplomatic outreach to the United States inclusive of an offer to recognize Israel's right to exist. This initiative was rejected by the United States."

Ahmadinejad's irresponsible personal statements are no justification for the tremendous consequences of an attack on Iran. After all, irresponsible statements are not the unique domain of Iranians. President Bush labeling Iran part of an "axis of evil" is just one of many ugly -- and unnecessary -- characterizations of that country. Almost no week passes by without some unwarranted threat to Iran from a U.S. politician.

Recently, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, when informed that U.S. exports to Iran had grown more than tenfold during President Bush's years in office, including $158 million worth of cigarettes, commented, "Maybe that's a way of killing them." Although he was quick to add that he was joking, this is not a comment one would expect from a presidential candidate at a time of high tensions with that country.

And Barack Obama, not to be upstaged by Senator McCain, recently declared when asked about Iran's possession of nuclear weapons, "It's sufficient to say I would not take military action off the table and that I will never hesitate to use our military force in order to protect the homeland and the United States' interests."

The U.S. claim that Iran is a danger to its security and to the security of the world doesn't hold under scrutiny. The Iranian government states that it is the U.S., not them, that has acted aggressively, and point not only to the U.S. supporting Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war but to the U.S. actions to subvert democracy in their country. In 1953, the CIA engineered a coup d'etat that overthrew the government of one of Iran's greatest leaders, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, after he nationalized Iran's oil industry. As Ghasem Ebrahimian, an Iranian filmmaker told me recently in New York, "We Iranians are tired of war. We went through a terrible, unnecessary, wearing war with Iraq and the only thing we want is to live in peace with everybody."

Iran is now a country under siege, and it is reacting as such. It is surrounded by countries with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to the east, Russia to the north, Israel to the west and the U.S. in the Persian Gulf. This is not a situation that brings them a sense of security. The Bush administration has so far refused to offer Iran the possibility of improved relations or to provide that country with the security guarantees that Iran demands.

Although the initial talks with Iran intended to make Iran halt its nuclear program have ended in a stalemate, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said relations with the U.S. could be restored in the future. Rather than persisting on an antagonistic behavior, the U.S. should start to defuse tensions with that country, at a time when the world is desperate for peace and security.


Dr. Cesar Chelala, a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, is the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia.)