Interview: Iran, War, and Sanctions
Interview conducted by Znet; reprinted with permission
UK based professor Abbas
Edalat is a founding member of the newly formed Campaign against Sanctions and
Intervention in Iran (CASMII). He recently travelled
to the US and spoke at MIT
and San Francisco regarding the coming
hostilities against Iran. He participated in the
following Q and A with ZNet's Foaad Khosmood.
Iran has been at odds with
States since the 1979 revolution. It has also
had tumultuous relations with Europe over the
years. What makes the present time different, in your opinion, to make UN
sanctions or military intervention more likely in the near future?
Abbas Edalat: The western media gives the impression that it
is the comments of the new Iranian president about Israel and Iran's nuclear
program which, in the context of
"war on terror", are the root cause of the present conflict. However, the
truth is quite different. In fact, the anti-Israel and anti-US slogans in
Iran were far more radical in
the earlier days on the revolution in 1979, in the American hostage crisis
1979-80 and during the 8 year Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88 that Saddam with the
backing of the west waged on Iran.
according to all western intelligence Iran is many years away from being
able to develop a nuclear weapon capability even if it does decide to follow
this path, for which there is no evidence at all. Thus none of the propaganda in
the western media can possibly be the root cause of the present conflict and
justify threats of sanctions and the option of military intervention.
need to see the underlying reasons for the situation elsewhere. What is
fundamentally different today compared with the past is that the Bush
administration, dominated by the neoconservatives and their doctrine of the
"Project for the New American Century", has been resolved ever since it came to
power in 2001 to redesign the map of the Middle East and to replace all defiant
regimes in the region with client pro Western states.
Of course, this
has virtually the same motivation that induced the United States to back first the Shah of
Iran, and then Saddam
Hussain, and to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia.
But what has really changed is that the neoconservatives aim to use the military
power of the US to remove any
regime which poses obstacles for them and are prepared to pay a high price for
it in terms of any massive loss in credibility of the US in the world
public and in the western world.
The neoconservatives consider this
strategy as vital for controlling the oil resources in the Middle East and
Central Asia and for dominating these strategic regions in the course of the
present century in face of increasing competition with the growing economic,
political and military power of China. After the invasion and
occupation of Afghanistan and
Iraq, Iran and Syria remain the only two countries which need to
undergo regime change in accord with the neoconservatives' project and clearly
Iran presents a much greater
strategy for a regime change in Iran was spelled out very clearly in President
George W. Bush's State of Union speech in
January 2002 when, in a very dramatic move, he labelled Iran as part of the axis of evil only a few weeks
after Iran had assisted the
US in overthrowing the
Taleban regime in Afghanistan. Indeed,
Iran's reward for assisting
the US in Afghanistan in late 2001 was its designation as
evil by the US president.
attack on Iran was in sharp contrast to the
foreign policy of the Iranian government, headed at the time by President
Mohammad Khatami, who since his first landslide election victory in 1997 had
been promoting Dialogue among Civilizations to resolve conflicts and reach
peaceful co-existence with the West. In this context, the axis of evil
label shows that the current US administration is quite serious about its
desire to enforce a regime change in Iran..
After the invasion of
Iraq the US strategy against Iran continued
unabated. Despite facing a disaster in its occupation of
Iraq, the US has lost no time in preparing the diplomatic
grounds for its broader agenda in Iran. The US diplomatic
offensive has been based on a host of charges against Iran -that Iran is the
principle state in the world for sponsoring terrorism, that it has ties and
co-operation with Al-Qaeda, that it supports the insurgents to destabilize Iraq
and above all that it has a covert nuclear weapons program that makes it a
threat to Israel and the Western world.
These charges are
strikingly reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq invasion and are similarly designed to pave
the road for the ultimate aim of regime change, this time in Iran.
According to two articles by Seymour Hersh, in January 2005 in the New
Yorker, all high ranking officers of the Bush Administration, whom he had
interviewed on the US foreign policy, had stated that Iran is the next target
after Iraq, and that the administration has learned its lessons on the run-up to
the Iraq invasion and this time they would first follow the diplomatic road to
prepare fully the political case for an attack on Iran. Interestingly, the
US administration only challenged the
details of Hersh's revelations but not their essential substance.
in the light of this strategy that we should understand the current massive
diplomatic efforts by the US
to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. It
aims for some sort of UN resolution against uranium enrichment by
Iran followed by UN sanctions
in order to completely isolate Iran as a prelude to a military
FKh: How likely is an actual military offensive? What shape
do you think this action would take? Would Israel be
AE: The probability of a military intervention against
Iran has been steadily rising
since the invasion of Iraq. Whether a military attack will
eventually take place or not will of course depend on the outcome of the
diplomatic battles ahead at the UN Security Council and the strength of the
rising opposition to a new war in the public opinion both internationally and in
the Middle East and Iran.
Given the present
fiasco in Iraq, it is
unlikely that massive US
ground troops will be employed for a full invasion of Iran, a country four times larger with a
population three time bigger than Iraq. What is more likely at
least in the short and medium term is a military assault on Iranian nuclear
plants as well as military and strategic sites.
Israel is likely
to be involved in such an operation. Let's go over these points in more detail.
The US and Israel leaders have openly and repeatedly threatened military
action on Iran in the past few years and there has been a massive escalation of
these threats in the past few months which amongst other things desensitize and
prepare the world public opinion for any eventual military attack.
significantly and most recently, the Sunday Times on December 11th last year
revealed that Prime Minster Sharon has instructed Israel air force to prepare itself for a major
military attack against Iran
before the end of March 2006, when the elections are due in Israel.
the present leader of Likud party in Israel, warned last year that if prime minister
Sharon does not destroy Iran's nuclear plants, he would make
sure that this is carried out if he comes to power in the March elections.
The crucial issue here is to understand that the intention of the
US is regime change in
Iran and that a number of options
have been planned and to some extent are being carried out. Unmanned US drones
have already been flying into Iranian air space for mapping Iranian radar
systems and spying over military facilities; in October last year Iran
complained about these illegal acts to the UN, stating that two such drones had
come down some one over a hundred miles inside Iran.
There have also
been various reports about CIA's activities to foment national, ethnic and
religious conflicts inside Iran, which, given the historically unresolved
problem of oppression of national and religious minorities in the county, seems
to occupy one of the main strategies of the US to
destabilize the Islamic Republic.
Then there is the report by Philip
Giraldi, an ex-CIA officer, in the August 2005 issue of the American
Conservative which reveals that Vice President Dick Cheney has instructed
Pentagon to prepare itself for a massive air assault against some 450 sites in
Iran if a second 9/11 event takes place in the US. Alarmingly, the plans for the
air assault is reported to include the use of tactical nuclear strikes against
the fortified Iranian nuclear plants which are deep underground. This scenario
would decisively break a 60 year taboo in the West on using nuclear
Giraldi's report, unchallenged by the Bush administration,
should be taken very seriously by the anti-war and peace movement all around the
world in particular in the light of the latest videotape by Ben Laden who has
pledged a new attack against the US.
In recent days,
President Chirac of France
has also caused a bombshell by threatening to retaliate with nuclear strikes
against any state found to be responsible for a terrorist attack on
Iran pose a nuclear threat to
the United States,
Israel or other countries?
AE: The fact is that objectively Iran is not a threat to the US or Israel since its military power is negligible
compared even to Israel let
alone the US. Iran today has
far less tanks and about a third of the defence budget it had at the time of the
Its air force is based on the obsolete US made fighters
purchased by the Shah's regime some 30 years ago. What is more significant
is that Iran has not threatened or invaded
any countries essentially for a few centuries. Even when the Taleban regime
murdered nine Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998, Iran chose not
to take any military action despite the fact that the Taleban regime, which was
internationally isolated, remained unapologetic.
FKh: Media reports
in the United States often convey an assumption that the Iranian regime plans to
attack Israel and Mr. Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel remarks about "wiping out," etc.
are often cited as evidence. This often bolsters the argument that a nuclear
Iran is "unacceptable." What are your
own thoughts on the matter?
AE: I think Ahmadinejad's controversial
statements on Israel are
essentially aimed at winning popular support in Iran and in the Muslim world for bolstering his
base in Iran vis-à-vis his powerful rivals in
the Islamic regime such as Rafsanjani.
I think it is also very clear to
the west and to Israel that such rhetorical language have been used in Friday
prayers ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, that there is no threat let
alone any intention behind Ahmadinejad's rhetoric.
Iran, which according to western intelligence is
many years away from building a bomb assuming that it does intend to pursue such
a goal, is objectively in no way a threat to Israel which is
estimated to have currently some 200 nuclear warheads.
What of course is
true is that Ahmadinejad's statements have been playing into the hands of
Israel and the
US who have fully exploited
them to isolate Iran in their preparation for a
FKh: Why do you believe the nuclear issue has become
so important to the clerical leadership in Iran?
AE: The nuclear issue has become a major national issue of vital
importance to the great majority of Iranian people and not just the clerical
leadership. At the heart of the issue is Iran's
inalienable right as a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to
develop a civilian nuclear technology for generating electricity for
its growing population of 70 million.
The US and
Iran of having a covert nuclear
weapons program. However, numerous intrusive and snap visits by the inspectors
of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which Iran allowed for over two years by voluntarily
adopting to the NPT Additional Protocol, have failed to provide any shred of
evidence that Iran has a weaponization
In fact, according to the CIA Iran is at least 10 years away
from developing a nuclear bomb, which in itself falsifies the
US accusations that
Iran has currently a nuclear weapons
voluntarily suspended all uranium enrichment related activity during the course
of negotiations with France,
Germany and the
UK (EU-3) since October 2003.
However, under the US pressure as the back seat driver of the Europeans in these
negotiations, EU-3 consistently refused to accept Iran's right under NPT to
enrich uranium to the level required for a civilian program and insisted that
Iran should permanently forfeit this national right, which can only be regarded
an affront to any sovereign country.
No wonder that over 80% of Iranians
in several opinion polls have defended Iran's position to enrich uranium for
peaceful nuclear technology. This is a crucial national issue: no Iranian
government would be able to easily bend under western pressure to abandon
Iran's right under NPT.
FKh: What are the basis for the call by the US and the EU-3 for Iran's referral
to the UN Security Council?
AE: In fact, US and EU-3's call for
Iran to be referred to the UN
Security Council has no grounds in international law. According to the Paris agreement of November 2004, the EU-3 formally
reconfirmed that Iran's moratorium was "a voluntary
confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation." Under the
watchful eyes of the IAEA, Iran removed the seals on its nuclear plant in
Natanz early in January when the negotiations with EU-e failed as a result of
their insistence that Iran gives up its right for
Since the moratorium observed by Iran was not
legally binding as recognised in the Paris Agreement, the resumption of
scientific nuclear research in the nuclear plant in Natanz gives no legal
grounds for a referral to the UN Security Council.
Iran does get referred to the
Security Council, how likely is it that some sort of military approach would be
"blessed" by that body?
AE: It is highly unlikely that
China will ever agree on a UN
Security Council resolution against Iran which could be interpreted to
justify military action in some future date. What is more likely to happen is
that the US will try very hard to get initially some UN Security Resolution to
call on Iran to halt its enrichment related activities and to accept the
additional protocol for inspections so that pressure on Iran is gradually built
up if Iran refuses to comply.
The Iranian parliament has already passed
a resolution which obliges the government to abandon its voluntary adherence to
the additional protocols if Iran does get referred to the
Security Council. Thus, any referral will most likely lead to a sharp escalation
of the conflict.
This could eventually lead to a stand-off at the UN
Security Council with Russia
and China refusing to agree
on any resolution with any hint of a possible military attack in the event of
non-compliance by Iran.
US can replay its strategy in
the run-up to the war in Iraq
and justify a military attack against Iran by "rising to its responsibility" with its
allies to defend the "security of the US and its allies." The bottom line
is that the US position which
denies Iran's right for
enrichment and Iran's position to defend this right
are irreconcilable and can only lead to a major confrontation.
How likely are UN-approved sanctions? What form could they take?
In the short term there is little likelihood of any UN sanctions as
China will certainly veto them. In
the medium term, the West can only hope that Russia and China may agree not veto some kind of "smart" or
"targeted" sanctions: e.g. confiscation of Iran's assets
outside the country or travel restrictions for Iranian leaders and diplomats.
Only if the West can get Russia and China on board
on such sanctions, there may eventually be a possibility of economic sanctions.
It is more likely that as a result of resistance by Russia and China for any UN Security Council resolution on
Iran, the US will put pressure on the EU to put some sort
of smart sanctions against Iran. That in itself would be another
victory for the US war drive
What is important here
is to recognize that smart sanctions will only be an intermediary stage for
either wider economic sanctions at a later stage or for facilitating a later
stand-off at the UN Security Council for a military attack against
existing strict US sanctions
on Iran, what will be the effect of
additional UN sanctions on the Iranian society?
AE: The existing US
sanctions have not had any noticeable effect on the every day life of ordinary
people in Iran but have certainly slowed down the process of evolving into a
more open society: It has severely restricted scientific and cultural exchange
between Iran and the US and has significantly retarded the spread and use of
Information and Communication Technology in particular the Internet in a country
which has over 70% of its population under the age of 30 and which in the past
few years has had the highest ratio of female to male university students in the
However, the first major consequence of any economic sanctions,
even any confiscation of Iran's foreign assets, is likely to
be massive popular anger and resentment against the West, a likelihood that the
European leaders are quite aware of.
Long term economic sanctions would
definitely result in misery and death for ordinary people as they did in
Iraq but they would most probably
fail to turn the Iranian people against the regime. On the contrary it is quite
possible that, notwithstanding an increase in defiance by some sections of the
population against the government and notwithstanding any further curtailment of
freedom of press and other democratic rights, the regime will overall become
strengthened in its political control over
the population in its efforts to
withstand the "Western aggression against the Islamic nation".
Does the Iranian exile community support western action against
Iran? If yes, to what extend? War?
Sanctions? Regime Change?
AE: A minority of Iranian expatriates
would support some sort of western action for example "smart sanction" on
Iran. This stems from their
resentment against the Iranian regime rather than on the basis of any
understanding of the international legal issues involved or any understanding of
Iran's national right.
dangerous logic of the belief that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" leads a
smaller minority of Iranian expatriates to even support sanctions on
Iran against the interests of the
overwhelming majority of people in the country. I do not know of any
Iranian groups who would be naïve enough to openly advocate a military attack on
Iran or a regime change enforced by
the West even if they secretly wish such outcomes.
FKh: Many of the
more well-known of the exiled opposition groups -such as monarchists and MKO
(Mujahedeen Khlagh Organization)- have consistently opposed any dialog with the
Islamic Republic in order to de-legitimize and isolate the Iranian government.
What are the merits of this strategy? If war and sanctions are to be averted,
communication with the Iranian side seems almost necessary. How do you respond?
AE: The fact is that the monarchists and MKO have long been
completely out of touch with the Iranian people amongst whom they have no base
As I have already pointed out opinion polls show that a
great majority of the people of Iran, including a majority of those who otherwise
oppose the regime, defend Iran's right for a civilian nuclear technology
and side with Iran against the west on this issue.
It is thus simply irrational to oppose dialogue with the regime which on
this issue has the backing of a majority of the Iranian people. The western
leaders are aware of this reality, which puts them at a dilemma what course of
action to follow so as not to turn Iranians into supporting the regime.
What the Iranian people need now is to express their defence of Iran's
national right for a civilian nuclear technology by organizing themselves
independent of the government against the threats of sanctions and military
intervention and at the same time; independent of the west, demand freedom of
press, freedom for political prisoners, respect for human rights, an independent
judiciary and an end to oppression of women, national and religious minorities.
These demands represent key historical tasks, which are all vital to
building an effective, broad based united front of all Iranian people against
FKh: What about Iranians living US and
Europe? What is the most effective way to
oppose sanctions and military action against Iran?
I think the first task for all those who oppose sanctions and
military intervention -Iranian or otherwise- is to organise themselves in a
campaign and express their collective voice in a systematic and united manner.
The Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII), which
is now also established in the US, is a first step in this
CASMII aims to systematically respond to biased and distorted
articles in the media against Iran, to mobilize opposition in the
Iraq anti-war movement
against any attack on Iran
and finally to lobby representatives in the US congress and the Senate against the war drive
FKh: Do you or
CASMII receive any funding from the Iranian or any other government for this
work? What is the chief source of funding for your activities?
CASMII is an independent campaign organisation which receives no
funding from the Iranian or any other government. Our funding in the
UK has so far come completely from
membership fees and individual donations. We intend however to seek funds from
NGO's who promote peace and international cultural exchange.
Ph.D. is Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics at Imperial College
London, UK. He is a founding member of the
Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran. (www.campaigniran.org)
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