Editor's note: Abbas Edalat is the founder of CASMII and Professor of Computer Science and Matheamtics at Imperial College London. He is interviewed by Oscar Dahlston for Felix the student newspaper of Imperial College London.
Felix: In brief, what
compels you to undertake this campaign against sanctions and military
intervention in Iran?
Abbas Edalat: The Iran-US standoff at the present time has a shocking resemblance to the run-up to the US led invasion of Iraq. The same Neo-conservatives and hawks headed by Dick Cheney in Washington who championed the cause of invasion of Iraq that has brought the current catastrophe for the people of that country are now shamelessly calling for a military attack on Iran. The same Israeli lobby which pushed for the invasion of Iraq is now pushing for attacking Iran. The same strategy of lies and distortions which was used to dupe the international community and soften it up for the invasion of Iraq is again used to pave the way for another illegal pre-emptive war of aggression against Iran.
You only need to replace Saddam’s non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction with Iran’s fantasy nuclear weapons program and bear in mind that “links with Al Qaeda” and “support for terrorism” are levelled against Iran as were against the Saddam regime to get the exact sense of déjà vu. The UN Security Council resolutions, obtained by US political coercion and economic bribery, also play an exactly similar role, namely to provide a veneer of legitimacy for a criminal and illegal act of aggression. What is now of course new is that Iran is, on top of all these things, blamed for the failure of the US in Iraq, which furnishes a new pretext for justifying aggression.
The real motivation for the US is neither Iran’s nuclear programme nor its role in Iraq and fantasy links with Al Qaeda. The hawks in the US administration are resolved for a regime change in Iran in accordance with the Neo-conservative Project for the New American Century which aims to use the might of the US military power to replace defiant regimes in the Middle East with pro-US regimes to establish her control of energy resources and power in the region.
The US has mobilized a massive armada in the Persian Gulf threatening Iran with military action. We need urgent mass action to prevent a new catastrophe in the region which will dwarf what we see in Iraq. Only mass mobilization can prevent this happening in the next 22 months that Bush will be in office.
Felix: Why does Iran need a nuclear program, given that it has so much oil?
AE: You should ask Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz who under President Gerald Ford successfully persuaded the Shah of Iran in 1970’s that his country needed a large nuclear programme with over twenty nuclear reactors for energy production. You see a great amount of hypocrisy here in the Western media. The truth of the matter is that Iran’s oil resources are depleting fast. In fact, Iran is spending billions of dollars a year to import petrol for internal consumption as its refineries were destroyed by the Saddam regime thanks to the support he received from the West for his 8 year war on Iran. As a developing country, Iran’s strategy is to sell its oil so as to be able to develop its basic and hi-tech industries and use nuclear power to generate its internal energy needs for a growing population of over 70 million. This is a perfectly rational and cost effective strategy.
Felix: Do you believe the
Iranian leadership's claim that they are only intent
on nuclear energy? Do you think that the crowds who show up on
demonstrations in favour of the nuclear program in Iran tend to believe this
claim, or are they hoping that Iran will secretly acquire nuclear weapons
through this program?
AE: I do believe that the Iranian leadership is only intent on nuclear energy. There is a fatwa, a religious decree, by Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, who is the highest authority in Iran, against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons which are declared un-Islamic. The Western media, which often condemn the Iranian political system as theocratic, conveniently fail to let the western public know about this fatwa. The crowds which show up on demonstrations in support of Iran’s nuclear program fundamentally support the supreme leader and therefore his fatwa.
The Iranian army and civilians greatly suffered as victims of Saddam’s chemical bombs, provided to him by US, UK and German companies with the approval of their governments. Over 52,000 individuals in Iran continue to suffer from those chemical bombs, many of whom take part in demonstrations against the west. I believe that these victims and those who march with them are genuinely against all kinds of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons that the US has unrepentantly used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the chemical weapons the US allowed Saddam’s regime to use against Iran.
Felix: Iran's president
Ahmadinejad is reported as having said that Israel should
be 'wiped off the map' and organised a conference for holocaust-deniers. Is
Israel right to feel an existential threat from Iran?
AE: It is a myth that Ahmadinejad has ever said that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. This myth was created first by a mistranslation of the statement Ahmadinejad made and later by its deliberate distortion. What he actually said in October 2005 is that “The Zionist occupying regime of Jerusalem should cease to exist in the page of time”. He has also specifically said in very clear terms that “Israel should go through a regime change in the same way that the Soviet Union went through a regime change.” The Soviet Union of course went through a bloodless regime change. Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on any major state and foreign matter, issued a statement, after the mistranslation of Ahmadinejad, saying that Iran has not and will not threaten any country but that it will defend itself against any aggression. Of course none of this is ever really reported in the western media.
In contrast to Khamenei’s statement
that rules out any threat by Iran against other countries, the Israeli and US
leaders have not just called for a regime change in Iran but have publicly
threatened, in violation of the UN charter, to launch an air assault on Iran and
have been actively planning a regime change by covert military operations inside
Iran to foment ethnic violence and unrest in the country.
It was foolish to organise the Holocaust conference in Tehran; it played right into the hands of warmongers in Israel and Washington. However its objective was not to deny the Holocaust but to investigate how it has been abused to justify the atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinian people.
I am a critic of the Iranian government in terms of its records on human rights, democratic rights and its existing laws and treatment of women, ethnic and religious minorities. However, Iran is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world and the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel, who continue to live in peace with the majority Muslim population and have their own religious establishment, synagogues and members of parliament.
Furthermore, Iran has not invaded or threatened any country for over 250 years. The same cannot be said about the US, the UK and Israel who in the past half of a century alone have waged numerous wars of aggression and occupation.
Another fact hardly ever reported in the west is that, in 2003, with the approval of Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran made a major overture to the US in which she pledged a de facto recognition of the State of Israel and an end to any material support to Hamas and Hezbollah , in exchange for security guarantees and lifting of US sanctions against Iran. The US, having just invaded Iraq and hoping for a regime change in Iran as well, dismissed the overture immediately and reprimanded the Swiss Government for passing the Iranian offer to Washington. .
Thus the threat is not from Iran
against Israel but from Israel and the US against Iran.
Israel has always been its own main enemy, creating the existential threat against itself. By ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, by wars of aggression against its neighbours, by violating over 60 UN resolutions and above all by its forty-year illegal occupation of Palestinian land, Israel has laid the foundation of its own insecurity. This self-imposed existential threat will certainly increase massively if Israel commits the folly of launching a military attack on Iran and can only end if Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestine and reverses its racist policy of ethnic cleansing.
Felix: The Director General of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) says that Iran is not fully complying with a recent UN security council resolution. Why is Iran not doing that?
AE: Iran is exercising its legitimate rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium up to 3 percent grade for a fuel cycle used in generating electricity, which is far short of the 90 percent enriched uranium required for a nuclear bomb. Iran considers the UN Security Council Resolution 1737 requiring Iran to halt its enrichment program as illegitimate since there is no of evidence for a nuclear weapons program in the country.
Iran is put on trial because of the suspicions of some western leaders about the intentions of Iranian leadership. The US is asking Iran to prove a negative, that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons, and for the US “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.
Without any evidence of a nuclear weapons program, the referral of Iran’s nuclear file from the IAEA to the Security Council was politically motivated and illegitimate. On February 15th, Stephen Rademaker, the former US Assistant Secretary for International Security and Non-proliferation confessed that the two crucial votes by India against Iran in the Governors’ Board of the IAEA which led to Iran’s referral to the Security Council were indeed the result of US coercion. Incidentally India, like the other US allies Pakistan and Israel, is not a signatory to the NPT and has developed nuclear bombs which is tolerated and supported by the US..
The main charge by the western leaders is that Iran concealed its nuclear program for some 18 years, but what is never mentioned is what prompted Iran to conceal its program.
In fact, in violation of Article IV of
the NPT, the US in the post-revolution years pressured all western and
non-western governments and companies to cancel their nuclear collaboration
contracts with Iran. Israel bombed and destroyed the Osiraq nuclear plant in
Iraq with impunity. Also Saddam systematically committed war crimes by using
chemical weapons, provided by the west, against Iran with complete impunity,
despite Iran’s protests to the UN. Iranian leaders, as Rafsanjani put it,
concluded that ‘The [Iran-Iraq] war taught us that international laws are
nothing but ink on paper.”.
Iran then decided that the only way to develop its civilian nuclear technology was to conceal it and use the black market. However, Iran has fundamentally met its obligations under the NPT as the IAEA safeguards required Iran to declare its activities in the two nuclear plants in Arak and Natanz only six months before nuclear fuel was going to be introduced there. In 2002, when these nuclear plants were disclosed to the world, Iran was still four years away from any enrichment. The US and EU therefore cannot accuse Iran of concealment without being held responsible themselves for gross violations of the NPT and international law including collusion and complicity in Saddam’s war crimes.
Iran did in fact voluntarily halt its
enrichment program and voluntarily enforced the Additional Protocol of the IAEA
(for inspectors to go anywhere, any time and talk to anyone) as a
confidence-building measure for some two years during its negotiations with the
EU-3 (the UK, France and Germany) in 2003-05. But the US, the back seat driver
in the EU-3 negotiations, insisted that Iran’s right under the NPT for a fuel
cycle be relinquished. That is why the negotiations failed and Iran reversed its
voluntary decision to suspend uranium enrichment early in 2006. Since, as
recognized by the EU-3, the earlier Iranian decision to suspend enrichment was a
voluntary one, its reversal was completely lawful.
Iran has also offered an unprecedented proposal to invite western companies and governments in a joint venture to develop its nuclear program, which together with its pledge in ratifying the Additional Protocol can provide the complete assurances sought by the US and the west that its program will never be diverted to a nuclear weapons program.
But this offer was also immediately
dismissed by the US, which makes one suspect that the US is not after resolving
the Iranian nuclear issue but is seeking a regime change. Iranian leaders now
say that they are standing up for Iran’s national rights under the NPT and are
refusing to be bullied by the US.
We also need to bear in mind that the five permanent members of the Security Council and above all the US are the real violators of the NPT as they have refused, in breach of Article VI, to take any effective steps towards nuclear disarmament. The US has built new generations of nuclear weapons, including the so-called mini-nukes or tactical nuclear weapons, and has declared in the Pentagon’s document “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” that it will even use them “for deterrence” in pre-emptive attacks against non-nuclear countries. Tony Blair’s decision to renew the Trident system is similarly in gross violation of the NPT.
Felix: Is it possible to tailor attacks and sanctions in such a way that
Iranian civilians will not be harmed?
AE: Absolutely not. In Iraq, thirteen years of sanctions before the 2003
invasion, which were supposedly designed against the Saddam regime, resulted in
the death of over one million children alone. The threats of UN sanctions
against Iran have already caused a large flight of capital, economic recession
and massive new unemployment. Sanctions will only hurt the economy and the
Felix: Israel crippled Iraq's nuclear program 25 years ago with an air strike on
its unfinished nuclear reactor at Osiraq. Can a similar military attack
'succeed' against the Iranian program?
AE: Iranian nuclear plants are scattered throughout the country and deeply fortified underground, which makes such conventional attacks impossible to succeed. That is why the US and Israel have been shamelessly considering (according to various sources and reports for example by Seymour Hersh in New Yorker, Philip Giraldi an ex-CIA officer in the American Conservative and more recently in the Sunday Times) to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iranian nuclear plants.
Felix: How would attacks and/or
sanctions affect the human rights situation in
AE: Sanctions, military attacks and even threats by the US will no doubt
strengthen the anti-democratic forces in Iran and roll back all the achievements
of the Iranian civil society in recent years in the area of human rights,
freedom of press and democracy in general. In fact, George Bush’s State of Union
Speech of January 2002 which labelled Iran as part of the axes of evil, only
weeks after the reformist government of the popular President Khatami had
actually assisted the US in overthrowing the Taliban regime, struck a
devastating blow to the Iranian reformists who have lost all elections since
Felix: How would attacks and/or sanctions affect the region?
AE: John McCain, the Republican hopeful for the US presidential elections in
2008 , who supports the military option against Iran to be on the table, was
asked this same question. His answer was simple: Armageddon. In fact, Iran is
three times the size of Iraq and has three times more population with
considerable influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. An attack on
Iran will lead to a full scale war, a major regional conflagration, mass revolts
against pro-US regimes that will deeply destabilize the Middle East further for
decades to come.
Felix: Can you speculate on what exactly Iran would do if attacked?
AE: They can close down the Strait of Hormoz and cut out the flow of oil
from the Persian Gulf, causing a massive rise in the price of oil to 100 or even
200 dollars a barrel causing a major world recession. They can target Israel
with their long-range missiles if Israel first attacks Iran. Iran’s allies in
the region can launch military attacks against the US forces throughout the
region if the attack is led by the US. The US forces in Iraq will be
particularly vulnerable. In retaliation, the US can try to justify using nuclear
weapons against Iran to “save American lives” in the same way they justified
their nuclear attack on Japan.
Felix: What would you recommend world leaders wanting to ensure that Iran does not build nuclear weapons to do?
AE: The US should enter into direct and immediate negotiations with Iran on all issues in dispute without any preconditions. Based on a grand deal that the US should offer, in exchange for security guarantees and lifting of US sanctions against Iran, an agreement can be reached which would provide Western leaders with the assurances they seek that Iran’s nuclear program will not be diverted into a weapons program.
Felix: What is your sense of
the opinion on this issue amongst Iranian exiles
in general? Some Iraqi exiles played a leading role in making the case for
the invasion of Iraq; will we see a similar effort now by some Iranian
AE: The overwhelming majority of Iranians in Diaspora are against any military attack on their country but most of them remain passive and in denial that such an attack is actually possible. It is vital that they stand up with a united voice against another pre-emptive illegal and criminal war of aggression, which will bring a catastrophe for the whole world.
Felix: Thank you for your time.
... Payvand News - 3/17/07 ... --