by Muhammad Sahimi (originally published by Antiwar.com)
Photo: Iranian Ethnic Festival in Gorgan - October 2012
Some of the most important obstacles to the efforts by the War Party in the United States and Israel to gain absolute hegemonic power in the Middle East and create what Condoleezza Rice once called a “new Middle East” have been countries that follow a path that is politically independent of Washington and Tel Aviv. Nations such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein from 1990 until 2003, when his regime was toppled by the U.S., and Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are in this group. Iraq was invaded and occupied after a campaign of lies, deceptions, and exaggerations, and it is unlikely to regain its stature in the Middle East any time soon. The United States, together with its allies in the region, namely, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey, are arming and funding the groups that are fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, groups that include extremists such as the Salafis, Wahhabis, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Western and Israeli strategists believe that Lebanon will come under their control once Iran and Syria are defeated.
Iran, the most important of the trio, has not been destroyed by war or become a client state. The problem with Iran is that it is a large country with a population of 77 million that is young, educated, dynamic, and highly nationalistic. Invading Iran is out of the question, as a recent report by a group of former U.S. diplomats, generals, and admirals acknowledged. Even aerial bombardment of Iran is considered to be extremely dangerous, as many experts believe that it will lead to a long and bloody war in the entire Middle East.
Thus, trying to turn Iran into a client state - one that will carry water for the interests of the U.S. and Israel over its own national interests - through military means is impossible. Iran was a client state during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, but the 1979 Revolution toppled his regime. While crippling sanctions have mostly hurt ordinary - especially sick - Iranians, the War Party and Israel have been trying to find other ways of achieving their goal as well, and one approach that had been discussed for years and is now being seriously pursued is inciting ethnic unrest and creating puppet separatist groups or “liberation movements” in Iran’s provinces where ethnic groups other than Persians make up a significant portion of the population. They include Iran’s two Azerbaijan provinces, Kurdistan, and the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, where a small but significant part of the population is Iranian-Arab.
Iran's ethnoreligious distribution map (see high resolution)
The idea is not new. Princeton University’s Bernard Lewis has written for years about using ethnic groups in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East to break up the region into weak mini-states. In her book, Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity, Brenda Shaffer, the American-Israeli academic, claims that there is no such thing as a unifying collective Iranian identity and advocates separation of Iran’s Azerbaijan and joining it with the Republic of Azerbaijan. Interestingly, the current Republic of Azerbaijan was part of Iran throughout history until the Russian empire separated it from Iran in 1820s. Other academics have also made such bogus claims for years. Several years ago a quote was widely attributed to an aide to Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to which, “Even if Iran becomes a completely democratic state, it would still be too large and a threat to Israel’s security.”
But what has brought the issue to the fore again is the standoff over Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program. The standoff is not really over the possible threat by a nuclear Iran to Israel’s security. Many Israeli leaders have conceded that even if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it will pose no grave danger to their nation. It is a question of hegemony, and an Iran that cannot be attacked because it can develop a nuclear deterrent on a short notice is unacceptable to the U.S. and Israel. Thus, along with the crippling sanctions, the efforts to stir ethnic and separatist tensions along Iran’s western borders began in earnest several years ago.
In 2005, the American Enterprise Institute, the bastion of the neoconservatives, held a conference, “The Unknown Iran: Another Case for Federalism?” which, as usual, was attended by some who claim to represent a portion of the Iranian population. But the conference also provoked wide protests by Iranians. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has been reported as saying that one component of Israel’s plan to confront Iran since 2003 has been stirring up ethnic tensions, which was also confirmed by a U.S. diplomatic cable dated Aug. 17, 2007, that was revealed by WikiLeaks. Seymour Hersh reported in 2006 that U.S. Special Forces have established contacts with some ethnic groups in Iran, in particular the Kurdish terrorist group PJAK, an assertion that he repeated in July 2008. PJAK is in fact the Iranian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party, commonly known as the PKK, which has been fighting the Turkish government for decades. It was widely reported that the George W. Bush administration supported the terrorist group Jundallah, which claims to represent the Baluchi people, operates from Pakistan, and attacks Iranian forces and people in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. Support for the group may have continued under President Obama. It was reported in January that agents of Israel’s Mossad posed as CIA agents to recruit Jundallah members for terrorist operations within Iran. Israel’s IDF agents have been reported to be highly active in Kurdistan part of Iraq, where some small Iranian dissident Kurdish groups have their headquarters. Israel has also established close relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan and is using it to spy on Iran - in addition to have possibly been granted access to an air force base there - where some extremist elements have called for changing the name of the nation to Republic of Northern Azerbaijan, implying that Iran’s Azerbaijan to the south is also part of the Republic.
There have been efforts by Israel’s supporters in Congress as well. In 2009, when she was still in Congress, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) spoke to a gathering of AIPAC, saying, “The Persian population in Iran is not a majority, it is a plurality. There are many different, diverse, and disagreeing populations inside Iran and an obvious strategy, which I believe is a good strategy, is to separate those populations.” The declaration caused deep anger in the Iranian-American community, with thousands of angry emails and phone calls flooding her office, forcing her to retract and apologize for her statement, although it is certainly not clear to me how sincere she was. More recently, another ardent Israel supporter, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced a resolution in the House, urging the Obama administration to support “right of Azeri self-determination,” which also provoked wide anger and protests in the Iranian community in the diaspora. Puppet separatist groups have also sprung up. They have very little, if any, support within Iran, but with the encouragement and support that they receive in the West they pretend to speak for their ethnic groups in Iran. In addition to Jundallah, there is, for example, the International South Azerbaijani Turks’ National Council, presumably emulating the “National Councils” that were formed in Libya and Syria. If it’s not propped up by the U.S., Israel, and their allies, then the “Council” is nothing more than a website and a small group of people residing in the West. Then we have the so-called Al-Ahwaz Arab People’s Democratic Front, a London-based group that seeks to separate the oil province of Khuzestan from Iran and is considered a terrorist organization that has carried out bombing and terrorist operations within Iran. Some believe that the group is supported by the British government. Interestingly, when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Iran through Khuzestan, the Iranian Arabs fought fiercely against the Iraqi army, and, in fact, Rear Adm. Ali Shamkhani, an Iranian Arab, was minister of defense in the administration of former President Mohammad Khatami, and Mohsen Rezaei, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during the war with Iraq, is from Khuzestan.
In August, two Kurdish groups, Komalah and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, issued a joint statement in which they called for the right of “self-determination” and “free elections” for the Kurdish population, widely interpreted as meaning the right to separate from Iran, although the two groups have denied it. Historically, however, the Kurdish people have identified themselves with Iran more than with any other group. The two groups are led, respectively, by Abdollah Mohtadi and Mostafa Hejri, two highly divisive figures even among the Kurdish population without much support. In particular, Hejri has been close to the U.S. neoconservatives. He congratulated George W. Bush when he was re-elected in 2004 and implicitly encouraged him to intervene in Iran, and he recently called for a no-fly zone over Iran’s Kurdistan province, if the government forces attack the people there. The joint statement by Hejri and Mohtadi and the former’s relations with the neoconservatives and European powers provoked protests by many Iranians.
The European Union - which was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - seems to have also joined the efforts to support separatist groups. In July, there was a conference in the building of the French Parliament in which the supposed representatives of Iranian ethnic groups took part, including Hejri, who recently also met with members of the British Parliament. In addition to the aforementioned London-based al-Ahwazi group, the so-called Ahwaz Liberation Organization is based in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and has explicitly called for separating Khuzestan from Iran. Though it claims to represent the people of Khuzestan, it is in fact the remnants of three puppet organizations formed by Iraq, one of which, the so-called Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan, was sponsored by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, as described in Martin Arostegui’s bookTwilight Warriors: Inside the World’s Special Forces.
Let me emphasize that there is no question that successive central governments in Iran have carried out discriminatory policies against Iranian ethnic groups. In addition, rejecting separatist tendencies, which do not even enjoy any significant support among ethnic minorities, does not imply support for the current Iranian government, which is a theocratic dictatorship that has repressed all Iranians, not just minorities. But these are issues for all the Iranian people to decide, not ill-informed American politicians, neoconservatives, or Israelis. The efforts to break Iran up will ultimately fail, as Iran has existed for thousands of years, but they may lead to extensive bloodshed and destruction before Western and Israeli leaders recognize that their policy has failed.
Read more by Muhammad Sahimi
... Payvand News - 10/16/12 ... --