Iran News ...



By Jeffrey Rudolph (April 2010; last update September 2013)

What can possibly justify the relentless U.S. diplomatic (and mainstream media) assault on Iran?

It cannot be argued that Iran is an aggressive state that is dangerous to its neighbors as facts do not support this claim. It cannot be relevant that Iran adheres to Islamic fundamentalism, has a flawed democracy and denies women full western-style civil rights, as Saudi Arabia is more fundamentalist, far less democratic and more oppressive of women yet is a U.S. ally. It cannot be relevant that Iran has, over the years, had a nuclear research program and is most likely pursuing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, as Pakistan, India, Israel and other states are nuclear powers yet remain U.S. allies-indeed, Israel deceived the U.S. while developing its nuclear program.

The answer to the above-posed question is obvious: Iran must be punished for leaving the orbit of U.S. control. Since its Islamic Revolution in 1979 when the Shah was removed, Iran unlike, say, Saudi Arabia acts independently and thus compromises U.S. power in two ways: i) Defiance of U.S. dictates affects the U.S.’s attainment of goals linked to Iran; and, ii) Defiance of U.S. dictates establishes a “bad” example for other countries that may wish to pursue an independent course. The Shah could commit any number of abuses-widespread torture, for example-yet his loyalty to the U.S. exempted him from American condemnation, yet not from the condemnation of the bulk of Iranians who brought him down.

The following quiz is an attempt to introduce more balance into the mainstream discussion of Iran.


1. Is Iran an Arab country?

-No. Alone among the Middle Eastern peoples conquered by the Arabs, the Iranians did not lose their language or their identity. Ethnic Persians make up 60 percent of modern Iran, modern Persian (not Arabic) is the official language, Iran is not a member of the Arab League, and the majority of Iranians are Shiite Muslims while most Arabs are Sunni Muslims. Accordingly, based on language, ancestry and religion, Iran is not an Arab country. article

2. Has Iran launched an aggressive war of conquest against another country since 1900?

-No. According to Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Iran has not launched an aggressive war of conquest for at least 150 years. (Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World, Palgrave Macmillan, New York: 2009, 199. Hereinafter referred to as, Cole.)

“Branded by hard-liners in Washington as an ‘Islamo-fascist’ state that threatens world peace, Iran has in fact not invaded any country since the eighteenth century - in marked contrast to the United States.” (Scott Peterson, Let The Swords Encircle Me: Iran - A Journey Behind The Headlines, Simon & Schuster, New York: 2010, 26. Hereinafter referred to as, Peterson 2010.)

-It should be appreciated that Iran did not start the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. “The war began when Iraq invaded Iran, launching a simultaneous invasion by air and land into Iranian territory on 22 September 1980 following a long history of border disputes, and fears of Shia insurgency among Iraq’s long-suppressed Shia majority influenced by the Iranian Revolution. Iraq was also aiming to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state.” page

It is worth noting that “It was Iraq’s increasingly effective use of chemical weapons that raised Iran’s death toll, using American satellite imagery that pinpointed Iranian troop locations. That deadly arsenal was made with ingredients supplied by American and European companies, its use given a green light from Washington that all methods were acceptable in the fight against [Iran]” (Peterson 2010, 60). While “Iran was subjected to years of chemical attacks, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini...and his associates chose not to weaponize Iran’s stockpiles of chemical agents, a move that would have enabled it to respond in kind. And for years now the Islamic Republic’s highest political and religious authorities have rejected the acquisition and use of nuclear weapons, both on strategic grounds and because, in their view, nuclear weapons violate Islamic morality” (Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Going To Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Metropolitan Books, New York: 2013, 17; hereinafter referred to as, Leverett 2013).

-Iran’s military is designed for defense not offense. “As an April [2012] Pentagon report found, Iran’s defense doctrine remains one of self-defense. Iran’s military capacity, the report notes, is designed specifically to ‘slow an invasion’ and ‘force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.’” article

-While the Iranian regime deserves condemnation for its behavior toward domestic critics, US foreign policy is not determined by a country’s domestic behavior. (For a recent example, consider the US’s support of gross abuses by the Bahrain regime against domestic protesters and activists.) The conflict the US and Israel has with Iran “springs from the exigencies of geopolitics rather than ideology: Iran’s age-old ambition to be recognized as a-or the-regional hegemon versus the determination of the U.S. and Israel to foil its ambition and preserve their regional preeminence. Many informed Israelis freely acknowledge” this reality. For example, according to Eliezer Tsafrir, former head of Israeli intelligence in Iran and Iraq: “However ideological and Islamic, everything Iran was doing was nationalistic, and even similar to the Shah”. (Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, OR Books, New York: 2012, 49.)

According to David Crist, a historian for the US federal government and an advisor on Middle East issues “Hard liners in Iran reject the status quo of American supremacy in the region....While in this conflict the United States remains largely the good guy, it has not always been the perfect guy. Both Bush administrations dismissed Iranian goodwill gestures and refused to accept any dialogue that addressed Iran’s legitimate security concerns. The United States supported Saddam Hussein and his Arab bankrollers in a bloody war against the Islamic Republic that killed several hundred thousand Iranian soldiers. The mantra of regime change remains a frequent slogan in many quarters in Washington. Unfortunately, Iran’s response to these trespasses has invariably been to use the tools of the terrorist: an exploding car bomb on a crowded street or a plot to kill a diplomat in a popular Washington restaurant....Iran’s quest for nuclear technology has heightened the stakes and the tension but it has not been a catalyst for the conflict.” (David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, Penguin Press, New York: 2012, 5, 6. Hereinafter referred to as, Crist.)

3. How many known cases of an Iranian suicide-bomber have there been since 1989?

-Zero. There is not a single known instance of an Iranian suicide-bomber since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988 (Robert Baer, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, Crown Publishers, New York: 2008).

According to Robert Baer, an American author and former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, it is important to understand that Iran used suicide bombers as the ultimate “smart bomb.” In fact there is little difference between an Iranian suicide-bomber and a US marine who rushes a machine-gun nest to meet his certain death. In contrast to Iran which used suicide bombers for tactical military purposes, Sunni extremists use suicide bombing for vague objectives such as to “purify the state.”

-The “most comprehensive, data-based study of suicide terrorism carried out to date determined that there has never been an Iranian suicide bomber. Iranian support for paramilitary groups that the United States considers terrorist organizations or threats to American forces-Hizballah, HAMAS, Shi’a militias in Iraq-has been focused in theaters where the United States, Israel, or Sunni states allied to Washington are seeking to undermine important Iranian interests.” (Leverett 2013, 17-8.)

-Westerners “think of images of demonstrations and chanting crowds and assume (encouraged by our news media) that Iranian Shi’ism is a dangerous, uncontrollable, fanatical force. But in truth the religious hierarchy that Iranian Shi’ism has developed means that religious Iranians are more controlled, more subject to religious discipline and the guidance of senior clerics (most of whom are pragmatic and moderate, and many of whom are out of sympathy with the Islamic regime) than Sunni Muslims, who since the dissolution of the Caliphate in the 1920s have lacked that kind of structure. Some experts have pointed to that lack as a factor in the rise of radical, theologically incoherent groups like Al-Qaeda....An important strand of Iranian Shi’ism is a traditional quietist principle that commends decent, honest conduct and the patient endurance of adversity.” (Michael Axworthy, Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic, Penguin Books, New York: 2013, xxi. Hereinafter referred to as, Axworthy 2013.)

4. What was Iran’s defense spending in 2011?

-Approximately $13 billion. “Iran spends only about 20 percent of the amount allocated by the six sheikhdoms in the Gulf Cooperation Council - a consistent trend since the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988.” resource

5. What was the U.S.’s defense spending in 2011?

-Approximately $700 billion article). US defence spending “is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined” ( article).

-It should be noted that there is very little doubt that Israel could defeat Iran in a conventional war in mere hours (Cole, 206-7). “Israel’s defense budget easily exceeds those of its four immediate neighbors combined; it is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of arms...” (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 4. Hereinafter referred to as, Beinart).

-Incidentally, despite having spent “nearly eight trillion” dollars on nuclear weapons “in the last half of the twentieth century,” the US “admits to having lost track of eleven nuclear bombs over the years.” Nearly all were later accounted for. (Rachel Maddow, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Crown Publishers, New York: 2012, 219 and 231.)

6. What is the Jewish population of Iran?

-25,000. It is one of the many paradoxes of the Islamic Republic of Iran that this anti-Israeli country supports by far the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, thousands of Jews left for Israel, Western Europe or the U.S. fearing persecution. But Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s first post-revolutionary supreme leader, issued a fatwa upon his return from exile in Paris decreeing that Jews and other religious minorities were to be protected thus reducing the outflow of Iran’s Jews to a trickle.

-The Jewish community in Iran dates back over 2000 years, continues to run kosher shops, Hebrew schools and synagogues, and has guaranteed representation in parliament. article

-The Islamic Republic, while anti-Zionist, is not anti-Semitic as manifested in its treatment of Iran’s Jewish community. (Being opposed to the policies of the state of Israel is not the same as being anti-Jewish.) “In 2006, the head of the [Jewish] community criticized-with impunity-Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric about the Holocaust in an open letter distributed to Iranian and international media.” “Although a sizable portion of Iran’s Jewish community left the country immediately after the revolution, Iranian Jews have in recent years overwhelmingly rejected financial incentives-almost $10,000 per person, just over $30,000 per family, offered by diaspora groups on top of Israeli government incentives-to emigrate to Israel.” (Leverett 2013, 93-4.)

7. Which Iranian leader said the following? “This [Israel’s] Occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”

-Ruhollah Khomeini. This wasn’t a surprising statement to come from the leader of the 1979 Revolution as Israel had been a firm ally of both the U.S. and the Shah. (Cole, 201.)

-According to Juan Cole, Ahmadinejad quoted this statement in 2005 yet wire service translators rendered Khomeini’s statement into English as “Israel must be wiped off the face of the map.” Yet, Khomeini had referred to the occupation regime not Israel, and while he expressed a wish for the regime to go away he didn’t threaten to go after Israel. In fact, a regime can vanish without any outside attacks, as happened to the Shah’s regime in Iran and to the USSR. It is notable that when Khomeini made the statement in the 1980s, there was no international outcry. In fact, in the early 1980s, Khomeini supplied Israel with petroleum in return for American spare parts for the American-supplied Iranian arsenal. As both Israel and Iran considered Saddam’s Iraq a serious enemy, they had a tacit alliance against Iraq during the first phase of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. It should also be noted that Ahmadinejad subsequently stated he didn’t want to kill any Jews but rather he wants a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. While Ahmadinejad’s preferred solution is a non-starter, Israel’s refusal to pursue a comprehensive peace creates space for Arab hardliners whose agendas do not include a realistic peace with Israel.

-Although Ahmadinejad is hated in the West, “Wikileaks revealed that he has often been the official most inclined to compromise with and negotiate with the West, being blocked by the Revolutionary Guards Corps and other hard liners to his right. For the Iranian far right to unseat Ahmadinejad is anything but a victory for the West.” article

-In 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor acknowledged that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never said that Iran seeks to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” This falsely translated statement has been exploited by the US and Israel to demonize Iran and gain support for sanctions and possible military action. The following is from an interview of Dan Meridor by Teymoor Nabili of Al Jazeera:

Teymoor Nabili: “As we know, Ahmadinejad didn’t say that he plans to exterminate Israel, nor did he say that Iran policy is to exterminate Israel. Ahmadinejad’s position and Iran’s position always has been...that he has no plans to attack Israel. He simply said that if you hold a referendum in this part of the world with everybody who lives here, he will accept the outcome of that referendum.”

Dan Meridor: “Well, I have to disagree, with all due respect. You speak of Ahmadinejad. I speak of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani, Shamkhani....They all come, basically ideologically, religiously, with the statement that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right. But ‘It will not survive, it is a cancerous tumor that should be removed,’ was said just two weeks ago again.”

Teymoor Nabili: “Well, I’m glad you’ve acknowledged that they didn’t say they will wipe it out.” link to transcript

8. True or False: During President Ahmadinejad’s first term, Iranian television presented a serial sympathetic to Jews during the Holocaust.

-True. Iranian television ran a widely watched serial on the Holocaust, Zero Degree Turn, based on true accounts of the role Iranian diplomats in Europe played in rescuing thousands of Jews during WWII. video

9. What percentage of students entering university in Iran is female?

-Over 60 percent. In fact, many Iranian women-even married women-have professional jobs. (M. Axworthy, A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, Basic Books, New York: 2008.)

-Overall, the United Nations Development Programme “reports that Iran’s Human Development Index value - ‘a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living’ - rose from 0.437 in 1980 to 0.707 in 2011, placing the Islamic Republic in the ‘high human development category.’ One facet of this progress remains especially unappreciated in the West: the way that access to higher education is altering the status of Iranian women. While the Islamic Republic places restrictions on women (in matters of dress, for example, and access to some public events and services) that many Westerners would consider unacceptable, the majority of university students in Iran are now female, the majority of students at Iran’s best universities are now female, and women’s presence is increasingly being felt across an array of academic and professional disciplines-for example, the majority of Iran’s medical students are now female....Under the shah, women were technically free from the veil and other formal restrictions on their behavior...[however,] powerful social forces kept most women in prerevolutionary Iran from pursuing educational and career opportunities.” (Leverett 2013, 192-3.)

In 2012, Iran continued to rank in the “high human development category” of the Human Development Index. (Iran ranks better than Brazil and Turkey, two states often lauded by the mainstream media.) statistics

-Iran’s approach to science is also modern. Consider: “Which country’s scientific output rose 18-fold between 1996 and 2008, from 736 published papers to 13,238? The answer - Iran - might surprise many people, especially in the western nations used to leading science. Iran has the fastest rate of increase in scientific publication in the world. And if political relations between Iran and the US are strained, it seems that the two countries’ scientists are getting on fine: the number of collaborative papers between them rose almost fivefold from 388 to 1831 over the same period.”

-In 2012, Iran “has the twenty-fifth-largest economy in the world according to the CIA and the IMF. With a per capita income of roughly $11,000-comparable to that of Brazil, South Africa, and several former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe-its status as a middle-income developing country is well established.” To fulfill the revolution’s commitment to improve the social and economic conditions of the lower classes, Iran “has made large and sustained investments to extend modern infrastructure (roads, electricity, piped water, and...Internet) into rural and low-income urban areas...The result has been a sharp and well-documented reduction in poverty. Today the percentage of Iranians living in poverty-less than 2 percent by the World Bank’s $1.25-per-day standard-is lower than that in virtually any other large-population middle-income country (including Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey, and Venezuela).” (Leverett 2013, 190-1.)

10. True or False: Iran has formally consented to the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative with Israel.

-True. In March 2002, the Arab League summit in Beirut unanimously put forth a peace initiative that commits it not just to recognize Israel but also to establish normal relations once Israel implements the international consensus for a comprehensive peace-which includes Israel withdrawing from the occupied territories and a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee crisis. (This peace initiative has been subsequently reaffirmed including at the March 2009 Arab League summit at Doha.) All 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, including Iran, “adopted the Arab peace initiative to resolve the issue of Palestine and the Middle East...and decided to use all possible means in order to explain and clarify the full implications of this initiative and win international support for its implementation.” (Norman G. Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, OR Books, New York: 2010, 42.)

11. Which two countries were responsible for orchestrating the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s populist government of democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, primarily because he introduced legislation that led to the nationalization of Iranian oil?

-The U.S. and Britain. (Stephen Kinzer, All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey: 2008. Hereinafter referred to as, Kinzer.)

-According to Kinzer, Iranians had been complaining that the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) had not been sharing profits on Iranian petroleum with Iran fairly; and Iran’s parliament (Majles) had tried to renegotiate with the AIOC. When the AIOC rejected renegotiation, Mossadegh introduced the nationalization act in 1951. In response, Britain and the U.S. organized a global boycott of Iran which sent the Iranian economy into a tailspin. Later, the military coup was orchestrated that reinstalled the shah. (One irony is that Britain itself nationalized several industries in the 1940s and 1950s; for example, the coal-mining, railways, and iron and steel industries. article)

12. Who made the following address on March 17, 2000? “In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. But the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”

-Madeleine Albright: U.S. Secretary of State, 1997 - 2001. (Kinzer, 212.)

-Few would “deny that the 1953 coup in Iran set off a series of unintended consequences. Its most direct result was to give Mohammad Reza Shah the chance to become dictator. He received enormous amounts of aid from the United States-more than $1 billion in the decade following the coup-but his oppressive rule turned Iranians against him. In 1979 their anger exploded in a shattering revolution led by Islamic fundamentalists.”

When President Carter allowed the deposed Shah to enter the U.S., Iranian radicals, with “the blessing of their new leaders,...stormed the American embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two American diplomats hostage for more than fourteen months....The hostage-takers remembered that when the Shah fled into exile in 1953, CIA agents working at the American embassy had returned him to his throne. Iranians feared that history was about to repeat itself.” They thus acted to prevent another coup.

The Iranian Revolution and hostage episode “led the United States to support Iraq in its long and horrific war with Iran...Within Iran, it strengthened the most militant elements in the revolutionary coalition.”

The fundamentalist “clerics who consolidated power in Iran during the early 1980s not only imposed a form of religious fascism at home but turned their country into a center for the propagation of terror abroad....Soon afterward, they began financing and arming Hamas, Hezbollah, and other [groups]....Among those who were inspired by [Iran's revolutionary leaders'] example were Afghans who founded the Taliban, led it to power in Kabul, and gave Osama bin Laden the base from which he launched devastating terror attacks.” (Kinzer, 202-3.)

-Despite Secretary Albright’s 2000 Address, the US has continued to talk of regime change and its “forces and agents just across the borders in Iraq and Pakistan [have] been encouraging Arab, Kurdish, and Baluchi minorities of Iran to mobilize against Tehran. Among them were the Pakistan-based Sunni Jundallah...guerrillas, which declared responsibility for, among other operations, bombing a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers, an attack that killed eleven in February 2007. Later that year, President Bush signed a presidential finding asking for $400 million to escalate military and CIA covert operations inside Iran to destablilize the regime.” (Peterson 2010, 17.)

13. Which countries trained the Shah’s brutal internal security service, SAVAK?

-According to William Blum, a highly respected author and journalist, “The notorious Iranian security service, SAVAK, which employed torture routinely, was created under the guidance of the CIA and Israel in the 1950s. According to a former CIA analyst on Iran, Jesse J. Leaf, SAVAK was instructed in torture techniques by the Agency. After the 1979 revolution, the Iranians found CIA film made for SAVAK on how to torture women.” article

-According to Reed College Professor Darius Rejali, one of the world’s leading writers on the subject of torture and the consequences of its use for modern society, “[T]he Iranian revolution of 1978-1979 was the revolution against torture. When the Shah criticized Khomayni as a blackrobed Islamic medieval throwback, Khomayni replied, look who is talking, the man who tortures. This was powerful rhetoric for recruiting people, then as it is now. People joined the revolutionary opposition because of the Shah’s brutality, and they remembered who installed him. If anyone wants to know why Iranians hated the U.S. so, all they have to do is ask what America’s role was in promoting torture in Iran. Torture not only shaped the revolution, it was the factor that has deeply poisoned the relationship of Iran with the West. So why trust the West again? And the Iranian leadership doesn’t.” article

-The roots of Israel’s close relationship with Iran under the Shah are explained by the “Periphery Doctrine.” This Israeli national security doctrine, created in the 1950s, involved the forming of alliances with non-Arab states in the periphery of the Middle East including Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia, as well as with ethnic and religious minorities like the Maronites in Lebanon and the Kurds in Iraq. An important dimension of the Periphery Doctrine was to enable Israel to avoid peace, and thus concomitant painful compromises, with its Arab neighbors.

The Periphery Doctrine, “advanced by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion...was regarded as a way of offsetting the diplomatic and economic boycott of the Arab World and as a traditional balance-of-power strategy aimed at countering Pan-Arabism. The fact that, like Israel, Turkey [and] Iran...maintained friendly ties with Washington and the West and had long-standing conflict with Arab states (Turkey with Syria; Iran with Iraq;...) helped strengthen Israel’s partnerships with these pro-American and non-Arab countries.”

“[I]t was obvious to Israeli policymakers that, as long as Israel remained in a state of war with the major Arab countries, economic considerations, military interests and religious affinity would place clear limits on the willingness and the ability of Turkey and other periphery nations and minorities to expand ties with Israel.” (In fact, “Turkey only began shunning the Jewish state after Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza, and after Israeli troops killed eight Turkish militants who tried to break Israel’s blockage of the strip in 2010.”) article (Beinart, 9.)

-Israel and Iran “have not always been rivals, nor are they natural competitors. They do not have territorial disputes. They do not compete economically. They have traditionally maintained distinct regional zones of interest (the Eastern Mediterranean for Israel and the Persian Gulf for Iran). Their shared geopolitical interests led to years of cooperation before and even after Iran’s 1979 revolution. Arab governments have regarded both countries with great suspicion, while both viewed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as the greatest obstacle to their national security interests.

“Only in the past decade have Israel and Iran come to view each other as rivals. Israeli perceptions of the Iranian threat stem, in part, from Iran’s expanding missile capabilities and nuclear advances. But just as critical is Israel’s view that Iranian regional influence is on the rise, infringing on Israeli interests and threatening stability in areas bordering Israel. Israeli leaders worry that if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon capability, its influence would only grow, severely limiting both Israeli and U.S. military and political maneuverability in the region.”

“The Middle East’s geopolitical transformation over the past decade has further intensified the rivalry. When the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 eliminated a common adversary of Israel and Iran, the latter began to see itself as the Middle East’s ascendant power, a view shared by many of the former’s political and military elite. The 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel - in which Iranian tactics and arms were seen as effective against Israel - reinforced the perception of Iran as the region’s great power. The Arab uprisings since 2011 have added to Israeli concerns, although this turmoil has created even greater vulnerabilities and limitations for Iran.” article

14. Does Iran have nuclear weapons?

-No. We “judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program...” “We judge with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015.” (U.S. National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities November 2007) press releases

-According to U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Chief Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, “The bottom line assessments of the [National Intelligence Estimate] still hold true...We have not seen indication that the government has made the decision to move ahead with the [nuclear weapons] program.”

-In March 2013, “U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed [that] Iran has not decided to develop a nuclear weapon and that it would be unable to do so secretly. Testifying before the Senate, Clapper said Iran could not divert safeguarded material to produce weapons-grade uranium without it being discovered.” article

-The following are the words of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2012, “I think the pressure of the sanctions [on Iranians], I think the pressure of-diplomatic pressures from everywhere-Europe, the United States, elsewhere-is working to put pressure on them, to make them understand that they cannot continue to do what they’re doing. Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon.” article

-American, Israeli, and other Western “intelligence services have claimed since the early 1990s that Iran is three to five years away from acquiring nuclear weapons...But twenty years into this constantly resetting forecast, no Western agency has come remotely close to producing hard evidence that Iran is trying to fabricate nuclear weapons....Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who served as director general of the [IAEA] from 1997 to 2009-and under whose leadership the IAEA correctly assessed Iraq’s lack of WMD when every Western intelligence agency got it wrong-has said on multiple occasions that there is no evidence the Islamic Republic is trying to build nuclear weapons.” (Leverett 2013, 81-2.)

-Meir Dagan, the former chief of Mossad (Israel’s version of the CIA), “has spearheaded opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran since May 2011...He has called such a move ‘the stupidest thing I have ever heard’ and ‘patently illegal under international law’ since Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is operating under the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency.” He also opposes a unilateral strike because: (i) “A surgical attack such as Israel’s 1981 strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor is not possible because Iran’s nuclear program is much more dispersed”; (ii) “A strike could lead to a regional war and regional, or even global, arms race”; and, (iii) “A strike could cause Iranians to rally around the current regime, strengthening its hand”. article

-According to “Matthew Machowski, current Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Physics and Astronomy, Queen Mary, University of London and an experienced Middle East analyst...[t]here is no good evidence that Iran has a ‘structured’ nuclear weapons program as opposed to a civilian nuclear enrichment program; the regime has not made a decision to build a nuclear warhead; and it may have decided (not clear) that it wants ‘nuclear latency’ or the ability quickly to weaponize if it feels threatened.” article

-It isn’t irrational for Israel to want to maintain its monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East as such allows it to act practically without any restraint against its neighbors. Indeed, it has been argued that a benefit of a nuclear Iran is that Iran might be able to force Israel to moderate its aggression and, thereby, remove an element of instability in the region. Furthermore, if Iran had nuclear weapons (or even the capacity to quickly develop them, if necessary, like Canada or Japan) then the US and Israel would not be able to attack Iran to remove its government.

It’s worth noting that even if Iran had nuclear weapons, it would never consider a first-strike on Israel since Israel would always be able to retaliate with its submarine-based “nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.” article

15. Is Iran a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

-Yes. article

-It’s simply the case that “Iran can’t construct a nuclear weapon at all as long as it is being actively inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which it is”; and the inspections do include “the Fordo” facility. “There is no facility with uranium or enrichment facilities that is off limits to the IAEA inspectors. No country under active inspection by the UN has ever developed a nuclear weapon. Israel, which always refused such inspections, has some 400 nuclear warheads....So how will we know if Iran has decided to weaponize its nuclear enrichment program? We can at least be suspicious if they withdraw from the NPT and kick out the inspectors.” article

16. Is Israel a signatory of the NPT?

-No. article

-India, Pakistan and North Korea are also non-parties to the NPT. North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and has conducted “three nuclear tests since 2006″. article

-In 1961, an article in the pro-Israel US periodical Commentary cautioned “Israel to‘submit its new reactor to international controls as soon as possible’ [and] concluded that ‘an Israeli atomic bomb would be a terrible thing...because it would show that nothing at all has been done to prevent the spread of that weapon.’” (Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, OR Books, New York: 2012, 38.)

-US General Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Command, made the following obvious statement in 1998: “The circumstances in which nuclear weapons capability is created and sustained aren’t static. As a is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and that that inspires other nations to do so.” article

17. Does the NPT permit a signatory to pursue a nuclear program?

-Yes. According to Juan Cole, The NPT specifies that “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” Therefore, as long as Iran meets its responsibilities under the NPT and continues to allow inspections by the IAEA, it is acting within its rights. The sorts of research facilities maintained by Iran are common in industrialized countries. The real issue is trust and transparency rather than purely one of technology. Yet, Iran has not always been forthcoming in fulfilling its obligations under the NPT.

The Ford administration of the mid-1970s produced a memo saying that the shah’s regime must “prepare against the time...when Iranian oil production is expected to decline sharply.” Iran’s energy reserves are extensive, so that fear was misplaced. But Iran already uses domestically 2 million of the 4 million barrels a day it produces, and it could well cease being an exporter and even become a net importer in the relatively near future. (This helps explain Iran’s focus on nuclear energy.) Ford authorized a plutonium reprocessing plant for Iran, which could have allowed it to close the fuel cycle, a step toward producing a bomb.

In the 1970s, GE and Westinghouse won contracts to build eight nuclear reactors in Iran. The shah intimated that Iran would seek nuclear weapons, without facing any adverse consequences beyond some reprimands from the U.S. or Western Europe. In contrast, Khomeini was horrified by the idea of using weapons of mass destruction, and he declined to deploy chemical weapons at the front in the Iran-Iraq War, even though Saddam had no such compunctions and extensively used mustard gas and sarin on Iranian troops. (Cole)

-It is often “argued that Iran does not need nuclear power. But it uses some petroleum for power generation, and Iranians are driving more and more. There is every prospect that what happened to Indonesia, which now uses all its own oil in addition to importing some, will happen to Iran. Iran’s energy exports provide a crucial financial cushion, allowing the country to remain independent. Other oil giants, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also building nuclear power plants. There is nothing illogical or unusual about Iran going in this direction.” article

-As Noam Chomsky argues, “the most obvious way to address ‘the gravest threat’ [of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, is to establish] a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.” However, “The United States will not allow measures to place Israel’s nuclear facilities under international inspection.” article

18. Who wrote the following in 2004? “Even if the Iranians are working on a bomb, Israel may not be their real concern. Iran is now surrounded by American forces on all sides - in the Central Asian republics to the north, Afghanistan to the east, the Gulf to the South and Iraq to the west....Wherever U.S. forces go, nuclear weapons go with them or can be made to follow in short order. The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy. Though Iran is ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, most commentators who are familiar with the country do not regard its government as irrational....[I]t was Saddam Hussein who attacked Iran, not the other way around; since then Iran has been no more aggressive than most countries are. For all their talk of opposition to Israel, Iran’s rulers are very unlikely to mount a nuclear attack on a country that is widely believed to have what it takes to wipe them off the map. Chemical or other attacks are also unlikely, given the meager results that may be expected and the retaliation that would almost certainly follow.”

-Martin van Creveld: Former distinguished professor of military history and strategy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. article

-It should not be surprising that Creveld would deem it rational for Iran to want nuclear weapons. “For more than half a century, Britain and the US have menaced Iran. In 1953, the CIA and MI6 overthrew the democratic government of Mohammed Mossadegh, an inspired nationalist who believed that Iranian oil belonged to Iran. They installed the venal shah and, through a monstrous creation called SAVAK, built one of the most vicious police states of the modern era. The Islamic revolution in 1979 was inevitable and very nasty, yet it was not monolithic and, through popular pressure and movement from within the elite, Iran has begun to open to the outside world - in spite of having sustained an invasion by Saddam Hussein, who was encouraged and backed by the US and Britain. At the same time, Iran has lived with the real threat of an Israeli attack, possibly with nuclear weapons, about which the ‘international community’ has remained silent.” article

-According to Reuel Marc Gerecht, the leading neoconservative authority on Iran and a former CIA expert on the Middle East, Iran “knows very well the consequences of having insufficient deterrence. And the Iranians possess the essential factor to make deterrence work: sanity.” Iranian leaders know that “if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons, the Americans would not have challenged him.” (Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, OR Books, New York: 2012, 50, 51.)

-According to General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “[W]e [at the Pentagon] are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.” article

19. What percentage of Iranians in 2008 said they had an unfavorable view of the American people?

-20 percent (Cole, 197).

20. What percentage of Iranians in 2008 expressed negative sentiments toward the Bush administration?

-75 percent (Cole, 197). One wonders what percentage of Canadians-or Americans-held the same view?

21. True or False: Iran and the U.S. both considered the Taleban to be an enemy after the 9/11 attacks.

-True. According to Ali M. Ansari, Professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews, “[K]hatami, moved quickly to offer his condolences to the US President [after the 9/11 attacks]....[T]he Iranians soon recognized the opportunity that now confronted them. The United States was determined to dismantle Al Qaeda, and in the face of Taleban obstinacy decided on the removal of the Taleban. Nothing could be more amenable to the Iranians, who had been waging a proxy war against the Taleban for the better part of five years....The collaboration which took place both during and after the war against the Taleban seemed to inaugurate a period of detente between Iran and the United States...It came as something of a shock therefore to discover that President Bush had decided to label Iran part of the ‘Axis of Evil’...Now it appeared that the [Iranian] hardliners within the regime had been correct after all; the United States could not be trusted...” (Ali M. Ansari, Modern Iran: The Pahlavis and After Second Edition, Pearson Education, Great Britain: 2007, 331-2.)

-After the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001, the US “requested help and Iran’s diplomats and Revolutionary Guard quietly provided extensive intelligence and political assistance to the U.S. military and CIA, to improve targeting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. [And once] the Taliban was ousted in late 2001, Iran again proved crucial to getting the victorious Northern Alliance to accept a limited number of cabinet posts and Hamid Karzai as the new president - a criticalstep toward immediately stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan. Iranian diplomats made clear their interest in expanding contacts with the United States....[However,] any remaining chance of reconciliation evaporated in early 2002, when George W. Bush declared Iran part of his Axis of Evil. Iranian officials considered it a slap in the face, and it had grave consequences for President Khatami and his beleaguered reform movement. The U.S. denunciation became ammunition for hard-liners, who used it as final proof of American mendacity - and of reformist na´vete.” (Peterson 2010, 72-3.)

22. What were the main elements of Iran’s 2003 Proposal to the U.S. and how did the U.S. respond to the Proposal?

-According to the Washington Post, “Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table - including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups. But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran...” article

“In the absence of direct diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, Switzerland was acting as Protecting Power for US interests in Iran; so as Swiss ambassador, Guldimann had a formal position as an intermediary between the two estranged governments.” (Axworthy 2013, 360)

It is essentially not in dispute that the Iranian Proposal “represented the best chance for a settlement of the outstanding problems of US-Iranian relations...since the revolution.” While the Proposal was welcomed in the US State Department by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney “vetoed the proposal, on the grounds that ‘We don’t speak to Evil’ (a bold and questionable declaration, given Rumsfeld’s infamous handshake with Saddam Hussein in December 1983)....Within three years Khatami was out of office, the Iranian presidency and Foreign Ministry were again in the hands of the right, the question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions was more and more pressing, the US was in serious trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan, people were talking about a new era of Iranian hegemony in the region and Iran’s foreign policy had become much more confrontational. By that time the mood of hubris in Washington had passed and the rejection of the Grand Bargain [Proposal] came to be seen for what it was - a terrible mistake (recognized as such, it seems, even by senior figures in Israel).” (Axworthy 2013, 361)

-The US has a record of snubbing Iranian offers. “In 1998, the Defence Department vetoed a delegation of prominent U.S. nuclear specialists to go to Iran to investigate its nuclear programme at the invitation of the government of newly-elected Iranian President Mohammad Khatami...The Pentagon objected to the delegation’s mission even though it was offered the option of including one or more scientists of its own choosing on the delegation, according to Dr. Behrad Nakhai, the nuclear scientist who was organising it. The Pentagon veto of the nuclear scientists’ delegation eliminated the Khatami government’s most promising initiative to promote a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations by weakening a key U.S. argument for viewing Iran as a threat.” article

23. Did the U.S. work with the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq both before and after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq?

-Yes. article

-One wonders what the Bush administration thought the party name entailed? Would it have been unreasonable to assume it had good relations with Iran and might support an Islamic Revolution? In 2007 the party, demonstrating sound public relations, changed its name to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

24. Who wrote the following in 2004? “It is in the interests of the United States to engage selectively with Iran to promote regional stability, dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, preserve reliable energy supplies, reduce the threat of terror, and address the ‘democracy deficit’ that pervades the Middle East...”

-A task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and chaired by two prominent members of the American foreign policy establishment, former CIA director Robert Gates and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, recommended “a revised strategic approach to Iran.” Their report included the above articles

Jeffrey Rudolph,
a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked as a chartered accountant at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and has taught at McGill University.

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