Monday, July 17, 2017

What to make of Iran?

There was the Iranian foreign minister appearing yesterday on Fareed Zakaria’s GP on CNN sounding for all the world like a reasonable, mature, sensible and peace-loving citizen of the world, especially when compared with his neighbours, especially the Saudis. His message went something like this: We oppose all extremism everywhere; that is why we supported the government of Afghanistan against the Taliban, the government of  Iraq against ISIS, and now the government of Syria against ISIS and Al Nursra. And we have proposed a 4-point plan to end the Syrian conflict starting with a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, a new constitution and a national election.

Claiming that, under IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspection, Iran is in full compliance with the nuclear agreement worked out by the 5-powers plus 1, and that the United States is in direct violation of the agreement, not only its spirit but also its letter, in lobbying the G-20 countries in Hamburg to cease dealing with Iran, the Foreign Minister unabashedly took on the American administration. Surprisingly, he two or three times mentioned that the IAEA is the sole inspection agency for the Iranian nuclear agreement.

If he is correct in that assertion, one has to wonder why the negotiators at the table in Vienna when the agreement was being hammered out would agree to such a narrow inspection/monitoring model. Why, for example, would the IAEA, plus at least one country, whose name would be acceptable to both sides, not be a more effective inspection muscle? Agencies, even those whose members claim to be independent, objective and highly rigorous in the performance of their duties, are not above being swayed, tilted, or even manipulated by various means. They are likely as interested in the evidence pointing toward compliance as the nations who negotiated the agreement with Iran. They could have another motivation, the stature of their own agency, which would come under considerably scrutiny and even attack should it be demonstrated that the Iranians have permitted only marginal or minimal inspections of a partial list of sites, centrifuges and uranium acquisition.

The old Reagan slogan, in dealing with the potential compliance of the then Soviet Union with arms reduction treaties is, “trust and verify”…..and that guidance seems to have relevance with respect to Iran now. Of course, the geopolitical community of nations, exclusive of Israel, has much less interest in having to confront an Iran with nuclear weapons, or even with non-compliance, and would just like the Iranian agreement to provide the security it promises for at least a decade, when all current political office holders will have departed the national and international scenes.

And here is another nugget from the Foreign Minister’s interview: Iran does not consider the acquisition of nuclear weapons to be an enhancement of Iran’s security and defence. Coming from a nation whose last decade has been filled to overflowing with reports, coming from the west, that it is determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability which would significantly alter the balance of power in the Middle East, the foreign minister’s assertion that nuclear weapons would not strengthen Iran’s national security seems a little baffling.

Seeking more political influence in the region is clearly a goal to which Iran’s current leadership aspires. Israel clearly fears her Shia Muslim neighbour and has sought the support of the U.S., both the Obama and the current administrations, in declaring Iran to be an existential threat to Israel. And once again, courtesy of the Americans, the Israeli government already has a considerable arsenal of nuclear weapons, provided, presumably on the somewhat specious premise that without nuclear weapons Israel would not be able to consider itself safe in such a dangerous and highly Muslim-populated region.

To be sure, Hamas and Hezbollah, both acknowledged Muslim terrorist organisations, have declared their public and vehement desire to wipe Israel off the face of the world map. The previous government of Iran, under their own erratic leader Ahmadinejad, also publicly declared its contempt for the Zionist state and its desire to remove it from the world map. Israel’s scepticism, even anxiety, over the true intentions of the government of Iran can not be minimized or dismissed. One of the arguments for the dismantling of Israel seems to be, why does a single race/religion need or deserve its own geographic land mass, when all other races/religions do not have such a land mass dedicated to their own race/religion.

However, in the late 1940’s immediately following World War II, led by the United States’ president Truman, there was a strong attitude that Jews were especially vulnerable and needed, required and merited their own state for simple protection. The Holocaust cannot and must never be excised from any debate, discussion or future equation that has influence in the Middle East.

And while there has been no international anxiety that the leaders of Israel have or even would deploy nuclear weapons, except if and when they faced a verified existential threat, there is still the “elephant” of Israeli nuclear weapons in every room and on every screen and every document that purports to address the Middle East. And that “elephant” remains both undisclosed officially and therefore unmentioned and unmentionable in any official negotiations about the Middle East.

Perhaps just as powerful, although of a different dimension, is the “elephant” of the madrassahs that teach Islamic extremism to young Muslims around the world, funded by the Saudis. The Iranian Foreign Minister did not neglect to point out in his CNN interview that no terrorist in this century claimed Iran as his country of origin while many terrorists did claim Saudi Arabia as their country of origin, and certainly one of their funding sources.

The divide between Sunni (Saudi) and Shia (Iran) obviously runs very deep and continues to animate interviews like that of the Foreign Minister yesterday. And it is not insignificant that the Saudi’s have signed a military arms purchase totaling some $300 billion over the next decade with the U.S. government. (Just another glitzy “jobs-creator” for the current U.S. president!) although there have been no reports that the deal includes nuclear weapons.

What to make of the man and the interview?

Polished, professional, dotted with specific information, and also  containing clear if somewhat general lines about who Iran’s enemies are….yet, is the man to be believed, in whole or even in part?

Knowing that Iran has a growing accumulation of centrifuges and fissionable materiel inside her country, and that she is determined to regain her former prestige in the region through adopting a assertive role on many world issues, as well as continuing with the nuclear development (he argues it is exclusively for peaceful purposes like energy), and obviously through significant interventions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and previously in Afghanistan, she intends to play an even more important role within the Muslim world. There is also evidence that Iran is the supporter of Hezbollah.
With trump having declared Iran an enemy of the United States,  and with her developing relationship with Russia and Putin, the next few pages of contemporary history in the Middle East is likely to feature Iran’s footprint, if not also her military might, with or without nuclear weapons.

I guess, I have already poured a “pound of salt” of scepticism and doubt on her latest interview on western/American television. Yet, is Iran more to be trusted that Saudi Arabia? Who knows?

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