Dr. Farhang Jahanpour, 2 Dec 2010
What is truly alarming about the new batch of Wikileaks diplomatic files is the extent to which US politicians and their Israeli allies are obsessed with Iran. There is virtually no talk of Israeli colonial settlements on the West Bank, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the war crimes in Gaza, the attack on the aid flotilla, and Israel’s arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, but there is constant preoccupation with Iran’s uranium enrichment and whether Israel or the United States should attack Iran first.
The media has dwelt almost exclusively on the remarks of the Saudi King Abdullah’s ambassador in Washington, calling on America to “cut off the head of this snake”. There are quotes from the rulers of other Western friends in the Middle East, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Jordan, repeating what American officials wanted to hear, namely that Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an “existential threat” to them…
By latching on to the alleged remarks of these autocratic rulers, Western media has tried to convey the idea that Iran does not only pose an “existential threat” to Israel, but to all those other friends of the West as well.
However, the Arab rulers’ nightmare is that while they hate Iran for obvious reasons, most of their subjects look up to Iran as the only country in the region that is championing the Palestinian cause and is standing up to Israel and the West. According to the most recent poll, carried out by the US Zogby polling organisation and the University of Maryland, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other pro-western Arab states, a majority of the respondents even had a positive view of the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Asked which countries threatened their security, 88% replied Israel, 77% the US and just 10% Iran.1 It is not that US diplomats don’t understand these facts, they have just lost all sight of reality, democratic principles and America’s long-term interests. The experiences of supporting Saddam Hussein, General Musharraf and other dictators should have proved to them that relying on undemocratic rulers would backfire, not to say that it is contrary to the democratic principles that they claim that they are championing.
In view of the fact that the United States is arming its “allies” with billions of dollars worth of the most sophisticated weapons, its protestations about Iran’s military threat sounds hollow. According to The Financial Times, the US plans to reinforce Arab military power by selling an unprecedented amount of USD 123 billion to four Persian Gulf littoral states. Saudi Arabia’s share stands at nearly $67 billion, the UAE at $40 billion, Oman at $12 billion and Kuwait at $7 billion, according to the business daily.
This is despite the fact that those countries and Israel already spend a much larger part of their GDP on arms. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), while Iran’s military spending in 2009 was $9.174 billion (or 2.7% of its GDP), that of Saudi Arabia was $39.257 billion (8.2% of its GDP), that of the tiny United Arab Emirates was $13.5 billion (or 5.9% of its GDP), and that of Israel was $14.34 billion (7% of its GDP). And whereas Iran’s military spending as a share of its GDP is 2.7% (9.174 billion: 340 billion), that of the United States is nearly 7% (1 trillion: 14 trillion). In other words, Iran’s military spending is less than one per cent of the United States’ spending.
Nevertheless, the US and Israel have the temerity to portray Iran as the main threat to the Middle East and the main obstacle to the “peace process”. There is a wonderful moment in the cables when the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, explains to a US congressional delegation on 28 April last year that “a Palestinian state must be demilitarised, without control of its airspace and electro-magnetic field [sic], and without the power to enter into treaties or control its border”. Well, what then does the Obama Administration mean by a two-state solution and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state? What is the point of the “peace process” for which the United States is willing to make so many concessions to Israel?
Practically, all US-Israeli talks show a feverish and obsessive preoccupation with Iran. They do not try to find ways of resolving Iran’s nuclear program through co-operation, talks and constructive solutions, but through sanctions ultimately leading to war. It seems that Iranian leaders were justified not to trust even President Obama’s offer of unconditional talks. WikiLeaks revelations that American officials were planning to raise pressure on Iran with more sanctions and a missile defence shield, despite making high-profile public overtures to Iran are being seen in Tehran as validation of deep skepticism from the start about Obama’s intentions. The leaked documents show that there was a half-hearted attempt at engagement, while also pursuing US administration’s “dual track” policy of simultaneously applying pressure and negotiating, with the constant refrain that “all options are on the table”.
A most revealing case about the US-Israeli approach towards Iran concerns the meeting between the Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and Nicholas Burns, then US under-secretary of state. The Israeli spy chief practically puts forward the “roadmap” that the United States must follow. It includes Israel’s “five-part strategy”. It is worth quoting the passage in full:
• Bring Iran before the UN security council to pursue a third sanctions resolution;
• “Covert measures: Dagan and the under-secretary agreed not to discuss this approach in the larger group setting”;
• Counter-proliferation: prevent know-how and technology from making their way to Iran;
• Sanctions – the biggest success so far. Three Iranian banks were on the verge of collapse. Financial sanctions were having a nationwide impact.
• Regime change. Israel believed more should be done to foment this, possibly with the support of student democracy movements and ethnic groups such as the Azeris, Kurds and Baluchs.
Is this not exactly the formula that has been followed during the past two years by US politicians? Under great US pressure, the Security Council has passed two more resolutions imposing crippling sanctions on Iran. The US Congress and EU countries have gone further and have imposed their own sanctions against Iranian trade, shipping, banks, aviation, oil and gas, as well as the Iranian nuclear program and the Revolutionary Guards…
After the revelation of these files, US politicians have two options, either to continue with their failed policy and push with the sanctions, ultimately leading to war; or to change course and give meaning to President Obama’s initial slogans of talks and negotiations with Iran, with respect and as equals, trying to reach a comprehensive agreement that will allow Iran to pursue its right to enrich uranium under strict international supervision, while preventing her from gaining access to nuclear weapons. So far, President Obama has not given in to intense pressure from the Israeli lobby to attack Iran. That pressure is bound to increase in the coming months as we move closer to the next presidential election. He should hold his nerve and make it clear to the warmongers that Iran is not going to be another Iraq.
Iran should be asked to help resolve some of the intractable problems in the Middle East, from the on-going conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Arab-Israeli conflict in return for security guarantees to Iran and the normalization of relations. A friendly Iran can play a major role in the Middle East and can act as a US partner, rather than as an adversary.
One should only compare the non-existent elections in most Arab countries or even the recent parliamentary election in Egypt where the opposition Muslim Brotherhood miraculously failed to win a single seat with Iran’s defective but nevertheless meaningful and vibrant democracy. Last year’s presidential election in Iran showed that the vast majority of Iranians are anxious to put an end to their radical government and to form a true democracy. Their dream was shattered as the result of the brutal repression by the Iranian President Ahmadinezhad and his conservative clerical backers.
What the Iranians need above all is a certainty that if they rise up in larger numbers against their unpopular rulers they will not face the ethnic partition of their country, advocated by the Mossad chief, or a military attack on their country.
In order for Iran to achieve this and for the US to turn over a new leaf in her relations with that ancient and influential country, which has perhaps the most pro-Western population anywhere in the Middle East, it is essential for the US to cut its umbilical chord with the most extreme elements in Israel and usher in a new era in her relations with the Middle East and with the Islamic world as a whole. Such a policy would also be in the long-term interests of Israel, because their present course of action is doomed to failure.
Farhang Jahanpour is a British national of Iranian origin. He received his Ph.D. Degree in Oriental Studies from the University of Cambridge and is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan. He has taught at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, as well as teaching online courses for Oxford, Yale and Stanford. He spent a year as a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. Dr Jahanpour also spent many years as Editor for Middle East and North Africa at the BBC Monitoring Service. For the past 20 years he has been a part-time tutor at the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. He is the author of three books and numerous articles in academic journals. More info about the author here.