Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jonathan Freedland on Iran

This letter to the Guardian was sent yesterday. Didn't get published.


Understanding the perceptions of the protagonists in a dispute is crucial to any progressive approach to security issues. To explain an actor's behaviour is not to excuse it but to gain the insights we need in order to be able to prevent the worst outcomes.

Sadly, in his article on the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran, Jonathan Freedland did not take this approach ("The West Has to Tackle Iran", Guardian, 25 June 2008). Freedland should have reviewed both the Iranian and the Israeli perspectives, and critically analysed both against the known facts. Instead, he took an indulgent view of Israel's perspective and ignored the Iranian view entirely.

The threats perceived by Iran are real enough. It is bordered by two nations recently laid waste by US regime-change. It is surrounded by US bases, forces and allies. Three of its close neighbours (Pakistan, India and Israel) have US-indulged nuclear weapons capabilities outside of international jurisdiction. And US backing for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war is very much within living memory. Moreover, the US rejected without consideration Iran's 2003 offer of a grand bargain for peace including removal of support for Hezbollah and Hamas and support for the Arab peace plan (i.e. the two-state solution accepted by the entire world bar the US and Israel).

These are several reasons for Iran to think itself in need of nuclear weapons to deter a grave and apparently implacable threat. They are reasons that have nothing to do with Islamist extremism or the wretched Ahmedinejad's denial of the holocaust. Yet this crucial context is omitted from Freedland's article. Instead, even the most preposterous of Israeli fears are taken at face value. For example, Freedland apparently takes quite seriously the idea that an Iranian regime pragmatic enough to collaborate with the US over Afghanistan and with Israel itself over Iran-Contra is also irrational enough to commit collective suicide by attacking Israel for no reason.

Is the view of Iran as a "suicide nation" not best left to maniacs like Alan Dershowitz, rather than the Guardian's leading op-ed writers?

Freedland also makes some important omissions and employs occasionally alarming forms of logic. For example, he says that the intelligence consensus that Iran has no nuclear weapons programme will be viewed with suspicion in Israel because the Yom Kippur war came as a result of Israel underestimating the Arab threat. This sounds rather like Dick Cheney's "One Percent Doctrine", which says that if there is a one percent chance that a threat exists then the US should act as though it definitely does exist. Thus evidence and rationality are dispensed with, and replaced by fantasy and innuendo. Not the best way to make judgements that could lead to the incineration of innocent Iranian men, women children. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that Egypt attacked Israel in 1973 after several diplomatic offers of peace on the basis of Israel returning stolen Egyptian territory were summarily ignored, just like Iran's peace offer to the US and Israel in 2003 was rejected without consideration.

But perhaps the most serious omission was the very idea that Israeli "fears" may be less than are claimed. It is only 5 years since the US launched a war of aggression aimed at securing strategic advantage in the Middle East under the cloak of a manufactured "threat". By now, it should be no more than routine in any serious analysis of a US-alleged "threat" for that "threat" to be examined for the possibility that it has been inflated or manufactured for political ends. Less sane elements within the Israeli and US governments have every reason to create a pretext for knocking-out a strategic rival in the region. Indeed, this is where Cheney's "One Percent Doctrine" comes in, with its obviation of the need for proof when making allegations that excuse aggressive war.

It is extraordinary that such questions can be ignored only five years after the WMD fiasco in which, lest we forget, uncritical writing in Western newspapers played a central part. Not least since, unlike the notion of Iran committing suicide, these threats exist in the real world.

Freedland's focus is all on what the West can do about the threat others pose to us. With one in five Iraqis a refugee and one in twenty-five a corpse, perhaps a more relevant question is the threat that we pose to others. A more balanced view would have been more informative for your readers and more productive in terms of promoting peace.

Yours sincerely

David Wearing

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Anonymous An Anonymous Reader said...

Mr. Wearing,

It seems to me that the Israelis are either dead serious about protecting their perceived interests or they play an excellent game of poker. I suspect the former but, of course, there is no way to know.

The Iranians, of course, may also be playing poker. However, consider that if the Israelis are serious, the Iranians are fools not to come clean about their intentions, if, in fact, those intentions are non-belligerent. Rather than do that, the Iranians stoke the fire, either because they do not understand the Israelis or because the Iranians mean to do what the Israelis fear or, perhaps, mean to lead the Muslim regions by use of tough, nasty language that employs Israel as a whipping boy, much as European Antisemites have traditionally done.

Missing from Freedland's article is an appreciation of the possibility that important elements of the Iranian leadership really may agree with what Ahmadinejad says so that his genocidal proclamations may actually be something to make a rational person worry. In this regard, Freedland employs that typical European, most particularly British, failure to take nasty people seriously - the very failure made by the British before WWII.

Thursday, June 26, 2008 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

thanks for your comments

My point about the Iraq WMD fiasco was that states - including this exact same US government (Israel does and is doing nothing serious without its approval) - do manufacture pretexts for waging aggressive wars. I'm sure they're dead serious about protecting their perceived interests, but not necessarily the interests that they claim. The operative interest here for the US and Israel is not self-defence, which is laughable. Its strategic dominance of the region, as always.

No serious person takes politicians words at face value. Israel and the US may say they fear a nuclear Iran. The US and the UK said they feared a nuclear Iraq in 2003. Scepticism, and making reference to the actual facts rather than what politicians say, is the only rational response.

The actual facts are these.

Neither the IAEA nor the US intelligence community see evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. If one is to bomb Iran, and kill many innocent people in the process, then having no-solid evidence would make that an act of unprovoked mass murder, not self defence.

Ahmedinejad, vile thug though he is, has never threatened to destroy Israel in the sense of violent attack leading to physical destruction and mass murder. Check the authorititive translations by serious people like Juan Cole for example. He sees Israel as a regime in the same way as the Soviet Union, Apartheid SA or the Shah's government were regimes, all of which fell without genocide. He supports a one state solution in which all the Palestinian refugees return to their homes. That makes him deluded. And yes he's said some vile, intentionally provocative things about the holocaust. And noting his personal history in the IRGC, you can bet that he's personally committed some heinous acts in his time. But if we're saying that he's made open threats of genocide, then no, sorry, that's false.

And in any case, Ahmedinejad does not run Iranian foreign policy. That's the preserve of the Supreme Leader. And taking the Iranian state as a whole, it has shown many times that it is an eminently rational (if vicious) actor dedicated to ensuring its survival above all else, principles be damned if necessary. The notion of it committing collective suicide on some moral crusade is absurd to anyone who knows the first thing about Iran. In fact, as I said in the letter, Iran offered the US (and Israel by extension) a major peace deal not 5 years ago. Hardly consistent with the "suicide nation" fantasy is it?

As I noted in the letter, if Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program, it has plenty of real-world reasons to want one which have nothing to do with some fantasy suicide attack on Israel. And as the IAEA chief noted last week, an Israeli attack or even continued threats will only raise the chances that Iran decides it really does need nuclear weapons. Rattling the sabre and bombing the shit out of people have got Israel and the US nowhere in the last 7 years. Quite the opposite. Does that lesson ever get learned?

The real threat is not an Iranian bomb but a US-Israeli insistence on dominating the Middle East through the application of massive violence; which in turn is bound to elicit ugly responses. The solutions are clear enough, but only once we understand the problem.

Friday, June 27, 2008 6:57:00 AM  

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