Jonathan Freedland on Iran
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.