Refusing to Understand Iran
Refusing to Understand Iran
October 31, 2013
Three forces in the United States are most aggressive in shaping reactions to the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Each of these organizations has an agenda that prevents objective analysis. None of their contributions provide a clear definition of Iran's position in the international battlefields or allow satisfactory appraisals of Iran's role in Middle East civil disturbances and instabilities. After describing the limitations of each of these organizations in understanding Iran, an alternative viewpoint will be provided.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), stationed in Paris, France, founded immediately after the 1979 revolution, and which considers itself the parliament in exile of the Iranian Resistance. In its own words, "The NCRI aims to establish a secular democratic republic in Iran, based on the separation of religion and state. Women comprise 50 percent of the Council's members. There are five organizations represented in the NCRI, including the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the largest and most popular resistance group in Iran."
The vocal National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington D.C., which lobbies for greater understanding of Iran's positions and more peaceful relations among all peoples. Its organization and mission is vague: "Iranian American Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision making by lawmakers."
The United States Department of State, which proceeds from defining Iran as an intractable enemy that must be confronted and never given concessions. All information concerning the Islamic Republic is subjectively and unfavorably interpreted.
National Council of Resistance of Iran
Already knowing that the Islamic Republic is a controlled and repressive political system featuring an exorbitant number of human rights violations, what is the NCRI contribution to comprehending and dealing with Iran? Its totally negative approach to the Tehran regime does not allow anything but confrontation, which resolves nothing. In that respect, the NCRI has aroused suspicion - it only wants to use U.S. power to overthrow the Mullahs and replace them with its parliament of a small assortment of exiles. Its resistance unit, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), has not helped the National Council's image. Until September 21, 2012 the United States listed the MEK as a terrorist organization, principally due to it being Marxist, having an alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Saddam Hussein during Iraq's war against Ayatollah Khomeini.
The NCRI supplies a steady diet of information concerning Iran's nuclear activities and student protests against the regime, all of which slightly complement CIA and Mossad knowledge of happenings in Iran. The observations remind the U.S. of previous duplicit Iraqi dissidents, such as Ahmed Chalabi, whose group contained Iraq dissidents who received favor from Iran. Eerily, the NCRI are the reverse - Iranian dissidents who received favor from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Sympathy to NCRI is appropriate; it has exiled status and members of the MEK have been slaughtered in post Hussein Iraq. In early October 2013, gunmen killed 52 of them in their camps in Iraq. Several had their hands tied behind their backs, and seven were kidnapped.
By only stressing suffering of the Iranian people due to the regime and not attending to their victimization by sanctions, or giving attention to the killings of Iranians by foreign sources, the NCRI loses credibility. Its thrust makes the Iranian regime more repressive, less conciliatory and more menacing, does not permit the United States to obtain a modus vivendi with Iran, and pushes the two antagonists into increased hostility and eventual war. With shades to its agenda, the NCRI would gain adherents. Presently it remains relatively isolated, devoid of reasons to become a major force in mapping policy toward Iran.
American Council (NIAC)
The NIAC takes a more positive position and promotes conciliation with Iran, which gives it exposure and criticism, both pro and con. By not challenging Iran or emphasizing its reactionary political system and human rights violations, the NIAC faces accusations of being a stooge for Tehran. Actually, it is a harmless and pacifist oriented organization, which attempts to prevent conflict and achieve peace and reconciliation.
Despite documented claims of preventing war, supporting human rights, limiting sanctions, opposing discrimination, and promoting Iranian heritage, events indicate that the NIAC has not accomplished much - hostility between the U.S. and Iran has continued on a monotonic path, Tehran has not curbed its human rights violations, sanctions have been crippling and the Iranian community does not seem to be too active in the fray.
NIAC's most prominent failure is its naive approach - insinuating that both the United States and Israel can reach accords with the Islamic Republic despite the grievances expressed by the Mullahs against western nations, many of which are uncompromising and legitimate.
As one example of a grievance are the constant references to the Mullahs being Hitlers, Iran as a reincarnation of Nazi Germany, and compromise with the Islamic Republic being a repeat of the 1938 Munich Agreement, whereby Great Britain and France permitted Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia. Those using these absurd references must be standing on their heads when reciting them.
Examine Israel. Similar to the Third Reich,
• Is a virulent nationalist and militarist state,
• Has fought continuous wars and increased its territory,
• Does not permit marriage within the state between Jew and non-Jew,
• Greatly favors its Jewish ethnicity over all other ethnicities,
• Expresses need for lebensraum (living room) to expand its most prominent Jewish nationality,
• Practices Irredentism, a doctrine that advocates annexation of territories on the grounds of prior historical possession,
• Gathers together one folk to form the nation,
• Constantly uses excuses for wars and expansion similar to the Nazi reference to a "stab in the back" at the Treaty of Versailles,
• Tacitly permits paramilitary forces, such as those in West Bank settlements and a group called "price tag," who attack Palestinians and those opposed to their objectives, and
• Has laws and operations that are exclusive and which many consider racist, including identifying nationals with an ethnic designation and not with an Israeli nationality. All Israelis have Israel citizenship but none have an Israeli nationality.
On October 2, 2013, The Israeli Supreme Court Residents declared that citizens "cannot identify themselves as Israelis in the national registry because the move could have far-reaching consequences for the country's Jewish character."
the Islamic Republic. Iran
• Has almost no nationalism and a weak military.
• Has not fought any wars except when attacked by Iraq,
• Has not acquired any territory during its existence,
• Allows Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women, but does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men,
• Practices strong religious discrimination and some racial discrimination, and
• Permits a paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which protects the regime that emerged from the Iranian revolution.
If the term Munich appeasement is to be applied to an emerging conflict, who most resembles the Third Reich and who attempts to not play the role of either Great Britain or France?
By not breaking down the hostility between Iran and Israel into its fundamental drivers, the NIAC deludes itself into believing that these antagonists can subdue their animosities and have appropriate relations. This naivete was shown in a recent speech by Dr.Trita Parsi, president of NIAC, at an October 2013 prestigious TED Global conference.
Dr. Parsi emphasized that former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin exclaimed that "the best way to rid of enemies is to make friends with them" (originally attributed to Abraham Lincoln) but failed to note that Rabin is dead, assassinated for his overtures to the Arab world and by those who control much of the agenda of present day Israel. Netanyahu's Likud Party was not involved in the assassination and certainly would not approve it, but Netanyahu's Likud is glad that Rabin and his ideas are not around. Quoting the departed in form and concept, rather than facing the truth of the existing is a sure way of getting nowhere.
More bothersome was Dr. Parsi's statement that Iran had always been good to the Jewish people, starting way back to Cyrus the Great, who, in the 6th century B.C., released the Hebrews (and other peoples) from captivity and allowed the former to return to Jerusalem. To those who sense Israel uses the Jewish people for its own advantage and for those Jews who disapprove of Zionism and Israel's actions, this attempt to associate Iranian benevolence to the Jews with a reason for Israel to be friendly with Iran, is patronizing and counterproductive.
The remark insinuates that Israel is a Jewish nation, which it is not - it is a nation with Jews and Arabs - and also intimates world Jewry is synonymous with Israel, which is a false notion that Israel cleverly portrays as being a fact.
NIAC's principal spokesperson maintained that Iran and Israel had previously been cooperative during the 1980's and could build again on that relationship, a far fetched argument that fails to consider the changes in political environment and the arguments that provoke the hostilities.
Why are Iran and Israel hostile toward one another?
Although Iran's detractors view Iran's support for the Palestinians as a hypocritical and anti-Israel political maneuver, this view is nonsensical. Iran's response to Israel's seizure of Palestinian lands and its oppression of the Palestinian people are no different than the United Nations and world view, only more vocal. Iran also fears Israel will eventually take control of the Haram/al Sharif and displace the Muslim world's third holiest site from its 1500 year old position. Israel's occupation of Syria's Golan Heights and its continuous enmity with Assad's Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah, two Shi'a oriented institutions, naturally disturb the Shi'a Mullahs in Iran who have close ties with Hezbollah and Syria. How could it be otherwise?
Israel sees Iran as a threat to its advances and the Islamic Republic's close friendship with Syria and Hezbollah, declared enemies of Israel, an affirmation of the threat. It also uses enmity with Iran to soothe relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
In order for Iran and Israel to establish friendly relations, one of two situations must occur; either Iran abruptly changes its position on Israel's occupation of Palestine and lessens its strong ties with Hezbollah and Syria or Israel, as a minimum, retreats back to the 1967 Armistice Line and returns the Golan Heights to Syria. The former is a total impossibility and the latter is an infinitesimal possibility. What is the NIAC talking about and to whom is it talking?
United States Department of
The depths of hostility between Iran and the United States and the threat of conflagration between them is best described by their grievances against one another.
Revolutionary Iran cannot forget U.S. support for the Shah and for Saddam Hussein.
U.S. Naval forces have destroyed Iranian oil platforms, sunk Iranian warships and continue to patrol the Persian Gulf, as if ready to strike Iran.
On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by surface-to-air missiles fired by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes, while in Iranian airspace. All 290 on board, including 66 children and 16 crew, perished.
The U.S. is allied with Iran's foes - Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Since 1979, a series of presidential orders have sanctioned and crippled Iran's economy and caused suffering to the Iranian people.
Iran accuses the CIA of killing Iranian nuclear scientists and performing cyber attacks on Iranian computer installations.
The U.S. manufactures threats by Iran to pursue aggressive policies, such as constructing ballistic missile defenses close to Russia in order to defend Europe from Iranian missiles.
The U.S. State Department and media continually accuse Iran, without proof, of being a leading sponsor of international terrorism. A typical example of spurious reporting:
30 Years of Terror Sponsored by Iran, Matthew Levitt, NY Daily News, Oct. 23, 2013
As negotiators try to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse, the anniversary of the Beirut bombings serves as a timely reminder that tensions with Iran go beyond the nuclear issue. Thirty years ago today, on Oct. 23, 1983, a delivery van filled with 18,000 pounds of explosives slammed into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Seconds later, another car bomb hit a French military building four miles away. A total of 241 American and 58 French soldiers lost their lives, all members of the Multi-National Forces in Lebanon.
The attack on the Marine barracks was not only the single-largest nonnuclear explosion since World War II, it was also the deadliest terrorist attack against Americans up to that time.
And the legacy of that moment haunts us to this day.
The attacks, perpetrated by Hezbollah under orders from Iran, announced the arrival of the Lebanese Shiite group as a potent, anti-Western terrorist force supported and directed by Tehran. Today, despite warming relations between the United States and Iran, Hezbollah remains a weapon in Iran's arsenal, a means to pursue the agenda of the Islamic Revolution in Syria and in terrorist operations around the world.
Despite the current charm offensive of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- and suggestions by some that the Islamic Republic is moderating its stance -- it is highly unlikely that Iran will ever give a thought to reining in Hezbollah.
Note the following:
(1) Hezbollah did not exist as an organization in 1983.
(2) No proof of how and why Iran gave orders to someone in Lebanon has been shown. Is this logical?
(3) The two suicide bombings occurred after American and French naval forces shelled the Shouf mountains and killed an unspecified number of Lebanese - the obvious reason for the terrorist attacks.
(4) Although this is a single action that occurred thirty years ago, the commentator attempts to give the impression that it has been a continuous pattern for thirty years up until today.
(5) Not being able to relate any proven attacks on Americans by Iran, the commentator establishes a fictitious control mechanism of Hezbollah, that carries out a fallacious Iranian agenda "of the Islamic Revolution in Syria and in terrorist operations around the world." What agenda and, except for tit-for-tat operations with Israel, what terrorist actions?
Although Iran has not attacked or subverted any nation, the U.S. treats Iran as a belligerent and imperialist nation.
Although, since Iranian students (not the new government) seized the U.S. embassy in 1979, the Iranian government has not committed any confirmed acts of aggression or terrorist attacks against the U.S. or its citizens, the U.S.uses every rumor to charge Iran with aggression and terrorism.
The U.S. legitimately protests against Iran's semi-autocratic government and human rights violations, while ignoring the same elements, operating more despoticallyly, in other Islamic states.
Being that Iran's enemies are American friends, the two nations have incompatible foreign policies.
Iran's nuclear pursuits are interpreted by the U.S. as a covert attempt to develop atomic weapons and threaten neighbors.
Iran has many legitimate grievances against the United States, which need accounting, while Washington's grievances are not derived from proven harm to Americans, just from a different viewpoint and some rumors of attacks (in Saudi Arabia's Khobar barracks) and subversion (Catholic Latin America is being cajoled to become jihadist), none of which reach the status of accepted fact. Nor has the U.S. State Department made any attempt (until new President Rouhani's overtures) to reconcile the differences. All foreign policy initiatives have intended to break the will of the Iranian government and make it succumb to U.S. directives or replace the Mullahs.with a new government.
After thirty years of strained relations, no changes in perspectives from either side, and no modification in the government of the Islamic Republic, U.S. policy toward Iran can now be characterized by one active word - punishment - for vocally combating U.S. interests. Iranian policy features no aggresive actions, only extreme words (great Satan) and, more recently, cyber counterattacks. Unless international alignments change, it is difficult to imagine any change in the U.S. and Iran relationship. So, what has to be done and why should it be done?
The New Look at Iran
If by sanctioning, isolating and confronting Iran, the U.S. succeeds in fomenting a revolution in the Islamic Republic, Washington will create one of the most serious civil wars in world history. A country of 75 million, which contains several antagonist and competing institutions ( Marxists. Labor unions, radical Sunnis, radical Shi'a, Bahai, Christian, Revolutionary Guard, monarchists, military), each with millions of adherents, and a plethora of distinctly separatist nationalities (Iranian, Alawi, Arab, Baluchi, Kurd, Azeri) can, without central control, erupt into massive conflagrations, similar to those occurring in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt. Add the eager Al Qaeda look alikes, who take advantage of the civil disturbances, and death will be at every doorstep. Is that what a civilized word wants?
What the civilized world wants is a nuclear free and stable Middle East that does not produce terrorists - exactly what the United States and Iran want and can assist in constructing. More appropriately stated - must and together can construct.
If Israel's nuclear weapons are neutralized, will Iran halt its nuclear pursuits? Definitely! What other purpose can Iran have for its nuclear developments than to neutralize Israel's weapons? And what reason does Israel have for its weapons? Its government claims it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East. If there are no nuclear weapons, then there is no first. So, Israel has no need for an atomic arsenal. Or do they?
If push came to shove and Israel started to lose its military dominance, for sure, Israel will use the Sampson option. A nuclear free Middle East subdues the fears of the Middle East nations, which demands neutralizing Israel's nuclear weapons and simultaneously halting Iran's developments. The two are linked and one cannot occur without the other.
Instability in the Middle East is due to four considerations - Sunni/Shi'a divide, Al Qaeda operations, corrupt and repressive states and Israel's expansion and occupation of the Palestinian lands.
In this cauldron of corruption and autocracies, which pits Sunni against Shi'a, Gulf states and Saudi Arabia against Iran, religious extremists against moderates and Israel against all, the United States makes its choice of allies. And whom does Washington support - those who are the most repressive, most corrupt, most militaristic, most prone to cause Middle East instability, and to add to the obvious State Department confusion, the principal instigators of Al Qaeda terrorism. Just the latter selection is sufficient to demonstrate the ugliness and carelessness of U.S. foreign policy.
Compare the workings of the rigid and cloistered clerical government of Iran with the autocratic mechanisms of the jet setting royal families of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, the human rights record in Iran with the extensive and violent suppression of human rights in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the corruption in Iran with the financial manipulation by oligarchies in the Arab states, and Iran, when compared to its adversaries, seems almost a well functioning democracy and a nation of justice. More important - Iran has no connection to Al Qaeda and no Al Qaeda terrorists operating against the United States have originated from Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia supported Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda during the Soviet/Afghan war, the 9/11 terrorists were composed of 15 Saudis, Saudi Arabia and Yemen supplied the manpower for the original Al Qaeda in Iraq, Qatar assisted Al Qaeda elements to overthrow Ghadaffi in Libya and both Saudi Arabia and Qatar equip and ferry fighters to overthrow the the Syrian government and establish an Islamic state in the Levant.
Don't ignore Israel, which despite its intensive propaganda and pretense of only defending itself, has provoked international terrorism and stands accused of expropriating Palestinian lands and causing the destruction of the Palestinian people. What international terrorism has Iran provoked, what lands has it seized, whose lands has it occupied, and what ethnic group ( maybe the Bahai) has it destroyed?
Added to the masochism, which pushes the United States to engineer policies and coups that react negatively against the American people and support those who are harmful to the world, is the lack of recognition of the nature of the country that is Iran. The Islamic Republic is a large and highly populated nation of 75 million, a rich and ancient civilization of resourceful peoples who have given the world treasures of cultural expressions, organization, poetry, mathematics, and, in previous eras, definitions of social justice. By sanctioning the people and preventing economic development, the United States reinforces the power of the most extreme Mullahs who care more for social control than economic progress. If Iran was able to develop its resources and industry and progress economically, it would also develop strong entrepreneurial and working classes, leading to a vibrant middle class with institutions that could challenge the religious leaders who guide the state.
Nothing can be done unless the U.S. settles accounts with Iran - removes its naval forces from the Persian Gulf, does not actively support those who create internal strife in Iran, drops all sanctions and change its policies of all out support for Israel and the Gulf nations.
And what will be the effect on the United States if its State Department does all that?
Nothing, absolutely nothing. However, the Middle East will start to right itself and proceed in a more positive direction.
An irony in the situation - the nations of the fertile crescent - Iraq, Syria and Iran, plus Egypt - who gave us language, community, agriculture, art, poetry, literature, construction, invention, humanity and civilization, are those most suffering today. The desert and hill tribes of nomadic peoples who sufficed by themselves and had no incentive to promote progress are those most benefiting from civilization. It is as if the world is saying, "You architects of the past, who gave us our constructed present have done your work and are no longer needed. Black gold endears our lives and we pay tribute to those who produce it."
Dan Lieberman is DC based editor of Alternative Insight, a commentary on foreign policy and politics. He is author of the book A Third Party Can Succeed in America and a Kindle: The Artistry of a Dog.