THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE IRAN “THREAT” (Part 1)
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 28 Oct 2009
The Iran Versus the U.S.-Israeli-NATO Threats
It is spell-binding to see how the U.S. establishment can inflate the threat of a target, no matter how tiny, remote, and (most often) non-existent that threat may be, and pretend that the real threat posed by its own behavior and policies is somehow defensive and related to that wondrously elastic thing called "national security."
We should recall that this establishment got quite hysterical over the completely non-existent threat from Guatemala in the years 1950-1954, a very small and very poor country, essentially disarmed, helped by a U.S. and "allied" arms boycott, quickly overthrown in June 1954 by a minuscule U.S.-organized proxy force invading from our ally Somoza’s Nicaragua.
But a telegram drafted in the name of Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles shortly before the 1954 regime change in Guatemala warned that this country had become a "challenge to Hemisphere security and peace" and was "increasingly [an] instrument of Soviet aggression in this hemisphere" and a "menace to [the] stability of strategic Central America and Caribbean area," so that U.S. policy was "determined [to] prevent further substantial arms shipments from reaching Guatemala."1
And the New York Times featured this terrible threat repeatedly (one favorite, the lying headline of Sidney Gruson’s "How Communists Won Control of Guatemala," March 1, 1953), a propaganda campaign dating back to 1950 that extended throughout the media, even reaching The Nation magazine (Ellis Ogle, "Communism in the Caribbean?" March 18, 1950).
Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, even tinier Grenada, the nutmeg capital of the world, and of course Saddam Hussein’s "weapons of mass destruction," all posed dire threats that caused the U.S. Free Press to leap into active propaganda service.
So the present intense focus on Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons threat is in a great tradition. But it never ceases to amaze the extent to which the media journalists and editors, reliably following the official party line, are able to apply a truly laughable double standard as well as to make another victim into an aggressor and dire threat. It’s déjà vu all over again, for the umpteenth time!
With minor exceptions journalists are now, and have been for many years, spiritually "embedded" in the military and corporate system.
"Free trade" and the U.S. right to intervene and straighten out everybody across the globe – while of course protecting our "national security" – are premises of the professional embedsmen and embedswomen.
Harking back again to Guatemala in 1954, we have the classic but still salient and cynical observation of United Fruit Company’s PR man Thomas McCann about the journalists given guided "fact-finding" tours of Guatemala in the late democratic era (1952-1954): "It is difficult to make a convincing case for manipulation of the press when the victims prove so eager for the experience."2
Think William Broad, Michael Gordon, David Sanger, Judith Miller, Marlise Simons, Steven Erlanger, Ethan Bronner, Seth Mydans, Simon Romero, Bill Keller, etc., etc., just scratching the surface of one large U.S. newspaper.
This has to be coming from the deep structure of the U.S. system, with the corporate and financial sectors and military-industrial complex increasingly affluent and powerful in a system of growing inequality, shaping and limiting political choices and interlocked with and dominating the media via ownership and advertising power. 3
The pro-Israel lobby, closely linked to the military-industrial-complex and other elements of the power structure, pushes politics, the media, and foreign policy in the same direction.
There is much talk these days about the growth of a lunatic fringe on the right that threatens political rationality and even the governability of the country.
But much more important is the structural lunacy that causes supposed "centrists" to choose the funding of a growing war machine, constantly improved methods of killing, and permanent war as an unchallengeable centerpiece of policy and resource use in a world of growing inequality, huge infrastructure needs, and major environmental threats. Indeed, structural lunacy is now built into the system and poses a greater threat than rightwing lunacy, which flows in good part from the impact and propaganda of the primary lunacy.4
A sad fact is that U.S. power and global (mainly Western) elite interests are so great that U.S. and Israeli imperial projects can also mobilize the support of the "international community" (i.e., political leaders and international institutions, not popular majorities), which regularly transforms the chosen villain into the target, not only of the superpower, but also of the United Nations – especially the Security Council and some of the UN agencies.
A dramatic case in point has been the U.S. and U.K. use of the UN in their attacks on Iraq over two decades, first with the Persian Gulf war and follow-up "sanctions of mass destruction" (1990-2003), then with their outright aggressions beginning in the spring of 2002 and in their classic "shock and awe" attack and invasion starting in March 2003.
The United States, with UN assistance, refused to allow Saddam to negotiate his way out of Kuwait in 1990-1991, and in the bombing war that followed, it deliberately destroyed Iraq’s electrical and water purification and sanitation systems; and then, during the sanctions regime that followed, it refused to allow the import of repair equipment, with the resultant death of 500,000 children (along with a fair number of adults), declared "worth it" in Madeleine Albright’s famous words. This was war-criminal and genocidal activity, but unnoticed by the international community or by Samantha Power and the "responsibility-to-protect" cadres.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Iraq experience is how the UN was used to prepare the ground for the forthcoming aggression and occupation, and then to ratify it afterwards!
The U.S. and U.K. pressed evermore onerous UN inspections of Iraq’s alleged "weapons of mass destruction" programs, always claiming that the previous inspections weren’t sufficiently thorough, and that those (non-existent) WMD posed a serious threat to international peace and security.
When the weapons inspectors of UNMOVIC found nothing despite the most stringent and intrusive inspections regime in history, 5 and a strong majority of the 15-member Security Council wouldn’t provide the U.S. and U.K. with a vote in favor of war, 6 the Bush and Blair administrations attacked Iraq anyway, in a gross violation of the UN Charter.
But the Security Council not only failed to condemn this clear act of aggression, it soon voted for the United States occupation rights.7 And the subsequent death of a million more Iraqis and creation of four million Iraqi refugees has in no way impeded the U.S.’s ability to manage the UN and international community.
This is dramatically displayed in the U.S., UN, EU, and media treatment of Iran.
In fact, the media, whose leaders had not yet even begun to apologize for their gullibility in disseminating the pre-March 2003 lies on Iraq,8 and the UN leadership, which ought to have been embarrassed by having been lied to and played a sucker and made an aggression-collaborator in the run-up to the war, and then an occupation-collaborator, both quickly resumed the same service when the United States turned its attention to the alleged threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program in May 2003.9
But it is not that the media and UN never learn. Instead, what makes them look so foolish and so much like instruments of the imperial state is that power rules – and they are instruments of the imperial state. And there is nobody with enough political muscle and courage to tell the emperor and the agents-prostitutes of his imperial court in a voice loud enough to be heard that "he has nothing on at all." Even some of the victims can be bullied or bought to stay quiet, or to join the "coalition of hegemonist power-projection" (e.g., Russia and China, in joining the sanctions parade against the Iran menace).
The misrepresentations and hypocrisy in the construction of the Iranian threat, and of the need for the United States and the "international community" to police and counter this threat, are numerous indeed. In what follows, we address some of them.
1. The most remarkable feature of the construction of the Iran "threat" is that it has been organized by the world’s three preeminent gangster regimes: The United States, Britain, and Israel (though Israel is largely forbidden from playing a public role).
These three regimes have been engaged in major violations of international law over the same years that they brought Iran into the crosshairs of the "international community." Whereas the U.S. and U.K. have invaded and occupied both Afghanistan and Iraq (countries to Iran’s east and west) during this decade alone, and they aided Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as it carried out a bloody war of aggression against Iran in the 1980s, Iran has not moved outside its borders in the last century and beyond.
Yet, these unclean U.S. and U.K. hands have made no difference to the exercise of their right and capacity to organize international sanctions against Iran. Along with their allies in the NATO bloc (see the Concluding Note, below), they are committed to the permanent expansion of their military alliance and to permanent war and the militarization of vast areas of the planet.
As the unquestioned leader of this gang of super rogues, the United States is escalating its wars against distant Afghanistan and Pakistan and it is still occupying Iraq following its massive attack and invasion of 2003, which has virtually destroyed that country; and Israel, after its UN Charter violation and war in Lebanon in 2006, has accelerated its dispossessions and settlements in the Occupied West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and more recently carried out a brutal onslaught against the Gaza Palestinians.
Israel regularly prevents unwanted negotiations from reaching a settlement with the Palestinians because a defined, internationally recognized border would make Israel’s further dispossession of Palestinians more difficult. The United States underwrites a phony "peace" — but really ethnic-cleansing — process in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Meanwhile, it wages its own serial wars and prepares for future wars because U.S. power projection is institutionalized in this highly militarized society, and weapons, threats, and violence rank among the United States’ primary (and booming) export businesses.10 The vested interests at work here are clearly immense. As Madeleine Albright once said to Colin Powell, "What is the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?"11
2. The United States organized the overthrow of the then-democratic government of Iran in 1953 and installed a torture-prone dictator, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi,12 his torturers trained by U.S. and Israeli experts. With the Shah in power, the United States actually encouraged Iran’s development of nuclear energy.13 But with his overthrow in 1979, the United States reversed course and nuclear energy was no longer permissible for Iran. This crude politicization of nuclear energy rights and perversion of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)14 does not influence the UN, EU, or media treatment of this issue.
3. Meanwhile, Israel has built up a nuclear weapons arsenal that includes some 150-250 warheads, plus delivery systems by land, sea, air, and ballistic missile, with the help of the United States, France, and Germany, and has managed to maintain and improve this capability for more than 40 years while refusing to sign the NPT and subject itself to IAEA inspections. It is well established that a secret agreement was struck between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier back in 1969 to accept and to maintain silence over the Israeli nuclear weapons program, often referred to as the "U.S.-Israeli nuclear understanding."15
Less well known but reported of late is that this understanding was reaffirmed in discussions between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter’s visit to the White House in May of this year.
After U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller had lumped Israel together with three other nuclear-weapons states (India, Pakistan, and North Korea) in her remarks at a preparatory session for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, stating that "Universal adherence to the NPT . . . remains a fundamental objective of the United States," the reaction in Israel was hysterical.16
By the date Netanyahu sat down with Obama on May 18, Avner Cohen and George Perkovich explain, Israel’s "ultimate nightmare" faced Netanyahu. "[I]f Iran is willing to negotiate seriously, it might agree to substantial concessions only on a regional basis, as a step towards the establishment of a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone.
In such a case, Israel could be pressed to make its own nuclear concessions, possibly even to shut down the Dimona reactor as part of the price for effectively halting Iran’s enrichment activities at Natanz. This last point may have far-reaching ramifications on Israel’s entire bargain with the bomb."17
According to the Washington Times, however, Obama "reaffirmed" the not-so-secret "understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections." Netanyahu even boasted over Israel’s Channel 2 television that when he met with Obama in May, he "asked to receive from him an itemized list of the strategic understandings that have existed for many years between Israel and the United States on that issue." Obama obliged, Netanyahu added. In effect, "The president gave Israel an NPT treaty get out of jail free card," one Senate staffer told the Washington Times.18
With this reaffirmation of the 1969 understanding, the 40-year-old double standard is officially institutionalized and the issues at stake are not discussible in the Free Press. As was the case with the Shah of Iran, a U.S. client is exempt from the stern rules that apply to a target like present-day Iran, and the political leadership and media can get hugely excited and indignant at Iranian "secrecy" on its nuclear facilities, while maintaining complete silence and zero indignation at Israeli secrecy on its Dimona nuclear facilities in the southern Negev desert.
This double standard is of course helped along by target demonization and suppression or playing down of murderous and illegal behavior by "our side," and it is carried out by both the internalization of bias and professional levels of pretended objectivity.
So thoroughly institutionalized is this double standard that when, for the first time in its history, the annual General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, held in Vienna in mid-September, voted 49 to 45 to adopt a binding resolution that "calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards," that is, for Israel’s nuclear weapons program to be treated like Iran’s civilian nuclear program, thereby "realizing the universality of the NPT in the Middle East,"19 the English-language news media observed near total silence about the vote.
As best we can tell, the only major English-language print daily that reported this resolution was the next day’s Irish Times,20 and nothing showed up in any major U.S. print media.
4. Also unmentionable is the fact that the United States is itself in violation of the NPT (as is every other state that tested a nuclear weapon prior to January 1, 1967 21), as Article VI requires that all parties to the NPT "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."22
But they have not done this, and the United States has openly striven to improve its nuclear weapons to make their use more practicable in warfare,23 and both the United States and NATO have openly declared the importance of a "credible" nuclear posture to the Alliance "to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war."24
Moreover, Security Council Resolution 1887, adopted with much fanfare during the opening week of the United Nations in late September, when a sitting U.S. president chaired the Council session for the first time in UN history, calls upon all Parties to the NPT to live up to the NPT’s nuclear disarmament demands under Article VI, just as it calls upon all states that are not Parties to the NPT "to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms."25
But as power rules, the multiple NPT violations of the five declared nuclear-weapon states that claim membership in the NPT while rejecting disarmament (the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China), the violations of the three declared nuclear-weapon states outside the NPT (India, Pakistan, and North Korea), and the violations of the sole nuclear-weapon state never to have declared its status as a nuclear power while also remaining outside the NPT (Israel) are ignored (excepting for North Korea, among the most isolated UN members in the world). Nor do these violations interfere in the least with UN, international community, and mainstream media indignation over the alleged NPT violations of the target country, Iran.
5. Both the United States and Israel have threatened to attack Iran. Both have nuclear arms and delivery systems. But Iran is not to be permitted to enrich uranium within its national territory, much less build a single nuclear weapon, although given these credible threats by its declared enemies, it urgently needs such weapons as part of its self-defense. The Israeli military analyst Martin van Creveld has even argued that, given the destruction that the United States has caused to the nuclear-weaponless Afghanistan and Iraq, "Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons [to deter an attack], they would be crazy."26
As one senior Pentagon adviser told Seymour Hersh: The Bush administration "believe[d] that that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran and that means war. . . . [The danger is that] it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability."27
But in a world dominated by super rogues and structural lunacy, Iran can be threatened with nuclear attack, literally even attacked by conventional forces (see Point 6, below), but it cannot enrich uranium for peaceful purposes without running afoul of the super rogues and UN agencies. In short, Iran has no right of self-defense. And because even civilian nuclear capability would advance Iran toward weapons capability, it cannot exercise its rights to civilian nuclear facilities as guaranteed by its membership within NPT.
6. The United States and close allies have been engaged in a campaign to destabilize Iran’s government and national life for several years running (at minimum). Of course there is the massive destabilization caused by militarily invading and occupying Iran’s neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, and by saturating the Middle East with weapons of war and human grievances that span generations. There are also the economic sanctions unilaterally imposed on Iran by the United States, but now expanded and enforced by the Security Council.
Then there are the more conventional kind of attacks that the United States has used against dozens of countries. The Bush administration wasn’t shy about publicizing its intention to "mount a covert ‘black’ operation" against Iran, even leaking (i.e. publicizing via anonymous sources fed to the media) the fact that Bush had "signed a ‘nonlethal presidential finding’ that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions," as ABC TV News reported in 2007.28
The word ‘nonlethal’ needs to be taken with a large grain of salt: ABC also reported that Bush "supported and encouraged an Iranian militant group Jundullah, that has conducted deadly raids inside Iran from bases on the rugged Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan ‘tri-border region’," with Jundullah ("Soldiers of God") itself claiming that it had "been recruiting and training ‘hundreds of men’ for ‘unspecified missions’ across the border in Iran." Scores of terrorist bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and shoot-downs of Iranian military aircraft inside Iran provide some evidence of what these "unspecified missions" really entail.
On Iran’s periphery, Bush recruited minority Baluchis in the southeast, minority Kurds in the northwest, and minority Azeris in the north, and threw hundreds of millions of dollars at them. The purpose, as Hersh reports it, was to develop a "secret military task force" inside Iran "designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership" and, as one Bush insider told Hersh, to "undermine the government through regime change."29
Planning for the final attack on Iran was "enormous" under Bush, a senior intelligence official told Hersh. "Space assets, SLBMs [submarine-launched ballistic missiles], tactical air, and sabotage, cooperation from the Turks and the Russians . . . . significant air attacks on [Iran’s] countermeasures and anti-aircraft missiles — a huge takedown."
Also various combinations of "bunker-buster" bombs, including "tactical nuclear weapons, such as the B6-11, against underground nuclear sites."30 (Israel and the United States have kept the threat or potential use of "bunker-buster" bombs [by whatever name] against Iran’s nuclear facilities a recurring topic for the international media since at least September 2004.31)
When Hersh reported this in the spring of 2006, the only primary underground nuclear site was Iran’s pilot fuel enrichment plant at Natanz, some 200 miles south of Tehran, and under IAEA surveillance since 2003. Now, of course, a second underground site, built into a mountainside at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, has also been disclosed. It is significant that, when discussing the facility at Fordo, Iranian political figures explain its location in terms of Iran’s need to defend it against possible Western bombing attack.
"Given the threats we face every day," Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said, "we are required to take the necessary precautionary measures, spread our facilities and protect our human assets. Therefore, the facility is to guarantee the continuation of our nuclear activities under any conditions."32 In September, the Israeli Air Force General Ido Nehushtan told the Jerusalem Post that Israel is concerned about the Russian-built S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system, which is "very advanced with long ranges and many capabilities.
We need to make every effort to stop this system from getting to places where the IAF needs to operate or may need to operate in the future."33 During an interview with the Russian Interfax news service in May, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller stated that the "U.S. is very concerned about the potential sale of S-300s to Iran, because they could be very destabilizing in that region."34
Her reason was the same as General Nehushtan’s: The S-300s are very good at defending sites targeted by aerial attack. The largest purchaser of the S-300 in the Middle East is Iran. An Iran that can defend itself could destabilize the region, goes the U.S. and Israeli argument — that is, could make other states more likely to attack Iran, before it acquires the means to better defend itself.
In short, both the United States and Israel not only have openly threatened Iran with military attack — itself a violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition that "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force" (Art. 2.4) — but the United States has been directly and indirectly carrying out military and terrorist moves against Iran for years, just as the United States and Britain did in bombing Iraq’s surface-to-air defense systems well before they launched the actual invasion in March 2003.
In fact, a large suicide bombing was carried out on October 18, 2009 in the city of Pisheen, in Iran’s far southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, near its border with Pakistan.
The bombing killed a number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders as well as civilians, and led immediately to suspicions of indirect U.S. involvement. Mohammad Marzieh, the chief prosecutor for the province, told the media that the Sunni-Baluchi ethnic minority organization Jundullah had claimed responsibility for the attack, one of many it has carried out since 2005, leaving hundreds of victims, and once again putting the lie to the "nonlethal" side of the presidential finding signed by Bush in 2007.35
All of this is in violation of international law, but it is normalized in the establishment media and international community, where it poses no obstacle to the relentless focus on the perfidy of the Iranian regime — including the massive attention devoted to Iran’s presidential election last June, along with major efforts to discredit it36 — and the alleged threat that the target of these attacks poses to its attackers.
7. In presiding over the session of the Security Council at which Resolution 1887 was unanimously adopted, President Barack Obama told the Council: "We must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise and that treaties will be enforced." But, as with the decades-long U.S.-Israeli "nuclear understanding" by which the United States singles out Israel to protect it against demands that it accede to the NPT and open its nuclear program to IAEA inspections (or dismantle its weapons program altogether), the Obama administration reaffirmed the United States’ special understanding with India within 24 hours of 1887’s adoption.
The Bush administration had reached a series of major deals with India and the U.S. Congress beginning with the July 2005 Joint Statement on civilian energy cooperation with India, and culminating in the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act of October 2008.37 Throughout these deals, the so-called "India anomaly," the fact that India has been a wildcat nuclear-weapons proliferator since its first weapons test in 1974, and refuses to join the NPT, lurked in the background.
The United States pressured India to accept a "separation" between its civilian and its military nuclear programs such that any U.S. assistance India receives will go strictly to the peaceful, civilian side; although this wall is largely if not completely imaginary, the pretense that it helped to bring India into conformity with the NPT was a critical selling point for the rest of the U.S.-India deal.
The Bush administration then joined with Congress in creating India-specific exemptions under the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act that will enable the United States to export nuclear technology and material to India. Perhaps most remarkably, the United States also pressured the Nuclear Suppliers Group to lift its ban on the export of fissile material to India, under the just-mentioned separation pretense. Last, the United States pressured the IAEA to reach a watered-down "safeguards" agreement with India, but on condition that India not be forced to join the NPT, a move India adamantly opposes.
What has driven this new "strategic partnership" between the United States and India are the rapid development of China as an economic (and no doubt eventual military) power38 and the desire of U.S.-based firms in the nuclear energy as well as military sectors to sell nuclear reactors and weapons to India.
The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced plans to increase India’s nuclear energy capacity some one-hundredfold by 2050 (from 4,120 megawatts today, up to 470,000 megawatts); while the projections may be unrealistic, "each reactor sale to India by companies such as Areva and Westinghouse signifies contracts worth billions of dollars and translates into thousands of jobs for Americans, French and Russians."39
Another potential windfall to U.S. firms, India plans to spend $100 billion on military imports over the next decade as it begins replacing its Soviet-era hardware; "India is steering away from traditional ally Russia, . . . and looking toward the United States to help upgrade its weapons systems and troop gear."40
But India being an active nuclear weapons rogue since its first atomic test in 1974, one of three nuclear-weapons states outside the NPT, which is now reportedly capable of building "high-yield" bombs of 200 kilotons or more,41 U.S. law unambiguously prohibits such deals.
Hence, the many bilateral agreements and new U.S. laws exempting India since 2005. Thus when asked at a September 25 news conference in New York City whether the "U.S. side" could comment on India’s letter to the UN "saying that India was not in a position to sign the NPT," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake said the "resolution  that was passed yesterday unanimously by the Security Council does not have any bearing on our bilateral civil nuclear cooperation. . . . So we’ve provided reassurances to that effect to our friends in the Indian Government."42
Attending the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh, India’s Prime Minister Singh was more direct: "We have been assured that this is not a resolution directed at India and that the U.S. commitment to carry out its obligations under the civil nuclear agreements that we have signed with United States remains undiluted. That we have been assured officially by the United States government."43
Of course, both Singh and Blake are right, and the U.S. President wrong: Security Council resolutions, the NPT, international law, and the like are enforced not according to their letter or their spirit, but according to the asymmetries of world power.
The Superpower Gang gets to gang up on Iran, and to rattle whatever resolutions and treaties it can muster over the heads of the managed populations in countries such as the United States, Britain, France, and Germany to keep their minds properly fixed on the targeted villain.
India, on the other hand, one of the genuine rogue states in the field of nuclear weapons proliferation (exactly like Israel and Pakistan, but not like Iran), gets its own unique version of the "NPT treaty get out of jail free card," compliments first the Bush and now the Obama administrations. The "India anomaly" stands — though there is nothing in the least anomalous about it.
8. Since early 2002, when Bush first lumped Iran, Iraq, and North Korea into the "axis of evil," states "seeking weapons of mass destruction" and "arming to threaten the peace of the world,"44 the United States has accused Iran of pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program. Prior to 2003, Iran had indeed failed to meet certain obligations under its NPT-Safeguards Agreement "with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed," as the IAEA concluded at the time.45 The IAEA then placed the relevant facilities under its surveillance, according to its standard safeguards protocol.
From roughly May-June 2003 on,46 the U.S. strategy has been to claim incessantly that Iran is in violation of the NPT. Although Iran has rights under the NPT to research and develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,47 the United States maintains that it will not accept certain Iranian nuclear activities, whether lawful or not. In particular, this relates to Iran’s enrichment of uranium — "mastering the nuclear-fuel cycle" — at one or more uranium enrichment plants, most notably the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz.
As the Bush administration’s former UN Ambassador John Bolton once stated: "This is a test of the Security Council. If the Iranians insist, as they have for years now, that they want an indigenous uranium enrichment capability, that’s something we can’t accept."48
Through early 2006, the United States pressed the IAEA’s Board of Governors to take action against Iran based on the "absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes," where this "absence of confidence" is a function, not of Iran’s conduct, but of its accusers’ unwillingness to accept any measure that Iran undertakes.
When the IAEA’s Board finally agreed in February 2006 to pass along its "dossier" on Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council, the Board’s resolution (among other things) "[deemed] it necessary for Iran to re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," stated that Iran needed to provide "credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," and referred the matter to the Security Council.49 The Security Council obliged the United States and, by December 2006, began imposing sanctions on Iran.50
These sanctions remain in place today, almost three years later. But now there are greatly heightened pressures from the U.S., U.K., and France to tighten the sanctions, despite the IAEA’s latest (and its 27th overall) report in late August that it "continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."51
The whole seven-year-plus charade by which the United States and its allies have been able to exploit the IAEA to harass Iran over its nuclear program can be summed up by a sentence from the August report (repeated many times over the years): The IAEA is not yet "in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran"52 — a condition deliberately structured so as to be impervious to refutation by Iran or, crucially, as the world witnessed in the case of Iraq, until such time as it is too late to make a material difference.
Iran’s inability to prove a negative to the satisfaction of states that won’t accept the existence of Iran’s nuclear program anyway is the intellectual and moral loophole that enables one IAEA report after another to come up empty-handed and yet provide the impetus for the next round of U.S.-driven allegations, and the next report.
Phrasing such as this was evident in the very first of the IAEA’s published reports in June 2003 (i.e., "the Agency’s ability to provide credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear activities is limited"53), and phrasing like it has been used in virtually every other one of the IAEA’s published reports on Iran since then.
The belief in the West that the Iranians (or the Persians) are so cunning and dangerous that the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran is far more threatening than anything concrete the IAEA can investigate helps to explain why the incoming director of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, can state in July that he "[doesn’t] see any evidence in IAEA official documents [that Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons capability],"54 but his words have zero impact: Iran simply is building nuclear weapons.
It also explains why the current director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, after 12 years in his post and the recipient of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for the IAEA’s "efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes,"55 can tell the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists —
In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and international community. But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far.56
— yet almost nobody listens, and the search for Iran’s nuclear weapons program gains momentum.
It explains why, based strictly on leaks from anonymous sources, first Associated Press and then the New York Times can publish spectacular, headline-grabbing allegations about an internal IAEA "Secret Annex" to its periodic reports that is said to prove Iran "has the ability to make a nuclear bomb and worked on developing a missile system that can carry an atomic warhead" (AP, September 17) and "acquired ‘sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable’ atomic bomb" (New York Times, October 4) — and even ElBaradei’s counter-claim that the IAEA "has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon program in Iran" is drowned out by the allegations.57
And it explains why Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, and Nicolas Sarkozy can call a special news conference ahead of the opening round of the Group of 20 Summit in Pittsburgh in late September, where they pretended that their intelligence services had caught Iran red-handed with a covert, undeclared nuclear facility, even though this facility at Fordo, near Qom, already had been declared by Iran, exactly as Iran is supposed to do under agreements related to the NPT — and this non-revelation about an already-declared facility becomes the gotcha moment, after several days of using the start of the 64th session of the United Nations to single out Iran and "draw a line in the sand" that the "international community" mustn’t permit Iran to cross: "Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear program" (Brown).58
9. As we’ve just seen, in the current establishment hysteria over the Iran threat, one important feature has been demonization of the target state; and the more successfully the targeted state is demonized, the more the principle of anything goes holds true.
Indeed, demonization is standard operating procedure when a U.S. attack and regime change are in the offing. In the case of Guatemala back in 1950-1954, there was a steady official and mainstream media outcry over an alleged takeover by the Reds (which was untrue). In a notable episode the importation of a boatload of small arms from Czechoslovakia by the threatened country was the basis of great publicity and worry in the U.S. media.
The CIA, however, greeted this news with glee as the agency "had long been searching for a credible pretext under which to ‘unleash’ Castillo Armas [the CIA’s contra leader based in Nicaragua]," and the CIA had already begun to plant weapons with conspicuous Soviet markings for discovery by the Guatemalan police.59
In the 1980s, Nicaragua’s Sandinista leaders were accused of supplying weapons to Salvadoran rebels, were allegedly importing MIGs from the Soviet Union at the time of — and distracting attention from — their 1984 election, and were said to be sponsoring a "revolution without borders." Iraq was allegedly building those WMD and threatening U.S. national security. And then Iran was accused of supplying various Iraqi groups with weapons — only the U.S. invader had a right to supply arms in Iraq — and Iran is of course pursuing a nuclear energy program that has the United States and Israel trembling as both rattle their nuclear arsenals.
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Oct 2009.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE IRAN “THREAT” (Part 1), is included. Thank you.
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