Saturday 6 June 2009

Who's afraid of a nuclear Iran?

Hardly a week goes by without the appearance of some “news” story about how close Iran is to developing nuclear weapons. This “news” is usually conveyed in a way to make it clear that were Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, this would be a very, very bad thing indeed. Stories about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme are so frequent that is has almost become accepted wisdom in the west that Iran does indeed have such a programme. Iran has of course always denied that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons and despite the best efforts of Israel and the neo-cons in the USA, there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme. However let us leave that aside as I want to focus on why the default position of just about everyone who opines about this matter is that Iran must not under any circumstance be allowed to have nuclear weapons. What is so frightening about a nuclear Iran?

In the first place it cannot be stated often enough that the mere possession of weapons, whether nuclear or not, does not equal intent to use said weapons. Otherwise, given the size of the nuclear and non nuclear arsenals of both the USA and the USSR during the cold war, the world would surely be at an end. We in the UK are the proud owners of our own nuclear weapons, not to mention a fair sized military, yet we claim we are not a threat to anyone. So, why the fear of a nuclear Iran?

There are it seems to me, two main reasons for this. The main one is the insistent campaign from Israel to portray Iran as a mortal and existential threat to the very survival of Israel. In this Israel has had the unwavering support, as usual of the USA, which for its own reasons has pursued an anti Iran policy ever since the creation of the Islamic Republic. In the case of the USA, the Islamic Republic of Iran represents a direct challenge to US hegemony in the Middle East. For this reason the USA has thwarted Iranian membership of the World Trade Organization, named Iran as part of an axis of evil and pursued a policy of regime change in Iran. And despite the nice words from Obama, his administration has not as yet changed policy towards Iran.

Israeli fear of Iran seems strange and overblown. Overblown is certainly is, for why would Iran attack Israel? In fact how could it attack Israel? With no common border, Iran lacks any of the necessary military means to mount an airborne or naval attack on Israel. Everyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of geography and weapons knows this. Even if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons this would change nothing. Any attack on Israel would not only bring about the unleashing of Israel's own nuclear weapons, but also the full might of the USA, leading to the almost certain obliteration of Iran. But this has nothing to do with reality. Israel needs an enemy, a bogeyman with whom to scare its own citizens and above all to scare the rest of the world into supporting poor little peace loving Israel, permanently under threat from powerful neighbours. This is nothing more than the continuation of the Jew as victim narrative so dear to Zionists. Previously Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, used to serve as the threatening bogeyman. Now that Iraq is a model democracy and under American occupation, it can no longer fulfil that role. A new bogeyman was needed and Iran fits the bill quite nicely. Already regarded as a hostile enemy by the Americans, and now with a populist President, every willing to utter a bellicose quote or two, Iran is perfect as the existential threat to Israel. Faced with such a threat to its very survival how can Israel be expected to make any kind of accommodation with the Palestinians, who as everyone knows are just the mere stooges of the Iranians. The Israeli aim is to get the world and in particular the Americans to focus on the alleged dangers of an alleged nuclear Iran in order to stave off any international pressure on Israel to face up to its responsibilities towards the Palestinians.

Where does the UK and the rest of the world fit into this picture? If Iran were to acquire a nuclear capacity, this would upset or more likely overthrow the current world order re nuclear weapons. If Iran can get away with developing a nuclear arsenal, then who would be next? Saudi Arabia? Turkey? Brazil? Japan? Such a prospect is widely regarded as unwelcome and to be avoided if at all possible. For the UK and France, a nuclear Iran poses another direct challenge to their pretensions as great powers with permanent seats and vetoes on the UN Security Council.

In all the media froth about a nuclear Iran, little is ever written about what is the point of having nuclear weapons. It is just assumed that our nuclear arsenal is a deterrent, and as such a good thing to have. Of course if it is such a useful thing to have as a deterrent, then it is hard to see why Iran should be denied this benefit. After all the Iranians have not invaded or attacked anybody for some 200 hundred years or more. On the other hand in the last 50 years or so they have been invaded by Saddam's Iraq, egged on and supported by the USA and the UK, subjected to US and UK involvement in the overthrowing of a democratically elected government in the 1950s, this leading to the dictatorship of the Shah. And Iran is still regarded as a hostile regime by the USA. If you were an Iranian would you not want the security that a nuclear deterrent would provide?

The other beneficial (from a UK perspective) aspect of the discussion about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons is that it deflects attention away from the destructive power of non nuclear weapons. Apart from the two atomic bombs dropped by the USA at the tail end of the Second World War, nuclear weapons have not been used. But the carnage has continued, year by year. Millions and millions of people get killed and maimed, but so long as no nuclear weapons are involved, it doesn't seem to matter too much. Leaving aside the carnage from the Second World War, in the last few years we have seen horrific violence caused by the US and UK led invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, with in both cases increasing numbers of civilian casualties. And of course in December and January the Orwellian named Israel Defence Force ( the most moral army in the world) managed to slaughter some 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians, including women and children. And all without the benefit of nuclear weapons. Now if the Palestinians had their own nuclear deterrent?

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