US encirclement presents Islamic Iran with new security challenges

A quick glance at the map of Iran and the surrounding region shows that Iran is now effectively a besieged land. Sandwiched between US-occupied countries on its western and easter borders (Iraq, Afghanistan and arguably Pakistan), and flanked by close allies of the US to its north and south (the Central Asian states and the Arab Persian Gulf states), Iran has hardly any room left to manoeuvre. Just across the Persian Gulf, Oman now has the largest accumulation of US troops and equipment, on a brand-new base built to maintain the US’s presence in the Middle East indefinitely. This formidable presence is reinforced by large bases in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, north of Iran.

This encircling of Islamic Iran is not a chance development. Unlike Iraq, where the invasion had a fast-track pre-attack strategy, the US is still moving carefully against Iran, but this must not be taken as a sign of reluctance to implement its overall strategy. Rather, the sobering experience of Washington’s warmongers in Iraq is caused by the unexpected difficulties they are having to face in occupied Iraq. But while the cloud over Iran is still "no larger than George Bush’s hand", as Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian on October 3, the storm is certainly brewing, and the US strategy seems dreadfully similar to the one used against Iraq. There is the familiar rhetoric of "illegal" weapons, the demands for inspections, the deadlines, the involvement of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the presence of a hostile chorus of paid journalists, "dissidents" and would-be leaders, all commenting adversely on Iran.

One deadline has already come and gone, at the end of October. There was also a surprise visit by the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and an announcement by Iran that it has agreed to all their demands, including a halt on its uranium-enrichment programme. But this announcement was retracted almost immediately after it was made. However, in Europe this was taken as a token denial for domestic consumption. The US responded with caution, keeping its options open. This is all in the public domain, but behind the scenes the plot differs considerably.

Consider, for instance, the recent moves of Pahlavi Junior, the son of the late ex-shah, the would-be king of Iran, as he is known to his US mentors. He is reported to have cut a backroom deal with the neo-conservatives, garnering political support and funding from the US Congress for "private" Iranian-American satellite companies in California. He has also obtained US government sponsorship for external radio channels such as Radio FARDA, geared toward Iranians who are under 30 years of age.

On April 8 Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, introduced an amendment that would provide US $50 million for an "Iran Democracy Foundation", set up to broadcast "democracy" into Iran. Senator Brownback, let us remember, is a born-again neo-conservative with strong ties to the Zionists. His official website claims that "to date, Iran remains one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism-supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah among others." Brownback, known in neo-con circles as "Sam", is a leading player in the crusade against Iran. His bigotry is only matched by his self-righteousness. He sends regular messages to the people of Iran, and believes that "recent reports indicate that Iran’s progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons is moving faster than anticipated with Iran likely possessing these weapons by 2005."

His latest message to the "people of Iran" is that "I am delighted to be able to send my best wishes for a happy NoRooz to the Iranian people. I have heard numerous reports of the widespread celebrations that have been going on inside Iran. Yet again, the Iranian people are showing their courage by celebrating in defiance of the regime’s order that the people turn their back on their own rich culture. NoRooz is a time of beginnings. It is said that how one spends this day will set the tone for the coming year. Iranians by the thousands are spending this day pursuing their freedom, cherishing their ancient civilization and standing tall against tyranny. Indeed, it is a new day in Iran and I am confident it will be the year of your liberation."

The language of the resolution placed in the US Senate by this self-styled messiah of Iran is dreadfully similar to the one used against Iraq. It deserves to be quoted in full to expose the mentality behind the moves against Iran (see box, p. 22).

The resolution is replete with references to "Al-Qa’ida", terrorism, democracy, women’s rights, appeal to the American people’s sense of justice, freedom and numerous other rhetorical strands, aimed at delegitimizing the Islamic State and creating a sense of righteous superioty in the West to justify a future war. But this is merely a sample of the undercurrents now gaining strength in Washington, and Senator Brownback is not the only backbone of the initiative against Iran. Nor is the US$ 50 million set aside to bring "liberty" and "freedom" to Iran the only money available for this cause.

Across the Atlantic, Tony Blair is playing his role as he did before the invasion of Iraq. In a recent speech, Blair repeated that he stands by his view that preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction –” if necessary by pre-emptive force –” is at the top of his foreign policy priorities. Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Blair spun a new theme: the "success" of the war on Iraq, he said, has helped to get Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Together with Bush, Blair is discreetly setting the agenda for future confrontation by bringing Iran into the world’s spotlight. The technique used for this is similar to the one used against Iraq. It involves, among other things, issuing sensational statements, like the one issued by a White House spokesman in July which hinted at the possibility of using force, and warned Iranians that "development of a nuclear weapon is not in their interests". President Bush followed this by stating that "all options remain on the table". In order to maintain the pressure, such statements are followed by "leaked" memos and "secret disclosures", such as one reported by the Los Angeles Times in August, which stated that "the CIA has briefed friendly foreign intelligence services on a contingency plan for air and missile strikes on Iranian nuclear installations."

These moves against Iran, however, are not merely the result of American preoccupation with the Islamic Republic, though this preoccupation cannot be discounted. Much of the pressure comes from Israel. Prime minister Ariel Sharon and his neo-conservative friends in Washington –” the same men who led the drive against Iraq –” are behind this new plan of attack against Iran. These decision-makers, who have great influence over the future actions of the US, have recently formed the "Coalition for Democracy in Iran", which advocates the overthrow of Iran’s Islamic government. This coalition has gathered several well-known hawks, such as Michael Ledeen and Morris Amitay, a former executive director of AIPAC (the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) under one umbrella.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is indeed a serious issue. But security threats facing Iran cannot be countered merely by conventional weapons; the balance of power is overwhelmingly against Iran. Hence only a credible nuclear deterrent is the answer to its security needs. This, however, is a principle that the Islamic Republic has not articulated so far. Instead, it has repeatedly assured the world community that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. This may be prudent, but it lacks moral strength, it compromises on principles, and it remains a major source of an unending drive against its peaceful nuclear programme, because neither the Israelis, nor the Americans, nor their European allies, are going to believe Islamic Iran’s assurances anyway.

By any standard, the right to acquire nuclear arms is not an automatic birthright of the states that possess nuclear arms. If nuclear non-proliferation is a desirable agenda, it must apply to all states and must have a widely recognized and internationally accepted procedure to ensure that non-nuclear states do not risk their territorial integrity (or any other integrity) by not developing credible nuclear deterrence. Furthermore, non-proliferation must involve disarmament of all nuclear-armed states, a principle which the US, Britain and the other three declared bomb-holders made public in 1995. But now we have a class-distinction. The US continues to develop new forms of nuclear weapons; US-friendly states that refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) but have nuclear weapons (India, Israel and now Pakistan) are treated with kid gloves, but Iran, a signatory of the NPT, is being threatened with punishment and possible attack.

When compared with the stand taken by North Korea, the case against Iran falls flat; Iran has no bomb and has consistently said that it has no plans to develop one. It has a declared nuclear-power programme, however, and it plans to develop full-cycle fuel-enrichment to achieve self-sufficiency. But even this appears to be unacceptable to the US and its allies. But the issue is not merely that of fuel-enrichment. As the only Muslim country at the moment with an Islamic government, Iran stands out in the whole world as a prototype for future Islamic movements. It has its weaknesses, and the Revolution has not been successful in maintaining its momentum, but it remains the only reasonably successful experiment in establishing an Islamic state by a mass revolution in modern times. This is what is not "acceptable" to those who wish to impose their own economic and political systems on the rest of the world.

In this situation, Iran cannot simply sit back and wait for the plan to unfold. It needs to take action and mount a counter-offensive while the plans are still being drawn up. One important aspect of this counter-offensive is a "counter media war", aimed at neutralizing the growing anti-Iran feeling in the West. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, which took no measures to mobilize public opinion in the West against imminent attacks, Iran should take action on this front now, before it is too late.

What is needed is a well-articulated stand on principles. It is the people of Iran who have the right to decide their own system of governance. This counter-offensive should point out the fallacies of the "imposed orders" and take the wind out of the sails of the self-righteous ideologies of "freedom" and "democracy" in other lands. The Iraqi quagmire has already produced an environment that is favourable to such a counter-offensive, and Iran must take the lead in exposing the neo-conservatives at the intellectual level through a well-planned effort of public discourse about their self-appointed messianic role.