“You guys found me, so I couldn’t have gone too far.”
–David Levick, Australian national, to the US authorities, Mar 2, 2012.
What goes around in the arms business comes around with vengeful force. A state’s effort to indict individuals who sell arms to another state because it so happens to be the convenient enemy of the moment is a punitive, not to mention futile gesture. At the moment those who dare supply the current cartoon criminal of the time – Iran – with arms or arms components are facing an assortment of long sentences that should make a well-informed onlooker nervous.
It is certainly the season for extraditions to the US over the issue of trading in arms with Iran. Last week, US Marshal Robert Almonte said he was working to extradite 65-year-old British national Christopher Tappin to West Texas for the alleged sale of missile batteries to Iran. Ostensibly, these batteries would have been used in Hawk missiles. For $25,000, Tappin handed over the air batteries to individuals who turned out to be undercover American agents (Associated Press, Feb 28).
Entrapment is alive and well, and due process is given a regular trashing when it comes to such cases. Arrangements between the United States and its accommodating aircraft carrier – the United Kingdom – are such that extradition proceedings are heavily weighted in favour of Washington. Criticisms from the Tories when in opposition over the US-UK extradition treaty of 2003 have gone silent. Britain’s Attorney General Dominic Grieve said rather unconvincingly that ‘full judicial scrutiny’ had been offered. Two men – British national Robert Gibson, and Oregon resident Robert Caldwell – were involved in the same case to sell the batteries, landing them sentences of 24 months and 20 months respectively back in 2007.
Australian national David Levick, an electronics supplier since 1978, also finds himself running foul of Uncle Sam’s moral indignation against Iran. He is charged with conspiring to export equipment for a host of military hardware: drones, missiles, torpedos and helicopters. The US Justice Department is levelling five charges against Levick of violating US law aimed to prevent commerce with places or people deemed threats to the United States under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Arms Export Control Act.
The ‘illegal’ business relationship with the Iranian firm Ariasa AG, which was active during the period between 2007 and 2009, is said to have been worth $200,000 (Sydney Morning Herald, Mar 2). Ariasa is owned by Hossein Ali Khoshnevisrad, an Iranian citizen charged in 2009 by US authorities for obtaining the equipment for the building and maintenance of aircraft used by the Iranian military. The transactions stopped, according to Levick, after Australia’s often bumbling intelligence service, ASIO, gave him a friendly call, confiscated his computers and warned him not to ‘be sending these’.
The remarks made by Levick to journalists after receiving news of the Grand Jury indictment are telling and true. ‘In 1978, you weren’t allowed to sell to Russia, Somalia, and those sorts of places, but these other guys [Iran] weren’t on the list. They keep changing the bloody list.’ Official tactics, however, remain tediously consistent, with the Justice Department suggesting that Levick was deceptive, concealing ‘the final end-use and end-suers of the goods from manufacturers, distributors, shippers, and freight fowarders in the United States and elsewhere, as well as from US Customs and Border Protection.’ The Department’s inane statement on Levick is the stuff of acid fuelled dreams. He ‘remains at large’ when he is distinctly not ‘at large’ anywhere but in his Sydney home.
Let us, however, see how often Iran has featured as a favoured arms customer, notably from the very countries who now, with fanatical intensity, seek to prevent shipments to its armed forces. The American angle on this is particularly interesting, given that Iran became a sanctioned country in 1979 after the vicious profligate, Washington-sponsored Shah fled the country.
In 1985, the great theocracy, embroiled in a bitter conflict with Iraq, approached Washington with an offer to purchase arms. National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane was excited, seeing a sale as ameliorative for Iranian-US relations and a shot in the arm for US influence in the Middle East. Besides, there were seven American hostages being held captive in Lebanon at the behest of the Iranians. President Ronald Reagan, more confused than ever, hesitated – a deal on hostages would be disastrous to his public stance of refusing to negotiate with terrorists.
Reagan caved in, allowing the sale of arms to Iran in violation of the very same legislative arrangement we now find being used with punitive enthusiasm – a situation that put him in some strife, though no where near the strife he should have found himself in. President Teflon had mastered the art of doddering deflection and realistic amnesia. Instead, the role of ceremonial, publicly televised seppuku fell to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who had been siphoning funds from the missile sales to ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’ – the Nicaraguan Contras.
Even the Israelis, who righteously refuse to allow the Iranians an opportunity to obtain a nuclear weapon, were happily supplying the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime during its war with Saddam Hussein. A bare murmur of this was mentioned when Israeli government radio accused Iranian troops in 1986 of training Lebanese Shiite guerrilla to attack the South Lebanon Army, then trained by Israel (Washington Report, Nov 1986). At that point, Israel’s arms to Iran totalled $500 million annually, at least according to the sources of the London Observer. Politics and perversion are often Siamese twins.
Whatever the truth of the claims by Levick, the entire picture is a rotten one. Trading with Iran has been the business of its enemies for years, even by its mortal enemies. Should he be convicted on each charge, he may well spend the rest of his life in a US prison rotting in the name of cant and liberty. That is hardly Canberra’s concern.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com