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Putting the Iran “Threat” in Perspective

In early February, new U.S. Sanctions against Iran went into effect despite the growing sentiment that Washington is discreetly moving towards a more nuanced policy with respect to Iran. To wit, the nomination of Chuck Hagel for the post of Secretary of Defense, whose views on the Middle East in general and Iran in particular are characterized as moderate in American terms. In addition to which, a report just released by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Washington think tank whose purpose is to develop U.S. security policy is unambiguous: fears that an Iranian nuclear weapon would trigger a arms race in the Middle East are grossly exaggerated.

The three countries in the region eventually interested in developing their own nuclear devices are said to be Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. However, as the authors of the report indicate, Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and “…would more likely pursue a more aggressive version of its current conventional defense and civilian nuclear hedging strategy while seeking out an external nuclear security guarantee.”

With regard to Egypt, not only does that country not see Iran’s nuclear ambitions as an existential threat but is besieged by internal political and economic problems rendering it unlikely to embark on such an adventure. In addition, because Egypt’s economy and its military forces being heavily dependent on U.S. largesse, it would probably hesitate antagonizing Washington by developing a nuclear weapon. Finally, Turkey already possesses a nuclear deterrent through its NATO security guarantees.

It has been stated repeatedly that an aggressive Iranian government would represent a danger for the region and for the U.S. Historical fact, however, turns that argument upside down. To the contrary, Iranians have been witness to a number of acts of foreign intervention against their country.

Who can forget that it was foreign intervention, by the British and American governments, that destroyed democracy in Iran. In 1953, the CIA was instrumental in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh following his nationalization of Iranian oil and in bringing the Shah back to power.

The U.S. staunchly supported the Shah of Iran’s regime, despite its brutal repression of the Iranian people. According to Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup And the Roots of Middle East Terror, fears by the Iranians of more U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of their country was what prompted the occupation of the U.S. embassy in 1979.

In 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Strait of Hormuz. Two hundred ninety passengers were killed, including 66 children, ranking it the seventh among the deadliest airliner fatalities. According to the U.S. government, the U.S.S. Vincennes crew misidentified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter. Although a settlement was reached between Iran and U.S., the Vincennes’ captain received the Legion of Merit, and the crew was awarded Combat Action Ribbons.

Last September Efraim Halevy, head of the Mossad from 1998 to 2000, declared in an interview with Haaretz, “What we need to do is to try and understand the Iranians. The basic feeling of that ancient nation is one of humiliation. Both religious Iranians and secular Iranians feel that for 200 years the Western powers used them as their playthings…Thus, the deep motive behind the Iranian nuclear project –which was launched by the Shah- is not the confrontation with Israel, but the desire to restore to Iran the greatness of which it was long deprived.”

Both the U.S. and Israel, however, have repeatedly threatened military action against Tehran in flagrant violation of the UN Charter whose Article 2 states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

As President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have repeatedly stated, diplomacy should be pursued in dealing with the Iranian government. Such an approach should include important verification concessions on the Iranian government’s nuclear energy program, as well as security assurances to the Iranian government that it will not be attacked by the US or Israel.

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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