Council for the National Interest

Iran: The Aggressor or the Aggressed Upon? – Stephen Sniegoski

May 3 2015 / 2:43 pm

In this in-depth analysis, Dr. Sniegoski concludes that there is no apparent reason that Iran would be a threat to American interests. Some of Iran’s key concerns harmonize with those of the United States, such as maintaining the flow of oil to the industrial world (which has been hindered by American-instigated sanctions) and combating radicals (ISIS and al-Qaida) who threaten regional stability. This similarity of interests has been recognized by leading figures in the American traditional foreign policy establishment.

By Stephen J. Sniegoski

The American people are constantly told by most of the mainstream media (and even more so by right-wing radio and Fox News) that Iran is a grave danger to the United States and the entire Middle East region. Three fundamental reasons are given. First, Iran allegedly intends to develop nuclear weapons, which would be a dire threat to the US, Israel and to all of its neighbors, and that it would cheat on any agreement to do otherwise. Second, Iran is said to be actively trying to gain hegemony over the entire region by destabilizing its neighbors. And third, the goal of the Iranian leadership is to destroy Israel, which means the mass killing of Jews—in essence, a second Holocaust. These three arguments are specious with the real reason having to do with the Palestinian issue and Iran’s role in it.  This real reason will be dealt with after the first three arguments are properly debunked.

Iran has neither a nuclear bomb nor an actual nuclear weapons program…. Iran’s nuclear program began under the rule of the Shah, whose view on this subject was shaped by a  study on Iran’s energy needs by the Stanford Research Institute.

In regard to possessing nuclear weapons, the fact of the matter is that Iran has neither a nuclear bomb nor an actual nuclear weapons program. There is simply no good evidence that it does. The oft-made argument that because Iran is a major oil producer its nuclear program could only be for the purpose of developing a bomb is belied by the fact that Iran’s nuclear program began under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who, thinking of the future, wanted Iran to have a source of energy when Iran’s non-renewable oil and gas reserves were depleted and thought that those latter resources could be better used as exports to obtain foreign exchange and help to modernize Iran. It should be noted that the Shah’s view on this subject was shaped by a 1973 study on Iran’s energy needs by the prestigious U.S.-based Stanford Research Institute.[i]

What Iran’s nuclear program might achieve is the capability to develop a nuclear weapon in the not-too-distant future, a capability that can be reached by any country engaging in allowable activities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, and might not even be prevented by the stringent terms of the new nuclear agreement with the US, which Israeli and the US critics point out. As for Iran’s nuclear program being a dire threat, it needs to be pointed out that a number of Iran’s neighbors—China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and Israel—have significant nuclear arsenals beyond what Iran could ever hope to reach. Thus, in terms of nuclear firepower, one would think that these countries would be more dangerous by many orders of magnitude than Iran. And, in fact, the greatest chance for nuclear war at the current time is between India and Pakistan, which could do horrendous damage not only to those two countries but possibly the entire world.[ii] Furthermore, it should be added that India, probably because of its nuclear weaponry, is looked upon by the United States as an important ally to check Chinese expansion.[iii]

In the foreseeable future, Iran would be able to produce at most only a few nuclear weapons. Israel is noted as having developed one of the most advanced missile defense systems that could very likely provide sufficient protection against the type of limited nuclear attack that Iran would be able to mount. And even in the very unlikely event that Iran, at some future date, were able to effectively cripple Israel, Israel has nuclear-armed submarines that would be virtually impossible for Iran to counter. Thus, while Iran’s ability to knock out Israel would be highly improbable, Israeli nuclear retaliation would likely devastate all major Iranian cities and essentially destroy the Islamic state. Thus, because of its vast nuclear superiority, a nuclear-armed Israel would be able to deter Iran from launching a nuclear attack far more effectively than would be the case for the US in regard to the Soviet Union (or Putin’s Russia), which had (and still has) a nuclear arsenal comparable to that of the US.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei declared nuclear weaponry to be forbidden and a violation of Islamic principles, as likewise did his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini.

It is argued that the Iranian religious leadership is made up of religious fanatics who are indifferent to death given their purported firm belief in an afterlife in which they would be rewarded for their willingness to launch a nuclear jihad.   But there is no real evidence, in terms of theological belief or past behavior, that this is the case. For example, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei declared nuclear weaponry to be forbidden and a violation of Islamic principles, as likewise did his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini. And in engaging in any type of warlike actions, Iran has moved with great caution. There is no evidence that the Iranian leadership would be willing to sacrifice their country, which would be the case in a nuclear war. Moreover, the Iranian mullahs themselves seem to have been quite willing to put off paradisiacal bliss for themselves, seeming to live to a ripe old age as opposed to dying in combat, in which they definitely have had the opportunity. In short, they appear to be about as protective of their own lives as the leaders of most countries.

It should also be pointed out that the demands on Iran go far beyond what the United States ever expected of the Soviet Union. For no one then presumed that weapons inspections and limitations should only be applied to the Soviet Union. The general assumption was that the US and the Soviet Union should both abide by the same rules. But the current deal with Iran, which Iran is considering signing, does not place any restrictions whatsoever on its adversaries. Israel, for example, not only does not have to reduce its presumed good-sized nuclear arsenal, it does not even have to allow for inspections. (Although Israel is technically not involved in the deal, it acts as if it were since it is making its own demands of Iran.) The justification for this one-sidedness is that Israel needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from its hostile non-nuclear neighbors. Of course, it would seem at least as reasonable, if not more so, to maintain that Iran might need to develop nuclear weapons to protect itself against its many nuclear-armed neighbors.

The mainstream view in the US is that Israel must have both nuclear weapons and a sophisticated air defense system, while it is likewise essential that Iran be denied those very same things. It is doubtful that any country would accept such an asymmetrical situation.

`                 While Israel has a very sophisticated missile defense system intended to stop all types of missiles (short-range, mid-range, long-range), of which the noted “Iron Dome” is only one component,[iv] the announcement that Russia would sell an advanced defensive missile system to Iran raised a hue and cry in Israel and America that this would cause a grave threat to peace.[v] The alleged threat posed here consists of the possibility that the missile defense system would be able to effectively shield Iran’s nuclear program from an American or Israeli aerial attack. Of course, the lack of such a defense system leaves all of Iran, not just the nuclear facilities, completely vulnerable to aerial attacks by aggressors. Note that the mainstream view in the US is that Israel must have both nuclear weapons and a sophisticated air defense system, while it is likewise essential that Iran be denied those very same things. It is doubtful that any country would accept such an asymmetrical situation, if it were able to prevent it. The danger to Iran is especially acute since hard-line circles in Israel and the United States have discussed launching attacks that would bring about “regime change” there.[vi] And since the United States has actually used military force to bring about regime change elsewhere, there would seem to be good reason for Iran to seek some type of protection from attacks.

US & Israeli support for anti-Iranian terrorism

Both the United States and Israel have likely engaged in extensive cyber-attacks on Iran’s energy infrastructure and provided support for terrorist activities in that country. Israel seems to have been involved in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, which were probably conducted in conjunction with the leftist revolutionary MEK (Mujahideen-e-Khalq). Furthermore, Israel and the United States have worked together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK), which has engaged in cross-border attacks into Iran. And the United States is also said to have established covert relationships with Azeri and Baluchi insurgents, and to have supported their efforts to undermine the Islamic Republic’s control of their particular regions.[vii]

While Iran probably aids insurgent groups in other countries—not unlike the policy of the United States—unlike the US, it has not engaged in major military warfare…

In regard to Iran’s alleged effort to dominate the region by destabilizing its adversaries, it should be emphasized that while Iran probably aids insurgent groups in other countries—not unlike the policy of the United States—unlike the US, it has not engaged in major military warfare (except when attacked by Iraq in 1980).

Two factors rarely mentioned in the American media should be pointed out here. Shiites have been ruled throughout much of the Middle East by the dominant Sunnis. In most of these countries they constitute an oppressed minority that does not need encouragement by Iran to rebel. The Iranians aren’t doing anything more than what is preached by American neocons and liberal idealists, who advocate American military aid for oppressed groups, the difference being that these oppressed groups are neighbors of Iran whereas the United States (selectively) applies this principle far beyond its shores . And it would seem at least as reasonable for Iranian Shiites to be concerned about the oppression and killing of their co-religionists in nearby countries, such as by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as it is for Israel to be concerned about Jews throughout the world. Moreover, Iran does far less to spread its Twelver Shiism elsewhere than do the Saudis to spread their Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam.

Neocons: At the current time, the Saudis are presented in a positive light because they oppose Iran. But this was not always the case…

At the current time, the Saudis are presented in a positive light because they oppose Iran. But this was not always the case. Let’s do a quick flashback and see what the neocons and others had to say about Saudi Arabia during George W. Bush’s first term in office.[viii]

Dore Gold, who had served the government of Israel as ambassador to the United Nations and had been an advisor to Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Sharon, authored Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, published in 2003. Gold depicted Saudi Arabia as the main force behind Islamic terrorism. It was not enough for the United States to win military victories over Afghanistan and Iraq: “Saudi Arabia is the breeding ground for Wahhabi extremism and consequently the source of the hatred that impels international terrorist organizations.”[ix] R. James Woolsey, director of the CIA under Bill Clinton, said about this book, “If you read one book to understand the roots of al-Qaeda’s fury and the hostility to us within the Muslim world, it should be this—Dore Gold’s superbly told history of the Wahhabis.”[x] (It should be added that a few years afterward, Gold authored The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West, which depicted Iran as a great danger with which diplomacy was unworkable.[xi])

David Frum and Richard Perle in their book An End to Evil were especially concerned about the Saudis’ funding of terrorism. Thus it was essential for the United States to “[d]emand that the Saudis cease the Wahhabi missionary efforts in the United States and elsewhere abroad.”[xii] Moreover, Frum and Perle stated that the United States should “[w]arn the Saudis that anything less than their utmost cooperation in the war on terror will have the severest consequences for the Saudi state.” Implied was American support for the severance of the oil-producing, Shiite-majority, Eastern Province from Saudi Arabia. “Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state,” Frum and Perle opined. “But it might be a very good outcome for the United States. Certainly, it’s an outcome to ponder.”[xiii]   Note that while Iran is supposedly stirring up trouble throughout the Middle East, it has not yet been claimed that it is working to sever part of Saudi Arabia.

The July/August 2002 issue of Commentary contained an article titled “Our Enemies, the Saudis” by Victor Davis Hanson, in which he wrote: “Saudi Arabia is the placenta of this frightening phenomenon [radical Islam]. Its money has financed it; its native terrorists promote it; and its own unhappy citizenry is either amused by or indifferent to its effects upon the world. Surely it has occurred to more than a few Americans that, without a petroleum-rich Wahhabism, the support for such international killers and the considerable degree of ongoing aid to those who would destroy the West would radically diminish.”[xiv]

Max Singer, co-founder of the neoconservative Hudson Institute and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel, contended in a May 2002 article that the Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabism, constituted the major terror threat in the world. (A dual citizen, Singer has since moved to Israel. He is now Research Director of the Institute for Zionist Strategies in Jerusalem where he resides.) To counter this supposed danger, he claimed that it was essential for the United States to attack and dismember Saudi Arabia itself, liberating the Eastern Province. “It is well within the power of the U.S.,” Singer contended, “to make it possible for the EP [Eastern Province] to become independent from the Wahhabis, a new Muslim Republic of East Arabia.” Singer would reiterate this view in a presentation to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment in August 2002.[xv]

On July 10, 2002, Laurent Murawiec, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, briefed the Defense Policy Board, the advisory panel for the Department of Defense, about Saudi Arabia, at the behest of board chairman Richard Perle. Murawiec described the kingdom as the principal supporter of anti-Americanism. “Saudi Arabia,” Murawiec pontificated, “is central to the self-destruction of the Arab world and the chief vector of the Arab crisis and its outwardly directed aggression. The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader. Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies; a daily outpouring of virulent hatred against the U.S. from Saudi media, ‘educational’ institutions, clerics, officials–Saudis tell us one thing in private, [but they] do the contrary in reality.”[xvi]

Murawiec said that the United States should demand that Riyadh stop funding fundamentalist Islamic outlets around the world; prohibit all anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli propaganda in the country; and “prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence services.” If the Saudi government refused to comply with that ultimatum, Murawiec held that the United States should invade and occupy the country, including the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, seize its oil fields, and confiscate its financial assets.[xvii]

The leading neoconservative expert on Saudi Arabia was Stephen Schwartz, author of numerous articles and a book, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror, in which he posited a Saudi/Wahhabi conspiracy to take over all of Islam and spread terror throughout the entire world. Neocon luminary William Kristol wrote that “No one has done more to expose the radical, Saudi-Wahhabi face of Islam than Stephen Schwartz.”[xviii]

In his book, Schwartz argued that there were essentially two fundamentally different types of Islam. Mainstream Islam was basically good and tolerant of other religions. The Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, allegedly preached hate and violence toward other religious traditions, including other versions of Islam, and was thus not authentic Islam at all. “The real source of our problem,” Schwartz wrote in the preface, “is the perversion of Islamic teachings by the fascistic Wahhabi cult that resides at the heart of the Saudi establishment.”[xix]

Schwartz equated the global threat of Saudi Arabia to that of the totalitarian military mega-powers of Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. “With the collapse of the Soviet state,” Schwartz wrote, “Wahhabism effectively replaced the Communist movement as the main sponsor of international ideological aggression against the democratic West.”[xx] And in the Saudi regime’s alleged totalitarian social control, Schwartz saw similarities to Stalinist Russia. “In this respect,” Schwartz wrote, “Saudi Arabia resembles the Soviet Union at the height of Stalin’s forced collectivizations and famines in the early 1930s; outsiders see only what the regime wants them to see.”[xxi]

In Schwartz’s view, the “Wahhabi-Saudi regime . . .  embodies a program for the ruthless conquest of power and a war of extermination against ‘the other,’ Islamic as well as Judeo-Christian. The face of Wahhabi Islam is a great deal uglier than that of general Islamism, or Iranian anger at the West, or radical Arab nationalism, or even of Soviet Communism, and its threat to the peace and security of the whole world is immensely greater.”[xxii]

(Now, according to Schwartz, the Saudis have metamorphosed for the better. He brings this out in his article “Saudi Wahhabism and ISIS Wahhabism: The Difference” on the Weekly Standard website, in which he writes that while initially bad, “Saudi Arabia had begun to change in 2005 with the death of King Fahd Abd Al-Aziz and ascent to the throne of his half-brother, the currently-ruling King Abdullah. Abdullah commenced a series of reforms that while small, nonetheless marked a new direction for the desert realm.”[xxiii])

But let’s not just focus on past views of neocons on Saudi Arabia. In a May 27, 2004, speech in Seattle, John Kerry, the current Secretary of State, who was then campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, stated that the United States needed to “be serious about confronting the role of Saudi Arabia in financing and providing ideological support for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”[xxiv]

Iranians, who have a proud heritage extending back to the ancient world, do not want to be dominated by outside powers, and this feeling is quite intense because during the 20th century, their country had been treated as a pawn by the great powers…. in WWI  Persia suffered its worst tragedy in its entire history, losing some 40% of its population to famine and disease…

Now back to Iran. As in other Third World countries, Iranians, who have a proud heritage extending back to the ancient world, do not want to be dominated by outside powers, and this feeling is quite intense because during the 20th century, their country had been treated as a pawn by the great powers.   It had been controlled by Britain and Russia from the latter part of the 19th century through World War I, and as a result of wartime deprivations caused by those two occupying powers lost a large percentage of its population. According to historian Mohammed Gholi Majd: “World War One was unquestionably the greatest calamity in the history of Persia, far surpassing anything that happened before. It was in WWI that Persia suffered its worst tragedy in its entire history, losing some 40% of its population to famine and disease, a calamity that was entirely due to the occupation of Persia by the Russian and British armies, and about which little is known. Persia was the greatest victim of WWI: no country had suffered so much in absolute and relative terms. As I have shown in another study there are indications that 10 million Persians were lost to starvation and disease. Persia was the victim of one of the largest genocide [sic] of the twentieth century.”[xxv] Similarly, Iran was occupied by Britain and the Soviet Union during World War II. And the US played a significant role in the coup that overthrew the elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953 and essentially made the shah (“king”), Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the autocratic ruler. Even assuming the most benign American motivation—that American policymakers were motivated by the fear of a pro-Soviet Communist takeover rather than acquiring oil—would not make Iranians feel better about their country being used as a pawn by an outside power once again. Furthermore, the US influence over Iranian politics during the rule of the Shah was so palpable that most people considered him an American puppet. Given Iran’s historical experience, it is quite natural that Iran fears the American empire and would like a reduction of its influence in the Middle East, just as the young United States wanted to keep the European powers away from the Americas, a view which was embodied in the Monroe Doctrine.

America’s backing of the Shah’s rule certainly contributed to the anti-American revolutionary rhetoric put forth by the Islamic regime after the 1979 revolution. This revolutionary stance especially engendered fear among the Sunni elite who ruled over disgruntled populations likely to support revolutions in their own autocracies. While the Islamic Republic emphasized its anti-Western revolutionary credentials and sought to spread an “Islamic Revolution,” rather than religious Shiism, it had special appeal to its fellow Shiites in the Gulf region who were oppressed by the Sunni autocracies.

This fear of an internal Shiite revolt was a factor that motivated Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to launch an attack on Iran on September 22, 1980, after months of rising tension between the two countries. But Saddam also believed he could take advantage of the revolutionary chaos in Iran to grasp some of its territory that bordered Iraq and was inhabited by Arabs and replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf power. While initially successful, Iraq was soon put on the defensive against Iranian attacks. Fearing that Iran might defeat Iraq, the United States, although officially neutral, was providing substantial support to Iraq by the mid-1980s, which included military intelligence and war materiel. And the United States deployed in the Persian Gulf its largest naval force since the Vietnam War, the purpose of which was allegedly to protect oil tankers, but which engaged in serious attacks on Iran’s navy.

US satellite intelligence facilitated Iraqi gas attacks against Iranian troop concentrations. Moreover, Washington allowed Iraq to purchase poisonous chemicals, and even strains of anthrax and bubonic plague from American companies, which were subsequently identified as key components of the Iraqi biological warfare program

The US also played a role in Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. US satellite intelligence facilitated Iraqi gas attacks against Iranian troop concentrations. Moreover, Washington allowed Iraq to purchase poisonous chemicals, and even strains of anthrax and bubonic plague from American companies, which were subsequently identified as key components of the Iraqi biological warfare program by a 1994 investigation conducted by the Senate Banking Committee.[xxvi] The United States also prevented or weakened UN resolutions condemning Iraq for using chemical weapons Obviously this support by the US for Iran’s deadly enemy would further serve to inflame Iran’s hostility toward it.

Despite the Islamic Republic’s strong anti-Zionist rhetoric, Israel provided covert aid to Iran during the war because it viewed Iraq as its greatest enemy at that time and had traditionally maintained favorable relations with the Shah’s Iran as a counterweight to its Arab enemies.   It should be pointed out that Iran’s revolutionary zeal regarding the overthrow of other governments and its internal oppression was far more intense during that time than it is today, which would tend to belie the idea that Israel is seriously concerned about Iran’s threat to its neighbors.

The pro-Israel neoconservatives—now the most vociferous critics of Iran—in the Reagan Administration attempted to alter American policy regarding the Iran-Iraq war in order to make it more favorable to Iran. This effort reached its peak in the Iran-Contra affair but ultimately failed to replace America’s pro-Iraq policy. As Trita Parsi succinctly puts it in his book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, “neoconservatives were masterminding a rapprochement with Khomeini’s government.”[xxvii]

One of the neocons involved in the effort to improve Iranian-American relations was Michael Ledeen, who wrote in a New York Times Op Ed on July 19, 1988 that it was essential for the United States to begin talking with Iran, stating that the “The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before . . . should now seize the opportunity to do so.”[xxviii]

As Israel began to see Iran as its major enemy, Ledeen would become one of most ardent neocon foes of the Islamic Republic, which is exemplified in his book: The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007).

If the Iranians had not become extensively involved in the defense of Iraq, it is quite conceivable that Baghdad would have fallen to ISIS.

It should be stressed that although Iran has rhetorically advocated the overthrow of other regimes and provided some military aid to groups that take such positions, its greatest military involvement (other than the war on Iraq) has been to counter offensive moves by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikdoms. Thus, Iran has become militarily involved in Iraq to help the Iraqi government defend itself from the ISIS military juggernaut, which, at least initially, had been bankrolled by wealthy private sources in, and very probably the governments of, Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf sheikdoms, especially Qatar. If the Iranians had not become extensively involved in the defense of Iraq, it is quite conceivable that Baghdad would have fallen to ISIS. As it is, large portions of the northern and western parts of the country are under the control of ISIS, which has cut into Iraq’s oil production.

Aid to the secular Assad regime in Syria also should be classified as defensive.

Aid to the secular Assad regime in Syria also should be classified as defensive. For three decades, Syria was Iran’s best ally in the Middle East. Many in the West portrayed the revolt against Assad’s Baathist dictatorship as a fight for democracy. Western support was being offered to alleged secular democratic fighters—the Free Syrian Army. However, from early on, radical Sunni Jihadists—who are anti-democratic, seeking the establishment of an Islamic caliphate based on sharia law (identical to what the Salafists[xxix] believe existed in the very early period of Islam)—have proven to be the most effective fighters against the Assad regime. And Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar and other oil-rich Gulf sheikdoms, all of which are autocratic, have been supporting these rebels from the outset and some of this financial support has probably reached ISIS. However, as ISIS has invaded Iraq and reveled in its brutality, these governments, fearful that they had created a Frankenstein monster that would try to topple their regimes, and also under pressure from the United States, have largely terminated their government support and tried to curb private aid coming from their subjects. Private aid is believed to still come from Qatari residents.

Syria has been Iran’s major ally and the removal of the Assad regime would be a serious blow to its security. Assad’s Syria has provided a conduit for arms from Iran to Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas. With Iranian arms those groups play a critical role in Iran’s strategy to deter, and if necessary, retaliate against an Israeli attack on it. Obviously, Israel would prefer that Iran not have this capability so that it could more easily pressure it.

Keep in mind the strong possibility that what is presented as good and bad in the US media may be strongly influenced by what serves the current interests of the state of Israel.

Yemen

What about the current Iranian support for the Shiite Houthis in Yemen? And why would the Saudis and their allies, as well as the United States, have the right to intervene in Yemen—but not Iran? Do the Saudi-backed Sunni regimes have some natural right to control Shiites on the Arabian Peninsula? Note that earlier in this essay it was pointed out how the neocons professed the desire to liberate these very same Shiite groups when Saudi Arabia was considered an enemy of Israel’s. Keep in mind the strong possibility that what is presented as good and bad in the US media may be strongly influenced by what serves the current interests of the state of Israel.

During the Arab Spring, Shiites in autocratic Bahrain, where they constitute a demographic majority, engaged in protests for greater freedom and a more equitable sharing of the wealth. In February 2011, after weeks of largely Shiite pro-democracy demonstrations against the Bahrain monarchy, Saudi Arabia, at the behest of the Bahraini royal family, intervened militarily, along with troops from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council), to effectively crush the protests.

In Yemen, the main fight is between Sunni forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and Zaidi Shiite rebels known as Houthis, though there has also been resistance to the Hadi government from some supporters of the previous president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had controlled Yemen’s central government from 1990 to 2012 before being forced out as a result of uprisings stemming from the Arab Spring.[xxx]

Zaidis, whose Shiism is quite different from that of the Iranians, make up one-third of the population of Yemen and lived under their own rulers in mountainous North Yemen for almost 1,000 years until 1962 and since that time have engaged in a number of rebellions in order to regain autonomy. [xxxi] That President Hadi, who had been part of President Saleh’s inner circle, is some type of democratic, or even legitimately-elected, head of state is highly questionable. As Dan Murphy writes in the Christian Science Monitor, “Saudi and the US insist that only Hadi is the legitimate ruler of Yemen, that legitimacy drawn from a 2012 single-candidate referendum that gave him 99.6 percent support [sic]. That fig leaf no longer covers much.”[xxxii]

Houthi victories in what was essentially a civil war brought a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni states to engage in bombing attacks on the Houthis, claiming that the latter were Iranian proxies whose victory would expand Iranian power in a strategic region of the Middle East. The US has been actively supporting the Saudi war coalition against Yemen, being engaged in such activities as refueling Saudi warplanes and working with them in selecting targets in a bombing campaign that has so far killed hundreds of civilians (944 being a figure that has been given recently). The Saudis and their allies have also maintained an air and sea blockade officially aimed at curtailing arms shipments to the Houthis, but also stopping goods vital for civilians. All of this has contributed to a humanitarian crisis.[xxxiii]

Iran has presented a four-point plan to end the conflict that calls for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian aid, dialogue, and the formation of an inclusive national unity government.

However, it is not apparent that the Houthis are actually proxies of Iran or that Iran has intended to help them achieve an all-out victory in Yemen. While Iran probably provides the Houthis some types of military aid, this would have to be quite limited since it is does not appear easy to detect. There is also evidence that Iran tried to dissuade the group from taking over Yemen’s capital Sanaa last year. Moreover, Iran has presented a four-point plan to end the conflict that calls for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian aid, dialogue, and the formation of an inclusive national unity government. This was rejected by the Yemeni government of President Hadi and the Saudis (with which the US concurs) who essentially demand that before any peace talks take place the Houthis must disarm and turn over to the Hadi government all the cities that they have taken. Obviously, such a de facto surrender by the Houthis would eliminate their bargaining position. It would likely not only fail to help address any of their grievances but likely lead to their suffering retribution for rebelling.[xxxiv]

Earlier in the essay it was pointed out that John Kerry, as a candidate for US president in 2004, claimed that the Saudis were “financing and providing ideological support for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”[xxxv] Now, Secretary of State John Kerry endorses the Saudi bombing of the Houthis. It just so happens that the US has been combatting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which it considers to be the most dangerous member of the terrorist network—largely because it seeks to spread terrorism outside the Middle East—and which is taking advantage of the current instability in Yemen to expand its power base. The Houthis, being Shiites, have suffered severely from AQAP terrorist bombings and are staunch fighters against them, far more so than the Saudis.[xxxvi] If America had a partially objective media, one would think that Secretary Kerry would be asked how he squares the current US position in Yemen with his position on Saudi Arabia in 2004.

The situation in Yemen is rather murky, but it does not seem to represent the Iranian power play that the mainstream media presents.

In conclusion, the situation in Yemen is rather murky, but it does not seem to represent the Iranian power play that the mainstream media presents. Rather, it simply has to do with the internal issues in Yemen and could represent a reaction by Zaidi Shiites, who had enjoyed a high degree of independence in the past, to resist the effort by Sunnis to limit that freedom and even impose their brand of Salafist Islam on them. In short, it could be interpreted as a defensive reaction by the Shiites, not an offensive one, and has nothing to do with the expansion of Iranian power, though it could be seen as having the effect of limiting the expansion of Saudi power outside its borders.

Jews live in Iran with Judaism being a government-recognized religion

Finally there is the claim that Iran wants to kill all Jews. However, this is undermined by the fact that Jews live in Iran with Judaism being a government-recognized religion. While many Jews left the country after the Islamic revolution in 1979, those who remain are not oppressed by Middle East standards, though obviously they do not have the same rights they would have in Western democracies or in Israel. In contrast, however, Jews are not even allowed to permanently reside in Saudi Arabia.

Even in its rhetoric, Iran has not said that it would initiate an attack on Israel, despite Western media claims to the contrary.

Even in its rhetoric, Iran has not said that it would initiate an attack on Israel, despite Western media claims to the contrary. Ahmadinejad’s 2005 statement, as reported in the Western media, that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” has been trumpeted by critics of Iran as advocating the nuclear annihilation of Israel. In response to this outcry, the Iranian government maintained that Ahmadinejad’s words did not mean genocide as the Western media implied.   As a number of commentators pointed out, the Western media actually had mistranslated Ahmadinejad’s speech to make it seem that he sought to annihilate the Jewish people in Israel by using nuclear weapons or some other drastic means. Instead, Ahmadinejad was referring to the Zionist regime, not the Jewish people. Most Arab governments have likewise sought the end of the Jewish-supremacist state and called for the establishment of equal rights for Palestinians, which would be anathema to most Israeli Jews and the supporters of Israel in the United States since they live in or support the state of Israel for the very fact that it is a Jewish exclusivist state.

The danger perceived by Israel is not Iran per se, but the fact that Iran currently is the major supporter of the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Netanyahu now gives implicit credence to this interpretation—that the concern is the threat to the Zionist state rather than to the annihilation of Jewish individuals—since he is demanding that Iran recognize the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist before America would make any nuclear deal with it to end sanctions. International law does not recognize any right of a state to exist, much less the right to exist as a particular type of state. However this terminology is obviously intended to be much more far-reaching than ordinary diplomatic recognition, which could be limited to the acknowledgement that a particular government has de facto control of a country.

Exactly what accepting such an Israeli right would mean for specific Iranian policy is not perfectly clear, but it would certainly seem to require that the Islamic state terminate its support for Hezbollah and Hamas since they reject the existence of the Jewish exclusivist state. And it could also mean that the Iranian government could not support any type of solution to the Palestinian issue unacceptable to Israel, since Israel’s rejection is always based on the threat such a solution would pose to the Jewish state. Included in the threat to the Jewish state would be the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state—the only type of state acceptable to the Palestinians—which is why Netanyahu stated that there would be no two-state solution during his time in office.   (Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, certainly would not think of including the Palestinians living on the West Bank or Gaza as voting citizens of a one-state Israel-Palestine, in which the much-enlarged Palestinian vote would bring about a significant diminution, if not elimination, of the Jewish nature of the state.)

The US State Department has said that Netanyahu’s demand will not be part of the nuclear agreement with Iran, but it could play a role in getting the Senate to reject it. The major significance of this demand is that it explicitly reveals Israel’s fundamental concern about the Palestinian issue in regard to Iran. Thus, to summarize, the danger perceived by Israel is not Iran per se, but the fact that Iran currently is the major supporter of the Palestinians. It is Palestinian demography that is perceived by Israeli leaders as the greatest danger to Israel, not that it threatens the existence of the lives of individual Jews, but that it threatens the Jewish nature of the state, which is Israel’s raison d’être.   It is this fact that colors how Iran is presented in the American media.

Since the supporters of Israel exercise inordinate power, not only in politics with the Israel lobby but throughout the information sector of American society—in what social scientist and political commentator James Petras labels the “Zionist Power Configuration”—the United States will continue to follow an Israelocentric foreign policy in the Middle East. The only question is how far the US will go in that direction.

In reality, Iran is acting no differently than a country of its size, power, and security threats, as well as historical experience, would be expected to act. It does not act as America might prefer it to, but very few countries do that are capable of acting otherwise.   However, there is no apparent reason that Iran would be a threat to American interests, even if these interests are viewed from the traditional foreign policy establishment’s globalist perspective. Some of Iran’s key concerns harmonize with those of the United States, such as maintaining the flow of oil to the industrial world (which has been hindered by American-instigated sanctions) and combating Sunni jihadist radicals (ISIS and al-Qaida) who threaten regional stability. This similarity of interests has been recognized by leading figures in the American traditional foreign policy establishment, which was exemplified in the study, Iran: Time for a New Approach, produced by a Council of Foreign Relations-sponsored task force in 2004. The task force was co-chaired by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA director Robert M. Gates (who would become Secretary of Defense in December 2006).[xxxvii]

Of course, if the United States were to pursue a non-interventionist approach toward the Middle East, as the United States took until the end of World War II, that would be, in my view, even better. However, since the supporters of Israel exercise inordinate power, not only in politics with the Israel lobby but throughout the information sector of American society—in what social scientist and political commentator James Petras labels the “Zionist Power Configuration”—the United States will continue to follow an Israelocentric foreign policy in the Middle East. The only question is how far the US will go in that direction.


Stephen J. Sniegoski, Ph.D. is the author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel. The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies called The Transparent Cabal a valuable contribution to the ever-growing discussion within the United States of the relationship between American and Israeli interests. Dr. Sniegoski’s articles have been published in The World & I, Modern Age, Current Concerns, Zeit-Fragen, Telos, and elsewhere.


 

[i] Rick Wayman, “Iran’s nuclear programme,” Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, January 2005, https://www.cnduk.org/information/briefings/global-abolition-briefings/item/91-irans-nuclear-programme

 

[ii] Palash Ghosh, “India-Pakistan Nuclear War Would Kill 2 Billion People, End Civilization: Report,” International Business Times, December 10, 2013, http://www.ibtimes.com/india-pakistan-nuclear-war-would-kill-2-billion-people-end-civilization-report-1503604; Adnan R. Khan, “The new nuclear threat:

India and Pakistan are building up their arsenals, and one terror attack could ignite an all-out war,” MacLeans,

December 4, 2014, http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/the-new-nuclear-threat/; Bruce Riedel, “ICYMI: India-Pakistan Head for Nuke War,” Daily Beast, October 19, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/19/icymi-india-pakistan-head-for-nuke-war.html

 

[iii] Vijay Prashad, “The Nuclear Club: India Welcomed, Iran Shunned,” Common Dreams, March 4, 2015, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/03/04/nuclear-club-india-welcomed-iran-shunned

 

[iv] Gil Cohen, “Why does Israel need three different missile defense systems?,” Haaretz, April 2, 2015, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.650293

 

[v] Jethro Mullen, “U.S., Israel concerned after Russia lifts ban on sale of missiles to Iran,” CNN, April 14, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/14/europe/russia-iran-air-defense-system-sale/; “US, Israel express concern as Russia lifts ban on missile deliveries to Iran,” Fox News, April 13, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/04/13/russia-lifts-ban-on-missile-deliveries-to-iran/

 

[vi] John Hannah, “It’s Time to Pursue Regime Change in Iran,” Foreign Policy, January 5, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/05/its-time-to-pursue-regime-change-in-iran

 

[vii] Seymour M. Hersh, “The Next Act,” New Yorker, November 27, 2006, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/11/27/the-next-act; Hersh, “Preparing the Battlefield,” New Yorker, July 7, 2008, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/07/preparing-the-battlefield; “’Step by step’ of Iranian scientist’s assassination,” Ynet.news, January 16, 2012, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4176059,00.html; PJAK / PEJAK, Global Security.Org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/pjak.htm; Muhammad Sahimi, “Who supports Jundallah?” PBS, October 2, 2009, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2009/10/jundallah.html

 

[viii] Gary Leupp, “On Terrorism, Methodism, Saudi ‘Wahhabism’ and the Censored 9–11 Report,” CounterPunch.org, August 8, 2003, http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/08/08/on-terrorism-methodism-saudi-quot-wahhabism-quot-and-the-censored-9-11-report/ ; Stephen J. Sniegoski, The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel (Norfolk, VA: Enigma, 2008), pp. 201-208.

 

[ix] Dore Gold, Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2003), p. 245.

 

[x] “What the Critics Say,” Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, Audible.com.au, http://www.audible.com.au/pd/History/Hatreds-Kingdom-Audiobook/B00FO5Z8P8

 

[xi] Dore Gold, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2009) reviewed by Patrick Clawson, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2010, http://www.meforum.org/2962/the-rise-of-nuclear-iran

 

[xii] David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (New York:

Random House, 2003), p. 139.

[xiii] Ibid.

 

[xiv] Victor Davis Hanson, “Our Enemies, the Saudis,” Commentary, July/August 2002, pp. 23-28, http://web.archive.org/web/20080209002837/http://www.travelbrochuregraphics.com/extra/our_enemies_the_saudis.htm See also: Simon Henderson, “The Coming Saudi Showdown,” The Weekly Standard, July 15, 2002, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-coming-saudi-showdown; Claudia Rosett, “Free Arabia,” Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2002, http://web.archive.org/web/20090626140823/http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/cRosett/?id=110002126

 

[xv] “Saudi Arabia,” Disinfopedia, http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Saudi_Arabia&printable=yes ; Gary Leupp, “On Terrorism, Methodism, Saudi ‘Wahhabism’ and the Censored 9–11 Report,” CounterPunch.org, August 8, 2003, http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/08/08/on-terrorism-methodism-saudi-quot-wahhabism-quot-and-the-censored-9-11-report/; Max Singer, “Free the Eastern Province of

Saudi Arabia,” American Outlook Today, May 16, 2002, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/682830/posts

 

[xvi] Steven Simon, “Riyadh Revisions,” The American Prospect, May 20, 2007, https://prospect.org/article/riyadh-revisions

 

[xvii] Thomas E. Ricks, “ Briefing Depicted Saudis as Enemies,” Washington Post, August 6, 2002, p. A-1, https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/murawiec.htm; Jack Shafer, “The PowerPoint That Rocked the Pentagon,” Slate, August 7, 2002, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/press_box/2002/08/the_powerpoint_that_rocked_the_pentagon.html

[xviii] William Kristol, quoted on promotional page on Amazon.com for The Two Faces of Islam, http://www.amazon.de/The-Two-Faces-Islam-Tradition/dp/0385506929

 

[xix] Stephen Schwartz, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror (New York: Doubleday, 2002), p. xiii.

 

[xx] Ibid., pp. 175–76.

 

[xxi] Ibid., p. 260.

 

[xxii] Ibid., p. 179–80.

 

[xxiii] Stephen Schwartz, “Saudi Wahhabism and ISIS Wahhabism: The Difference,” Weekly Standard Blog, October 21, 2014, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/saudi-wahhabism-and-isis-wahhabism-difference_816954.html#

 

[xxiv] Ashraf Fahim, “John Kerry’s sucker Saudi punch,” Asia Times, June 10, 2004, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FF10Ak03.html

 

[xxv] Mohammed Gholi Majd, Persia in World War I and Its Conquest by Great Britain (Lanham,MD: University Press of America, 2003), pp. 3-4.

 

[xxvi] Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988,” Iran Chamber Society, http://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/united_states_iran_iraq_war1.php; Jeremy Scahill, “The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet,” Common Dreams, August 2, 2002, http://web.archive.org/web/20131021234920/http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0802-01.htm; Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid, “When Iraq Was Our Friend,” Accuracy in Media, October 15, 2002, http://www.aim.org/media-monitor/when-iraq-was-our-friend/; Michael Dobbs, “U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup,” Washington Post, December 30, 2002, p. A-1 accessed at http://courses.washington.edu/jsisb311/Case_Studies/Entries/2014/6/5_New_wars_For_A_New_Century_files/US%20had%20key%20role%20in%20Iraq%27s%20buildup.pdf

[xxvii] Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 110.

 

[xxviii] Quoted in Parsi, p. 242.

 

[xxix] Salaf refers to the first three generations of Muslims, which the Salafi believe provide a model for Muslims of every time period.

 

[xxx] Sama’a al-Hamdani, a Yemeni, writes in al-Araby: “In reality, Saleh’s sphere of influence was always city-centric and his mode of governance was a unique concoction of autocracy, theocracy, tribalism and oligarchy.” “Yemen’s legitimacy crisis is not new but is critical,” al-Araby, March 3, 2015, http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2015/3/3/yemens-legitimacy-crisis-is-not-new-but-is-critical

 

[xxxi] Adam Baron, “What We Get Wrong About Yemen,” Politico Magazine, March 25, 2015, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/yemen-intervention-116396.html#.VTu2RSFViko; “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?,” BBC, March 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423

 

[xxxii] Dan Murphy, “Reducing Yemen’s Houthis to ‘Iranian proxies’ is a mistake,” Christian Monitor, April 2, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/Backchannels/2015/0402/Reducing-Yemen-s-Houthis-to-Iranian-proxies-is-a-mistake-video; Laura Kasanof, “Yemen Gets New Leader as Struggle Ends Calmly,” New York Times,” February 24, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/world/middleeast/yemen-to-get-a-new-president-abed-rabu-mansour-hadi.html?_r=0

 

[xxxiii] Matt Schiavenza, “Saudi Airstrikes Intensify Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis,” The Atlantic, April 22, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/saudi-airstrikes-intensify-yemens-humanitarian-crisis/391203/ ; Thalif Deen, “Blood Money? After Bombing Yemen, Saudis offer $274 mn. in Humanitarian Aid,” Informed Consent, April 23, 2015, http://www.juancole.com/2015/04/bombing-saudis-humanitarian.html

 

[xxxiv] “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?,” BBC, March 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423 ;“Iranian representatives discouraged Houthi rebels from taking the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last year, according to American officials familiar with intelligence around the insurgent takeover,” Huff Post Politics, April 20, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/20/iran-houthis-yemen_n_7101456.html; Dan Murphy, “Reducing Yemen’s Houthis to ‘Iranian proxies’ is a mistake,” Christian Monitor, April 2, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/Backchannels/2015/0402/Reducing-Yemen-s-Houthis-to-Iranian-proxies-is-a-mistake-video; Steven Inskeep talks with Robin Wright, “Is There Evidence That Yemeni Rebels are Backed By Iran?,” NPR, March 27, 2015, http://www.npr.org/2015/03/27/395698502/iran-saudi-proxy-war-touches-on-other-issues; Jason Ditz, “Kerry Endorses Saudi War as Long as Houthis Resist,” Antiwar.com, April 24, 2015, http://news.antiwar.com/2015/04/24/kerry-endorses-saudi-war-as-long-as-houthis-resist/

 

[xxxv] Ashraf Fahim, “John Kerry’s sucker Saudi punch,” Asia Times, June 10, 2004, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FF10Ak03.html

 

[xxxvi] Hakim Almasmari and Greg Botelho, “Al Qaeda car bombs target Houthi fighters in Yemeni port city,” CNN, December 18, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/18/world/meast/yemen-violence/

 

[xxxvii] Among other task force members were Brent Scowcroft, the elder President Bush’s national security advisor, and Frank Carlucci, who served as national security adviser and defense secretary for President Ronald Reagan. Council on Foreign Relations, “Lack of Engagement with Iran Threatens U.S. National Interests in Critical Region of the World, Concludes Council-Sponsored Task Force,” Press Release, July 19, 2004, http://www.cfr.org/pub7195/press_release/lack_of_engagement_with_iran_threatens_us_national_interests_in_critical_region_of_the_world_concludes_councilsponsored_task_force.php#

 

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