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International Socialist Review Issue 39, January–February 2005

N E W S & R E P O R T S


Is the U.S. Preparing an Attack?


WASHINGTON’S PRESSURE over Iran’s nuclear program is setting the stage for a major confrontation, including a possible military attack–either by Israel or U.S. forces directly. Already a charter member of George W. Bush’s "axis of evil," Iran is in the crosshairs today because it has greatly complicated the U.S. occupation in neighboring Iraq.

Because of its large economy and the influence it has among Shiite Muslims–who are the majority of the population in Iraq–Iran’s Islamist government is a major factor, especially in southern Iraq, where the Shiite population is concentrated. "With the election in Iraq four months away, the administration has grown increasingly alarmed about the resources Tehran is pouring into Iraq’s already well-organized Shiite religious parties, which give them an edge over struggling moderate and nonsectarian parties," the Washington Post reported on September 25, 2004.

While there has been virtually no reconstruction taking place by the U.S. forces as the insurgency rages in Iraq, Iran has been busy building influence by funding social service and aid societies for the population through its Shiite allies. With the U.S. seen more and more as occupiers by Iraqis, Iran’s allies in Iraq could very well win more support in the Iraqi elections in January than the handpicked puppet candidates of the United States.

This is the context for Washington’s campaign to force Iran to accept additional inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice stated that the U.S. and its allies "cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon."

Iran has a population of sixty-nine million–nearly three times that of Iraq’s–and an economy that has grown by 7 percent in each of the last two years and is larger than Israel’s or Egypt’s. Iran is the second largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and holds 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves–comparable to the 11 percent in Iraq. Moreover, Iran has the second largest natural gas reserves in the world. Thus, Iran has the potential to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. Yet for Iran to be a real player in the region, it has to match its growing economic and political clout with an improved military capability. When three of its regional neighbors–Israel, Pakistan, and India–possess nuclear weapons, Iran has to at least show the capacity to develop the same. Hence, Iran’s push to develop its nuclear technology.

While Iran has maintained that the program is intended to produce electricity for civilian needs, the technology could also be used to produce weapons-grade uranium. This has led to widespread speculation in the Israeli press about a possible air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The model for such an attack is Israel’s 1981 air raid on Iraq that destroyed the Osirak nuclear facility. Israel is also rushing to upgrade defenses against a new generation of Iranian missiles that can now hit much of Israel–and Iran has vowed to launch them in case of an Israeli attack. Iran is negotiating to purchase advanced radar from India that would enhance its own defenses against Israeli warplanes.

Israel’s focus on Iran was highlighted when a Pentagon official was accused of passing top-secret information about the Iranian nuclear program to Israel. But Israel’s campaign against Iran goes far beyond nuclear weapons, which Israeli experts believe couldn’t be developed until 2007 at the earliest.

Iran supports the Lebanese Shiite party Hezbollah, whose fighters forced Israel to end its occupation of southern Lebanon and which has influence in the Palestinian resistance. Iran is also aligned with Syria, which has seen rising tensions over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

For Israel, a confrontational approach to Iran dovetails with the aim of crushing Palestinian resistance in Gaza prior to a pullout, and virtually annexing Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank with its "security wall." Syria, moreover, is also the target of repeated accusations by the U.S. that it’s aiding the resistance in Iraq. For these reasons, an Israeli attack on Iran could lead to a confrontation with what Israeli military analyst Ze’ev Schiff calls the "Iran-Syria-Hezbollah array"–and lead to an "all-out war."

Israel is concerned that a nuclear capable Iran, integrated into the world market would be a serious threat to Israel’s hegemonic role in the Middle East–a threat which neither Israel nor the U.S. can tolerate. Iran’s economic success, moreover, is a stark contrast to that of the dysfunctional U.S. puppet regime in Iraq, which was supposed to be the showcase model for the U.S. vision for the future of a "democratic Middle East."

In any case, the question of whether Israeli or U.S. planes carry out an attack on Iran is purely secondary. Given U.S. control of Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace, there’s no way for Israeli jets to attack Iran without Washington’s approval. In the coming weeks, the U.S. will provide Israel with 5,000 laser-guided "smart bombs," including 500 "bunker-busters" that have no use against Palestinians but would be ideal for attacking fortified Iranian–or Syrian–military installations. Financing for the deal will come from $319 million in U.S. aid.

In its efforts to ramp up the pressure on Iran, Washington is following the same script it used to try to obtain United Nations (UN) backing for the invasion of Iraq. The U.S. initially pushed the IAEA to impose an October 31 deadline on Iran to allow inspections of the processing facilities–or see the matter referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

The Iranian government has correctly argued that the U.S. applies a double standard to its own nuclear program. It maintains that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has a right to complete the fuel cycle for its nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium, and that it has submitted to inspections beyond what is called for by the NPT. The Iranian government argues that U.S. objections, based only on "mistrust," have no legal foundation. And the United States is developing warm relations with nuclear powers Pakistan and India and U.S. aid virtually pays for Israel’s military, a country that has not only refused any international scrutiny of its military nuclear development, but has as many as 200 nuclear bombs. Indeed, Israel openly talked about using its nukes to strike Syria’s capital, Damascus, as early as 1968.

Moreover, given the U.S. doctrine of "preemption"–and that the U.S. invaded a defenseless country (Iraq) and has left alone a country which has threatened the U.S. with nuclear retaliation if it is attacked (Korea)–Iran sees a pattern that makes the acceleration of its nuclear program seem an act of self-defense.

While the U.S. has pushed for a tough stance against Iran, the other main parties in the IAEA negotiation–Britain, France, and Germany–have refused to go along. Instead, the IAEA has set a "soft" deadline of November 25–by which Iran must present additional information about its nuclear program and ratify the so-called Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for a more aggressive IAEA inspection regime.

The split between the U.S. and Europe on Iran’s nukes is a reflection of their divergent–and at times, conflicting–interests in the Middle East. Even Britain, the main player in the "coalition of the willing" in the invasion of Iraq, has a very different relationship with Iran as British Petroleum angles to become the key player in Iran’s natural gas industry.

France and Germany have even greater economic interests in Iran, where recent privatization and joint ventures have created further opportunities for investment. Iran has taken major steps in opening its economy to the world market–inviting foreign investment and partnership. While only two years ago there was a measly $37 million worth of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Iran, in 2004 Germany alone invested more than $270 million in Iran, with an eye to double its trade with Iran in the next two years. And French automaker Renault is planning on setting up car production in Iran for exports not only to Asia and Africa, but also to Western Europe.

For the past several years, Iran has enjoyed a vibrant reform movement. Sections of the Iranian ruling class used the sentiment for democratic reforms as a way to break the hold of hardliners on the economy, introduce privatization, and attract much needed foreign investment. The defeat of reformers this past year, however, has not meant an end to economic reforms. Even though the conservatives have restricted democratic rights and have taken a harder stance against the U.S., they have continued and even accelerated the plans for privatization and openings to foreign investment. There are now moves to abolish the state monopoly over every major sector of economy, from airlines and rail to banking and postal service, in effect putting an "Open for Business" sign on Iran. In short, Iran seems to be following the Chinese model of combining state repression with economic liberalization.

Iran today has the greatest economic potential in the Persian Gulf, and U.S. businesses no doubt feel irked that it is European capital that is benefiting. But Washington’s policy has forced U.S. multinational corporations to the sidelines. Bush administration hardliners argue that additional pressure on Iran–including a possible military confrontation–is key to not only curbing Iran’s influence but to breaking the impasse in Iraq. By contrast, U.S. State Department officials–and some in John Kerry’s campaign–argue that a policy of engagement is the best solution, reflecting a desire to keep the U.S. from being boxed out of Iran altogether.

The differences shouldn’t be exaggerated, however. The Democrats’ new "liberal" darling, Barack Obama of Illinois, has repeatedly raised the prospect of missile strikes on Iran, lamenting that the Bush administration has spent "so much political capital on a lesser threat–Iraq" that it does not have credibility to mobilize support to confront "a much bigger threat in Iran." And Kerry’s camp has stated that if Kerry’s elected, the U.S. wouldn’t tolerate Iran’s continued nuclear program–another indication that Kerry, like Bush, is willing to launch new wars to perpetuate Washington’s control of the Middle East. All this highlights the need to rebuild the movement to demand an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq–and to challenge U.S. imperialism everywhere.

Lee Sustar is a contributing editor of Socialist Worker and a frequent contributor to the ISR. Saman Sepehri is a member of the International Socialist Organization in Chicago and author of a number _of articles on Iran in the ISR.

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