REVISITING IRAN — Kam Zarrabi
In an attempt to clarify the fog of disinformation and misrepresentation that has been masking the realities on the ground, as well as some of the relevant points of contention between the two countries, Iran and the United States, Dr. Zarrabi writes a two part exposition and analysis, on his return to the United States from his fourth visit to Iran in less than three years. He examines the main players in the Middle East arena, their concerns and interests and how they figure in the jigsaw puzzle:
Part 1 – Perceptions/Misperceptions
Part 2 – Where Are We Headed
US-Iran Issues Editor – VNN
Engaging Iran in direct talks
I spent the entire month of October and the first week of November in Iran, my fourth trip to the old homeland in less than three years. I had published a commentary about my first trip after some 32 years of absence from Iran, titled Iran, Back in Context, in an attempt to expose some of the realities behind the hype and propaganda that saturate the Western media regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since then, I have revisited Iran three times; it is rather inexpensive – $1,100 to $1,500 roundtrip from the West Coast, depending on the season – and quite an educational and eye opening experience for any interested observer. Still, more needs to be done to clarify the fog of disinformation and misrepresentation that has been masking the realities on the ground, as well as some of the relevant points of contention between the two countries, Iran and the United States.
My trip coincided with the intensified negotiations between Iran and the representatives of the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany in attempts to resolve the West’s stated concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, also bearing on the increasingly draconian economic sanctions imposed against Iran, and even dovetailing with the ongoing explosive situation in the nearby Syria, where Iran is actively involved in supporting the Assad regime. These were indeed hot and eventful times, offering a rare opportunity for a groundbreaking rapprochement between the decades-long antagonists, the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Or so we are all supposed to believe!
As I was expecting, I was asked by friends, relatives and colleagues, both in Tehran and other towns where I travelled, if there were any realistic prospects for a thaw in the Iran/US relations, and a possible relief from the sanctions that are causing increasing difficulties for the public. Many remembered my comments and predictions of a year and two years ago that 2013 – well into President Obama’s second and final term, and with Iran’s presidential elections – would mark a turning point toward an easing of tensions and a potential rapprochement.
The basic question was: Are things going to get better for us?
The emergence of Hassan Rouhani, a soft-spoken, moderate cleric, as the victor in Iran’s presidential election contest serves as a timely reminder that for all the setbacks it has endured, the country’s reform movement remains a key player in Iranian politics.
I spent a good deal of time verbalizing my personal views and analyses at friendly gatherings and family dinner parties, mostly to the upper crust educated folks who might better appreciate some of the subtleties of international politics. There, very much like right here, we have the incorrigible hardcore knuckleheads, progressive liberals, and the forever skeptics, as well as others who fall somewhere in between, in all walks of life.
There is a general consensus among the middle and upper class Iranians that the United States, with its vast economic, military and diplomatic resources, is intent on furthering its hegemonic influence over as wide a region, especially in the Middle East, as it can in pursuit of its own interests, regardless of all the harm it might cause by violating human rights and dignity, and by preventing democratic movements, independence, and economic progress in the region. It is also believed that Israel, as well as Arab sheikdoms and kingdoms, are America’s proxies in the region helping promote and support America’s hegemonic plans for their own respective benefits.
It is also the general belief that the Islamic Republic’s resistance against America’s pressures, and refusal to capitulate under threats of attack and sanctions should be maintained at any cost regardless of the hardships the nation must endure to remain independent.
Iranians do also blame their own government for many things, including the mismanagement of the economy, corruption at all levels, misappropriation of funds, inordinate power and influence of the “Sepaah” or the Revolutionary Guards Corps, etc. Such criticism or blame is expressed openly and loudly, although seldom in the mainstream media.
The average citizen has learned to cope with the status quo, while the more vocal members of the upper crust simply cannot stop exhibiting their utter frustration over such socioeconomic issues. Those involved in larger scale manufacturing and trade complain about cash flow and the difficulty of importing needed supplies and equipment, as well as about the limitations created by the imposed sanctions over the export of their products.
The annual inflation now calculated to be nearly 30% is also affecting the day to day affairs of ordinary people. The taxi driver who drove me to the Fire & Water Park in north-central Tehran was complaining about the chaotic traffic to which he was personally contributing exceedingly well, and mentioned that he had to hold two jobs to make the ends meet. Eggs, he said, were now costing him 600 tomans, equivalent of about 20 US cents, apiece. I suggested jokingly, ‘If people cannot afford to buy eggs anymore, chickens should then be instructed to stop laying eggs that nobody buys; they’d rot away and go wasted! Or, do you think that the rich North Tehranis and the “Aghayoon” (The word means “gentlemen”, used sarcastically to refer to the clerical ruling establishment) are now consuming all those eggs that ordinary people cannot afford to buy?’ ‘No sir,’ he replied; ‘the Aghayoon know that eating too many eggs is bad for their cholesterol. But we now have to work extra hours to earn enough to buy the same eggs we are used to consuming, as we do meat, fruits and vegetables – we manage.’ I finished by commenting, ‘So, you are able to cope; you don’t really see anybody starving or begging for food anywhere; do you?’ ‘No, not really.’ he said.
As we were driving along, we passed by some roadwork in progress. They were digging the asphalt to lay pipes or electrical conduits. I noticed that, as I had observed before, most laborers were clearly immigrant workers from Afghanistan, many with obvious Uzbek, Turkmen or Tajik features. The taxi driver confirmed that practically all construction workers busy at government and private projects are from Afghanistan. I had observed the same thing even in remotest areas of the country, working as farm, mine and factory workers doing the menial heavy lifting, which the natives simply refuse to do for that kind of pay.
I was met by two of my cousins at the Fire & Water Park, (named for the spectacular nightly displays) for lunch at a rather plush restaurant row packed with young men and women exquisitely attired and wearing rather provocative makeup, totally at ease and natural. I had to pinch myself to wake up to the fact that I was in Tehran, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and not at some fancy open mall cafe in Los Angeles! There were no “morality” enforcing police anywhere to check out all the “chic” ladies in their fashionable outfits to see if their hair was showing from under their colorful scarves!
My cousins took turns criticizing the economy, the joblessness, the hardships the entire nation was under, lack of progress, and also the government for all its shortcomings. The whole thing was rather ironic: we were having a wonderful time at a fancy cafe in a delightful setting, and feeling no pain while complaining about it all!
The Sky Dome and the Botanical Gardens at the Fire & Water Park
Later that day, when I expressed to some acquaintances my utter amazement at the several hundred acres of well-manicured green space with all its state of the art facilities, including a “Sky Dome” and the Botanical Garden about to be opened to the public, in what used to be barren “Abbas Abad” rolling hills, the response was full of sarcasm, as well. The Park is here, they said, because the well-connected contractors who share their profits with the establishment needed to make more money. They buy those million-dollar Porsches and Lamborghinis or send their wealth abroad for safe keeping. ‘Just like before, you mean!?’ I uttered.
The Fire & Water Park
There are several green space or public parks in Tehran, some quite elaborately manicured and maintained, and all featuring rows of colorful outdoor exercise equipment for the enthusiasts who actually put them to good use. These green spaces are a relief, providing for some fresh, oxygen-rich breathable air in the heavily polluted city atmosphere. At the park a short walk from my sister’s flat I watched young men and women energetically working out on the exercise equipment or jogging during early morning hours. Older folks were simply walking or sitting on steel benches chatting or smoking, even though there were ‘No Smoking’ signs posted throughout the park.
I was actually surprised to see city parks, well maintained and equipped with rows of exercise equipment, in even the smallest towns I visited, including the mining town of Sangaan near Afghanistan border. When I expressed my surprise and admiration to some colleagues, the response was, again, loaded with the all too typical cynicism: Yes, these projects mean more money for the Aghayoon!
A young university student majoring in mining engineering approached me at a rather elaborate dinner party in Tehran, when he found out that I was a visiting distant relative from the United States, with background in exploration geology and mining. He was quite upset that sitting next to him at the university classroom was the son of a veteran serving now in the Sepaah. The complaint was that this fellow did not have the required academic qualifications to have passed the strict entrance exams as this young man had to do. He was also complaining about the lack of certain rather liberal freedoms for the youth that he had seen on foreign television broadcasts such as BBC-Persian, Voice of America, or the popular MANOTO (You & I) produced by Iran’s former superstar, Googoosh.
He was especially angry at the restrictions and filtering of these and some other foreign broadcasts and internet access to certain sites. He said his ambition was to go to Norway, and from there possibly to the United States in search of a better life. I told him that I thought there were many other younger folks who feel the same way. His plan sounded more easily attainable than trying to create a better atmosphere and life right at home. ‘Any house cat’ I continued, ‘would do the same thing if the neighbor’s house provided better food and shelter. How curious, though, that dogs don’t do that; I guess they are not as smart!’ I wondered if he had any suggestions or solutions to, for example, the chaotic and unruly traffic conditions in Tehran or its horrible air pollution. I asked him what he would suggest if he were appointed as the adviser to the Mayor of Tehran? His reply after a short pause was, ‘I’d tell him to fix things up; he’s paid to do that!’ ‘Good thinking; excellent!’ I said.
I did travel, as I had done during my previous visits, quite far and wide. On one occasion we drove across the forbidding Kavir high desert all the way to the Afghanistan border, visiting small towns, villages and mining camps along the way. We were also planning a trip further to the south to the Sistan/Baluchestan province and Jaaz Muriaan Depression in the southeastern corner of Iran, but a terrorist attack by a group from the Pakistani side of the border that resulted in the massacre of a couple dozen Iranian border guards changed our plans.
While visiting the stone quarries of the Mahallat travertine region in central Iran, I was treated to a wonderful luncheon at the home of the youngest daughter of my former mine foreman who had passed away some twenty years earlier. Also present were her eighty-one-year-old mother, school teacher sister and a brother, a nephew, and her young son. This young lady works as a marketing analyst for a mining firm, and is receiving her PhD in business administration from the local university, all while raising her seventeen-year-old son as a model student. Having been raised in a small dusty village near Delijan before the Revolution, her siblings now include a very successful British educated plastic surgeon in Tehran and a mining engineer with a Masters Degree operating his own stone quarry nearby.
And, on the opposite end of the spectrum is someone I happened to know in my distant past. She is an uneducated, now sixtyish but looking older, housecleaner who, as I found out, also takes care of two half-brothers, one in Tehran and the other in Sabzevar, some 300 miles east of Tehran, by commuting back and forth by bus once a month. Both are Iran-Iraq war casualties, one permanently damaged by the effects of Saddam Hussein’s mustard gas, and the other shell-shocked, psychotic, in and out of rehab, trying to recover from drug addictions. As war veterans, they receive government subsidies and medical assistance. I made an effort to see her and inquired about her own condition. She never once complained about her problems or financial difficulties, only about her rheumatoid arthritis. As a single woman, she benefits from her recently deceased father’s health insurance policy and retirement allowance; he was a street sweeper before the revolution, and had retired due to ill health shortly after. There are many in similar circumstances who have to struggle to stay afloat, but you seldom hear hem complain or beg for help.
My own half-brother is also a war veteran who had his own battles with disorientation, addiction and loss of self-confidence, resulting in the alienation from his wife and two sons for over fifteen years. They have somehow managed without his help through difficult times. His older son is now a second-year student at Kashan University, studying electrical engineering, and the younger boy is about to finish high school. They are closer together now and will hopefully remain connected.
Iran’s Armed Forces hold a major parade to mark the 33rd anniversary of the country’s eight-year defense against Iraq, September 22, 2013.
There is hardly a family in Iran that has not lost a member or been directly touched by the war they label as the Imposed War, or alternatively as the Sacred Defense. The wounds do run deep and the nation does take pride in the sacrifices made by its downed and damaged heroes, the veterans of the Sacred Defense, whether the young university student I met at that dinner party I mentioned has problem acknowledging their rights to privileged treatments or not.
October this year also coincided with Moharram, the lunar month during which Shi’a Saints (Imams), the descendants of Ali, whom Shi’a Moslems consider the first true Imam after the Prophet’s death, were martyred in the 7th century at Karbala in today’s Iraq. These annual mourning rituals overshadow all other social events throughout the country. Nov. 4th also marked the anniversary of the takeover of the American Embassy in 1979. Street parades and a show of solidarity against the “Great Satan” was to be expected for the occasion.
This year, however, things were different. The government controlled media, daily newspapers and TV programs, were having a hard time adjusting to the fast evolving political developments. There was a strong, and sometimes even hostile, rhetorical exchange between the establishment hardliners on the one side, and some of the descendants of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Revolution, also supported by the former president, Rafsanjani, on the other. The debate was over Imam Khomeini’s declarations regarding relations with the United States. Information was beginning or, better put, “allowed” to leak that the Ayatollah had not initially approved of the American embassy takeover by the radical leftist gangs in 1979, and, in fact, had ordered the removal of the hostage takers from the premises, but to no avail. It was also revealed that, before his death, he had made certain conciliatory remarks, such as declaring that the Islamic Republic had nothing against the America as a nation, but had objections against the policies of the United States. It was also coming out that the founder of the Islamic Republic thought that the slogan, Death to America, should be put to rest in due time.
These revelations met with fierce opposition and denounced by ultraconservative members of the Parliament and some high ranking clerics, who charged Rafsanjani and the Imam’s own family with sedition, demanding their apologies to the families of the martyrs of the Islamic Revolution. These arguments continue while the official government position seems to be a guarded wait and see. After all, a potential new opening to the West should not be ignored or jeopardized.
In the central city of Kashan, at a historic house now converted to an attractive restaurant frequented by foreign tourists, I was rather surprised to see the American flag displayed front and center among flags of other countries; absent, of course, was the Israeli flag.
The famous Abbasi Restaurant in Kashan
A sudden appearance and a rather hasty disappearance of posters attached to freeway overpasses captioned “Trustworthiness American Style” was quite remarkable. The large colored posters showed an American negotiator sitting at a table across from his Iranian counterpart while holding a gun underneath the table aimed at the Iranian!
“It takes time to build confidence between countries that have really been at odds with each other for a long time now,” observed Mr. Kerry. But he added hopefully: “There’s no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva, than when we came.” — U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, at Press Conference at the end of second round of talks in Geneva.
On the day commemorating the taking of the American embassy, marked by marching groups chanting Death to America, the atmosphere was visibly tense. There were semi-official warnings ahead of time that such slogans would be disallowed throughout the country.I couldn’t stop laughing at such childish gestures of authority to think that a festering thirty-years-old angst could be extinguished on cue, as though dealing with kindergarten children in a schoolyard. Such things take time; wounds with deep roots heal slowly. I did see groups escorted by the police marching with Death to America banners in a couple of small towns we drove through on November 4th as we headed back to Tehran. I was told these demonstrations were much smaller this year, particularly in Tehran and other major metropolitan areas.
We all knew that the winds of change were already blowing in the air. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamaneh’i, made a rather significant public statement, to the effect that you sometimes, as in a wrestling match, show flexibility or feign softness in order to gain advantage. This was in reaction to the hardliner’s criticisms against the Iranian delegation to the nuclear summits for supposedly bending too far and giving too much to the other side.
But removing giant anti-American posters and paintings covering the sides of tall buildings would take some time. It also takes time for a nation to appreciate and accept that people can, in fact, share in common interests and cooperate peacefully without forming a loving relationship!
My arrival at Tehran’s Khomeini Airport, as well as my departure five weeks later, were quite uneventful, even pleasant, in comparison to the chaos and overzealous security procedures in Istanbul, Turkey, and even the overcautious and, I personally believe, wastefully unnecessary and arduous reentry process back into the United States, whether one carries a US passport or not.
Just before I left Los Angeles International Airport onboard Turkish Airlines to Tehran, I read an article about the horrors of the draconian sanctions imposed on Iran and the effects these sanctions were having on the lives of the average Iranian citizen: shortages of vitally needed medicines, food staples, and the runaway inflation caused by limitations of foreign exchange or export revenues including payments for Iran’s main export item, oil; quite a frightening picture, needless to say.
I was expecting to see the worst, but that’s not what I saw. Yes, sanctions and shortages are biting and biting hard, but life seems to go on uninterrupted in spite of all the hardships people have to put up with. At a coffee shop near my sister’s flat where I was staying, I ordered two regular coffees and one cappuccino for myself and two companions, and handed the cashier a bluish colored 100,000 rial note, about three US dollars, expecting some pocket change back. I was rather embarrassed when the lady cashier told me I needed to hand over another one of those bluish notes to get any pocket change back! I was surprised; I thought Starbucks prices were exorbitant here in the States! While sitting there at that coffee shop, I saw several individuals and young couples walk in, sit down while continuing to chat on their cell phones, order their “regular” treats and having no problem paying for them. They were certainly not aliens from some other planet visiting Tehran!
If anyone thinks that the so-called draconian sanctions, as tough as they are and as hard as they bite, are bringing that nation to its knees, they should think again. Just study Iran’s long history; Iranians are a resilient breed, like blades of grass they bend with the breeze and tolerate even the strongest storms, to rise up and stand tall when the typhoon blows over. They’d suffer any hardship to preserve their sense of honor and dignity. Cocky proud? maybe so; but that’s who they are. One thing is for sure: They’d make much better friends than enemies.
I do not own the proverbial Crystal Ball, do not receive revelations and don’t make wild guesses. Instead, I try to base my analyses on a set of premises that do not violate commonsense and are not distorted by personal prejudices, preferences and emotions. This is as difficult to do as it is for others to accept it as such. For what it’s worth, here we go.
In the introduction to this article, I finished the beginning paragraphs by, Or so we are all supposed to believe! And I ended that section by stating the question asked of me during my visit to Iran: Are things going to get better for us?
Are we to believe that the true concern over Iran’s nuclear program is the suspicion by the world’s great powers that Iran is truly after accessing nuclear weapons? And are we to further believe that, should Iran not be stopped, its acquisition of nuclear weapons would pose a danger to the region and the world, starting from Israel and leading to Europe and possibly the United States? But, if the foregoing points are false pretenses, as I have maintained all along, what are the real factors behind the decades-long impasse between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its main antagonists, the United States and Israel?
To address these issues, I begin by stating certain presuppositions that are to me natural, commonsensical and undeniable:
1- People, tribes and nations will pursue their perceived interests, even if such pursuit denies other peoples of their interests and rights. Cooperation or coexistence with others only occurs when its benefits surpass those of conflict and competition.
2- In competing for supremacy and dominance, all sides to the struggle view their respective goal or cause as noble and morally justified.
3- Leaders and governments must and do engage in mass deception and hypocrisy in order to A/at best, pursue their peoples’ best interests when such pursuit might violate those peoples’ self-righteous image and moral/ethical standards (the Golden Rule); or B/at worst, secure and ensure their own selfish grip to power and the wealth of the nations they rule over.
It would be foolish to believe that promoting peace and stretching the hand of friendship toward old antagonists have something to do with altruism, philanthropy or unselfish magnanimity. Conflicts of interest in the global arena are not like sporting events where the referee stops the fight to prevent further damage when one combatant is clearly incapable of defending himself or putting up a good fight. In a boxing or wrestling match, the defeated is allowed, even encouraged, to recover, retrain and become better prepared as a combatant for the next event. Not so in global conflicts.
Why didn’t the United States or Israel simply attack Iran during the past ten or fifteen years while “all options, including military ones” remained on the table and the threats of military action were regularly made, some, according to “reliable” sources, with definite dates for initiating such attacks? Did the United States hold back from attacking, and actually pressured its pretend loyal friend and ally, Israel, to refrain from its moral right to “defend its life” in order to prevent death and devastation of the Iranian nation?
On the other side, was it God Almighty – Allah – who stopped the “Great Satan” and its disciple, the “Zionist Entity”, from bombing the Iranian nation into the Stone Age? Was it the homemade inverted bathtubs, the Iranian speedboats or threats of opening the gates of Hell that scared the hostile superpower away? Com’on, man!!
All the bellicose chest-thumping and flag waving aside, attacking Iran by the United States or Israel was never seriously in the playbook to start with, or there were plenty of pretexts or concocted excuses to rationalize and justify such an attack. I hold this argument to this very day. I have long maintained that, while the mere threats of war based on fictitious, fabricated and hyped existential dangers in the region accomplish the intended objectives, engaging in actual military actions would prove to nobody’s interests and, on the contrary, would have catastrophic consequences all the way around. So, what are, or have been, those intended objectives?
Let us examine the main players in the Middle East arena, their concerns and interests and how they figure in that jigsaw puzzle:
A- The United States of America
America’s forceful intrusion into the greater Middle East was marked by the campaign in 1991 dubbed Desert Storm to “liberate” Kuwait and push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of the oil-rich emirate. Kuwait’s, as well as Iraq’s and also Iran’s oil and gas resources were deemed too important to be left to chance or to the whims of the likes of Saddam or the Iranian “mullahs.”
Military bases were already being established in and around the region to ensure America’s control over the flow of oil and to maintain political “stability”, meaning compliance, in the Middle East. America’s military presence, especially in the kingdom of the Saud clan in Arabia, was also to support and protect the kingdom from what the openly unpopular regime thought of as an existential threat, a Shi’a rebellion modeled after the Iranian uprising. America’s military presence in Islam’s holiest land, plus the anti-Islamic colors of the political rhetoric from the West, were perhaps the strongest motivating factors for Al Qa’eda’s terror attack on the American soil in September 11, 2001.
That event opened the door for the United States to unleash its enormous military might against Iraq and Afghanistan to punish a band of renegade militants without a country, hiding somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Even though, in hindsight, the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan proved ill advised and disastrous, not just for the hapless populations of those nations, but also for America itself, the events quite curiously followed a pattern envisaged by two groups with prophetic foresight. One had clearly outlined its mission in the paper prepared for the then Israeli PM, Mr. Netanyahu, in 1997, dubbed, A Clean Break; Securing the Realm; and the other soon afterwards by the think tank in Washington, the Project for the New American Century. The readers could plug-in these names into their internet search engines to learn more about their mission statements.
So, not only was the United States fully engaged militarily in the region, with ground bases established throughout, and naval forces in the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman, Indian Ocean and the Eastern Mediterranean, the domino chips were also put into motion to fall through Lebanon, Syria and ultimately Iran. Many attempts were made, but the dominos failed to drop according to plans, the main factor responsible for that failure was, perhaps, Iran.
What we have today as a factor more significant than ever is a looming realization and an increasing public awareness in the United States that America’s presence and deep involvements in the Middle East and even in North Africa have not been geared to secure and maintain America’s best strategic global interests. That, in spite of all the hype and propaganda saturating the mainstream media that any retreat or loosening of the noose around the necks of the so-called dangerous and rogue regimes, such as Iran and Syria, would create and invite bolder and more ominous threats to our peace and security. That line isn’t cutting it anymore.
So, what took so long for the Administration to come to terms with and admit the realities that the policies of the United States toward the Middle East in general, and the Islamic Republic of Iran in particular, have been counterproductive? It is not simply that we prefer dialogue and diplomacy to confrontation and war. America would not have hesitated to launch an attack on Iran if such action were deemed necessary to bring about the truly desired, not just perceived or politically motivated propaganda, objectives. The United States has never needed permissions or approvals from the global community to launch aggression against targets near or far.
Barack Obama was not the first President to recognize that there was something wrong with America’s Middle East policies, which are too often tilting heavily in favor of Israeli and against America’s own best interests. This knowledge is not new, and it actually dates back to the end of the Second World War and the creation of Israel as a member of the United Nations. But, up until now, actually beginning in Obama’s second term in office, open expressions of a political rift between the United States and Israel were not allowed to enter the public discourse.
The inordinate presence and influence of pro-Zionist lobbies and interests in America’s vital centers of power is a separate discussion, which has been the focus of attention by an increasing number of sources outside the mainstream media, among which I could mention some of the most active worth referencing here, here and here.
What are America’s goals and interests at this junction? It is safe to say that America’s public opinion has been shifting away from blindly supporting what has been sold as War on Terror, or wars of liberation to promote freedom and democracy in the unruly parts of the world. The public doesn’t believe that anymore. Even those who are naively, but genuinely, concerned about the safety and security of the homeland, and do view America’s engagement in the Middle East as an honorable effort to rescue those nations from a barbaric regression to the Dark Ages, now believe that costs of such effort to the nation is far outweighing its rewards. It’s time to get out; no more wars!
Adjusting to the dangerously evolving Syrian civil war, at the same time that new efforts to normalize relations with Iran toward resolving the so-called “nuclear” issues were taking place, all point to a sea change in the international arena. But there are those perennial obstacles in the way to achieving a more realistic, functional and productive course for America’s foreign policy toward the Middle East, and in particular toward Iran. What the United States wants is to clear out of the troubled Middle East, not in a cut-and-run manner, but in a face-saving graceful way, without incurring further damage or sacrificing its genuine strategic interests. What are the obstacles to achieving this goal?
1- The military/industrial complex and all its tentacles:
The full breadth and depth of the economic impacts of America’s military related industries is beyond the scope of this writing. As the world’s greatest producer and exporter of military related hardware, the export and sale of such equipment, along with its peripheral training and support services provided through lucrative contracts with the end users, provide enormous annual incomes that lubricate and feed America’s industries. It’s no secret that arms are sold to both sides of conflicts; and in the absence of requests for arms, enough agitation is created in respective regions to make the demands more urgent. When tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars are needed by the Administration to fund certain projects, the oil-wealthy Persian Gulf states are coerced to purchase mostly outdated or obsolete arms they do not need or even know how to deploy! America’s military bases at home, and cities such as San Diego as a naval base, thrive on military revenues and expenditures. It is logical, therefore, to assume that turmoil, instability and threats of terrorism, etc., in areas of the world where the United States does have strategic interests necessitate the military preparedness at home, and significant presence in these troubled areas of the world. So, why not create such circumstances and fan the fire, so to speak? Why promote peace and global stability when chaos, uncertainty and war prove more profitable?
2- The Zionist lobbies and Israel’s angle: Just following the money!
To gain the sympathy and support of the nation, the elements of influence and indoctrination have managed to successfully penetrate and establish themselves at all the critical centers of power in the public domain: total dominations of the news and entertainment media, financial institutions, legal and medical fields, the scientific and educational domains, etc. This is not a criticism; it is a tribute to the tenacity and intellectual prowess of a small minority that just over a century ago ranked, like other small immigrant groups, among the disadvantaged and persecuted in their adopted country.
“I am sometimes asked if I have any regrets about publishing our book. As of today, my only regret is that it isn’t being published now. After the humiliations that Obama has endured at the hands of the lobby and now the Hagel circus, we’d sell even more copies and we wouldn’t face nearly as much ill-informed criticism.” — Stephen Walt, co-author of the book.
A population that numbers less than two percent of the total US population, occupies a huge majority in the most sensitive and consequential areas of influence and control over the direction and destiny of the nation. In a liberal democracy structured around free enterprise capitalism, money reigns supreme; and money generates more money.
Control over the news, information and entertainment media meant direct control over the public mindset, which before the advent of the internet, remained a captive audience at the mercy of the media manipulators. The significance of this point is in the fact that Jewish communities in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and elsewhere do have an understandable umbilical connection to what they identify as a homeland away from Diaspora, Israel.
Politically motivated and driven Judaism, translated into Zionism, has capitalized on these sentiments in order to mobilize some of the strongest political lobbies in Washington, the most visible and vocal among them has been, AIPAC, which has direct influence on the United States Congress in matters that relate to US policies in the Middle East.
No candidate for any political office would have a fighting chance without financial support in the form of campaign money, and without the media support to launch his or her campaign. Money and media support overpower true qualifications and overrule honest patriotism. It is no surprise that the principle qualification for a candidate for any Congressional seat, whether the House or the Senate, is how pro-Israel he or she could demonstrate to be, concurrent with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to express their devotion! This wouldn’t be too objectionable were it not for the obvious fact that Israel is a foreign country, and that the interests of Israel and those of the United States are not always the same: This “passionate attachment”, as George Washington warned the nation against, has been costing the United States of America dearly. There is much more that needs to be said about all that; but on with the topic at hand.
3- The evangelical holy crusaders:
The anti-Islamic and pro-Israel neoconservatives aren’t all Jewish or ardent supporters of Zionism.
Even though the Zionist lobby, AIPAC, has encouraged and embraced some of most vocal and aggressive evangelical churches, such radical groups have no sympathy for the Jewish nation beyond their sacrificial utility on the way to realizing the warped Biblical prophecy of Armageddon!
To these Christian zealots, Islam, the Islamic cultures, and particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran as the foremost defiant state, represent a spreading plague that must be stopped to save Christendom. The power and political influence of these groups, with memberships now numbering in the millions, cannot be discounted as inconsequential.
B- Israel’s objectives, concerns and interests:
Israel’s objective could be summarized in one short phrase: its survival as a Jewish state. And, the future seems increasingly more uncertain. This small transplant has been fighting rejection ever since its establishment, and has survived, grown and prospered mainly through financial, military and diplomatic support by its chief benefactor, the United States, plus economic support by other European countries, mainly Germany. But Israel’s “growth” has come at a tragic cost to the indigenous Palestinian populations who have undergone increasing marginalization and disenfranchisement by the Israeli regimes that enjoy the shelter and protection of the might of the United States.
Global concerns about the future of the Palestinian populations, an equitable peace process leading to the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state, the return of the lands stolen by the Israeli regimes to its original owners, etc., have increased the international criticism and even the condemnation of Israel’s policies to new heights.
Israel, in short, needs and depends on America’s unequivocal protection and support for its very survival. And, as has been the case in the past, the Israeli regimes would resort to any and all means to ensure that support. Zionist enterprises have managed to create a mindset within the American public that Israel and the United States share in broader values and that their alliance should remain unbreakable. Portrayed as a small vanguard of Western civilized values in a turbulent, hostile region, Israel, therefore, deserves the full support of the United States. Furthermore, through the carefully timed repetitions of the details of horrors of Holocaust in the media, punctuated by the erection of new monuments to commemorate that massacre, those memories are kept alive in order to ensure that the American public will never forget the debt the world owes to the Jewish people.
Even though that time-tested methodology is now showing signs of wearing thin, of far greater impact is the Zionist lobby’s influence over the American Congress, especially over the various committees and subcommittees that deal with foreign affairs in any form or shape: samples here and here.
Some facts to keep in mind when addressing Israel’s concerns and agendas:
1- Israel needs the unwavering support of the United States, and will not be able to survive on its own without that support.
2- Israel cannot and will not relinquish its territorial gains or compromise its plans for population growth in any negotiations with the Palestinians.
3- Feigning its readiness to sit at negotiating table with the Palestinians to appease global concerns, Israel will never accept the existence of a truly independent and viable Palestinian state. Instead, it will continue to blame the Palestinians for a lack of progress in that regard.
4- Israel is not ready or even willing to take on the Islamic Republic of Iran in a military confrontation. Israel is too little and vulnerable to total devastation, regardless of its nuclear arsenal.
5- Israel is not truly worried or concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities, as even if that capability existed, Israel knows that Iran would never initiate any attack on its neighbors or Israel, which would spell doom for the Islamic Republic.
Israel’s relentless anti-Iran rhetoric is, therefore, simply a two-pronged campaign: One is to scare a war weary American public that this friend and ally who is facing an existential threat by a monstrous enemy, Iran, might have to eliminate that imminent threat by a preemptive military strike, which quite unfortunately, would drag America into yet another prolonged and costly engagement in that region. And, two, to demand the always compliant and ready Congress to rise in defense of this beleaguered friend to grant it all, and even much more than, what is necessary to keep it safe and content.
Thus, with the American public’s support and the US Congress’ cooperation, Israel will extort all the support it needs from the Administration. What the American public does not realize is that Israel doesn’t truly want a war with Iran, and even an attack, however unlikely, by the United States on Iranian targets would not bode well for the Israelis, since any retaliatory action would incur huge damage to the little state. Israel wants assurances that any rapprochement between the United States and Iran would not jeopardize Israel’s favored treatment by its chief benefactor.
For any opening between the West and Iran to have a chance to succeed, Israel must be fully pacified that it will remain immune to international condemnations no matter what is does against the international norms or UN mandates, or even the American Administration’s preferences. Israel will continue receiving increasing financial support and diplomatic immunity, as well as ironclad security guarantees from the United States. The Palestinian aspirations shall be ignored, and settlement activities will continue.
A very close friend who is not overly fine-tuned in international affairs asked me what the consequences would be if someday, some brave American President would tell the likes of Netanyahu to go to hell! The best response I could come up with was to compare the situation with a tumor that has metastasized into the vital organs of the body, the removal of which might prove fatal to the host, until such time that better medications become available!
C- The Saudis:
Strange bedfellows? Not at all! Unlike the Israelis, the Saud clan does have excellent reasons to fear Iran. No, the Arab monarchy is not in danger of a military attack or invasion by the Islamic Republic, with or without any nuclear weapons. And, the altercations or rivalries have nothing to do with theological differences between the Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam. Religiosity is not a Saudi clan hallmark, anyway. These rulers over Islam’s holiest sites appear as pious as necessary in public; anything but in private!
The regime owes its longevity to its long-time pact with the United States that guarantees its survival as long as the regime and its hydrocarbon reserves do not fall out of the American fold. This cooperation has served both parties quite well. The Saud clan, perhaps the wealthiest on the planet, has been fuelling the wheels of American and other Western countries’ economies with its enormous oil money, while at home, there is not even an accurate census figure as to Arabia’s own population; just some approximate figure somewhere around 16 million, with somewhere around 10 million foreign and otherwise illegal residents in the country! The experienced oil field workers are among the Shi’a immigrants, and the nearby oil-rich Bahrain Island, a Saudi dependency, connected by a bridge to the Arabian Peninsula, hosts a majority Shi’a population currently engaged in a serious uprising against the regime.
American and, yes, Israeli land and naval bases (Israeli atomic submarines donated by Germany) are stationed in and around both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to guard against whatever threats might erupt unexpectedly. Always ready to fork out money as requested (ordered) to finance military missions under the label of War on Terror, the Saudis have been backing any operation, including those carried out by known terrorist groups, in promoting radical Islamic movements (Wahabism) and against anything that would support Iran and its Shi’a oriented Islam. Their undeniable involvements in the Syrian civil war has been so pervasive and blatant, that suspicions prevail that the gas attack against the civilian centers near Damascus was carried out by the Saudi backed militants, and not by the Assad regime.
The Saudis fear the expansion of Iranian power and domination in the region as a threat to their very existence as a ruling monarchy. Outside of the Sheikdom of Qatar, other Persian Gulf emirates could live with a more powerful Iran, as they could continue to prosper as a trading hub and business partner with Iran. So, it should not be surprising that behind the thin facade of Arab/Israeli conflict there is a long history of cooperation that serves the interests of both Israel and certain Arab regimes, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and as we can see, Egypt. Both camps depend on American support for their survival, and the Arab group fears the Iranian model as a potential element of destabilization and uprising against their clearly unpopular regimes.
D- Syria, Russia and Turkey:
Syria holds a strategic position, a seaport on the northeastern Mediterranean that serves as a naval facility for Russia’s only anchorage in that area, Syrian border with Israel (the Golan Heights disputed zone), Syria’s direct connection and historical ties with Lebanon, and finally and most importantly, serving as a conduit for the transfer of arms and supplies from Iran to the Lebanese Hezbollah that represents the majority Shi’a population of Lebanon. In exchange, Syria has been receiving Iran’s economic, military and political support.
As an old, but well-contained, adversary of Israel, the Assad regime has been involved in a delicate balancing act, which has not only helped preserve the minority Alawite Assad regime’s central power and authority, but has also protected Israel against rogue Islamic militant groups in the area. We have been witnessing the rise to power of radical Islamic elements, including those directly associated with Al Qa’eda, as the result of the chaos that ensued during what has become a civil war in Syria. Russia’s direct involvement in support of Assad was to help prevent not only its one Arab ally and a foothold in the Middle East, but to also prevent the spread of Islamic militancy that threatens its own troubled East-Caspian states.
Turkey has its own problems with its Kurdish populations and cannot remain neutral in the Syrian developments whose own Kurdish populations and their aspirations could spill over into Turkey. Also as a longtime ally of the United States and with an eye to possible acceptance into the European Union, Turkey had little choice but to join in with the United States in opposition to the Assad regime. In spite of all that, Turkey wants nothing more than continuing its mutually advantageous relations with its neighbor, Iran. For a good portion of its income, Turkey depends on the revenues from the trade between Europe and Central Asian countries by providing the only viable land transit route through Iran. Both Turkey and Iran also share similar concerns about their respective Kurdish separatist populations.
The Islamic Republic of Iran:
Iran is not attempting to develop nuclear weapons; period! The United States knows it, and the Israeli regime knows it, too. The security services of both countries have repeatedly confirmed that fact. The reason for Iran to not pursue the development of atomic weapons is not the religious mandate by the Supreme Leader or the fear of being caught red-handed in the act by the UN observers, etc. The main reason is that Iran does not need such an expensive weapon, which could only be used as a preventive or defensive tool, when its conventional forces are more than capable of protecting its borders. Were a potential American or Israeli preemptive attack on Iran a viable probability, Iran would have had ample reasons to gain access to nuclear devices; but as I have repeatedly argued, I don’t believe that the Iranian government has ever seriously considered itself vulnerable to such attacks. What has been the main source of concern for Iran’s national and territorial security include only terrorist incursions and occasional foreign based local insurgencies that would not require the use of nuclear arms to combat.
Iran, without doubt, does have the technical knowhow, the facilities and resources, to embark on the development of nuclear bombs if or when necessary, as is the case with other NPT members that are benefiting from nuclear energy production. Therefore, the best way to alleviate the hyped and fictitious fear of an Iranian breakout attempt to go after the development of nuclear bombs is to also remove the hyped and fictitious threats of regime change or preemptive military strikes against the Islamic Republic.
A fairly clear assessment of Iran’s nuclear development process appears in an article in Huffington Post.
Beyond that, all the claimed data about the number of centrifuges spinning here or there and similar allegations and suspicions are just that – claims and counterclaims.
Without any doubt, behind the door negotiations between the United States and the Iranian government have been ongoing for many years; only the most recent developments have become public knowledge. Also, there should be no doubt that direct communications have existed all along between the top American and Iranian military commands to avoid false-flag, rogue and accidental mishaps that might trigger an unwanted confrontation. Now is the time to come out of the backroom and engage in serious talks to end this dangerous charade of suspicions, allegations and threats.
Iran never threatened anybody and allegations of support for “international terrorism” were based on who were branded as terrorists and by whom! The culprit behind all such allegations against the Islamic Republic of Iran was the one entity that stood to benefit by portraying Iran as an existential threat. And, it succeeded, by first interjecting Iran in George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address as part of the Axis of Evil, at a time when Iran was helping the United States fight the insurgents and establish the Karzai regime in Afghanistan. Ever since then, the Zionist lobbies have been relentless in their opposition to any rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Their agents in the Congress are tirelessly attempting to torpedo any progress in US/Iran relations to this very day. It is time to stop that.
Com’on, Mister President; stand up and say it loud and clear: Enough is enough; Israel will get all it wants. Now get off my back and let us do what is right for the United States of America for a change!
Dr. Kam Zarrabi blogs at: Intellectual discourse.
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