International Affairs Middle East — 11 September 2006

Reading most foreign policy commentators, you would think that we are facing a nightmare situation with Iran about to start the manufacture of nuclear weapons unless the international community takes significant and immediate action. If the “mad mullahs” of Iran, who are apparently unrestrained by civilised Western values, are not stopped then they could start to threaten the stability of the world by coupling their fanaticism and religious fervour with nuclear weapons. Some question why they need to develop nuclear power when they are sitting on some of the world’s largest reserves of oil. Others point out, that given the Iranian President’s statements calling for the destruction of Israel, surely this would be a recipe for nuclear Armageddon if Iran were not stopped.

But for many people, and you don’t necessarily have to be an Iranian Mullah or a member of Hezbollah to see it, there seems to be a common premise to most of the
arguments made against Iran. This premise being that those dark skinned peoples who live far away, with their foreign culture and religion, can’t be trusted; they are not
civilised like us; rather they are belligerent barbarians; and can’t be accepted at their word. This perception of the people of the Orient was discussed in detail by the late Edward Said in his book “Orientalism” and is not a recent phenomenon or the result of recent neo-con propaganda or policies. By all accounts, most Iranians, both religious and secular, see the issue of the development of nuclear technology as being a sign of progress for their nation. And since they don’t see themselves as being culturally or racially inferior; they can’t comprehend why the West wants to prevent them from developing nuclear technologies that others have.

Though today the Iranians are not proposing to develop nuclear weapons, it is conceivable that once they are able to master the uranium enrichment process they would be able to generate sufficiently enriched uranium to use in nuclear weapons. The latest intelligence estimates by the CIA indicate that Iran is a decade away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. And even if the Iranian government does decide ultimately to develop nuclear weapons this should be seen in the context of Iran’s legitimate security concerns. From their perspective, they have seen the invasion and occupation of two of their neighbours by the United States: Afghanistan and Iraq. And they continually hear calls for regime change in Iran by many US politicians. Furthermore the lesson they have learned from the United States dealings with North Korea, is that no serious US politician calls for forced regime change in North Korea, where nuclear weapons act as a deterrent to the world’s superpower.

There is little or no evidence to indicate that the Iranian regime develops foreign policy differently to other states. Nor is there any evidence that the Iranian leadership wants to sacrifice millions of its citizens in a potential nuclear exchange with Israel for the sake of liberating Jerusalem or the coming of the Mahdi (Messiah). When the Iranian President in his speeches calls into question the existence of the Israel state, he articulates an opinion shared by many in the Muslim world. Such speeches may enhance Ahmadinejad’s standing in the Muslim world but Iran, which does not even border Israel, is not in a position to threaten the Israel state.

Thus the major losers if Iran or another Middle Eastern state acquires nuclear technologies and possible weapons, will be the United States and Israel who will have to think twice before they launch attacks against that country or want to initiate forced regime change. For us in Britain lets recognise the issue as what it is – not our problem. If the Israeli and
United States governments want to start a new war in Iran, this time lets make sure Britain keeps out of it.

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