What Are Iran’s Intentions?

 Noam Chomsky    Saturday 3 March 2012   Nation of Change

“Iran has very limited capacity to deploy force, and its strategic doctrine is defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to take effect.”

The Jan­u­ary/Feb­ru­ary issue of For­eign Af­fairs fea­tured the ar­ti­cle “Time to At­tack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Op­tion,” by Matthew Kroenig, along with com­men­tary about other ways to con­tain the Iran­ian threat.

The media re­sound with warn­ings about a likely Is­raeli at­tack on Iran while the U.S. hes­i­tates, keep­ing open the op­tion of ag­gres­sion – thus again rou­tinely vi­o­lat­ing the U.N. Char­ter, the foun­da­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.

As ten­sions es­ca­late, eerie echoes of the run-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are in the air. Fever­ish U.S. pri­mary cam­paign rhetoric adds to the drum­beat.

Con­cerns about “the im­mi­nent threat” of Iran are often at­trib­uted to the “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity” – code lan­guage for U.S. al­lies. The peo­ple of the world, how­ever, tend to see mat­ters rather dif­fer­ently.

The non­aligned coun­tries, a move­ment with 120 mem­ber na­tions, has vig­or­ously sup­ported Iran’s right to en­rich ura­nium – an opin­ion shared by the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans (as sur­veyed by WorldPublicOpinion.org) be­fore the mas­sive pro­pa­ganda on­slaught of the past two years.

China and Rus­sia op­pose U.S. pol­icy on Iran, as does India, which an­nounced that it would dis­re­gard U.S. sanc­tions and in­crease trade with Iran. Turkey has fol­lowed a sim­i­lar course.

Eu­ro­peans re­gard Is­rael as the great­est threat to world peace. In the Arab world, Iran is dis­liked but seen as a threat only by a very small mi­nor­ity. Rather, Is­rael and the U.S. are re­garded as the pre-em­i­nent threat. A ma­jor­ity think that the re­gion would be more se­cure if Iran had nu­clear weapons: In Egypt on the eve of the Arab Spring, 90 per­cent held this opin­ion, ac­cord­ing to Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion/Zogby In­ter­na­tional polls.

West­ern com­men­tary has made much of how the Arab dic­ta­tors al­legedly sup­port the U.S. po­si­tion on Iran, while ig­nor­ing the fact that the vast ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion op­poses it – a stance too re­veal­ing to re­quire com­ment.

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Con­cerns about Is­rael’s nu­clear ar­se­nal have long been ex­pressed by some ob­servers in the United States as well. Gen. Lee But­ler, for­mer head of the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand, de­scribed Is­rael’s nu­clear weapons as “dan­ger­ous in the ex­treme.” In a U.S. Army jour­nal, Lt. Col. Warner Farr wrote that one “pur­pose of Is­raeli nu­clear weapons, not often stated, but ob­vi­ous, is their ‘use’ on the United States” – pre­sum­ably to en­sure con­sis­tent U.S. sup­port for Is­raeli poli­cies.

A prime con­cern right now is that Is­rael will seek to pro­voke some Iran­ian ac­tion that will in­cite a U.S. at­tack.

One of Is­rael’s lead­ing strate­gic an­a­lysts, Zeev Maoz, in “De­fend­ing the Holy Land,” his com­pre­hen­sive analy­sis of Is­raeli se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy, con­cludes that “the bal­ance sheet of Is­rael’s nu­clear pol­icy is de­cid­edly neg­a­tive” – harm­ful to the state’s se­cu­rity. He urges in­stead that Is­rael should seek a re­gional agree­ment to ban weapons of mass de­struc­tion: a WMD-free zone, called for by a 1974 U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly res­o­lu­tion.

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Mean­while, the West’s sanc­tions on Iran are hav­ing their usual ef­fect, caus­ing short­ages of basic food sup­plies – not for the rul­ing cler­ics but for the pop­u­la­tion. Small won­der that the sanc­tions are con­demned by Iran’s coura­geous op­po­si­tion. The sanc­tions against Iran may have the same ef­fect as their pre­de­ces­sors against Iraq, which were con­demned as “geno­ci­dal” by the re­spected U.N. diplo­mats who ad­min­is­tered them be­fore fi­nally re­sign­ing in protest.

The Iraq sanc­tions dev­as­tated the pop­u­la­tion and strength­ened Sad­dam Hus­sein, prob­a­bly sav­ing him from the fate of a rogues’ gallery of other tyrants sup­ported by the U.S.-U.K. – tyrants who pros­pered vir­tu­ally to the day when var­i­ous in­ter­nal re­volts over­threw them.

There is lit­tle cred­i­ble dis­cus­sion of just what con­sti­tutes the Iran­ian threat, though we do have an au­thor­i­ta­tive an­swer, pro­vided by U.S. mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence. Their pre­sen­ta­tions to Con­gress make it clear that Iran doesn’t pose a mil­i­tary threat.

Iran has very lim­ited ca­pac­ity to de­ploy force, and its strate­gic doc­trine is de­fen­sive, de­signed to deter in­va­sion long enough for diplo­macy to take ef­fect. If Iran is de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons (which is still un­de­ter­mined), that would be part of its de­ter­rent strat­egy.

The un­der­stand­ing of se­ri­ous Is­raeli and U.S. an­a­lysts is ex­pressed clearly by 30-year CIA vet­eran Bruce Riedel, who said in Jan­u­ary, “If I was an Iran­ian na­tional se­cu­rity plan­ner, I would want nu­clear weapons” as a de­ter­rent.

An ad­di­tional charge the West lev­els against Iran is that it is seek­ing to ex­pand its in­flu­ence in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries at­tacked and oc­cu­pied by the U.S. and Britain, and is sup­port­ing re­sis­tance to the U.S.-backed Is­raeli ag­gres­sion in Lebanon and il­le­gal Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tin­ian lands. Like its de­ter­rence of pos­si­ble vi­o­lence by West­ern coun­tries, Iran’s ac­tions are said to be in­tol­er­a­ble threats to “global order.”

Global opin­ion agrees with Maoz. Sup­port is over­whelm­ing for a WMDFZ in the Mid­dle East; this zone would in­clude Iran, Is­rael and prefer­ably the other two nu­clear pow­ers that have re­fused to join the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty: India and Pak­istan, who, along with Is­rael, de­vel­oped their pro­grams with U.S. aid.

Sup­port for this pol­icy at the NPT Re­view Con­fer­ence in May 2010 was so strong that Wash­ing­ton was forced to agree for­mally, but with con­di­tions: The zone could not take ef­fect until a com­pre­hen­sive peace set­tle­ment be­tween Is­rael and its Arab neigh­bors was in place; Is­rael’s nu­clear weapons pro­grams must be ex­empted from in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tion; and no coun­try (mean­ing the U.S.) must be obliged to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about “Is­raeli nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties and ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to pre­vi­ous nu­clear trans­fers to Is­rael.”

The 2010 con­fer­ence called for a ses­sion in May 2012 to move to­ward es­tab­lish­ing a WMDFZ in the Mid­dle East.

With all the furor about Iran, how­ever, there is scant at­ten­tion to that op­tion, which would be the most con­struc­tive way of deal­ing with the nu­clear threats in the re­gion: for the “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” the threat that Iran might gain nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity; for most of the world, the threat posed by the only state in the re­gion with nu­clear weapons and a long record of ag­gres­sion, and its su­per­power pa­tron.

One can find no men­tion at all of the fact that the U.S. and Britain have a unique re­spon­si­bil­ity to ded­i­cate their ef­forts to this goal. In seek­ing to pro­vide a thin legal cover for their in­va­sion of Iraq, they in­voked U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 687 (1991), which they claimed Iraq was vi­o­lat­ing by de­vel­op­ing WMD.

We may ig­nore the claim, but not the fact that the res­o­lu­tion ex­plic­itly com­mits sign­ers to es­tab­lish­ing a WMDFZ in the Mid­dle East.

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ABOUT NOAM CHOMSKY

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and pressor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Techonology. Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific communities as one of the fathers of modern linguistics, and a major figure of analytic philosophy. Chomsky is the author of more than 150 books and has received worldwide attention for his views.

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