Part I – The Problem
These days I often come across people who seem apprehensive about the possibility of war between the US and Iran. Your Blogger, being a habitual optimist, likes to believe that what we are witnessing is no more than another example of the Bush Administration’s predilection for sabre-rattling.
Sorely wounded in Iraq the US is currently militarily overstretched and is unlikely to hold any delusions about possible victories in Iran. But then - as your Blogger has often been known to get things wrong - perhaps one should not ignore the possible stratagems of that 60 year-old fly in the Middle East ointment – Israel.
Unlike Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which are all targeting India (and vice-versa), Irani nukes will destabilize the Middle East and its strategically vital oil-producing areas. While the fabulously wealthy Saudi royalty might end up with jellied knees, the Irani nukes will most likely be aimed at Tel Aviv. And therein lies the problem.
For the sake of self-preservation the Israelis will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons and, even if it leads to a breakout of World War III, Israel will make every attempt to destroy Irani nuclear facilities before they get to the bomb-developing stage.
Whatever one might think of the Israel’s leadership, no one can accuse them of stupidity. Rather than attack Iran all by themselves, the Israelis will inveigle Washington to do the job alongside them. At the very least the Israeli bombers will need the US military for mid-air refuelling for a return trip to Iran.
So while Bush shakes a belligerent fist at Iran, he may soon be duped into doing something much more lethal.
Part II – Why are many Iranis such ardent nationalists?
I’m not Irani but I do know something about the history about this neighbouring country. For instance, given my predilection for free-thinking, had I been an Irani in the early 80s there is a chance that I might have been tortured and perhaps even executed by Khomeini’s zealots in the revolutionary guards.
Nonetheless, my aversion to religious extremism would not have stopped me from becoming an enthusiastic Irani nationalist.
Well for the simple reason that Iran has an extremely ancient and proud heritage (much older, for instance, than India’s). Its roots began as early as 728 BC when the Deioces founded the Median kingdom at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). The Medians were eventually replaced in 550 BC by their cousin tribe the Persians, led by the mighty Cyrus. It was under Cyrus that Iran took the route to global splendour.
While the West is enamoured by the Greeks and the Romans and doomed to read the prejudiced histories written by them, the Persians flourished with religious tolerance and superb competence in administration over an area stretching from Egypt in the west to Sind (modern Pakistan) in the east and all the way north to Macedonia and the Aral Sea. Ancient Empires didn’t get much mightier than this.
The 330 year reign of the Persians was followed by a 140 year rule under Alexander’s Greek Seleucids who soon became wholly Persianised anyway. The Seleucids were replaced by the Rome-beating Parthians, who then gave way in 224 AD to the Sassanians. The fate of the Sassanian dynasty was sealed four hundred years later at the battle of Qadisiyya in 636/637 AD by a victorious Muslim Arab army.
While modern day Muslims glorify the scientific and artistic pinnacles achieved under the Abbasids, few realise that over 75% of the scientists, scholars and artists at the apex of Islam’s historical past were in fact Persians who had embraced Arab/Islamic names.
One should also bring to mind that Farsi literature resounds with such celebrated names as Ferdousi, Rumi, Hafiz, Jami and Sa’di.
So it should not come as a surprise that as inheritors of the unique Persian heritage the Iranis are an unusually proud race of people.
Part III – If I was an Iranian why would I distrust Washington?
Now we come to the tricky issue of the distrust of Washington that seems to pervade modern Iran.
The US was a relative international innocent during the heyday of Imperialist power. However soon after WWII it took on the role of a global superpower and it was not long before the US began interfering in other countries’ affairs in a bid to assert its dominance throughout the world.
The watershed moment for Iran took place in 1953 when CIA’s Kermit Roosevelt (President Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson) successfully arranged for the overthrow Iran’s first and only democratically elected Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq. In Mossadeq’s place the US securely planted the temperamentally weak and insecure Muhammad Reza as the monarchical dictator of the country.
For the next 26 years the people of Iran suffered under the grip of the Shah’s Sazman-i-Etelaat va Amjiniat-I Keshvar or Savak, which soon became, in Robert Fisk’s words, ‘the most notorious and the most murderous, its torture chambers among the Middle East’s most terrible institutions.’ The noted journalist also maintains that possibly ‘a third of the male population of Iran were in some way involved with Savak, either directly or as occasional paid or blackmailed informants.’
All through the Shah’s reign Savak remained under the tutelage of the CIA. Savak agents were regularly flown to the US for lessons in interrogation techniques. It is therefore understandable that many Iranis who suffered brutally during those near three decades have little love lost for the US.
The 444-day Tehran Embassy crisis was the price that US, the ‘Great Satan’, was made to pay for its 25-year involvement in Iran’s affairs. After the embassy takeover some students laboriously glued together 2,300 shredded US diplomatic papers, some of which deeply incriminated the US in its role of helping perpetuate Shah’s vicious regime.
The subsequent eight year long war, instigated by Saddam Hussain, cost Iran over a million lives, while millions of others were left permanently maimed by bullets, artillery shells, aerial bombs and Saddam’s infamous poisonous gas.
While the US claimed to be impartial during the Iran-Iraq war, from Iran’s perspective it was anything but. For those unfamiliar with what the US actually did during that period, here are some salient examples:
Throughout the war the Americans provided satellite imagery and other battlefield intelligence to the Iraqis to help them beat Iran.
The US turned a blind eye to Iraq use of banned chemical weapons. (When Saddam killed 5000 of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, the CIA is on record for sending a briefing note to US embassies deceitfully blaming the Iranis of this war crime).
Twenty-four American warships were sent to the Gulf to protect Iraqi oil shipments from Irani attacks while the Iraqis were given a free hand to destroy any or all of Iran shipments.
Angered by Iran’s mine laying activities in the Gulf US naval ships attacked an Irani minelayer. This was followed by the complete destruction of two Irani oil platforms by four US guided missile destroyers.
These were hardly the acts of a neutral bystander.
The ultimate act of hostility was when the US missile cruiser Vincennes, while assertively sailing within Iran’s territorial waters, shot down an Iran Air Airbus carrying 290 passengers heading for Dubai.
Rather apologize for the tragic mistake the US tried to dissemble its way out of the quagmire. George H. Bush, then Vice President, arrogantly announced: "I will never apologize for the United States, ever. I don't care what the facts are."
This and further acts of callousness by the Americans left most Iranis stunned. When the Vincennes returned to its home base of San Diego the ship was given a hero’s welcome and its men were all awarded combat action ribbons. The ship’s air warfare coordinator won a naval medal for ‘heroic achievement’. And to top it all the citizens of its namesake town of Vincennes in Indiana raised money to build a monument – not to the 290 dead Irani civilians – but to the ship that had destroyed them.
While your Blogger can hardly be accused of being sympathetic to the Mullah regime of Tehran, he will stress that Iran as a country and Iranis as a people are worthy of respect.
After years of trying interfere with the destiny of millions of Iranis, I find it difficult to perceive how the US can expect any warmth from them.
To my mind the only sensible course of action for Washington is to accept current realities. Pushing Iran into a hostile corner has only made Tehran more determinedly stubborn.
Pakistan’s Musharraf crumbled after a single call post-9/11 telephone call from the US secretary of state. Dictator’s have a tendency of doing just that. While Iran is by no means a democracy, its leadership has to carry the will of its people to some extent. Bullying and browbeating Iran will get their back up.
So instead of routinely vilifying Iran, a wiser course of action is to accord Iran the respect due to a nation state And, to recognize that US actions over the past five decades have directly led to the bitter cultural chasm that exists between the two countries.
It is time to build bridges rather than keep burning them.