Iran: Villain or Victim?

05 Oct, 2012

On September 27th, at the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran is 70% of the way towards a nuclear weapon and must not be allowed to reach the 90% mark. Netanyahu illustrated this point by dramatically drawing a red line near the top of an image of a cartoon-like bomb. In response to this, Jon Stewart, the host of the Daily Show, asked, “What’s with the Wile Coyote nuclear bomb? You’re going to pretend that you don’t know what a nuclear bomb looks like? You’re Israel! Run downstairs and look in the basement.”

While Stewart is a comedian, the truthful implication of this joke is not funny. Nor is the fact that Netanyahu’s fear mongering is an old tactic. For example, in 1992 Netanyahu claimed Iran was a mere three to five years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons. Twenty years later Netanyahu continues to make the same sort of statements.

In response, Iranian officials have repeatedly claimed that their uranium enrichment is being done for civilian purposes alone. Evidence seems to support these claims. For example, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear sites. The IAEA’s most recent investigation in August of 2012, though unable to guarantee the lack of development towards nuclear weapons, was also unable to point to any evidence of such. In fact, according to Inter Press Service, Iran has actually reduced their supply of 20% enriched uranium, which is the only material capable of being further enriched to weapon grade status.

While it is slightly worrying that the IAEA was not able to inspect every nuclear site within Iran, this is not an uncommon occurrence. For example, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, and Venezuela have all failed to meet this Additional Protocol, yet they are not routinely subjected to accusations of secretly building nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Israel completely prevents the IAEA from inspecting any of its nuclear sites and is not a part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is clear that Netanyahu was wrong in 1992, and it appears as though he is wrong again.

Despite this, in their hunt to prevent Iran from enriching uranium, Israel has committed numerous actions which have made them prone to accusations of  violation of international law. For example, within the last two years, five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated. According to Western intelligence sources cited by Time magazine, all of these scientists were victims of a group financed, trained and armed by Israel’s Mossad. This accusation is shared by Iranian officials, former Mossad officers and the director of research at the Washington Institute for Near Policy, amongst others. Though Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the murders, a smiling senior Israeli official summed up their attitude in the following response upon the most recent assassination in January, “Yeah, one more. I don’t feel sad for him.”

While the attitude and fear of Israeli officials is understandable due to some of the rhetoric espoused by Iranian figures like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it does not justify Israel’s reaction to the perceived threat. Yet, even when one disregards Israel’s problematic response to Iran, it seems as though the fear of Iran has been blown out of proportion. Despite the fact that the Israeli and American governments alike have attempted to portray Iran as the greatest threat to peace, much of the world disagrees.

For instance, a poll representing 85% of the Arab world population, conducted by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, found that only 5% of respondents see Iran as the biggest threat to peace in the Arab world while 51% indicated Israel, and 22% America. In fact, Noam Chomsky claims that “Opposition to US policy is so strong, that a majority … say the region would be better off if Iran had nuclear weapons. Almost 80% in Egypt and a high percentage in the rest of the region.” This opinion is not limited to the Arab world, as Chomsky also claims polls in Europe indicate that Iran is not regarded as the main threat to peace.

Essentially, while the threat of nuclear war is an important one, Israel’s obsession with Iran’s uranium enriching program is a much graver menace to world peace at the moment. Netanyahu has repeatedly attempted to get America’s support for an attack on Iran’s alleged nuclear bases. Though America has refused thus far, Israeli officials have indicated that they may proceed anyways, and as promptly as November of this year, regardless of the fact that a recent poll from the Israeli Democracy Institute has indicated that only 27% of Israeli’s would agree with it. In response, Iranian Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh has claimed that if Israel were to attack Iran, a pre-emptive strike would be launched, which could “turn into World War III.”

As such, the international community should condemn recent Israeli actions as a first step to prevent another Iraq war. The world does not need over 100 000 more civilian casualties just to discover that leaders like Netanyahu were wrong about the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

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