Hands off Iran

To war or not to war?

Iran has been dominating the world pages of the bourgeois press over the past two months as the various western imperialist factions and Israel chew over the pros and cons of a military strike against the country.

Quite apart from imperialism’s general dislike of countries that try to develop their economies to be independent of imperialism and that stand up for a fair price for the commodities that they are selling so as to provide a better life to their people, the western imperialists’ failed invasion of Iraq has left it only too likely that when imperialism withdraws – which it must do sooner or later – Iran will be poised to exercise a hegemonising influence in that country.

This in turn poses quite a threat to the unpopular US puppet Saudi regime. Certainly the Saudi regime is concerned enough at the situation to have offered to vastly increase its oil production in order to force down the price of oil with a view to bankrupting Teheran. The US is having to try to mobilise sunni muslims in an effort to contain the spreading Iranian influence, and is now reputedly once more financing groups said to have links to al-Qaeda (as it did in the war of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets)! (See ‘The redirection’ by Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, 5 March 2007)

In December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution ordering Iran to stop enriching uranium within two months – or else. Iran naturally pointed out that it has a perfect right to enrich uranium and that it had absolutely no intention of abiding by what was essentially an illegal Security Council resolution. The two months are now up, and a debate is raging as to what the ‘or else’ should be.

The imperialists are all agreed that Iran needs to be brought to its knees. The only question is how to achieve this. The Europeans tend towards thinking that the best thing is to leave the Iranian government to continue to ‘mismanage’ its economy, in order to step in once the hardliners have lost most of their popular support.

This solution involves encouraging western imperialist financiers and multinationals to continue to have dealings with Iran – even to extend those dealings – to make Iran ever more dependent on the West for essentials and discouraging it from further developing an independent industry of its own to any significant extent. This policy is advantageous for the multinationals, which can go on making money out of Iran while successfully undermining the Iranian economy and the credibility of its leaders.

The arguments against sanctions being sufficient

There are two flies in the ointment, however. The first is that, if Iran puts its mind to it, it could have its own nuclear deterrent within about four years, which is unlikely to be long enough to see the current Iranian regime overthrown from within. The other is China, which would undoubtedly be willing to offer Iran trading terms that allow it to build up its economy rather than destroy it.

An alternative is to subject Iran to further and greater sanctions. The December Security Council already imposed some sanctions (barring the transfer of technology and knowhow to Iran’s nuclear and missile programme), and the US has unilaterally imposed banking sanctions that operate against any company doing business with Iran, whether based in the US or elsewhere.

Undoubtedly these have caused inconvenience to Iran, but the effectiveness of sanctions is undermined by several factors. First, many imperialist countries would suffer from loss of trade with Iran. This would not affect the US, which has almost no bilateral trade, but the EU did business worth $25bn last year and provided Iran with $18bn in loan guarantees. In the circumstances, there will be several European countries that it will be difficult to persuade to enforce the sanctions strictly.

Second, the vacuum would undoubtedly be eagerly be filled by Russia and China. Third, Iran has sanctions of its own that it can and is applying, in particular, a steady withdrawal of its foreign reserves from dollar holdings. Last, but not least, such sanctions can only help Iran in the quest for economic independence and thus strengthen it against its western imperialist enemies.

Rasoul Mohavedian, the Iranian ambassador in London, has indicated that, as far as arms manufacture is concerned, the sanctions of the last 30 years have meant that “We have developed our own advanced technology … and in missile and nuclear technology, the focus of recent sanctions, we do not depend on any foreign assistance.” (Quoted in ‘We won’t budge but we can still talk, says Iran’s man in London’ by Brownwen Maddox, The Times, 22 February 2007)

Imperialist war preparations

The military option is under serious consideration and there have been extensive reports and denials regarding US plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, the timing of the suggested attack being towards the end of April. Israel has been provided by the United States with nuclear-tipped, bunker-busting weaponry, and a second US aircraft carrier, the USS John C Stennis, has joined the USS Dwight D Eisenhower and several minesweeping ships in the Gulf. Collectively, these ships carry a strike force of more than 6,500 sailors and marines.

The British navy, too, has contributed warships. In addition, extra US Patriot missiles (designed to intercept the other side’s missiles mid-air before they reach their [probably Israeli] destination) have been sent to the area. On top of that, Bush has ordered a stockpiling of oil reserves, (‘Target Iran’ by Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, 10 February 2007)

There are, however, even more problems with the military option than any other from the point of view of imperialism. Ali Larijani, Teheran’s chief nuclear negotiator, stated that the present problems “can be solved at the chess board or in the boxing ring. We believe if they want to get into the boxing ring, they will have problems on their side too”. These problems may well include some surprise armaments that the Iranians may have developed.

To emphasise the point, Iran launched its first rocket into space on 25 February 2007, which remained briefly in orbit before falling to earth by parachute. It is not so much that the rocket itself would be a weapon against US aggressors as the fact that it is witness to the high level of military technology that the Iranians have clearly mastered. The Daily Mail of 26 February 2007 went so far as to say that “Such a rocket could be the first step towards the Islamic regime producing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads which could target US or European cities.” (‘War fear over Iran blast’ by William Lowther)

A further problem would be the fact that the price of oil can well be expected to soar above $100 a barrel, crippling much of western industry. A war against Iran would leave the shipping lanes through the Strait of Hormuz liable to attack, and “up to 80 per cent of Europe’s trade with the Far East and a substantial proportion of the world’s oil and gas passes through local waters” . ( ‘Cold War stand-off in Gulf as Iran launches rocket’ by Damien McElroy, The Daily Telegraph, 26 February 2007)

Despite all this, the Russian information agency, Novosti, on 27 March 2007, reported Colonel General Leonid Ivashov as saying that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran’s military infrastructure in the near future, probably the beginning of April. He said that the US naval presence in the Persian Gulf has for the first time in the past four years reached the level that existed shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. US imperialism began extremely provocative war games on 27 March involving its two aircraft carriers, 100 warplanes and 100,000 personnel, all practising attacks on Iran.

The arrest of British navy personnel

On 23 March, 15 British navy personnel from the frigate HMS Cornwall were grabbed at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the southern border between Iraq and Iran.

Their two small inflatable boats were surrounded by six heavily-armed vessels of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and forced to a nearby base. The eight sailors and seven Royal Marines, carrying only sidearms, had little option but to comply.

The 15 navy personnel were seized on the eve of a second sanctions resolution at the UN against Iran (passed as expected on 24 March) barring Iran from exporting arms, restricting loans to Tehran and freezing the assets of 28 Iranian individuals and companies involved in nuclear or missile work. The context in which they were seized, according to The Independent was that they had been engaged in boarding an Iranian merchant vessel passing through the Straits of Hormuz, looking for contraband. (Leading article: ‘A perilous stand-off in the Gulf that is rooted in the calamitous Iraq war’, 24 March 2007)

They are accused by Iran of espionage activity in Iranian territorial waters. In any event, it is clear that their presence in the area is related to enforcement of the illegal sanctions imposed by the UN against Iran for doing what it is perfectly entitled in international law to do. The British government put its spin doctors to work to try to convince everybody that the arrest took place in Iraqi waters, claiming that it had satellite photographs to prove this. That this was just so much prevarication was proved by the former British diplomat, Craig Murray, who, as it happens, headed the Foreign Office’s Maritime section from 1989 to 1992 and is an expert on sea boundaries.

He wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “There is no agreed boundary in the Northern Gulf, either between Iran and Iraq or between Iraq and Kuwait. The Iran-Iraq border has been agreed inside the Shatt al-Arab waterway, because there it is also the land border. But that agreement does not extend beyond the low tide line of the coast.

“Even that very limited agreement is arguably no longer in force. Since it was reached in 1975, a war has been fought over it, and ten-year reviews – necessary because waters and sandbanks in this region move about dramatically – have never been carried out.

“But what about the map the Ministry of Defence produced on Tuesday, with territorial boundaries set out by a clear red line, and the co-ordinates of the incident marked in relation to it?

“I have news for you. Those boundaries are fake. They were drawn up by the MoD. They are not agreed or recognised by any international authority.” (‘How I know that Blair faked Iran map’, 1 April 2007)

As we go to press, the news is that the 15 British sailors have been released and are on their way home – a ‘gift’ to the British people to celebrate the birth of the prophet Muhammad and Easter, according to President Ahmadinejad. Margaret Beckett is denying that any deal was agreed, but, as it happens, the Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi, held by ‘Iraq’ (ie, by Anglo-American imperialism) has also been released, and five other Iranian hostages held in Iraq have been allowed to see Iranian diplomatic officials.

Manoeuvres to neutralise middle-eastern opposition to an attack on Iran

In the meantime, the US’s number one Arab poodle in the Middle East, the Saudi Arabian government, has been engaged in some surprising activity. Not only has it gone out of its way to broker a peace between the various warring PLO factions, but it has even mustered the various Arab countries to offer Israel recognition in return for withdrawal behind the pre-1967 borders and the creation of a Palestinian state on the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israeli prime minister Olmert has refused Condoleezza Rice’s offer of mediation in this matter, suggesting that Israel is not at all happy with the pressure that its patron, US imperialism, is putting on it. It looks very much as if US imperialism is trying to unite the Arab states – and, more importantly the Arab people – to support a US imperialist offensive against Iran (or at least not to oppose it) – something difficult to achieve while the unjust treatment of the Palestinians is rankling among the overwhelming majority of the Arab people.

It would naturally be extremely foolish of Arab states to be taken in by these apparent diplomatic moves. Once US imperialism had got what it wanted out of them, it would return to its traditional unquestioning support for Israel, still the safest and most reliable guardian of US imperialist oil interests in the Middle East.

> Theory – Imperialism in the Middle East – February 2007

> Iran bourse and the fall of the greenback – June 2006