In July of last year, the Oxford Research Group (ORG) published a briefing paper, ‘Military action against Iran: impact and effects’. According to the report, “While [direct] US action against Iran may now be unlikely … Israel’s potential for action against Iran has increased [since the ORG’s last report in 2006]”.
This increased likelihood is the result of a series of moves made by Israel to increase its offensive capacity towards Iran, including the improvement of existing surface-to-surface missile programmes and the introduction of armed, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as moves to further develop submarine-launched nuclear warheads. Subsequent to the ORG’s report, and in keeping with these trends, we may note the test-firing of a rocket propulsion system in early November of this year which, according to the Guardian, would be “capable of striking Iran”.(2 November 2011)
Beyond merely preparing for potential action, Israel and the US are both believed to have actually committed a series of targeted violations of Iran’s national sovereignty in recent years. The Israeli secret service, Mossad, has been linked to a number of assassinations of key members of Iran’s scientific community, particularly those with links to the country’s nuclear development programme. It is also believed to be either Israel or the US that was behind the Stuxnet cyber-attack that threatened to cripple Iran’s nuclear programme last year.
More recently, a western intelligence source has claimed to Time magazine that Mossad was behind the explosion at an Iranian missile base that killed 17 people. (‘Was Israel behind a deadly explosion at an Iranian missile base?’, Time World, 13 November 2011)
The nuclear issue
The oft-cited excuse for Israel’s heightened aggression is Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear energy. According to the ORG, “Israel believes it essential to its security that it is the only state in the region with a nuclear capability.” And indeed, Israel would seem to have form in this regard, having bombed other middle-eastern countries actually or allegedly attempting to develop their civilian nuclear capability, including Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
In fact, however, Israel’s main problem with Iran, as with Syria, is the country’s anti-imperialist stance. As US imperialism’s watchdog in the Middle East, Israel knows what is expected of it. Subsidies and armaments flow from the US to the zionist state not because of any innate love for the idea of a ‘jewish homeland’, but because Israel is paid to act as a gendarme for US imperial policy in the region.
Comrades of the CPGB-ML have always made it clear that our party believes all socialist or oppressed countries have the right to a nuclear deterrent while imperialism remains in the world, armed and dangerous and more than ready to use its industrial machinery of death against targets it perceives to be weak and unable to strike back. After all, both Iraq and Libya were invaded only after the imperialists were certain both countries had fully given up their nuclear programmes!
Nonetheless, for the record, a few essential points should be kept in mind regarding Iran’s supposed nuclear capacity. Uranium deemed ‘weapons-grade’ is that which has been enriched to a level of 85 percent or more. At present, Iran’s most highly-enriched samples only extend to between 20 and 25 percent, and even if the country decided to pursue further enrichment at break-neck speed it would take between three and seven years to develop between two and six useable nuclear weapons.
These two or six potential weapons contrast sharply with the actually existing, fully-developed arsenal of Israel, which is estimated to include around two hundred fully-useable nuclear weapons. In addition, delivery capacity is also a crucial factor to be considered. Iran has, at present, very few ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, and the shortest possible timeframe for sizeable improvement is estimated at around five years. Contrast this with Israel, which, according to ORG, already has the “ability to conduct major attacks on Iranian [targets]”.
The recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, despite being presented as a ‘bombshell’ by most western commentators and politicians, did almost nothing to alter the details provided above. The section of the IAEA’s report on “Possible Military Dimensions” spanned just over a page of the entire document and provided no new statistical data and very little new anecdotal evidence.
This lack of evidence was somewhat masked, however, by overtly-political statements such as “the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organisations” – a clear sign of the heavy pressure being placed on the IAEA by imperialism under its newly compliant director general Yukiya Amano, after its 2007 report found no credible evidence of nuclear weapons development. (‘Board report on Iran’, IAEA, September 2011, emphasis added)
Meanwhile, despite attempts to paint the Iranian regime as being hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, the statements coming from the country’s leaders suggest quite the opposite. Speaking earlier this month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated: “We don’t need an atom bomb … We will not build two bombs in the face of your 20,000. We will develop something that you cannot respond to, which is ethics, humanity, solidarity and justice.” (‘Iran will not retreat “one iota” from its nuclear programme’, Guardian, 9 November 2011)
Who wants a war with Iran?
An important question, of course, is if Israel decides to take the lead in a direct military action against Iran, on whom can it rely for support? The ORG, as we noted earlier, thinks it “unlikely” that the United States would become directly involved (ie, commit active combat units) but it fully accepts that any Israeli military intervention in Iran would receive “tacit support” from the United States. Moreover, many influential figures in the US military-industrial complex are champing at the bit to launch an attack on Iran.
Speaking at a US congressional hearing in late October, retired general Jack Keane did not mince his words, stating bluntly: “We’ve got to put our hand around their throat now.” A retired air-force colonel and senior strategist at the American National War College, Sam Gardiner, touched directly on the issue of a potential Israeli attack on Iran, and remarked: “The US would have to be involved and finish it.” Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for America to “unite the world in … dealing with the Iranians”.
As for claims that a Democrat president would be reluctant to order attacks on Iran, the Obama administration, which so many Americans hoped would be ready to extricate the country from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has instead sent tens of thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan, intensifying a war that had already devastated the country and brought it to the point of having the second-lowest life expectancy, the second-highest infant mortality rate and the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Moreover, Obama’s regime has spread the Afghan war into Pakistan, where drone attacks have murdered thousands, and launched a bloody and devastating war against Libya, in which somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have been slaughtered so far.
Obstacles to war
Nevertheless, both Israel and the United States would undoubtedly prefer not to have to resort to direct military intervention against Iran. After years of occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan (occupations which have largely failed in their objectives notwithstanding the billions spent on them), the US treasure chest is empty, while its astronomical military spending has left the country teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
More generally, Iran still enjoys a great deal of economic and geopolitical leverage that both Israel and the US need to take into account. Among the options open to Iran if it were attacked by either country would be: the closure of the Straits of Hormuz, one of the major Gulf shipping routes, resulting in an abrupt rise in global oil prices and a further destabilisation of the global economy; attacks on western Gulf oil production facilities, which would have a similar effect; and increased support for resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would hamper imperialist efforts to exploit those countries and their natural resources.
It is undoubtedly these sorts of actions that the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, had in mind when he warned in mid-November that military action against Iran could have “unintended consequences”.
A further deterrent to military intervention is the potential response of other countries. Though western imperialists frequently attempt to present a united international front against Iran and create the impression of worldwide condemnation of the Islamic republic, the reality is very different.
First and foremost, Iran has friends in the form of China and Russia, both of which have often supported the country in the face of imperialist aggression – though it should be remembered that both of them also tend to try to avoid confrontation with the aggressive imperialist powers if they can. Nevertheless, in mid-September of this year, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did describe any potential for western or Israeli military action against Iran as “unacceptable”, and Russia has subsequently moved to strengthen its diplomatic and other ties with Iran, including talks concerning a possible mutual security pact.
Similarly, China has repeatedly expressed its support for Iran’s right to nuclear development and the country remains a major market for Chinese military exports, while of course China also has a voracious appetite for Iranian oil and gas.
At a recent international meeting in Honolulu, Obama failed to win over either the Chinese or Russian leadership even to the idea of further UN sanctions against Iran, let alone direct military action. As the Washington Post noted: “Russia and China remain a roadblock to the United States … Both are veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council and have shown no sign the new [IAEA] report will change their stand.” (‘Obama seeks US jobs’, Washington Post, 13 November 2011)
Other routes to regime change
It is the unappealing nature of direct military intervention in Iran that has spurred, and continues to spur, the use of non-military forms of aggression against the Iranian government and its people. Proletarian has already provided a great deal of coverage of this in the context of Iran (see, in particular, the article on Iran’s ‘disputed’ elections from the August 2009 edition), but it is probably worth reviewing some of the salient points.
Since 2005 the US State Department has been expending a great deal of time and money (by some estimates, upwards of $1bn) on ‘destabilisation techniques’ aimed at bringing down the Iranian government without the need to resort to military intervention. These techniques include everything from what the Daily Telegraph has described as “a propaganda and disinformation campaign” aimed at the Iranian people to the direct supply of financial aid to opponents of the Iranian government.
Opponents of the present government being funded by the United States include avowedly violent paramilitary groups, such as the People’s Mojahedin of Iran and the Jundallah (or ‘Soldiers of God’), but also include allegedly ‘non-violent’ ‘civil-society’ and activist groups, which ostensibly agitate on issues such as democracy and women’s rights but which, in reality, serve the interests of imperialism (and imperialist interests most certainly do not include either real democracy or real women’s rights!)
Often, these two sections of imperialism’s fifth column operate in tandem – such as during the 2009 Iranian election, where ‘democracy’ activists spread disinformation about President Ahmadinejad and accused him of ‘voter intimidation’ and ‘electoral fraud’, while the Jundallah bombed one of his campaign offices.
Adding to the ‘destabilisation’ effort are the incredibly harsh economic sanctions that have been placed on Iran by the imperialist nations. The United Nations and the European Union separately maintain swingeing sanctioning regimes that restrict everything from cross-border financial transactions to insurance provision for Iranian-owned companies. Meanwhile, Israel and the United States maintains an almost total economic embargo on Iran that includes prohibiting ‘unauthorised’ travel to and from the country.
The net effect of these sanctions is to make it difficult or impossible for Iran to sell its exports (with the aim of causing hardship to those who are engaged in the production of exports) or for the country to import necessities it cannot produce in sufficient quantities at home, such as refined petroleum (with a view to disrupting the country’s economic life). All this is intended to make the Iranian people suffer for overthrowing the Shah and to ‘persuade’ them that they would be much better off with a government subservient to imperialism against whom such sanctions would be unnecessary – all in the hope that a major thorn in imperialism’s side could be overthrown from within.
Sanctions, then, are a weapon of collective punishment, aimed at delegitimising and destabilising the Iranian government and fostering support for its overthrow amongst the domestic population. To describe them as merely ‘applying pressure’, as bourgeois commentators usually do, is profoundly disingenuous. One has only to remember the calculating attitude of the then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright towards the half a million children whose deaths had been brought about by the sanctions regime against Iraq 15 years ago, which she described as a “price worth paying”, to see what kind of ‘pressure’ the imperialists wish to apply.
Unfortunately for both the United States and Israel these destabilisation techniques have so far failed to produce real results. The protests and violence that followed the 2009 election were the closest that imperialism has come to realising its goals so far, but even they could not shake the broad support that the Iranian government continues to enjoy amongst the people.
Moves towards war
The blunt fact of these failings is not lost on either Israel or the US, and it is for this reason that we have seen them ‘testing the waters’ of international public opinion, as it were, with the recent IAEA report and escalated scaremongering about Iran’s nuclear development (which we discussed earlier), but also with the alleged ‘terror plot’ that the United States claimed to have uncovered, in which it is alleged that members of Ahmadinejad’s government were conspiring to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Ignoring the highly implausible backstory behind the supposed ‘plot’ – Mexican drug cartels, used car salesmen and rogue elements in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (as one former CIA agent told the Guardian at the time, “this stinks to holy hell”) – the language used by many in the American establishment at the time revealed the real motivation. On the back of the ‘plot’ being ‘uncovered’, Hillary Clinton called for a “strong message” to be sent to Iran, the potential substance of which was somewhat fleshed out by President Obama when he stated: “We don’t take any options off the table.”
Clearly, the groundwork is being laid for something stronger than further sanctions against Iran.
Another important purpose of this three-ring media circus was to help form a potential international ‘coalition of the willing’ in support of military action, such as we saw before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The fabricated terror plot claims have been taken up with alacrity by Saudi Arabia as a ploy for mobilising against Iran, with the Saudi government calling for Iran to “pay the price” for its alleged actions. King Abdullah has already been exposed by WikiLeaks to be calling on the US to “cut off the head of the snake”, highlighting the real agenda behind this risible farce.
The British prime minister, David Cameron, also clearly recognises a profitable bandwagon when he sees one. He described the Iranian ‘plot’ as “shocking” and stated: “We will support measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions.”
How far Britain was prepared to give its support was indicated by the Guardian a few weeks later, when it reported that: “Britain’s armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran … British officials say that if Washington presses ahead [with attacks on Iran] it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission.” (‘UK military steps up plans …’, Guardian, 2 November 2011)
Whether or not they are able to drum up much international support for war against Iran, if they remain unable to destabilise the Iranian regime internally, the US and Israel may well feel ‘forced’ to take decisive action, with or without a ‘coalition of the willing’.
An anti-imperialist cause
Iran continues to present itself as a model of autonomous national development in a region whose natural resources and geopolitical significance are of crucial importance to the imperialists. Further, however unlikely it may be in the near future, if Iran were to arm itself with nuclear weapons it would render itself effectively un-targetable by imperialist aggression and could potentially form a stable hub of anti-imperialist resistance in the region.
There remains every possibility that Israel and the United States may feel that they must “put their hand around Iran’s throat” (to paraphrase former US General Jack Keane) while they still have the option to do so.
If an attack on Iran were to occur, it would certainly not be a swift victory for imperialism. According to the Oxford Research Group, any attack on Iran would result “in prolonged conflict – the start of a long war with potential regional and global consequences”. Whatever the outcome of such a war, it would be the responsibility of all progressive forces to stand firmly behind Iran and the right of nations to self-determination free from imperialist interference in their affairs, and work to ensure that the working classes of their respective nations were not deceived into passive acceptance as they were during the bombing of Libya.
Some who consider themselves to be Marxists may question why it is necessary to offer a sustained defence of the Iranian government, considering that Iran remains a capitalist country and the Iranian state remains in the hands of Iran’s national bourgeoisie. The answer to this question was provided by Joyce Chediac in a speech at the national conference of the US Workers World Party, earlier this year. She explained:
“Marxists call governments like those in [Iran] ‘bourgeois nationalist’ – nationalist because they seek to develop their countries free from imperialist domination and bourgeois because they are ruled by an exploiting capitalist class. They seek to push out the imperialists to better exploit the workers, but they have common interest with the workers when imperialism threatens the country’s sovereignty.
“Marxist Leninists support these governments unconditionally against imperialism because they are manifestations of the self-determination of the oppressed.” [Emphasis added]
Equally important is an understanding of the methods and tactics of imperialism in overthrowing anti-imperialist nations. Often its efforts take the form, of providing funding and support for opposition groups that give the impression of being ‘popular’ and/or ‘democratic’ movements, whose cause is then loudly trumpeted by western media outlets. In every instance Marxist Leninists must ask, “What is the real nature of these opposition groups? Do they ultimately tend to strengthen or weaken imperialism?”
Moreover, when a nationalist bourgeoisie is prepared to stand up to imperialism, communists within such a country have a duty to form an anti-imperialist alliance with the nationalists against the comprador classes and their backers in order to maximise the chances of successfully defeating imperialist interference. (See the article on communists and anti-imperialism elsewhere in this issue for more details on this.) The alliance does not change the fact that the bourgeoisie and the working class stand in contradiction to each other – it is just that imperialism stands in contradiction to both of them and it is in the class interests of both to defeat imperialism.
Because of this, both classes – the national bourgeoisie and the working class – will make concessions to the demands of the other in order, in their best class interests, to preserve their alliance against the outside enemy. And all this will be met with a chorus of condemnation from Trotskyites in all the imperialist countries, who denounce each and every one of the concessions made by the working class in the oppressed nations as an inexcusable betrayal. Can it be a coincidence that it is only imperialism that will gain if the working class and national bourgeoisie of the oppressed country turn against each other while both are under attack from imperialism?
Unsurprisingly then, the plethora of Trotskyist organisations in Britain have consistently failed to reach this genuinely Leninist stance. In February of this year, the International Marxist Tendency (Socialist Appeal) joined US and British imperialism in calling for “the overthrow of the regime” in Iran (via a general strike, of course), and then followed it up in April with a three-part examination on the prospects for a “socialist revolution in Iran”. It described the Iranian government as “totalitarian” and accused it of leaving the Iranian people in “misery and poverty”.
The dubious justification for calling for the overthrow of the Iranian administration was the imperialist-engineered ‘controversy’ surrounding the recent elections (which IMT, dutifully echoing western imperialism, of course described as “rigged”), the bleed-over from which these wiseacres apparently view as a “progressive mass movement”. (‘Iran: In the footsteps of Tunisia and Egypt’, In Defence of Marxism, 11 February 2011)
The CWI (Socialist Party) has likewise provided sympathetic coverage of opponents of, and opposition movements against, the Iranian government, parroting sensationalist claims of “brutal repression” without concern for evidence (or objective coverage in general). In April it called for the working class of Iran to be “involved” in “the fight against the regime”. (‘Iran: Victory for oil workers on strike’, Socialist World, 27 April 2011)
What these counter-revolutionaries should be asked is what an anti-imperialist government under threat from such an overwhelmingly powerful enemy as imperialism should do with those who are actively engaged in trying to sabotage its anti-imperialist endeavours? What should they do with those who openly side with the country’s enemies? What should be done with those who demand the right to sell their country’s sovereignty to imperialism?
By a strange coincidence, leaving them free to spread confusion and demoralisation among the population is exactly what suits imperialism, so it seems self-evident to any counter-revolutionary Trotskyite that this is what they must be allowed to do!
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) consistently makes all manner of unsubstantiated claims about Iran’s imperialist-backed and imperialist-funded opposition movements, including the bizarre claim that they are, in fact, popular mass movements that are opposed by western governments … despite admitting (in the very same article) that western leaders have publicly supported them! (‘Workers, women and the Islamic Republic’, International Socialism, Winter 2005)
The SWP has called for socialists to support the so-called ‘democracy movement’ in Iran regardless of whether it has any socialist character whatsoever (and, apparently, regardless of the fact that the ‘movement’ is heavily infiltrated and funded by imperialist agents). It would seem, therefore, that Trotskyites don’t after all have a problem in supporting bourgeois movements – just so long as they are counter-revolutionary and pro-imperialist!
Just as they did during the recent intervention in Libya, and quite irrespective of whether a few of their more gullible members may do so with ‘good intentions’, these seeming r-r-revolutionaries are giving cover to the imperialist cause and weakening the position of the besieged anti-imperialist nations by depriving them of vital allies wherever they can. Their ultra-revolutionary rhetoric must be unmasked for what it truly is: counter-revolutionary nonsense.
Marxist Leninists must support Iran against imperialist attacks on its sovereignty, regardless of the form they take – whether it be external intervention or internal subversion. As Stalin reminded us, every step along the road of national liberation “is a steam-hammer blow at imperialism, ie, is undoubtedly a revolutionary step”. (The Foundations of Leninism, 1924)
No to imperialist intervention!
Hands off Iran!