Though seemingly not long since I last wrote about Iran, recent developments demand a return to the subject. In short, they again show how dismal a failure current approaches are to Iran’s ambitions – both regional and nuclear. Instead of cooperation, programmes of outreach and engagement have produced nothing but contempt.
Consider the attempt by Iranian Quds Force commandos to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, or their deployment to help crush the Syrian protest movement. Consider, above all, the indubitably state-sponsored mob attack on Britain’s Tehran embassy. On 1 December, a speech by Quds Force commander, Qassem Suleimani, in which affirmations to create an Islamist world order were restated, neatly underlines these events.
…there is no way of knowing if the Iranian regime wants to talk, but what is the harm of trying?…
Together, they illustrate that we have been wasting our time.
Nevertheless, some continue to defy reality with all their might. On 4 December, for example, an opinion piece by MJ Rosenberg was posted on Al Jazeera. The piece bemoans how Obama’s administration “no longer makes any effort to engage [with Iran.]” It adds, “ there is no way of knowing if the Iranian regime wants to talk, but what is the harm of trying?” One wonders if this is some prank re-post of an article from the mid-2000s, when it was still appropriate to give the benefit of the doubt. Sidestepping a decade’s worth of fruitless offers, negotiations and entreaties, Rosenberg goes on to attack various ‘neo-con’ groups as bellicose war-mongers, presenting them as too unreasonable to sit down and begin the charade all over again – all the more ironic after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were mobilised to a war footing on 5 December.
…entailing the danger of a regional nuclear arms race…
It would, however, be unfair to omit that Rosenberg highlights certain important details. He points out, for example, how an attack on Iran could have a backlash of regional violence. Secondly, he notes the fact that Iranian nuclear capability would be a major change to the regional balance of power. This latter point admittedly came dripping with derision, essentially asking who’s dumb enough to take that seriously? Despite that condescension, it was useful of him to bring up the point – Iran as a nuclear power is a very pressing concern. Wikileaks already showed us just how afraid Iran’s neighbours are of such a prospect, entailing the danger of a regional nuclear arms race to offset that fear. Considering the already dangerous competition for influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the power to be had from nuclear arms would merely embolden Iran’s bloody despots to ever riskier audacity.
That said, the potential for economic dislocation following military action – now of all times – is an equally valid point; setting aside the fact that Rosenberg-esque views helped land us in such a disadvantageous context. As I noted in an earlier piece, the Iranian government has coastal missile batteries ready to target helpless oil shipping in the event of an attack. This fact serves a dual purpose, however, reminding us both of the risks in militarily tackling Iran, and also of just how ruthless and illegitimate a system reigns there. Lastly, it reminds us that something needs to change.
…The end of South African apartheid shows us how effective sanctions can be…
The current sanctions programme is the first candidate, here. Too narrow in scope and too ineffective in nature, it scarcely troubled Tehran’s march to mass-producing and illegally exporting ballistic missile technology. Nor did it inconvenience uranium enrichment, with stocks increasing from scarcely enough for one bomb at the start of Obama’s administration to enough for six today. The end of South African apartheid shows us how effective sanctions can be, but only when we create them that way. Until or unless our leaders make that happen, however, military action must remain an option – for regional stability and our own safety.