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Iran Teach-In, February 25, 2012

On February 25, 2012, Science for Peace held a teach-in entitled “Geopolitics of War and Sanctions against Iran: Another World is Possible, but is Another War Probable?” Featured panellists were York University Associate Professor of Political Science, Robert Latham, speaking on the global networks of power; International Action Center (US) co-director Sara Flounders; Canadian author Yves Engler; Iranian-Canadian student Shadi Chaleshtoori; U of T Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi; and University of Montreal Professor of Contemporary History Dr. Yakov Rabkin.

The political situation shifts constantly and unpredictably, but in February it seemed possible that the United States and/or Israel could imminently launch an attack on Iran. The powers that be were suggestive in their communications. “All options are on the table” seemed to include increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions, an attack on Iran’s various nuclear facilities, and threatened use of nuclear weapons (British and US nuclear weapons are stationed in the Gulf). Much public reporting focused on whether or not Iran already had a nuclear weapon (an Ohio congressmen reported that Iran was capable of a nuclear strike on Ohio), how close Iran was to building a weapon, whether Israel would attack without permission from the United States, and whether such an attack would plunge the world into economic chaos because of retaliatory withholding of oil. Fairly neglected by the media and leaders was the possible death of hundreds of thousands of Iranians. Many assume that Israel will attack at some undetermined time.

Paramount realities are left out of all the media drumbeating for war that frames Iran as an existential threat to Israel (and to the West). Our handout referred to the forty-five US bases surrounding Iran, to Israel’s and India’s newfound strategic co-operation allowing Israel to launch an attack from the Indian Ocean and which sanctions both countries to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. The nuclear fear-mongering omits the fact that there are still about 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world, many on high-alert status. Iran does not have any nuclear weapons and is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) unlike the nuclear weapons rogue states Israel and India. Iran has not launched a war of aggression for several centuries (unlike the U.S. and Israel which have repeatedly invaded and attacked other countries).

According to veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who has written about nuclear weapons and the Middle East for several decades, the United States allowed, and has participated in Israel’s nuclear program since the 1960s. Hersh points out that Israel routinely claims that Iran is just about to produce nuclear weapons and he believes that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons make inevitable the acquisition of nuclear weapons by other Middle East states. The Israeli and American economies depend on the military complex, and the political leadership uses war to garner political support. Sara Flounders stated that the danger of rash military intervention could increase as United States’ power and influence decline.

The presentations and discussion focused on geopolitics and history. While the business of war and surveillance is highly profitable (demonstrated by a 22% increase in worldwide military sales), the wars of the last half century have not achieved military victory. In fact, there is no way to “win” a nuclear war as it would cause total destruction and devastation to civilian life. The United States and Israel in their attacks first destroy the means of life – electricity infrastructure, potable water, sewage facilities, hospitals and medical supplies (reconstruction is also highly profitable). The United States is equally vicious in its application of economic sanctions.

Canada’s current role in the Middle East is consistent with past policy. Historically, Canada has always supported militarism and neo-colonialism behind a façade of peacemaking and peacekeeping. Yves Engler quoted MacKenzie King on the use of the atom bomb against Japan: “It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe.” In his latest book, Engler details how Lester Pearson knowingly endorsed overwhelming military interventions in Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Pearson concealed a report suggesting discussions between the United States, Canada, and Britain on the use of biological warfare and supported development and Canadian stationing of nuclear weapons. Primary sources reveal that uppermost in Pearson’s mind was preventing conflict in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

As background, we distributed a paper by Dr. Rabkin entitled “A Tale of Two Claims: Ahmadinejad and the Jews” in which he challenges the deliberate and dangerous distortions conflating Ahmed Ahmadinejad (current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran) with Hitler, conflating Jews with Zionism, and mistranslating Ahmadinejad to represent him as a Holocaust denier and as anti-Semitic.

Dr. Rabkin spoke about “Russia, Iran and Israel: a Scalene Triangle” and covered the complex, multifaceted links between the three countries. The “special relationship” between Israel and Russia involves interstate diplomatic and military relations, business and technology, culture and tourism. The roots of all Israel’s prime ministers are Russian, and Russians make up one-quarter of new Israeli immigrants who are generally ultra-conservative and nationalistic. The two countries collaborate in supplying security material to other countries, while Israel capitalizes on growing anti-Islamic sentiment in Russia and has refrained from selling arms to Russian antagonist, the Republic of Georgia. Russia’s well-established contacts in Iran and Syria play a role in Israel’s policy. Russia does not view Iran as an “existential threat” and counters attempts to marginalize Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel was closely allied with Iran under the shah. At present, Israeli liberal commentators and several former generals strongly oppose an air strike against Iran. There are 30,000 Jewish-Iranians who prefer to stay in Iran despite pressure and enticements from Israel to emigrate.

Shadi Chaleshtoori was deeply critical of the Iranian neo-liberal theocracy and also of the Western leftist and rightwing political movements that distort and grossly simplify the Iranian resistance along the lines of self-interest. She said that the Green Movement was extremely heterogeneous and includes some with deep ties to the repressive establishment. She took issue with the inaccurate characterization of the movement as being non-violent in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, but also on the other side the denial of Iran’s proto-imperialist involvement in the region.

The presentations generated discussion over the possibility of incorporating these complexities in a unified and cohesive way to prevent a catastrophic war, the concern having to do with divisiveness due to a non-Manichaean assessment. Again, I am reminded of the words attributed to Pericles: “We are all involved in either the proper formulation or at least the proper review of policy, thinking that what cripples action is not talk, but rather the failure to talk through the policy before proceeding to the required action.” In the end, it comes down to reality versus delusion and deception.

The filmed conference will be accessible soon on the SfP website.

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