Saturday 5 September 2015

Iran coming out of isolation (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Saturday, September 05, 2015 - The 1979 takeover by students of the US embassy in Tehran had grave consequences for Iran. For many centuries,diplomats enjoyed immunity even in countries where relations are tense with the other side, and the fact that the government of the country supported the embassy takeover. The harsh treatment meted out to the captured diplomats caused anger in Washington,with the result that Saddam Hussein,the dictator of Iraq,saw an opportunity in 1980 to launch a war on Iran. This conflict was conducted by Saddam with extreme brutality,and nearly a million citizens of Iran died as a result of the conflict,which carried on from 1980 to 1988 before a cease-fire took place. Despite the fact that the US and its allies helped Saddam Hussein (including through the supply of chemical weapons), the Iranian military formations were able to prevent the takeover of its territory by Iraq. 

Instead, what took place was a coming together of different sections of society in defence of their country, and a strengthening of the hold of Ayatollah Khomenei’s followers over Iran The 444-day captivity of US diplomats by students in Tehran resulted in a state of undeclared war between the US and Iran that has gone on since 1979. The US and its allies have tried to assist the process of regime change in Iran, sometimes by helping with money and armaments groups that in the time of the Shah of Iran’s rule used to target US interests. Of such organisations, the most important was the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MKO), an organisation claiming to be marxist in its ideology but which since the 1990s has set up offices in countries such as France and the US. Whatever following the MKO had within Iran was eliminated once the organisation began to help Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. This wasregarded by the people of that ancient country as treachery, and they turned against the MKO. 

There are reasons why the security network in Iran has become so all-pervasive. While the US is the most powerful country on the globe, Israel has the most efficient secret service in the world, and these two countries have been joined by others in a joint effort to create enough chaos, especially in Tehran, as would lead to the collapse of the regime now led by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Any visitor to Iran can see that such an effort has failed. The cities of the country are peaceful and acts of terror are much fewer than in some countries in Europe, despite continuing efforts by countries hostile to Iran to destabilize the country. Just as the declared war on Iran by Saddam Hussein made the country more resilient and able to bear hardship, the undeclared war on Iran by the US, Israel and the EU has paradoxically strengthened rather than weakened the institution of the Supreme Leader, as this system is seen as able to block foreign efforts at creating chaos in the country. Although the purpose of the sanctions imposed on Iran by a coalition of countries led by the US was to weaken the central government, such an effort has failed.

Sanctions and the isolation of a country usually have the effect of making the extremes stronger, both on the right and on the left, and weakening most the middle groups which are important for growth and social stability. While it is a fact that the takeover of the US embassy by students in 1979 was an act which had a lot of harmful consequences for Iran, the fact remains that the policy of isolation pursued since then by Washington and its partners has not been able to change the system of government in Iran. This failure of the tactics of three decades has been understood by President Barack Obama of the US, who partnered with President Rouhani of Iran to work out a nuclear agreement that is a plus for both Iran as well as the US. With the steady shrinking of the US-led sanctions regime, the Iranian economy can grow much faster, so that the country emerges as a global knowledge hub because of the high quality of the Iranian people. 

Having nuclear weapons without a strong economic base is disastrous, as was clear from the example of the USSR, which collapsed despite a huge stockpile of such weapons. Iran has made the correct choice by choosing peaceful development over a North Korea-style obsession with nuclear weapons. By focussing for the next fifteen years on economic development, Iran can by 2030 emerge as a global power that has strong influence in both its own region as well as elsewhere. The EU benefits from a reduction in tensions with Iran, for were such tensions to cross safe limuts, the global economy would feel the shock. President George W Bush had the opportunity of working out a nuclear deal with Iran in 2003 that would have been far less favourable to Tehran than the present deal, but he clearly believed that within his term of office, the US and its allies would launch a war with Iran in the same way as they did with Iraq. With the global financial crisis of 2008,that opportunity was lost.

Today, a conflict with Iran would tip the global economy into recession and cost tens of millions of jobs, many in the US and Europe. This is why it is almost certain that the nuclear deal will pass the US Senate and escape a veto-proof majority in the House of Representatives. Those voting against the nuclear deal with Iran are voting for mass unemployment and economic misery for their constituents. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel put his personal dislike of Barack Obama ahead of the interests of his country. Because of the show of partisan politics by Netanyahu, there is considerable anger against the Israeli government in Washington. President Obama was correct, the alternative to the deal is war, a war which would result in economic hardship for millions. Apart from the economy, Iran is as indispensable a partner in dealing with Daesh as Russia was in the previous century, during the war against Hitler. The rise of Daesh has helped ensure a change for the better in the global equations facing. Iran, thereby giving it the opportunity to become by far the largest economy in the Middle East in five or six short years.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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