Netanyahu has been at it again today. According to the I, he criticised Obama’s attempts to make an agreement with Iran over the country’s nuclear programme. He told a meeting of AIPAC – the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee – yesterday (2nd March) that Iran’s nuclear project threatens Israel’s very existence. He accused Iran of ‘threatening to destroy Israel’ and that it was ‘devouring country after country in the Middle East, that is exporting terror throughout the world and is developing as we speak the capacity to make nuclear weapons.’
This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has raised fears of a nuclear attack on Israel by Iran. Three years ago in 2012 he told the UN that the Iranians were only a year away from developing an atomic bomb, that would be used against Israel. He came complete with a diagram showing Iran’s growing nuclear capability, shaped like the stereotypical bomb from thousands of old cartoons.
He was lying. About a fortnight ago, the Guardian revealed that, according to leaked documents from Israel’s spy service, Mossad, and their internal security agency, Shin Bet, no such threat existed. The head of the Iraeli army, in much more guarded language, actually cautioned Netanyahu against taking any military action against Iran. The Young Turks discuss these revelations in the video below.
Iran’s Nuclear Power for Generating Electricity Only
Others have come to the same conclusion. Shirin Ebadi, a left-wing critic of the Iranian regime, who has its oppression of women and its exploitation country’s ordinary, working people, made the same point. In her book Iran on the Brink, she argues against an invasion of Iran. According to her, the mullahs governing the country aren’t interested in developing atomic weapons. Their claims that they want to develop it simply as a domestic power source are true. The country is indeed an oil producer, but they use it primarily for export. They intend to build nuclear power plants so that less oil is consumed by the country itself. The oil saved can then be exported, boosting the country’s economy and their own profits.
Netanyahu’s Claims of Iranian Terrorist Threat Exaggerated
Now let’s examine Netanyahu’s claims about Iran exporting terrorism, and ‘devouring country after country’. It’s true that Iran has exported terror around the world. In the 1990s the Iranian secret services were responsible for a massacre of Kurdish separatists meeting in a German restaurant. As for militaristic expansionism, it has been suggested that the Iranians are, or have, given military support to the Shi’ah minority in Iraq. The majority of Iranian Muslims are Shi’ah, and so they wish to support and bolster the power of their co-religionists in Iraq. There have also been claims that they would like to take control of the country. I can also remember reading articles in Private Eye speculating that British forces in Iraq or Afghanistan have also come into contact with Iranian troops there.
Iran has not, however, taken control of Iraq and has absolutely no links to the Taliban or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In fact liberal Iranians went to the polls in 2008 to vote out Ahmedinejad as a religious hard-liner who, they feared, would turn their country into a ‘Taliban state’. Afghanistan is a Sunni Muslim nation, a different form of Islam to Shi’ism. As for al-Qaeda and ISIS, they are militant Sunni, and so hostile to Iran and its political ambitions. Given the brutal intolerance of ISIS, the Iranians probably have good reason to fear them.
The mullahs in Iran are deeply hostile to Israel, and much of their rhetoric is poisonously genocidal. However, they aren’t the danger that Netanyahu is presenting them as.
Western Invasion of Iraq Responsible for Increased Persecution of Religious Minorities
If anything, Netanyahu’s rhetoric is also extremely dangerous, and likely to make the tense situation in the Middle East much worse, especially for its ethnic and religious minorities. Twenty years ago the Likud party with the Republicans in America drew up plans for the invasion of Iraq. Likud wished to see Saddam Hussein overthrown as he was supplying arms to the Palestinians. The invasion instead destabilised the region, and made possible ISIS’ emergence. About ten years ago, Dan Cruikshank journeyed to Iraq as part of a BBC TV series looking at the world’s great architectural heritage. He spoke to the patriarch of one of the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. The interview was strained, with ominous silences where none of them spoke. The patriarch said that previously, relations with Muslim Iraqis had been quite harmonious. They had since become much worse, largely because of the invasion. The Islamic state has butchered the Christian population in the areas they’ve overrun. Iraq’s ancient Christian people, who speak Syriac, a Semitic language descended from Aramaic, have been forced out of their ancient homelands, like Mosul.
And they haven’t been the only people ISIS have persecuted. They’ve also attacked the Yezidis, a faith which contains elements of Sufi Islam and Zoroastrianism.
Iran also has its non-Muslim religious minorities. About 3 per cent of the population are Armenian Christians. Like the Syriac-speaking churches, these are one of the most ancient branches of the Christian faith. There is also an Anglican church in Tehran. These churches have also suffered persecution at the hands of extremists and bigots. Iran was also the ancient home of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of the Persian Empire. Zoroaster was the prophet, who reformed the Iranian religion and instituted the worship of the god Ahura Mazda, the good deity responsible for the creation of the world and its good creatures. I think there are even one or two Jews left in Iran, for all that most of them emigrated when the Ayatollah Khomeini declared they were free to leave after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Netanyahu’s belligerent rhetoric threatens to make the situation worse in Iran for all its religious minorities, and for liberal Muslims wishing to create a more open, tolerant and modern country. It stands to provoke even further suspicion and resentment. And by making such claims, Netanyahu also makes the situation worse for Israel by increasing international tension and the possibility of further violence.
Conclusion: Netanyahu’s Rhetoric Cynical Electioneering
But as The Young Turks point out, Netanyahu really isn’t interested in promoting peace or securing Israel’s safety. He wants to stoke fears of an Iranian nuclear threat in the hope of gaining further domestic votes. It’s a cynical attitude that threatens the safety of everyone in the region. Especially as the leaked documents to the Guardian have shown, it’s based on lies.
Obama reassured AIPAC that he had no intention of allowing the Iranians to build nuclear bombs. He should be believed, as should the Iranians, when they say that it really is all about generating electricity. The real liar is Netanyahu, and his lies threaten everyone.