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Iran : Why we should rule out British or Scottish involvement in “stronger sanctions”, air strikes or war on Iran

Iran’s leaders have proven they don’t want to commit national suicide

The first reason why we should have nothing to do with plans to use “stronger” sanctions or air strikes to try to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons is that the current Iranian leadership, while they are extremely brutal in repressing dissent in Iran, have shown that they are against making any move that would result in national suicide for Iran (which is what using nuclear weapons on nuclear armed states like Israel or their allies would be).

In 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war a US warship – the USS Vincennes – shot down an Iranian Airbus passenger plane killing over 200 civilians on board. Iran’s government and military took this as a sign that the US was about to join the war directly on Saddam’s side (rather than backing, arming and funding him as they did from the 1970s till 1991). The man who is now ‘The Leader’ of Iran (almost a theocratic dictator) – Ayatollah Khameini was one of the people who then persuaded Ayatollah Khomeini to make peace with Iraq rather than risk his regime being overthrown. Ayatollah Rafsanjani, now head of more than one of the influential ‘governing councils’ also helped persuade Khameini to back down, as did the officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (President Ahmadinejad is a former Revolutionary Guardsman).

Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khameini

Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khameini (above) and , chair of influential ruling councils in Iran (below) both persuaded Khomeini to make peace rather than risk being defeated in 1988

Ayatollah Rafsanjani  

For the same reasons Iran would not provide terrorist groups with nuclear weapons, as this would just be suicide by proxy – just as Saddam, despite all the scare-mongering, never provided terrorist groups he backed with chemical weapons when he had them from the 1980s till 1991 – and would not have in 2003 either, for the same reason.

That means Iranians who want nuclear weapons want them as a deterrent, not to attack other nations with them This means that if Iran is developing a nuclear weapon it’s doing so for the same reason other countries (including Israel) already have – as a deterrent to deter other countries from making conventional, WMD or nuclear attacks on Iran, as experts on Iran like Ray Takeyh of the US Council on Foreign Relations and British former diplomat Michael Axworthy say.

The governments of the US, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China all armed and funded Saddam while he invaded Iran and used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds (most notoriously at Halabja) and on Iranians (US funding for Saddam continuing after Halabja). Chemical weapons were also used by Saddam against Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war. Chemical munitions and the materials to produce them plus delivery systems were provided by the US, British, French , Chinese and German governments among others. Aid from the US and UK to Saddam continued after Halabja.

Iraqi kurds mourning the dead as they prepare to bury them after Saddam's gassing of Halabja in 1988

Iraqi kurds mourning the dead as they prepare to bury them after Saddam's gassing of Halabja in 1988

Iranians have not forgotten this, nor the US and British backed military coup against the elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 (when he tried to nationalise his country’s oil industry). Iran is almost alone in having no nuclear deterrent and no powerful, reliable ally that can provide one to cover it from attack by either conventional forces or with WMDs.

Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld has said that "The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy."

Offline sources for above two sections:

Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran - Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, Times Books, New York, 2006 - pages 170-174

Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition - pages 231-233

Ahmadinejad did not say Iran would “wipe Israel off the map” and would have no control of nuclear weapons if Iran developed them

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

President Ahmadinejad of Iran has had demonstrators and striking teachers beaten, tortured,  jailed and killed, but did not say he’d wipe Israel off the map – and would not have control of nuclear weapons if Iran developed them

He made the same speech Khomeini had made every year since the Islamic Revolution against the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979, in which he said that he hoped that the “illegal regime which rules over Quods [in Jerusalem] will be erased from the pages of history” (1).

That is fairly clearly a call for “regime change” rather than a threat of nuclear Holocaust – and Ahmadinejad in interviews with French television channels compared Israel to the former Soviet Union, pointing out that the people of the Soviet Union had overthrown their government and the country no longer exists as a result. Israel and the US, both of which actually have nuclear weapons and actually plan to use them to attack Iran, are never accused of calling for a “nuclear Holocaust” against Iran when they talk of nuclear air strikes or “regime change” (1).

Nor would Ahmadinejad have control of nuclear weapons if Iran developed them. Iran’s Presidents have very few powers and are not the Commander in Chief of Iran’s military. The ‘Leader’ Ayatollah Khameini, who persuaded Khomeini to back down in 1988, would be (2), (3).

(1) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran - Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, Times Books, New York, 2006, (hardback edition)

(2) = Hauser Global Law School Program (New York University School of Law) Mar 2006, 'A Guide to the Legal System of the Islamic Republic of Iran' by Omar Sial' ,

(3) = Time magazine 20 Apr 2006‘Iran President's Bark May Be Worse than His Bite',,8599,1185293,00.html

Air Strikes would not stop Iran developing nuclear weapons
and might make them do so

Experts, even hawkish ones such as Michael E. O'Hanlon and Bruce Reidel, are against air strikes on Iran because they could not prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons. For instance Hanlon and Reidel say:

even a massive strike would not slow Iran’s progress towards a bomb for long. We cannot be sure we know where all existing Iranian facilities to enrich uranium are located – as the revelation of yet another previously unknown site near Qom last year reminded us. Even if we did strike most or all existing facilities, Iran can rebuild fairly fast and would surely expel inspectors and burrow further underground when building its next facilities. It would be even harder to find, and strike, those assets.”

They don’t mention the other possibility – that if Iran is genuinely only developing nuclear programmes for nuclear energy to supply electricity (as they claim they are) air-strikes might make them decide to build nuclear weapons as a deterrent against further attacks.

Air strikes would kill civilians
and might involve tactical nuclear weapons

A US F117 Nighthawk stealth bomber drops  a 'bunker buster bomb' in military tests in Utah

A US F117 Nighthawk stealth bomber drops a 'bunker buster bomb' in military tests in Utah

The US and Israel both have plans for air-strikes with ‘bunker buster’ bombs, with both planning for the possibility of using ‘tactical nuclear’ weapons dropped from aircraft in the hope of destroying or setting back Iran’s nuclear programme.

According to the renowned American journalist Seymour Hersh, Obama’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who served in the same position under Bush, travelled to Europe in 2007 to try to persuade the British government and other NATO allies to back the idea of tactical nuclear air-strikes on Iran, targeting suspected nuclear programme sites.

Former CIA counter-terrorism officer Phillip Giraldi told journalists that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had opposed the idea, but that the plan included "a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons"

Israel has similarly had plans for using tactical nuclear weapons in airstrikes on Iran since at least 2007.

The Obama administration’s new policy on nuclear first strikes has been widely praised, yet it permits nuclear strikes on countries which the US deems to have breached the non-proliferation treaty – like Iran – the exact wording being:

The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

Of course the US alleges that Iran is not in compliance with the Treaty (though Iran was one of the first countries to sign it).

An early tactical nuclear weapon designed to be dropped as a bomb from a plane in the 1960s

An early tactical nuclear weapon designed to be dropped as a bomb from a plane in the 1960s

In March this year President Obama ordered large quantities of bunker buster bombs delivered to the US air base at Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands (8). The Chagos Islands are British dependencies (former colonies) in the Indian Ocean, previously inhabited by the Chagos Islanders, but the US and British militaries forcibly deported them from their homes in the 1950s to make way for the US military, navy and air-force bases.

If the ‘bunker busters’ are anything like the ones the US supplied to Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war they’ll also include Depleted Uranium, dust from which causes high rates of cancers for decades afterwards – and so effectively ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (9) (more on this later).

Diego Garcia was one of the staging posts for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

Some see this as preparation for US airstrikes on Iran, others claim the original destination for the bombs was Israel, with Obama sending them to Diego Garcia a sign that he wouldn’t back Israeli airstrikes on Iran (10), (11).

It could mean that Obama plans to make the operation an American one though.

Dan Plesch, the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at London University, told reporters
They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran...US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours” (12).

If air strikes targeting suspected nuclear facilities go ahead civilian ‘collateral damage’ is guaranteed, both due to missing targets – and more commonly due to wrongly identifying civilian targets as military or nuclear programme facilities. In the 1991 Gulf War the US dropped ‘bunker buster’ bombs like the ones Obama is storing at Diego Garcia. One took out what US commanders believed to be a ‘command and control centre’ that might contain Saddam Hussein. In fact the Al Ameriyeh bunker in Baghdad contained hundreds of civilians, using it as an air raid shelter – and 408 were killed.

A modern 'bunker buster'

A modern 'bunker buster'

Hundreds more cases of civilian deaths due to wrongly identified targets (and even targeting of civilian targets) took place in the Gulf war and continued in ‘patrolling the No-Fly Zones’ between 1991 and 2003, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths caused directly and indirectly by bombing (22) – (24). They continued in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, in the Iraq war and in airstrikes in Afghanistan from October 2001 to present.

 If tactical nuclear weapons are used then a legacy of radiation sickness, still births, illnesses, high rates of fatal cancers among infants and deformities may result for decades, as for decades after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and in the years since US and British forces used depleted uranium (DU), napalm and compounds with similar effects and white phosphorus in Iraq from 1991 on.

A girl in Fallujah , Iraq , who was born without a left hand - one of the less distressing of the huge number of birth defects among children born there since the 2004 Coalition assaults

The most recent examples have come from Fallujah where the rates of birth defects among newborn babies have increased massively since the April and November 2004 assaults by coalition forces employing DU and white phosphorus.

Obama’s Policy on Iran has more similarities than differences from Bush’s

Barack Obama

President Obama

During the 2008 Presidential election Obama made a campaign pledge in a speech to AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee):

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions

He went on to say that, like Bush, he would use initial diplomacy as a means of getting other governments to support sanctions or military action

Our willingness to pursue diplomacy will make it easier to mobilize others to join our cause. If Iran fails to change course when presented with this choice by the United States

Obama’s description of Iran in his speech could have come from Bush or Cheney :

The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

The false claims are identical to the ones made by the Bush administration. First that there is definitive proof that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. There isn’t any. Second that if Iran got nuclear weapons it would give them to terrorist groups, which is as ludicrous as Bush administration claims that Saddam would give nuclear weapons to Al Qa’ida or Palestinian terrorist groups if he had them. In fact when Saddam did have WMDs in the form of chemical warheads for his Scud missiles - and was at war with the US in 1991 - he neither used them on other countries nor gave them to terrorist groups, because the first would have been personal and national suicide and the second would have been national suicide by proxy. His only attacks on Israel and Kuwait with scuds used conventional warheads. (1).

Of course in the case of Iraq no amount of evidence from UN weapons inspections teams, the CIA or the Iraq Weapons Survey Group that Saddam had no significant WMD capability was good enough. It may well be that the same lobby groups – the Israeli government, AIPAC, the oil and arms companies and hawks on the right of the Republican and Democratic parties - want a US war on Iran no matter what.

It also ignores the fact that the US, the UK and its allies can’t be in danger from Iran even if it did develop nuclear weapons, as Iran, like Saddam would be deterred from making nuclear attacks on us by the certainty of a massively larger nuclear counter-strike that would wipe Iran off the map.

(1) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992), ‘After the Storm' , Madison Books , London , 1992 , - pages 211-216 (Nye is a former CIA officer)

(see my blog post here for full sources on the above)

Air Strikes would make Iranian politics more extreme
and cause revenge terrorist attacks

The London bombings

Any air strikes on Iran and the resulting ‘collateral damage’ civilian casualties would lead to widespread anger in Iran and the Muslim world. Iranian politics would become more hostile to any countries involved.

This would also create the risk of more revenge terrorist attacks on civilians in the countries whose governments ordered the attacks – just as the US and British invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the London bombings and the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq led to the Madrid bombings.

Israel and it’s US ally’s military power and nuclear arsenals dwarfs Iran’s

US supplied Israeli F-16 fighter jets

US supplied Israeli F-16 fighter jets

Even if Iran did develop nuclear weapons they would not allow it to attack Israel or other countries, whose militaries are massively better armed, with far more advanced warplanes, tanks and artillery. Israel is estimated to have at least 80 nuclear warheads, some missile mounted, others to be dropped from aircraft.

Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld says thatWe Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us....”.

The Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev – the centre of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme

The Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev – the centre of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme

On top of this Israel has the US as an ally – and even after the reductions in the recent nuclear treaty with Russia, the US will still have over 1,500 deployed nuclear warheads and many thousands of advanced aircraft.

Wider sanctions could kill huge numbers of civilians,
as they did in Iraq from 1991 to 2003

An Iraqi mother with her child in 2000 during the sanctions which lasted from the end of the 1991 war till the 2003 invasion

Obama used the US-Russian nuclear treaty, which reduced US and Russian deployed nuclear warheads by 30% to around 1,550 each (plus undeployed warheads), to talk of progress to a world free of nuclear weapons.

There is no prospect of the major powers giving up all their nuclear weapons though – and the dark side of Obama’s policy is that he is using the token reductions in the treaty to push for “stronger sanctions” or airstrikes on Iran, either of which could kill large numbers of civilians.

While the sanctions so far applied to Iran have been limited ones targeting certain individuals’ foreign bank accounts and travel and banning exports of nuclear material to Iran, extending sanctions to make them more general could result in Iran not being able to afford to import enough food and medicines for it’s population, like US sanctions on Iraq from 1991 to 2003, which killed around 5,000 children a month plus thousands of adults according to two UN officials who resigned as heads of the sanctions programme – Dennis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck.

War on Iran would put British troops in Afghanistan at further risk

War on Iran would also result in Iran stepping up arms and training to opponents of NATO in Afghanistan, resulting in more deaths among British troops there (though they should be brought home in any case – see my policy page on Afghanistan for the reasons why)


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