The long war of attrition against Iran

It is time the British government abandoned its double standards on human rights and denuclearisation.

When the House of Commons returned after its unlawful prorogation on Wednesday September 25th, the debate following the statement by the Foreign Office minister, Dominic Raab on Iran was instructive. It demonstrated that the established US narrative in the corporate media on Iran is deeply embedded in the perceptions of both sides of the Commons.

His statement had two key elements. First, that in the wake of the attacks on the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia which cut oil production by half, Iran had become a destabilising force in the region. Hence, in his words, “Iran must never begin access to nuclear weapons and that is why the UK remains committed to the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action, notwithstanding US withdrawal.” Secondly Iran was in breach of human rights, particularly in detaining dual citizens.

To be credible, the defence of human rights must be universal. It is right that Iran should be criticised over its detention of dual citizens and right to demand their release but also to insist that due processes of law in Iran are transparent. However, defending human rights should not be selective and opportunistic. There are horrendous violations of human rights on a daily basis by Israel which are condoned consistently by our media and our politicians. So, too, in Egypt under Sisi, Turkey under Erdogan and Saudi Arabia amongst others. The violations of human rights by Western powers are egregious. Drone attacks killing civilians are indefensible. There is no place for double standards in applying international human rights standards. Attacking the alleged enemies of Western powers for breaching human rights whilst turning a blind eye when the allies breach them, undermines human right norms internationally.

Tensions in the region were ratcheted up when Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran. The nuclear agreement reached by the five powers, backed by the security council, was to contain Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. After Trump’s decision, the European powers have tried to maintain the nuclear agreement. For its part, Iran has pressurised them to protect it from US sanctions. As yet European powers have not able to come up with a mechanism to assist Iran overcome the impact of US sanctions.

The condition that the Foreign Secretary laid down for engagement with Iran is that “it should show the respect required for the basic principles of the rules-based international system”. Members of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, Articles One and Two of which affirm the right of all peoples to self-determination, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international order continue to be grossly violated by the US, the UK and other European states. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was probably the most serious violation of the Nuremberg Principles, a supreme crime of war of aggression.

Iran has in modern time not invaded any sovereign state. On the contrary, the US and UK successfully overthrew the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in 1953 and imposed a dictatorship under the late Shah until 1979 when a landmark revolution led to the establishment of the Iranian Islamic Republic. Since then the western powers and their allies have conducted a war of attrition against the Iranian people under the pretext of stopping it developing nuclear weapons. The lifting of sanctions under the nuclear treaty was a short respite. Trump’s assertion to the UN General Assembly that Iran was spreading terror across the region cynically inverted the reality. It is the US, its allies and proxies which have in the last three decades invaded and slaughtered innocents and destroyed countries across the region from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. This has led to millions of displaced and refugees. There is little acknowledgement that wars lead to widespread displacement. Blockading a country economically through sanctions so the civilians cannot obtain the means of life and life-saving medicines is economic warfare. Iran is subject to severe sanctions by the US whose aim is to reduce its oil exports to zero. Locking Iran out of the system of exchange and trade is causing immense economic hardships and lack of availability of life-saving medications. These sanctions are an act of war. How long can the US quarantine a population of 100 million?

Dominic Raab’s statement that “we need a longer-term framework that provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear programme and, as the attacks on Aramco demonstrate, we must also bring Iran’s wider destabilising activities into scope”, indicated that the UK government has moved towards the US position. So have the European powers gradually. Many had predicted that the nuclear agreement would collapse following the withdrawal by the US because European powers and corporations could not circumvent US sanctions. It is likely that this will happen in the near future.

The underlying problem here is that the western powers are not prepared to address the issue of denuclearisation in the region. This would require that the only power that possess nuclear weapons in the region, Israel, is brought into consideration. An agreement to denuclearise across the region would mean the inspection of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability. The US and Israel do not want this to happen. The shadow of Israeli nuclear weapons hangs across the Middle East. Here we confront again the stark double standards that western policy applies in its dealings with the nations in the region.

The fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, did not lead to the rhetorical peace dividend. It led to the strengthening of US hegemony, controlling the destiny of the world in a way similar to the emergence of British domination of the world after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. With no checks and balances, the US resorted to extreme actions of regime change in the region, reshaping it with its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, there are signs that this era is coming to an end with the US failing to carry out regime change in Syria.

This demonstrates that we still live in an epoch of imperialist system within which a hierarchy of highly developed nations led by the US are able to subject other nations to their dominations, using a variety of means from economic sanctions, blockades, to low intensity wars and invasions. Changing this system will require a sustained resistance by peoples across the world and within imperialist countries. However much we disagree with Iran, it is vital that we oppose not only war against Iran but economic sanctions as well.

In his speech at the Labour annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn said “Have we learnt nothing?” and advocated the need for diplomacy to solve problems. He has been principled in pursuing peace his entire life and has opposed all the wars in the Middle East. It is time the country listened to him. A government led by him would bring a paradigm shift in UK foreign policy.

Countries in the region will take generations to reconstruct. This they cannot do on their own but only with significant international assistance. This has hardly begun. We need foreign forces to move out of the region and regional powers to come together to establish peace and security. The wounded have to be healed, people need to be fed, the displaced need to be housed, the young need to be educated and jobs need to be provided for the youth. The economy must serve the people with good infrastructure providing clean water, electricity and transport links. Democracy needs to be embedded so that those who exercise power are accountable to the people.