War on Iran: America’s Next Catastrophe in the Middle East?

An interview with academic and author Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam on the consequences of a future war with Iran.

The ninth anniversary of the launch of one of the 21st century’s bloodiest, most controversial wars passed a few weeks ago on March 19 with scant acknowledgement in the media; the struggling world economy and an election-year political circus largely dominated mainstream op-eds and editorial agendas. Was it simply inexpedient for major networks to divert resources from what they apparently consider more serious concerns to pause for meaningful reflection on the legacy of America’s appalling war in Iraq?

Regardless, the children of Fallujah in the country we supposedly “liberated” in 2003 remain tragically deformed, very probably due to the impact of American-fired depleted uranium weaponry; the West Asian nation remains a sectarian mess thanks to the political puppetry of the Coalition Provisional Authority; and no one will be able to bring back the thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians whose lives were lost in the cause of one the West’s most indefensible and unpopular military misadventures.

By contrast, the national news media airtime dedicated to talk about the next potential big war in the Gulf, one that appears increasingly inevitable, has been generous. However, little has been said about how a war with Iran – at present seemingly urged into near outbreak by Dr. Arshin Adib-MoghaddamDr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam: “There is no military solution to the nuclear file. An attack on Iran would unleash a protracted asymmetric war that would be played out globally.” (Photo: Elham Modiri)Binyamin Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – could have been averted, with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program completely halted in 2003. We can thank the architects of the Iraq War for rejecting this wasted opportunity, a grossly myopic decision that may yet cost thousands of lives.

Also underreported have been statements made by former senior figures at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) alleging “pro-western bias, over-reliance on unverified intelligence” at the organization and the credibly suspected, compromising political leanings of its director. In Britain, David Cameron’s dubious and Blair-esque claims that Iran could develop “intercontinental” nuclear missiles that would be capable of hitting London did not rouse appropriate public exasperation, nor a weary, widely felt sense of deja vu, a collective public oversight likely due to the media’s focus on Europe’s economic woes, among other affairs.

Seeking an informed dissenting viewpoint, Truthout spoke to the UK-based academic and author Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a man known for his heterodoxy when it comes to his views on Iran and the Middle East region.

Having been elected as the first Jarvis Doctorow Fellow in the Department of Politics at Oxford University in 2005, he presently lectures at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, UK.

We began with a question about whether bombing Iran would actually destroy Tehran’s nuclear program or merely set it back a few years, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has suggested; and if the United States did attack Iran with Israel, I asked, what consequences might Adib-Moghaddam foresee?

Adib-Moghaddam: There is no military solution to the nuclear file. An attack on Iran would unleash a protracted asymmetric war that would be played out globally. This is exactly what all reputable US intelligence and security officials have signalled to the Netanyahu administration. An attack on Iran is entirely irrational, even if the aim is to destroy the nuclear program. Alas, politics does not always operate in a rational mode. It is all the more important to continuously mobilize the forces of peace. Let us assume for one moment that Iran weaponizes enriched uranium and builds a bomb. There is no indication – historically, and in terms of my own research on foreign policymaking in Iran and beyond – that the country would act in a dissimilar way as existing nuclear states, that it could not be deterred through conventional strategies. Certainly, Iran would not be any more threatening than Mao’s China, Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea and the Soviet Union.

Having said all of that in a rather hypothetical mode, Iran has repeatedly stressed that it does not want to develop a nuclear weapon. In the last few weeks, Iran’s supreme leader, the highest political authority in the country, reiterated the verdict of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that it is considered haram, or religiously impermissible, to use weapons of mass destruction because they don’t differentiate between civilians and soldiers. Now, we can all go ahead and say that these are a bunch of metaphysical lies of a rather utopian order. Yet, if there is no way for the Iranians to prove us wrong, then there is no real difference if they build a nuclear weapon or not, for they would be punished anyway. I am not sure if the illogicality of this simple consequence has penetrated the minds of Israeli decisionmakers: an attack on Iran would signal that it doesn’t really matter if you’re developing a nuclear weapon or not; you will be attacked anyway. A rather dangerous precedence, don’t you think?

Truthout: Do you think the present sanctions will damage the nuclear program sufficiently to justify the suffering that they impose on the civilians of Iran?

Adib-Moghaddam: Historically, sanctions have never produced the desired results, especially when the results are not well defined. If the United States couldn’t break revolutionary Cuba, which is a stone’s throw away from the US mainland, it is certainly hard-pressed to effect any serious changes in a country like Iran. Moreover, if Castro and Khomeini would have cared about being sanctioned by the United States, they wouldn’t have adopted the anti-Western rhetoric that their followers espoused in the first place. And what is it that the so-called “West” wants, anyway? I see a clear lack of strategy and a lack of clear aims and benchmarks in the sanctions policy, apart from signalling to the hawks in Israel that something is being done, lest they would embark on unilateral military action. It is not as if Iran is not cooperating: the nuclear installations are under the supervision of the IAEA; Iran repeatedly indicated that it does not need to produce highly enriched uranium if the supply would be guaranteed by the international community; there has been an agreement to that end sponsored by Brazil and Turkey, according to which Iran would ship much of its stockpile of enriched uranium abroad for further processing – the uranium would then return as fuel rods for a medical-research reactor; in 2003, the country ceased enriching uranium altogether and none of the serious sanctions were lifted, etcetera.

The real aim seems to be to keep Iran as the regional pariah so that weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the disproportionate military presence of the United States can be justified. Iran is also very functional to sell the missile shield system. So, there is a wider, aggressive agenda that has nothing to do with the nuclear file. As for the sanctions and the people of Iran: the lower strata of Iranian society have suffered at the hands of Western sanctions for a long time, but the situation is less dire than the calamity of the people of Gaza or the situation of Iraqis in the 1990s, where a whole generation was wiped out as a consequence of the UN-sponsored sanctions against the country. It is ironic, because the poor in Iran are doubly punished, facing as they do the wrath of the Leviathan, America, the “West” and the incompetency of the bureaucratic apparatus in Iran. Yet, in the words of the Iranian rapper Hich-Kas, who reflects on the sentiments of the poor in his accomplished lyrics: “We help each other even though we are all in poverty.” There is an immense amount of social solidarity in Iran, a civic consciousness that is geared to the revolutionary ideals of justice, equality and independence. Sanctions merely strengthen these bonds; they create a siege mentality that lends itself to divisive categorizations – us versus them. As such, the sanctions are moulding Iranians together. Ironically this is exactly what our decisionmakers in the “West” do not want.

Truthout: Do you agree with the assessment of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Iran is committed to destroying Israel and sponsoring terrorism that supports this end; and what approach to resolving the present standoff between Israel and Iran would you recommend at this present time?

Adib-Moghaddam: I have always found it ironic and slightly tragic that the right wing in Israel seems to perpetuate an apocalyptic mentality. It seems that from their perspective, and certainly from the viewpoint of Netanyahu, there is a perpetual conspiracy against Israel as a whole, rather than against the policies of the state. Iran is not committed to destroying Israel, but successive Iranian governments have made it clear that they want justice for the Palestinians. More specifically, they call for a referendum after the return of Palestinian refugees which would establish the future of Israel/Palestine. Notwithstanding some of the outrageously undiplomatic language of some Iranian decisionmakers, this position has widespread support in the Arab-Islamic worlds, irrespective of Iran’s position on this matter.

The only way to address the current problems is to foster an inclusive security architecture in the region which would address Israeli and Iranian security concerns. One way of achieving this would be to offer Iran a nonaggression pact in return for a deal on the nuclear enrichment issue. Another unexplored avenue would be to establish a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone in the region under the auspices of the United Nations, but that would require doing away with the nuclear hypocrisy that allows Israel to retain its arsenal without international scrutiny and punishes everyone else in the region who develops nuclear technology. All of this would imply that Israel starts to position itself as a regional actor that is not recurrently on a war footing, rather than as a “Western” entity that looks away from the Arab-Islamic region it is embedded in. Israel needs to act as a neighbor, the new kid on the block in a neighborhood that holds a long history which cannot be simply wished away, as the current changes after the Arab revolts clearly demonstrate. So far, Israel has acted as an alien entity that is not willing to assimilate to the realities of the region. The case for peace and reconciliation is there; what is missing is the political will to implement it. The us-versus-them mentality has to be discarded. After all, at the root of it, the battle of narratives and identities resemble a family feud amongst the children of Abraham above anything else. Maybe it is time to carve out a Judeo-Christian-Islamic space into which the identities of the peoples of the region can be accommodated more easily. What we need is a philosophy of religion that does away with the perils and false hopes of fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamist. The Palestinian-Israeli territory is uniquely blessed to that end. I have tried to make the case for a new, inclusive consciousness in my latest book, “A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations,” and there are other intellectuals who have written in a similar vein.

Truthout: Who do you think was responsible for the attacks in Asia against Israeli diplomats? If not Iran, who do you think was behind it?

Adib-Moghaddam: I have indicated repeatedly that I don’t think the Iranian government has an interest in destabilizing relations with friendly states, especially with a regional heavyweight such as India, which is a central security and economic partner of Iran. There are many potential culprits that come to mind: the militant MKO, rogue elements within Iran, etcetera. It wouldn’t be the first time that a false-flag operation was launched. The simple fact that Iranians were arrested does not automatically mean that the Iranian state gave the orders, given that foreign intelligence services have used Iranian operatives to murder scientists in Tehran. We are transferred into the opaque world of the intelligence services here. Ultimately, it will be politics that triumphs over the truth. The Netanyahu administration is hellbent to present the case against the Iranian government and to use it as yet another casus belli for war, irrespective of who the culprits really were. This is the real danger facing the world.