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Scribblings: Mixed Messages on Iran

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Tzvi Fleischer

Mixed Messages on Iran?

In my view, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got his policy message on Iran pretty much right the other day in remarks to Greg Sheridan in the Australian (July 19). He said the nuclear situation occasions “great, great concern” and “I… see continued intransigence on the part of the regime in Iran.” He endorsed diplomacy as “a critical means by which to secure an outcome” but he also, according to Sheridan, appeared to agree with the American position of refusing to take a military option off the table as a last resort. Finally, he made a remark about “everyone pulling together” in diplomacy that seemed to be a mild rebuke of China and Russia, who have made Security Council action against Iran very difficult.

Presumably, what Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon had to say on the same subject should be seen in the context of the Prime Minister’s position. He told “Lateline” (July 17), after meeting his American counterparts, “what pleased me on this issue is this renewed focus on dialogue with Iran. We’ve gotta talk through these issues and, you know, this is the first time in a long time now that the US has really engaged in dialogue with Iran, and I think focusing first, at least, on the diplomatic effort is a very, very wise choice.” He then went on to say, “everyone understands Israel’s concerns. Iran has been very reckless in its language towards Israel, and understandably, some very significant tensions have emerged.”

However, the remarks about “reckless” language which creates “tensions” seemed to underplay the seriousness of Iranian threats. Moreover, the implication appeared to be that these threats and the nuclear program are only a problem for Israel. Further, while diplomacy and economic pressure is the way forward for the moment, the faith in dialogue expressed was a bit problematic. As explained in this month’s editorial, there have been countless bouts of diplomacy with Iran already, to no effect, and America has been intimately involved all along. What is needed is not more dialogue, which allows Iran to run down the clock, but achieving more leverage in that dialogue so that it achieves a positive result, as Rudd acknowledged.

Fitzgibbon, a promising but fairly new minister, would, we suspect, fully support the approach put forward by his prime minister. Let’s hope it comes through more clearly on future occasions.


Uranium for What?

There are still people who make the argument that we don’t know if Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons - perhaps it only wants civilian power, as it claims (even though the world has already offered Iran this if it stops enrichment).

Well, here’s a key fact originally pointed out by well-known American security analyst Anthony Cordesman. The Iranians are going to an awful lot of trouble and great expense right now to enrich uranium in large quantities - yet they have absolutely no civilian power reactors to put it in. That’s right, there is not a single nuclear reactor in Iran which might use this enriched uranium as fuel (or at least not one declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as legally required). The almost completed Bushehr reactor, built by the Russians, is to use Russian-supplied fuel if it ever gets up and running.

So anyone who says the Iranians might not be seeking nuclear weapons has to explain why the Iranians are enriching all that uranium.


Before the “Occupation”

You often hear it said or implied that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be boiled down to the fact that Israel is “occupying” the Palestinians, and the whole thing can be solved if Israel will just get out of the territories it gained in the 1967 war. Despite piles of evidence to the contrary (such as the establishment of the PLO a number of years before 1967), this view can be very hard to shake.

Well, in 1961, way before any “occupation”, the famous American journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn visited several Palestinian refugee camps to hear what their residents had to say about Israel and the conflict. She published a long article on the experience in the Atlantic, available online at the archives of that magazine at www.theatlantic.com/doc/196110/gellhorn.

There is not room here to go into her findings in detail but it was clear already in 1961 that an Arab narrative of eternal rejectionism, cult of armed violence, and campaign of hate propaganda were already firmly in place and constantly being further nurtured. To give but one example, a school principal at a refugee camp in Lebanon tells her, “In our school, we teach the children from their first year about their country and how it was stolen from them. I tell my son of seven; you will see: one day a man of eighty and a child so high, all, all will go home with arms in their hands and take back their country by force.”

A schoolteacher in an Arab village explained what happened in the 1948 war: “Yes, we refused partition. We did not want the Jews here; we wanted the whole country for ourselves, as is right. We only lost because of the United Nations and the Western powers.” He demanded the return of the Arab refugees from 1948 and was asked whether if the Arabs had won in 1948, he would now allow the Jewish refugees from that war to return. He replied flatly, “But there would have been no Jewish refugees. They had no place to go. They would all be dead or in the sea.”

There’s much more that’s enlightening in this article and I urge anyone who wants to understand the real origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to read it.

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