U.S. Strategy Tries To Isolate Iran

Mahjubah, The Islamic Magazine for Women
May 1995,
Vol. 14, No. 5, Pages: 4-5
By: Moshahed Hossein

The United States announcement of a total ban on trade with Iran marks an escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran. In a speech made appropriately enough before the World Jewish Congress in New York, President Clinton personally announced this ban saying "I am convinced that instituting a trade embargo with Iran is the most effective way our nation can help to curb Iran's drive to acquire devastating weapons and its continued support for terrorist activities". This announcement follows the April 28 publication of the annual State Department report on terrorism which accused Iran of being "the most active state sponsor of international terrorism"

The immediate impact of the trade embargo will be on the annual American purchases of Iranian oil, which are in the vicinity of $4 billion. Interestingly, major European countries like France, Germany and Britain, have rejected a trade embargo, urging instead the necessity of a "political dialogue with Iran". The European Union and Iran have bilateral trade which currently stands at $ 14 billion.

The latest American action against Iran comes as no surprise since from the beginning of 1995, the United States has been following a three-pronged approach as part of its strategy to isolate Iran. This three-pronged strategy has taken following forms:

An orchestrated campaign in the mainstream American media that has primarily promoted Israeli interests, the main motivation of this Iran-bashing exercise;

Close coordination between the Republican Congress and the Democratic White House on Iran policy, with the Congress egged on by the Israeli lobby urging "stronger measures". For instance, the Republican Senator from New York, Alfonse D'Amato, who is also chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has sponsored a bill that would close U.S. markets to foreign corporations doing business with Iran.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Bob Dole, who is also the leading contender for the White House against Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential elections, had even suggested that President Clinton reconsider his trip to Moscow if Russia did not renege on its nuclear agreement with Iran;

Playing up the "terrorist" issue and concurrently projecting a "moderate-versus- fundamentalist" divide in the Muslim world, so that Iran is isolated in the Islamic community. It is, therefore, no accident that leaders of certain Muslim countries including Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia have also picked up this theme in their statements.

How has this nexus between Israel, the U.S. media and American policy worked in practice? A chronology of events since January 1995 shows haw this nexus developed and how it was translated into policy through the recent announcement by President Clinton of the American trade embargo against Iran:

January 5, 1995: The opening salvo in this Iran-bashing exercise is fired through an article in the New York Times title "Iran May be able to Build an Atomic Bomb in 5 Years, U. S. and Israeli Officials Fear". The timing of the story coincides with U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry's visit to the Middle East and South Asia;

January 8: Perry conveniently picks up this theme of an "Iran nuclear bomb" during his visit to Israel, although no evidence is provided to back up this allegation;

January 10: CIA Director James Wolsey, in testimony before Congress, latches on the terrorist label to Iran, saying that Iran provides more than $100 million annually to Hamas, the most prominent component of the Palestinian Islamic Movement. Later, it is leaked to the press that the CIA has set aside $5 million specifically for the destabilization of Iran;

January 15: An article in the New York Times entitled: "Israel Eyes Iran in the Fog of Nuclear Politics" admits that Israel has introduced the Iran factor in the context of the nuclear issue primarily to deflect Arab criticism of its nuclear program and the article says Israel "has turned the spotlight on Iran, whose nuclear potential is probably scarier to most Westerners than Israel's. The article adds in a comment that is remarkable for its prescience, given the action taken recently by Clinton, that "the Israelis talk about further isolating Iran-through an international boycott, for example, to dry up the oil money";

January 19: An article in the Washington Post titled "Dispute over Nuclear Weapons Strains Egyptian-Israel Ties" presents the Israeli rejoinder on Egyptian criticism of the Israeli nuclear program saying the Egyptians "don't understand which side they are on because in the long run we share the same enemy-Islamic fundamentalism and its state backers, including Iran and Sudan:

January 20: In a major foreign policy speech at Harvard University, the U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, says that "the United States places the highest priority on denying Iran a nuclear weapons capability";

January 21: Interior ministers from six Mediterranean countries meet in Tunis to discuss "joint efforts to combat Islamic fundamentalist violence, fanaticism, extremism and terrorism" in the first meeting of its kind attended by two Muslim countries, Algeria and Tunis, plus France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. In other words, the Western and the American agenda of a threat from within the Muslim world of "fundamentalism and terrorism" is adopted publicly for the first time by some Muslim states;

January 24: president Clinton announces the freezing of assets in the United States of organizations suspected of involvement in terrorism, including Hamas and Hizbollah. This action comes three days after a suicide bombing in Israel which kills 19 persons, most of them Israel soldiers, and causes injuries to 62 others;

January 31: Three weeks after his visit to Pakistan, in a speech to the Foreign Policy Association, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry defines America's "strong interest" in Pakistan in words which are meaningful since the connotations vis-a-vis are unambiguous: "Pakistan is a moderate Islamic state which serves as a counterweight to the radical Islamic states in the region".

February 3: The new chairman of the House of Representatives select Intelligence, Committee, congressman Larry Combest, says that "the United Sates faces a wave of Middle East terrorism in the coming years that could kill thousands, and strong intelligence capabilities are needed to detect and prevent it";

February 8: The powerful Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, speaking at a conference of military and intelligence officers in Washington, publicly states that "the eventual forced replacement of Iran's Islamic regime is the only long term U.S. strategy that makes sense" in what is the first public enunciation of this American goal.

As regards the stories about an Iranian nuclear bomb, these clearly have no veracity at all. For instance, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated in January 1995 that "it had no evidence Iran was building nuclear weapons or had flouted the NPT". And in its January 11, 1995 issue, the New York Times carried a letter to the editor from an Iran expert working for the Washington based think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, under the title: Don't Exaggerate Iranian Nuclear Threat".

He quoted from the CIA director who had said in December 1992 that Iran was a decade away from a nuclear bomb, a statement reaffirmed by the CIA director in September 1994. The writer asked "have events turned drastically worse in four months?" adding, "the real story here is the Israeli campaign to draw world attention to Iran, a security threat in Israeli eyes".

As far as the American criticism of the proposed sale of Russian nuclear reactors to Iran is concerned which, incidentally, would be under the supervision of the IAEA, the Russian foreign minister in a speech in Washington on April 29 retorted that "the reactors Russia is hoping to sell Iran are of the light-water variety, which the United State is offering to North Korea precisely on the grounds that their fuel is harder to use for nuclear weapons".

Clinton's invoking of the Iran threat at this point in time is easy to understand given the fact that he faces a tough reelection next year and appeasing the powerful Jewish lobby would certainly be a political plus in a difficult and close election. Additionally, Clinton's hard line on Iran helps him in the Congress as well, since this is one issue on which there is apparently a bipartisan consensus since Clinton is following what Gingrich advocated in February 1994 and what the Israelis hoped the U.S. would eventually do as reported by the New York Times back in January 1995.

AS regards American policy towards the Muslim world, browbeating states through threats is not the answer, the real question that needs to be asked by American policymakers is: Why America's double-standards based on uncritical endorsement of all Israeli actions? This is leading to the isolation of the U.S. among Muslim peoples.

As the former American congressman and critic of the Jewish lobby, Paul Findley, wrote in the Saudi Gazette on May 1, "The U.S. is seen, accurately as a full partner in Israel's conquests, especially the takeover of East Bait-ul-Muqaddas which is bitterly resented by a billion Muslims and all Arabs." He concluded that "this is the right time to rethink America's role as Israel's war partner."

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