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The latest 'obstacle to peace'

Gerbil001 | 06.11.2007 23:40 | Analysis | Anti-militarism

The IAEA and its head, Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, are coming under increasing attack from the governments of the US and Israel. Their 'crime' is to deny that there is any evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The smears against the IAEA suggest the beginnings of a campaign to undermine it that has strong parallels with the campaign to undermine Hans Blix and UNMOVIC in 2003.

Mohammed ElBaradei can probably feel the stiletto dimple his skin. Yesterday, the Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Aharon Abramovich, complained that the IAEA is obstructing what he described as the “international efforts” against Iran. The Minister for Strategic Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, has joined the attack and Mark Regev is ever the hi-fidelity amplifier. The charge is simple: ElBaradei is going easy on the Iranians, even to the point of putting himself at odds with his own staff. Ynet News quotes “diplomatic sources” who allege that ElBaradei is “wrapping the agency inspectors' professional report with an introduction and summary remarks which create a political 'spin'.” The US Government, too, has chided ElBaradei, for presuming to criticise its rhetoric.

Nor are the Governments alone. With rather convenient timing, Professor Gerald M. Steinberg of the Bar-Ilan University weighed in on Sunday. On the website of the, I think it’s fair to say, heavily partisan Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he writes that ElBaradei is “insisting on denying the obvious” about the “overwhelming” evidence, which “is staring everyone in the face”, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. So overwhelming is the evidence, in fact, that Steinberg feels no call to mention any of it, aside from a single sentence about Iran’s previous involvement with the A-Q Khan network and its alleged past importation of components not suited to civilian nuclear power. Steinberg charges outright that the IAEA is “covering up wholesale violations of the NPT and the efforts of the extremist leaders of the Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear weapons.” This is a grave accusation for which Steinberg supplies no evidence. In fact, he then contradicts himself in his very next sentence by stating that the IAEA is not covering anything up at all but rather that,

For over three years, the quarterly IAEA reports on Iran contained the details of violations, obstruction of inspector's visits, important inconsistencies between official claims and the results of tests from samples taken from various facilities, and other forms of non-compliance. But the final assessment in each report, signed by the director-general, absurdly concluded that this evidence did not demonstrate that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.

So, in reality, the charge of cover up is reckless and absurd, since the “wholesale” violations that the IAEA is accused of covering up are detailed in its own reports. In fact, Steinberg disagrees with the IAEA’s conclusions. Nor can he resist a few idle references to the fact that ElBaradei is one of them, noting charitably that he “is an Egyptian national, but without a history of ideologically or religiously motivated policies or statements” and that he may be “anti-American”. Associates of Avigdor Lieberman, doubtless gifted psychologists, allege that “Deep down inside, Elbaradei identified with the Iranians on the personal basic level”. Well, why wouldn’t he? He’s called Mohammed, what more proof do we need? Such classic smears bespeak a paucity of rational arguments.

In truth, of course there are reasons to be suspicious of Iranian ambitions but suspicions are not evidence. If there was compelling evidence that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, then Israel or the US would present it. So far, they have not. Indeed, when the US Congress produced a report on Iran's nuclear programme it was denounced by the IAEA as "outrageous and dishonest". Instead, the stress is laid on intent. Yet, as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently observed, the latency of any threat is based on a combination of capability and intent. So far, no one has demonstrated that Iran has the capability to manufacture a nuclear weapon, as their nuclear power programme is still in its “infancy”. Yet at least capability can be measured -as the IAEA has done. Intent, as the Bulletin notes, “is in the eyes of the beholder.”

The United States has taken the lead in proclaiming that Iran is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Iran has disavowed this notion by issuing a fatwa, or holy edict, declaring that nuclear weapons are instruments of the devil. The IAEA has found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program but also no conclusive evidence that denies such a program's existence... Indeed, since it's surrounded by nuclear-armed entities, Iran could be motivated to acquire nuclear weapons, but intent to do so has not been established.

The difficulty with the Bulletin’s take is that, while technically accurate, it assumes transparency by international actors. If we have had any lesson repeatedly taught to us in recent years, however, it is that transparency - honesty - cannot be assumed, particularly where the current US Administration is concerned. Intent is in the eyes of the beholder particularly when that is what they want to see. For an empire that creates its own reality, intent is just another fact to be “fixed around the policy”.

Both the US and Israel obviously have other interests in the region so one cannot assume that their professed security concerns are genuine. The Israeli Government’s repeated protestations that Israel is under an existential threat are hard to take seriously, especially when it is actively erasing another people from the face of the earth. Even a nuclear armed Iran is not regarded in all quarters as the threat it is trumpeted to be. In October, Haaretz reported that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, had admitted that “Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel”. The report went on to state that “Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears.” Livni's reported remarks echo those of Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, that “We cannot say that the Iranian threat is an existential threat on the State of Israel.” US policy in the region scarcely requires rehearsal here.

The snipes at ElBaradei and the IAEA are strikingly reminiscent of similar smears against them, and Hans Blix and UNMOVIC, prior to the Iraq invasion. According to Dr. Stephen Pullinger, writing in the May/June 2004 edition of Disarmament Diplomacy, the Bush Administration “actively sought to undermine the inspectors, accusing them of playing down the threat from Saddam's WMD.” Pullinger quotes Blix’s account of a meeting between ElBaradei and Dick Cheney at which Cheney made it clear that “if the inspections did not give results the US was ‘ready to discredit inspections in favour of disarmament’”. Blix - who was no dove - also alleged that there were US officials - “bastards” - who had "spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media". In his view, the US administration “swung from seeing the inspection reports as potential assets in underpinning a future demand for armed action to identifying them as an impediment, the authority of which the US needed to undermine.”

Again, the parallels between then and now are clear to anyone who wishes to see. Steinberg’s toothless accusation of an IAEA cover-up when, in fact, he merely finds their conclusion unpalatable, repeats similar complaints made about Blix. A. J. Chien, for example, argues that the US tried to discredit Blix with specific claims that he had “avoided mentioning the discovery of a drone and cluster bomb that, the US concluded, were for the delivery of chemical weapons.” In fact, Blix had mentioned the drone, but drawn a different conclusion, one supported by the US Air Force. Similarities can also be seen between Steinberg’s rigid assumption that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and that ElBaradei is therefore “complicit” by covering up the evidence and the Heritage Foundation’s similarly obtuse (if not tendentious) complaint that Blix had “unilaterally decided to continue inspections until at least March, despite Iraq's obstinate refusal to disarm.” In both cases, logic is thrown to the winds as all efforts to validate the hypothesis are evaluated from the standpoint that the hypothesis is correct.

Attempts to prevent conflict are often painted as increasing the chances of conflict. For instance, Prof. Steinberg asserts that “El-Baradei's complicity in the Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons is counterproductive. The further that Iran advances, the higher the probability of confrontation and military action in the next two to four years.” This is again very reminiscent of 2003. The US Government presented opposition to its manifest desire to attack Iraq as a threat to peace because it undermined the united front it sought to present. At the Azores summit in March 2003, Bush delivered an ultimatum to the UN: support the invasion or not but we will invade. This was described variously as a “last push for peace” and going “the last mile” for diplomacy. This tendency achieved epic absurdity in 2006 during Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. Bush and Blair once more defied the will of the international community and refused to join the chorus for a ceasefire. Given that the US could have stopped the attack with a word and that Britain was actively supplying Israel with arms, via Prestwick Airport, this made both countries not merely appeasers but accessories to the crime. Yet, while forced to acknowledge these realities, both the BBC and the Daily Telegraph felt able to describe Blair’s abetting of international terrorism as a “peace push” or a “push for peace”.

The growing swell around the IAEA appears to repeat this pattern of deception in which those who oppose the empire are described as (unwitting) enemies of peace. International institutions are seen as a means to an end and diplomacy merely a dance. While they mouth platitudes of peace and claim that nothing is inevitable, the pieces are put in place with little attempt to hide them, since the media understands already those things it won't do to see. The IAEA and Mohammed ElBaradei have been identified as the latest 'obstacle to peace' and moves are beginning to surmount this obstacle. I am not naïve enough to think for a moment that a clean sheet from the IAEA (assuming Iran deserves it) will in itself save the Iranians from the fire but, undeniably, it will make US aggression harder, which is why contingency pretexts (about Iranian ‘crimes’ in Iraq) have already been put in place. So I expect to see more smears and disparagements of the man and the organisation as it loses ‘credibility’ and falls into the pit of ‘irrelevance’.

The original version of this article, including numerous hyperlink references, can be found at the link above. For more discussion of politics and US-UK foreign policy, visit Persistence of Vision, the online forum for political debate: (no registration required)

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