On January 13, 2016, the Iranian government released 10 U.S. sailors, less than 24 hours after two U.S. patrol boats were detained for trespassing in Iranian waters.
According to The New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry credited the swift transfer to the daily communication between the U.S. and Iranian administrations, a warming of relations that both encouraged and resulted from the recent signing of an historic nuclear deal.
Kerry has formed a relationship with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the two spoke on the phone to diffuse the situation. Kerry told the press, “We can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago.” Indeed, similar situations have not gone as smoothly during “three decades of hostility and stony silence,” as the Times put it.
Hamidreza Taraghi, a conservative analyst in Iran, praised the U.S. sailors for cooperating, accepting their fault, and apologizing for unintentionally entering Iranian waters. The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain confirmed the sailors were not harmed in any way.
This is only the most recent sign that the Iranian government is not, despite what far-right warmongering American politicians insist, comprised of unreasonable madmen.
U.S. military experts view Iran’s pursuit of the bomb as highly logical, yet believe there is little chance Iran would use it
Iran is likely pursuing a nuclear bomb not for deployment, but rather for deterrence.
There is a reason the deputy director of the Near East and South Asia Office of State Department intelligence, Wayne White, said the likelihood of Iran actually nuking Israel if it could was a “1 percent possibility” (see Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects). There is also a reason the Department of Defense said Iran’s “willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrence strategy.”
After all, such an action would wipe out 1.5 million Muslims living in Israel, plus some of Islam’s holiest sites, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem–where the Muhammad supposedly ascended into Heaven. The attack would trigger an Israeli-U.S. nuclear counterattack that would utterly destroy Iran, all of its people and its holy sites in Tehran, Isfahan, and elsewhere.
Muslim extremists blow themselves and others up in busy marketplaces, but these men and women are rarely extraordinarily rich leaders of nations, with power over millions. Many Americans were sure the U.S.S.R. would bomb them too, but they were wrong. The M.A.D. concept (Mutually Assured Destruction) works.
One expert on Iran from the CIA Middle East division, a conservative, wrote in 2000 that:
Tehran certainly wants nuclear weapons; and its reasoning is not illogical. Iran was gassed into surrender in the first Persian Gulf War; Pakistan, Iran’s ever more radicalized Sunni neighbor to the southeast, has nuclear weapons; Saddam Hussein, with his Scuds and his weapons-of-mass destruction ambitions, is next door; Saudi Arabia, Iran’s most ardent and reviled religious rival, has long-range missiles; Russia, historically one of Iran’s most feared neighbors, is once again trying to reassert it dominion in the neighboring Caucasus; and Israel could, of course, blow the Islamic republic to bits.
He points out that in the lead-up to the Second Gulf War, the Iranian mullahs believed that if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons, the U.S. would not have bombed and invaded Iraq (see Chomsky).
Iran knows that if it had the bomb, it would be protected against U.S. invasion or airstrikes–or anyone else’s military interference. The bomb is the ultimate deterrence. North Korea is a good example of this, and Western intelligence and military experts acknowledge it: America does not mess with North Korea because they have the bomb.
If U.S. did not have nuclear weapons, but two of our most hated enemies did, we would find it very sensible to try to build the bomb. Israel and the U.S., historically nemeses of Iran, both are nuclear powers, and the U.S. is the only nation that has actually used a nuclear bomb. Iranian motives are surely understandable.
Jews, while facing discrimination, largely live in peace in Iran
If Iran wanted to wipe the Jews off the map, you would think they’d start at home.
Iran has the third-largest Jewish community in the Middle East besides Israel and Turkey, some 9,000-20,000 people, which has not been “wiped off the map.” A Jewish reporter writing for the Jewish Forward visited Iran in August 2015 and found that:
These Jews — along with Christians and Zoroastrians — are tolerated and protected under Iranian law, but subject to a number of discriminatory laws and practices that limit their opportunities for work in senior government posts and in other ways. But they do not limit their opportunities in business.
The Jews, who felt free to complain to me openly about these areas of discrimination, as they do to the government, are basically well-protected second-class citizens — a broadly prosperous, largely middle-class community whose members have no hesitation about walking down the streets of Tehran wearing yarmulkes.
The new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has even wished the Jews a happy new year (Rosh Hashana) on Twitter, as has Zarif. As CBS notes,
Since Rouhani took office, his government agreed to allow Jewish schools to be closed on Saturdays to mark Shabbat, the day of rest. Rouhani also allocated the equivalent of $400,000 to a Jewish charity hospital in Tehran and invited the country’s only Jewish lawmaker to accompany him to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2013.
Unfortunately, Iran does not yet recognize the nation of Israel, and supports Hamas, Hezbollah, and other extremist groups, in the same way the United States supports terror groups in the Middle East, including Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Yet even in times of war, Iran has acted sensibly: calling for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in mid-1996, for instance, or offering to accept the Beirut Declaration of the Arab League, which would normalize Arab-Israeli relations, if the U.S. lifted sanctions.
The Iranian people are even more sensible. “Israel Loves Iran” was a social media movement launched by an Israeli graphic designer in 2014 that expanded into a public advertising campaign. “Iran Loves Israel” launched in 2015. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in this movement to encourage peace.
Iranian hatred toward the U.S. is the logical result of U.S. foreign policy
What stands out in many American minds is Iranians in the streets burning American flags and chanting “Death to America,” because that is the only glimpse of Iranians the mass media provide.
Why do (some) Iranians do this?
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani suggests the chant is aimed at a long history of deadly U.S. policies toward Iran, like support for the brutal Shah and support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, not at the American people. U.S. support for Israel is another obvious point of anger, again reasonable to any American who dislikes allies of Al Qaeda or other official enemies.
Consider the history of U.S. intervention in Iran and other Middle Eastern nations. The U.S. has installed military bases in virtually all of Iran’s neighboring nations, with missile systems trained on Iran. The U.S. keeps warships in the Gulf, and its maneuvers are practice for engagement with Iran–all too obvious to observers.
We supported Israel, Pakistan, and India in their development of nuclear weapons, and sell many conventional weapons to Iran’s enemies as well. In 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Iran’s government and helped install a brutal dictator, the Shah–who ruled with an iron fist until the Iranian people overthrew him.
And again, U.S. invasions into the Middle East strike fear into national leaders (moderate and extremist alike), encouraging them to pursue bigger and better military technology in case of war. On top of all this, Americans have politicians who say they want to wipe Iran off the map–exactly what violent Iranian hardliners threaten to do to Israel!
Studying history can help Americans understand why Iranians aren’t burning the flags of other democratic or predominantly Christian nations.
The Iranian and American people actually agree on most issues
The opinions of ordinary Iranians might be surprising.
See this poll from 2007. Americans and Iranians actually agree on many issues, like our mutual willingness to find common ground, distaste for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, opposition to civilian deaths (although it seems Iranians are even more ethical than Americans in this case!), the acceptance that geopolitical control over oil has much to do with U.S. intervention, the willingness to use diplomacy, trade, sports, and tourism to improve relations, support for treaties that ban nukes, the common fear of enemies developing nukes first, support for the U.N. as a positive force for peace, and the desire for true democracy.
This is the Iranian people speaking, and we should be encouraged by what we hear.
This is why diplomacy is so important, why negotiation and communication and deals are critical, even if the U.S. doesn’t get everything it wants. The people largely want peace. War must be avoided at all costs, for a war simply plays into extremist hands (we should give the democratic movement in Iran the chance to succeed; lifting U.N. and U.S. sanctions that hurt the common people can help in this effort).
General David Petraeus (head of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East) said in 2010 that a preemptive “military strike on Iran could have the unintended consequence of stirring nationalist sentiment to the benefit of Tehran’s hard-line government.” The U.S. State Department confirmed recently that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s peaceful nuclear reactor did not end an Iraqi nuclear weapons project–it launched it (see Chomsky).
An attack on Iran would only breed anti-American hatred and increase calls for the development of the bomb.
Foreign policy intellectual Noam Chomsky says that would be “a significant blow to the democratic movement in Iran” (the Green Movement staged the largest protests in Iran in decades to demand the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president, much-hated in Iran and the U.S. alike). It would be a “human disaster,” a slaughter of countless innocent people, and of course Iran would retaliate, whether immediately or decades later–leading to the deaths of innocent Americans. Violent foreign policy will breed revenge (“blowback” the CIA calls it), like with Al Qaeda and ISIS.
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