Fear-mongering over Iran

Some of you will have seen that Iran’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated while driving through the suburbs of Tehran a few days ago. The attack, according to this story by the FT, included a car bomb, an automated machine gun, and more than a dozen assailants. Israel is the most likely suspect.

Shortly afterwards, Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed in the NYT outlining Iran’s latest efforts to destabilise security politics in the Middle East. We are told that Iran’s development of precision guided missiles, and the prospect they might hand them to proxies in Yemen and Lebanon, poses existential risks to Israel and Saudi Arabia. According to the Israeli military experts he quotes, these missiles are so dangerous, that they pose a bigger threat than a nuclear armed Iran:

The “seminal moment” which ushered in this new age of Middle Eastern politics was last year’s attack on a Saudi oil field by Iranian drones and precision guided cruise missiles.

In a region that has been riven by invasion and sectarian conflict since 2001, “Pearl Harbor” is an outrageous claim.

This article, which portrays Iran as a menacing and intractable foe, whose machinations have left Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE no choice but to unite against them, came out two days after Iran’s top scientist was assassinated by a foreign hit squad.

It comes 5 months after an Iranian centrifuge plant was mysteriously blown up.

It comes only 11 months since their top general was assassinated while on the way to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister.

It comes as Iran crumples under the weight of Trump’s sanctions. GDP contracted by 7.6% last year. Inflation rose to 41.2% in 2019/20, while unemployment sits around 10%. The World Bank expects poverty rates to increase by 7% thanks to the combination of Covid and the sanctions.

So I find it hard to believe Thomas Friedman when he tries to persuade me about yet another reason Iran is still the existential threat. Its especially dubious given most of his sources come from Iran’s sworn enemies, nations who have a strong interest in keeping the American political establishment from ever negotiating with Iran.

It is a great irony that the country most similar to Iran, an illiberal theocracy that regularly executes its own citizens for breaches of obscure religious codes, is its mortal enemy Saudi Arabia. A regime that is equally “homicidal” – to borrow Friedman’s word – when it comes to its ongoing war in Yemen.

The problem is not Iran’s precision missile guided program (its opponents all have their own, and lets not forget that the only state in the Middle East that actually has nuclear weapons is Israel). The problem is the refusal of the US – encouraged by Israel and the Saudis – to negotiate with Iran, and an extremely harsh sanctions regime which is causing misery in Iran, and threatening to hand power to violent hardliners.

The cause of peace and security in the region would be advanced if hawkish commentators would stop applying double standards, parroting militarist talking points, and actually work for peace.

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