Threats against Iran feed off modern myths

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Several myths regarding Iran stand in the way of the United States and other nations reaching a peaceful relationship with that country. Much of the concern that Iran may attack Israel, if Iran successfully develops nuclear weapons, rests on the statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that “Israel must be wiped off the map.”

However, Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history, says no such idiom exists in the Persian language: “Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ . . . Instead, he said he ‘hoped the regime, a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.’ “

This is consistent with statements by Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. Speaking at a news conference, he denied that Tehran wanted to see Israel “wiped off the map.” “Nobody can remove a country from the map. How is it possible to remove a country from the map? (Ahmadinejad) was talking about the regime,” Mottaki said.

It has been stated repeatedly that an aggressive Iranian government represents a danger for the region and for the United States. Facts, however, do not substantiate such an interpretation. More frequently than not, Iran has been on the receiving end of aggressive acts, particularly by the U.S. Iranians cannot forget that it was foreign intervention, particularly by the British and the U.S., that destroyed democracy in Iran, the effects of which linger today.

In 1953, the CIA was instrumental in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh.

In 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Strait of Hormuz toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Two hundred ninety passengers were killed, including 66 children, ranking it seventh among the deadliest airliner fatalities. According to the U.S. government, the Vincennes crew misidentified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter.

The U.S. staunchly supported the shah of Iran’s regime, despite its brutal repression of the Iranian people. According to Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror,” fears by the Iranians of more U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of their country led to their taking American diplomats as hostages.

Both the U.S. and Israel have repeatedly threatened military action against Tehran, in flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter whose Article 2 states, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

Iran’s alleged intention to develop nuclear weapons has also been given as a justification for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. However, Yukiya Amano, the incoming head of the International Atomic Energy Agency declared to Reuters that he hadn’t seen any hard evidence that Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear arms. Developing a civilian nuclear program is Iran’s inalienable right and, if some predictions are true, it may also become a need in the near future.

There are indications that Iran’s oil resources are fast depleting and Iran may become a net importer of oil a decade from now, according to the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran.

As U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated, diplomacy should be pursued in dealing with the Iranian government. Such an approach should include security assurances to the Iranian government that it will not be attacked and that the U.S. will not undermine that country’s leadership.

A linguistic equivalent to the Gulf of Tonkin incident should not be the excuse for attacking Iran and unleashing chaos in the region, if not in the whole world.

Cesar Chelala, a foreign correspondent for the Middle East Times International (Australia), writes extensively on human rights issues.