Statement on the US-Iran crisis

Trump’s reckless drone assassination has actually strengthened the reactionary theocratic regime in Tehran, states Hands Off the People of Iran

Hands Off the People of Iran unequivocally condemns the United States assassination on January 3 of the commander-in-chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani – the culmination of the latest bout of sabre-rattling between the two countries. It is not enough, however, to simply denounce Trump’s perilous manoeuvres in this volatile region. We must understand the underlying political dynamics of the face-off between two mismatched reactionary regimes – the US world hegemon and the Islamic State of Iran.

In truth, the killing of Soleimani – and Trump’s subsequent threat to bomb 52 targets in Iran – was a godsend for the rulers of the Islamic Republic. After the targeted strike, a mood of patriotism grew in Iran and rival factions within the government converged in the face of external threat. Even some outright opponents of the regime have rallied to ‘defend the nation’. More worryingly, the mood of cross-class outrage against the American attack will have a dampening effect on workers’ struggle against the regime’s neoliberal domestic economic policies.

According to Trump, he ordered the killing to prevent more wars in the region. In stark contrast, most of the world’s media predict an escalation of tension and military conflict as a result. Beyond Iran’s borders, Trump’s foolish raid has been a spectacular failure, strengthening Iran’s position in Iraq and Lebanon. In the recent past, citizens of Shia Iraqi cities were setting fire to Iranian consulates; the demand for Iran to keep its hands off Iraq had been one of the main slogans of protestors in Baghdad and elsewhere. Last week Shia Iraqis were chanting the slogan often heard in Iran’s Islamic Republic: “Death to America”. Similar sentiments have been expressed in Lebanon, where Christian Maronite and Druze politicians are echoing Hezbollah’s claims that it was Soleimani who saved the country from Islamic State.

Hopi likewise condemns the ‘revenge’ exacted by the Iranian regime, which in any case was deliberately ineffectual – Iran having informed both Norway and Iraq, if not the US directly, that missiles were incoming. The effective state of war on both sides and likelihood that missile launches would invite US retaliation meant that Tehran’s air defences were on the highest alert, but the regime did not cancel civil air traffic. This resulted in the mistaken shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet and the death of all 176 people on board, including many Iranian dual nationals returning to Canada via Kiev.

For three days the regime blamed the crash on a technical fault, and denied any missiles had been launched. Only when the mountain of evidence became insurmountable did they admit the truth; many in Iran have questioned whether an admission would ever have come, if foreign and dual nationals had not been involved. Within Iran at least, this avoidable catastrophe and subsequent attempt to escape blame has undermined the regime’s narrative. Demonstrations, beginning at two of Tehran’s historically most political universities, spread quickly around the country, participants chanting anti-regime slogans such as “No leader, no shah! Down with the Islamic Republic!”

The unstable nature of the period that has opened makes it difficult to formulate perspectives with any degree of certainty. However, there are points that all consistent democrats should be clear on:

  • The rationale that prompted the US attack is hard to understand – unless it is simply related to domestic politics and Trump’s impeachment in a presidential election year. While the Iranian state is episodically drawn into conflict with the West, it is not an anti-imperialist force. There is nothing defensible about the nature of the regime and those political forces who attempt to sow illusions in it should be condemned.
  • If there is escalation and the threat of war between the USA and Iran becomes palpable, many on the left will automatically defend the Islamic Republic. Feeble arguments will be advanced for this; no doubt we would be treated to the poisonous logic of ‘the enemy of my enemy must be a friend’, also known as the anti-imperialism of fools. We have implacably rejected this in the past and we will stay loyal to internationalist principle.
  • The only consistent force for peace in Iran and the wider region is the working class. We condemn US imperialism’s war-mongering in Iran and the region, though we refuse to defend Iran’s Islamic regime. We will continue to support the struggles of Iranian workers against the oppressive, neoliberal economic policies of the religious state that oppresses them.

A godsend for the regime

Yassamine Mather assesses the situation in the Middle East following the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s missile revenge gesture

This week has been a godsend for leaders of the Islamic Republic. First, the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander in chief of the Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Then Donald Trump’s subsequent threat to bomb 52 targets in Iran. We can say with a level of confidence that in the short term all this has done wonders for the Islamic regime.

Of course, everything could change suddenly if the United Sates decides to retaliate for the missile attack on two US air bases in Anbar and Erbil provinces in Iraq. But it seems there were no casualties and the Iraqi government had prior warning of the attack – there is speculation that the US military was also given notice to make sure there were no casualties. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has announced that the missile attack has concluded the retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination. However, there is no doubt we are entering a period of prolonged tension and possible US air attacks.

Inside Iran, a mood of patriotism has grown, with rival factions within the government coming closer together, and even some opponents of the regime rallying to ‘defend the country’. Such views are expressed by the former foreign minister of the shah’s era, Ardeshir Zahedi – the son of general Fazlollah Zahedi, the commander of the 1953 CIA-backed coup that paved the way for the shah’s return from exile. Zahedi praised Soleimani in a January 5 BBC Persian programme, and his views find echoes amongst middle class nationalists, though they have never been supporters of the regime.

Inevitably the assassination, Trump’s threats and now the missile attack on US bases mean a new, dangerous situation is unfolding in the Middle East. On January 3, soon after the drone attack near Baghdad’s civilian airport, Iran’s foreign minister summoned officials from the Swiss embassy – which represents US interests – to express his outrage at the “assassination of general Soleimani”, stating it was a “blatant example of American state terrorism” (senior Iraqi Shia militia leaders, most notably Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were also killed).

There are suggestions that the exchange also included threats to ‘take revenge’ on the US – a hardline stance that apparently prompted Trump to send off his January 5 tweet that the US is “targeting” 52 Iranian sites, some “at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture”. America will strike “very fast and very hard” if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets. Defense secretary Mark T Esper later promised to stay within international law and not to attack cultural sites, but Trump tweeted, in reply, “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people … and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work like that.”1

The January 2 drone attack was the culmination of sabre-rattling that started in December of last year. Washington blamed Iranian-backed militia for firing rockets at a military base in Iraq used by US troops – an American civilian contractor was killed. Payback came in the form of US air strikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah, a pro-Iran Shia Iraqi militia. These killed 25 of its fighters. The Shia group’s response came on December 31, when it took over the vast US embassy compound in Baghdad.

US retaliation came in the form of the assassination of Soleimani. According to Trump, the killing was ordered to lessen the possibility of more wars in the region. In stark contrast, most of the world’s media predict the escalation of military conflict.

According to Iraq, Soleimani was in Baghdad on a diplomatic mission to discuss ways of easing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Speaking in the Iraqi parliament on January 5, the country’s caretaker prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, said he himself had been scheduled to meet Soleimani on the day he was assassinated. Soleimani had been expected to deliver “Iran’s response to a previous message sent from Saudi Arabia to Tehran”. If this claim is true, one can understand the anger in Tehran and the calls for revenge. Despite the repeated threats, however, it is difficult to see how Iran’s leaders can take ‘revenge’ on the world’s most powerful imperial state. Nevertheless we should expect an unprecedented escalation of tension between the two countries. The Financial Times observes: “The death of the general … represents a ramping-up of the conflict between the US and Iran … Diplomats have long feared that a miscalculation on either side could ignite a war in the region.”

The New Yorker’s unease went further when it bluntly characterised the US attack as ‘‘an act of war“ and cited the comments of Douglas Silliman – US ambassador to Iraq until last winter and now the president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He assesses the assassination of Soleimani as “equivalent” to Iran killing the commander of US military operations in the Middle East and South Asia. He asks the obvious question – if Iran had killed the commander of US central command, “what would we consider it to be?” Restraint – the buzzword for the moment of Democratic Party senators in Washington, as well as of European and Middle Eastern politicians – is, however, in short supply. Iran, for instance, is comparing the event with the CIA organised coup d’etat of 1953.

Gift to regime

Indeed, it is difficult to understand the rationale behind the assassination, except when it relates to internal US politics and the need to distract attention from impeachment hearings in a presidential election year. If anyone in the Pentagon or the US national security council had any understanding of Iran’s Islamic Republic they would have known that the regime exalts in martyrdom – especially if it can pose as the victim. The entire Shia religion is based on this concept (the death of Mohammad’s grandson in Karbala defines the Shia version of Islam). The moment the drone blasted the general’s convoy, Iran’s regime had scored an important propaganda victory – witness the huge funeral processions in Iraqi and Iranian cities. For Iranians the attack and the nature of Trump’s threats have increased the fear of another war and therefore overshadowed the internal struggle against the regime, at least for the time being.

If the assassination was supposed to weaken or to damage Iran’s position in Iraq or Lebanon, that has also been a spectacular failure. Not long ago, citizens of Shia Iraqi cities were setting fire to Iranian consulates; the demand for Iran to keep its hands off Iraq had been one of the main slogans of protestors in Baghdad and elsewhere. Ali al-Sistani, leader of the Shia community in Iraq, was echoing such calls.

But by January 3, everything had changed. Shia Iraqis were uniting behind their own militia and Iran’s Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Sistani’s condemnation of the killing – read at Friday prayers – was in stark contrast to his previous messages and his sermon was followed by chants of “Death to America” in the main Shia holy shrine in Karbala. This was the first time such a call had been taken up by the congregation. Despite US propaganda to the contrary, it is clear that the first steps are being taken to withdraw troops from Iraqi territory.

In Lebanon, Christian Maronite leaders and Druze politicians are echoing Hezbollah’s claims that it was Soleimani who saved the country from the threat posed by Islamic State. In Iran itself, in the last few days the regime has seized the opportunity to demonstrate the extent of its mass support on the streets. Mobilised by yet another ‘martyrdom’, the crowds are up in arms against the US president’s threat to bomb their country. All this has effectively cut across months of protests against the regime’s involvement in Iraq, not to mention the workers’ struggle against its neoliberal domestic economic policies.

Particularly important was the size of the procession in Ahvaz – it stretched for 30km. Ahvaz is very significant, as it is the capital of Khuzestan province, and Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in supporting the Arab separatist movement in the region. An even larger procession took place in Mashad, in northern Iran, and on January 6 Tehran witnessed one of the largest gatherings in the capital since the Islamic Republic came into existence. Women wearing no headscarf (despite the fact that the Islamic hijab is compulsory) were photographed joining the procession with apparently no move against them from state forces.

Condemn

Whatever we may think of Soleimani, opponents of jihadism in the region – including Sunnis and Christians in Iraq and Lebanon – believe that he played a significant role in defeating Islamic State. This claim was in fact made in the US press and media. Only two years ago, the Iranian general made the cover of Time magazine. Inside was the claim that he was the military mastermind behind the defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria. Around the same time The New Yorker produced a lengthy biography of Soleimani as the man fighting Islamic State.

The reality is more complex. It was the nameless fighters from many religious and national backgrounds who eventually defeated the brutal Salafi group. There are allegations that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forcibly sent Afghan refugees to fight in Syria … However, at the end of the day both Iran and its opponents were keen to exaggerate the role of Soleimani as part of their propaganda war.

What is not disputed is that he was an effective military commander; a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Since the early 2000s he had been responsible for the external operations of the Revolutionary Guards – in Iraq, where he set up Shia militias, in Lebanon in working closely with Hezbollah and later in Syria fighting on the side of pro-government forces. There is no indication that Soleimani took an active part in the repressive activities of the Revolutionary Guards inside Iran during recent protests. However, writing in Middle East Eye, Maysam Behravesh states:

His name had grabbed public attention as a signatory of a notorious letter written by 24 IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] to former reformist president Mohammad Khatami after the 1999 student protests in Tehran. The letter chastised Khatami’s administration for sympathising with anti-establishment protesters, warning that “we are running out of patience”.2

We in Hands off the People of Iran condemn Iran’s involvement in regional wars, from Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan. These conflicts have led to the loss of many lives. However, we should not forget that it was the imperialist wars of early 2000s – and in particular the war against Iraq – that paved the way for all this. The US and its allies (including the UK) bear main responsibility for the current situation in the Middle East.

In the beginning of this century, senior clerics and supporters of the Shia regime could not believe their luck when in two wars George Bush jnr (along with Tony Blair in the UK) overthrew their opponents in Kabul and Baghdad. In addition, regime change from above in Iraq brought to power Shia groups that were close allies of the Islamic Republic. It was in opposition to this sectarian government, a direct product of US occupation, that al Qa’eda gained support among a minority of the Sunni population in Iraq. US prisons produced the likes of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi.

The rise of al Qa’eda, and later IS, was very much in line with Saudi Arabia’s policy of demonising the Shia religion in its rivalry with Iran’s Islamic Republic. Throughout the period of dominance of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia and a number of Persian Gulf countries transferred their propaganda machine from satellite TV stations to social media in order to promote Sunni fundamentalism and anti-Shia propaganda. There is no doubt that IS’s infamous slogan – ‘Today Damascus, tomorrow Tehran’ – if not actually devised in Riyadh, was very popular in the Saudi kingdom.

There is no need to remind anyone that during this period there was little real attempt by the US or its western allies to tackle the jihadist groups. No-one proposed sanctions against Arab countries whose leading figures and religious organisations were funding Islamic State. So it is no surprise that the Iranian military commander who is supposed to have led the resistance to IS became a regional hero.

Soon after the assassination, Trump tweeted that Soleimani was responsible for millions of deaths in Iran, Iraq and Syria. Even by the US president’s standards this is something of an exaggeration. On the other hand, Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, started his military career in Iranian Kurdistan, before joining the war against Iraq. Those of us who have any experience of Iranian Kurdistan during that period cannot forgive anyone associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Even when they were held as prisoners of leftwing forces, they boasted about murdering and raping “communist opponents of the Islamic Republic”. So I am afraid we should expect far worse from Ghaani – especially when it comes to the suppression of class struggles inside Iran.

What next?

In the United States, opponents of Donald Trump were quick to label his clear appetite for war with Iran as an attempt to divert attention from the impeachment hearings in the Senate. Ironically, in 2011 and 2012, Trump repeatedly accused Barack Obama of seeking war with Iran to help win the 2012 presidential election.

In Washington, Trump opponents are not buying the claim that the bombing was prompted by a concern to save “American lives”. CNN’s headline summed it up: ‘Skepticism mounts over evidence of “imminent” threat that Trump says justified Soleimani killing’.3

There are two additional reasons why Trump might want an adventure in the Middle East. First, his political opponents in the US, including commentators in the Washington Post and the New York Times, were writing that he has been weak in the face of Iranian attacks in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Second, the US was facing an imminent emergency vote in the Iraqi parliament on a motion calling for American troops to leave the country. A senior administration official said the US was working with its allies on the ground to “prevent it from happening”, adding that Iranian proxies were threatening Iraqis who were supportive of the US presence” “The government of Iraq right now is faced with a choice whether they want to be an Iranian satellite state or whether they want to be a sovereign nation-state of good standing in the international community.”4

In this respect, the Iraqi parliament’s vote on January 5 – calling on their government to work on a plan to end US troop presence in the country – was no surprise. In his death, Soleimani has achieved what he probably could not done alive. Those near the centres of power in Iraq must feel thoroughly embarrassed by the current situation. Almost 17 years after the US occupation of Iraq, the current Iraqi state has absolutely no power; it remains a pawn between two enemies who, ironically, managed to unite because both opposed Saddam Hussein. Both the occupation of the US embassy compound in Baghdad by pro-Iranian forces and individuals and the killing of Soleimani by US drones show that the entity I have repeatedly dubbed the “Shia occupation government in Iraq” is not in charge of its own destiny.

During president Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the Soleimani household following his death, the daughter of the general was heard to say that she hopes the Lebanese Hezbollah will revenge her father’s death. In a later TV interview she said: “I am asking the leader of Iran and my uncle Seyed (Hassan Nasrallah) to take revenge on my father’s blood.”5

This was a clear reference to possible attacks against Israel. However, Iran’s Islamic Republic is unlikely to take too many risks – especially not in the immediate future, as the current situation is in its favour right now. The missile attack on US air bases was symbolically significant. It was the first time any country in the Middle East has attacked a US air base. The propaganda inside Iran is very clear: ‘We don’t need to attack US proxies – we are brave enough to take on a superpower.’ On the other hand, they did make sure there were no casualties, so it is true to say that Iran does not want an escalation of military conflict and will concentrate on political steps.

Instead, we have the official announcement declaring a final step in reducing the country’s commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (nuclear deal). According to a government statement, Iran’s nuclear programme “no longer faces any operating restrictions” – the enrichment level and the amount of enriched material would from now on be determined only by the programme’s own “technical needs.” However, the Iranian government confirms it is still committed to continued cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and his president, Hassan Rouhani, are now concentrating on a single slogan: ‘All US troops out of the Middle East’. Of course, they will not achieve this, but US troop withdrawals from Syria and Iraq, followed by a military reduction in Afghanistan, can be claimed as a victory ‘in revenge for Soleimani’, even though we know some of these withdrawals were already on the Pentagon’s agenda.

There is no doubt that the US will be wary of the current wave of patriotism in Iran and the fact that – far from losing support in Iraq – Tehran has managed to consolidate its role there. Thus, we can expect any excuse – eg, an action by a rogue group or the shooting of harmless rockets into the Green Zone in Baghdad – might possibly be used by the US as an excuse to launch an attack on Iran. If such a scenario unfolds, I doubt we will see China or Russia rush to support Iran. Their economic and political interests might demand indignant statements – but no action.

Fight on two fronts

Of course, after long and inconsequential wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, there is no appetite for a land invasion of Iran. In addition, the country’s large and complex landscape would make a successful invasion a very difficult task. Instead, if a war breaks out, we can expect relentless air bombardment intended to weaken the central government and pave the way for separatist movements to launch civil wars (Arab separatists in Khuzestan province, Kurdish demands for unity with Iraqi Kurdistan, calls for Baluchistan to join Pakistan and Azerbaijani demands to join Turkey). Given the size of pro-government processions in the last four days, we can expect any such civil wars to be very bloody indeed. However, while the Middle East is facing a situation far worse than ever before – in contrast the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya will look like a storm in a teacup – though I do not believe that we are on the brink of World War III.

We must condemn US aggression in the region and Trump’s reckless warmongering. However, we will not shed tears for the commander of the Quds force of Revolutionary Guards. We remain committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic Republic, as opposed to the kind of regime change from above supported by a plethora of rightwing Iranian, Israeli and Saudi forces. These disreputable groups – trying to encourage the US president to pave the way for their ‘alternative’ to come to power – have been silenced by recent events. For months they had been telling the world (and, one assumes, Trump advisors) that a small incident would be sufficient to pave the way for regime change. Millions would pour onto the streets supporting them. But the complete silence of Reza Pahlavi, the ex- Shah’s son, since the assassination of Soleimani and the current threat of war, speaks volumes. The fact that this week the US state department has put restrictions on its staff regarding meetings and discussions with ‘Iran regime change’ organisations – royalists, Mojahedin-e Khalq and the Council for Transition, as well a number of separatist nationalist groups – is good news. The Iranian people can and will deal with the Islamic Republic themselves.

This is why we must fight on two fronts. We unequivocally condemn the US’s war-mongering. At the same time, we will continue to defend the struggles of the workers of Iran against the oppressive neoliberal economic policies of the reactionary religious state that oppresses them.

Notes

  1. New York Times January 6 2020.
  2. www.middleeasteye.net/news/how-qassem-soleimani-became-guardian-irans-regional-interests.
  3. https://edition.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/us-iran-soleimani-tensions-live-intl-01-05-20/h_04646abfa913ebb7175e553317fb41e9.
  4. http://worldpronews.com/57100/1162/290/a586ccf8a3c9b0b300dbc6ae3e07a9c8360e494a.
  5. https://twitter.com/abcdaee1990/status/1213893666525401089.

Interview on the Iran crisis

HOPI chair Yassamine Mather has been interviewed by Counterpunch Radio in the US, on the international crisis sparked by president Trump’s assassination of Qassam Soleimani and the effects within Iran.

| Listen to the interview here

Yassamine is also quoted in this news story, written before Iran’s admission that a Ukrainian jet was brought down by one of its own missiles.

Nice British bobby

Yassamine Mather compares Radio Farda’s reporting of Iran with its touching depiction of Britain.

Recent protests against the withdrawal of state subsidies for fuel have seen 200, maybe 300, people killed – mostly, as far as I can tell, by the security forces. This human slaughter by the Islamic Republic regime should be strongly condemned. Moreover, it is the leaders of all its factions who share responsibility for the brutal suppression.

However, this has led to some bizarre comments from some reporters, including one from Radio Farda – the Persian-language branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty external service. It broadcasts 24 hours a day from its headquarters in the Czech Republic – its parent organisation is the US Agency for Global Media, based in Prague. The station is forever condemning the actions of the Iranian security forces.

By way of contrast, last week a senior reporter from Farda tweeted a short video of a 2010 protest in London of students taking over Tory Party offices – with a comment that the police stood by and did not intervene, despite the fact that the protestors were damaging property. The implication is that in the UK the police never mistreat protestors, unlike in Iran. There are so many ways of replying to such a stupid comment that I am not sure where to start. But let me mention just a few examples of violence on the part of the British police and army, which have a long history of brutality, especially during the colonial era:

 Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside massacre, of January 30 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians during a protest march against the internment of political prisoners. Fourteen people died – many of them shot at as they were running away, or even while trying to help the wounded. A number of protestors were injured by rubber bullets or batons, and two were run down by army vehicles. All of those shot were Catholics.

 In 1997, only weeks before the Good Friday agreement, mass protests led to riots and gun battles in the nationalist districts of Northern Ireland. The protests had started when officials gave permission for an Orange Order march in Portadown, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary used brutal, aggressive methods to remove nationalist protestors who had been blocking the march.

Of course, Northern Ireland had been the scene of many examples of brutality by state forces, including:

 The 1922 Arnon Street killings in Belfast, when six Catholic civilians were killed by police, apparently in revenge for the killing of a Royal Irish Constabulary officer by the IRA.

 In 1969 during a period of sectarian rioting, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, consisting of pro-British Protestants, helped paramilitary loyalists while ignoring the plight of republicans. During the same period the Battle of the Bogside was a three-day conflict in Derry between the RUC and nationalist residents.

And what about in Britain itself?

 In 1936, during the Battle of Cable Street, police horses were used to attack anti-fascist protestors.

 In 1984-85 during the miners’ Great Strike there were many confrontations between striking miners and police. One of them was at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham on June 18 1984, in what was later called the ‘Battle of Orgreave’. Police on horseback charged miners using truncheons and many of the demonstrators sustained serious injuries . Other less well known, but also bloody, police attacks took place – for example, in Maltby, South Yorkshire.

 In 2010 the policing of the student protests included the use of a controversial technique known as kettling, when hundreds of students were contained for hours within cordons of police officers. During a march in Whitehall on November 24, mounted police on horseback launched a vicious attack on the demonstrators.

There are plenty of other examples, such as the police killing of Kevin Gately during the 1974 Red Lion Square demonstration, while in 1979 Blair Peach was killed by an officer of the Special Patrol Group during an anti-racism demonstration in London. In 2009, during protests against the G-20 London summit, a bystander, Ian Tomlinson, died shortly after being pushed to the ground by police.

I know history is not a strong point for contemporary reporters, but maybe next time the reporter should do a bit more research before tweeting.

By the way, Mike Pompeo – the former CIA director, who gave us waterboarding and ‘extraordinary rendition’ (in other words, “government-sponsored abduction and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one country to another, with the purpose of circumventing the former country’s laws on interrogation, detention and torture”1) – is, in effect, the boss of Radio Farda.

If, god forbid, I was working for that broadcaster, I would be careful about implying the unique nature of the brutal methods used by tinpot dictators such as Iran’s Ali Khamenei. As we have consistently pointed out, when the world looks away, while the upholders of ‘democracy and human rights’ themselves pursue violent, oppressive policies, they give a green light to dictators all over the world that such methods are legitimate and acceptable.

Media

In comparing policing methods in Iran and the United Kingdom, our esteemed reporter also does not seem to understand that the sophisticated, well tried system of political propaganda in advanced capitalist countries has succeeded in indoctrinating large sections of the population to accept the status quo. And it is no coincidence that the print media is owned and controlled almost entirely by major owners of capital, including in Britain.

There is Rupert Murdoch (owner of News International), Nicholas Prettejohn (MirrorDaily Star and Daily Express) Viscount Rothermere (Daily Mail) and the Barclay brothers (Daily Telegraph). These capitalists account for over 70% of the newspaper market in the UK. Even many regional newspapers, previously run locally or independently, are now owned by the major media companies.

When it comes to other media outlets, such as television broadcasters, we have, for example, Sky (owned by US media conglomerate Comcast) and Channel 5 (owned by the US media group, Viacom). When it comes to the BBC, despite the fact that Labour supporters have drawn attention to the channel’s pro-Tory bias, especially during general election campaigns, a minor criticism – in the form of Andrew Neil complaining about Boris Johnson’s refusal to be interviewed by him – led the Tory leader to make the following threat: “The BBC licence fee could be scrapped under a Conservative government and replaced with a pay-to-watch subscription model.”

There is little diversity in this media – mainly it favours the right and all outlets support capitalism. Between them they have managed to convince British workers that their economic problems have nothing to do with capital’s insatiable appetite for profit, the austerity imposed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition or even the banking crisis of 2008.

The media tends to blame low-paid workers from the European Union and elsewhere for taking the jobs that few British people would ever consider, and for the long queues in the national health service (while everyone knows that the NHS would not be able to function without foreign nurses, doctors and ancillary staff). The rightwing media insists that the only hope for a better life is to leave the EU with no deal or a hard Brexit – favourite options of a rightwing Conservative Party, led by what many of them admit is a ‘congenital liar’: someone who wants to reduce taxes for the rich and is discussing selling at least part of the NHS to profit-making US companies. The media has convinced the British working class that it is in their interest to fork out millions for the queen and the entire royal family, not forgetting their entire entourage, because tourists would not come to Britain if it was not for the monarchy.

The last few weeks should have taught everyone a lesson about the British mainstream media. False accusations against the Labour Party were repeated without qualification. When rabbis and other Jewish citizens declared their support for Jeremy Corbyn, that largely went unreported – despite the fact that in one case they held a demonstration right outside the BBC headquarters. Irrespective of what one thinks of the current Labour leader, he is clearly very popular in many cities.

On social media you can see that almost everywhere he went very large crowds gathered to support him, yet very little of that made it to the mainstream media. Similarly Boris Johnson faced angry crowds, and had to cancel many scheduled and advertised campaigning visits, yet once again very little of that made it into mainstream media reports.

One of the most bizarre media stories of this election occurred on December 9, when Tory officials briefed media hacks that an advisor of health minister Matt Hancock had been “punched in the face” and pointed the finger at a Labour “thug”. Senior correspondents of BBC and ITV repeated the story, on the basis that it must have be true if it came from Conservative central office. They only withdrew their comments after a video emerged that showed the advisor walking into a protestor’s arm.

Given the success of the media in supporting the rightwing agenda, there is not much need for police brutality at present. The security forces can work in the shadows, occasionally spreading false rumours about this or that slightly left-leaning individual.

Meanwhile in Iran there is a different state of affairs. The government that was established following the 1979 revolution has failed to retain any legitimacy and it is hated by the majority of the population. Of course, the media is controlled by various factions of the government, but the continued disputes between them have meant that Iranians are at least well informed about the corruption and nepotism, leaving no room for illusions.

No doubt if you make a superficial, ahistorical comparison of the way protestors are treated in Iran and the UK, you can establish that right now the level of repression, the horrific mistreatment at the hands of the regime, etc are far more prolific in Iran. I have no intention of justifying the Islamic Republic’s treatment of protestors, but please do not try and glorify the British police, army or media.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_rendition.↩︎

Threat of war is real

With Iran partially withdrawing from the nuclear deal and the US imposing yet more sanctions, tensions are rising fast. This is an edited version of an opening given by Yassamine Mather on the political situation in the Middle East

A common question journalists ask these days – if they are not asking about Brexit – is ‘Will there be a war against Iran?’ and, if so, when? They seem to be thinking about a conflict within the next few weeks or months. In fact, a better question to ask would be: ‘Will there be a war in the Middle East?’

In the United States, this is the question that is being posed in mainstream commentary and journalistic speculation and I believe there are a number of reasons why one should consider such a scenario, however improbable it might seem. Let us start by looking at the situation in the US.

The Mueller report might in the long run become more damaging to Donald Trump, partly because of the way attorney general William Barr intervened to minimise the damage and the way this tactic has backfired. Barr, who was appointed by Trump, did all he could to give a good spin on the Mueller report, yet this might have actually damaged the president’s case. He presented such a whitewash, suggesting that Trump had nothing to answer for, that the negative impact, once the redacted report reached the House and the Senate, was significant. People recognised that there was a case to answer. In addition Mueller has been clear that Barr did not accurately reflect the actual content of the report.

This is not about impeachment – the whole issue is about Trump’s insecurity at home and the fact that he is clearly worried about what is happening. His unease increases the chances of him becoming more unhinged and taking precipitative action. If you had monitored the instances of factually incorrect nonsense spoken by the president over the last three or four weeks, as some journalists have done, you would have seen that the number has gone up considerably! This, along with the increasingly flaky nature of his tweets over this period, is perhaps indicative of an unravelling mind.

The other issue that has attracted attention in the last few weeks is the world economy. Stagnation has been a subject of unease for some time, but this question has become more pressing. While opinions vary, most commentators talk of uncertainty and the effect of raised tariffs – which has greatly exacerbated the problems for a world economy that was already running out of momentum. The latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund is negative for just about every economy in the world and the expectation is that the figures for the next three quarters in the United States itself will be pretty poor. Trump predicted that his tax cuts would win him a certain level of support amongst Republicans in the Senate, and claimed that this would boost the economy. But the dark clouds of recession are gathering.

All of this adds up to uncertainty in the United States and in these circumstances – as we know from history – conflict abroad is a good diversionary tactic.

We have also had the Israeli elections. It is not simply that Netanyahu was re-elected – that in itself was not a huge surprise – but it has also demonstrated a further rightward shift in Zionism. This has given new life to the scheme devised by Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner for a new ‘peace’ initiative in the Middle East, which apparently will be unveiled in June.

Chaos

In the Middle East itself, Islamic State is supposedly defeated – Trump has announced this ‘victory’ four or five times, giving a variety of different, inaccurate dates for when it supposedly happened. However, the refugee camps in Syria and Iraq are full of IS fighters, while recent events in Sri Lanka indicate that they are scattered around the world and are ready to create mayhem. We do not know whether or not Saudi and United Arab Emirates support for them – from the state or via individual backers – continues and, if so, to what extent.

The Saudis have emerged relatively unscathed from the hostile reaction to the Jamal Khashoggi murder, plus the execution of other opponents, in recent months. While many expected them to be punished for this – or least given a diminished role in Middle East politics – this has not happened. We have seen, however, the formation of two new alliances – Egypt and Israel, on the one hand, and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on the other. (The first of these alliances is particularly important, as it is meant to provide the political backbone for the Kushner plan.)

In addition, over the last two weeks we have seen what the Middle Eastern press calls the “threat of war” – not conflict, sharp exchanges or small incursions, but war – between Israel and Lebanon. This development has gathered momentum – far more than anyone expected. And, of course, a war between Israel and Lebanon would also involve Iran – it is an accepted fact that if Israel and Lebanon go to war, then Hezbollah will be the main target for the Israeli state. Once that dynamic is in play, Iran would have to become involved.

At the same time, we have the continuing chaos in Afghanistan. The Afghan parliament was elected four years ago, but it sat for the first time during the week beginning April 22 of this year! This is because there is no real sense of what the government should be for. De facto the country is run by war lords, although the Taliban are gaining support – it is worth remembering that the Taliban previously came to power as a result of the chaos in the post-Soviet era and they are now viewed as the ‘cleaner’ (less corrupt) option amongst a bad bunch. This time they also have the Pakistani premier, Imran Khan, on their side.

In terms of the Yemen war, the US Congress voted to end military support for Saudi Arabia. However, within four hours Trump had vetoed it. In a way, the Yemen war is the red line for Trump. Via this conflict, he is showing his affiliation with Saudi. The repeated claims that Iran is the source of the conflict are just incorrect. Certainly, Iran is benefiting from it, but it is not “Iran’s baby” as secretary of state Mike Pompeo keeps saying.

The Saudi-Bahrain-UAE alliance came together because of the alleged fear of Iran. Its Arab neighbours claim Tehran has become too powerful: it does have allies in Syria, it does have the Iraqi government on its side and it does have supporters in the Lebanese government.

But there is an additional problem, which to a certain extent has been overlooked: we have all become so immune to the disasters created by the Trump administration that we are almost desensitised. The president has rid himself of any official who does not want a war with Iran, a country of 80 million people – some of whom are keen to martyr themselves in the name of the 12th Shia Imam! Worryingly, people like former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who were opposed to US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, have been replaced by the warmonger Pompeo. Trump’s former defence secretary, James Mattis, was dismissed for expressing doubts about military interventions in the Middle East and in particular in Iran.

Pompeo comes across as a buffoon who sounds off without thinking about the consequences. The secretary of state is promoting idiotic groups and cults that oppose the Tehran regime and he seems to have accepted the lies they feed him about having massive support inside Iran. Both the royalists and the Mujahedeen are giving the US administration assurances about how easy it will be to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Some US senators are comparing such groups to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader promoted by the United States, who claimed before the US invasion of Iraq that his supporters would ensure a smooth transfer of power to pro-US ‘democratic’ forces in Iraq (a fantasy eagerly repeated by Bush and Blair).

Iran

Considering all of this, I would say that we are in a far more serious position than 2007-10, when we worked under the banner of Hands Off the People of Iran. This is partly because the political scenario has changed so dramatically, but also because of the uncertainty in the US. This is explained by a combination of the unpredictability of the US president, along with the anti-Iran warmongers he has chosen to have around him.

The Washington Post reflected this uncertainty and the volatile nature of the current political discourse when it recently ran with the headline, ‘Has war with Iran started?’ Bloomberg has a different title: ‘What if Trump wants war with Iran and no-one trusts him?’1 This is undoubtedly a major factor. He does not have Congress on his side for a war on Iran and he has lost his secretaries of defence and homeland security.

Nor does he have the support of the major European states or the European Union itself. Angela Merkel does not want this war and, while Macron is prepared to talk about it, war is actually the last thing he wants. As for Theresa May, she is slightly distracted at the minute and is not exactly keen on getting embroiled in military action in addition to her other woes. This is a change from the past, of course.

In late April the US media paid a lot of attention to what the Iranian foreign secretary Mohammad Javad Zarif had been saying, during a visit to the United States – from this the media presented a scenario akin to the last days of Saddam. Zarif suggested that Trump does not necessarily want war, but the people around him could create conditions where a conflict starts accidentally – they are truly that stupid. I believe this is a more realistic scenario. Concretely, he identified the ‘four Bs’ as the main threat to peace – John Bolton (who wanted a war with Iran before 2003!), Binyamin Netanyahu, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE.

Also in April, US senator Paul Rand questioned Pompeo. This related to the law passed more than a decade ago which basically implies that if you can prove that Iran has any connection with Al Qa’eda, you are entitled to go to war with that country without further ado. Rand is anti-war, despite being a rightwinger, and he asked Pompeo if he was thinking of using that route to launch a war. Pompeo basically refused to give an answer – he dodged the question altogether. However, the mere fact that a senator of Rand’s political leaning is asking that – and not getting an answer – tells us how dangerous the situation is.

Now Iran is suspending some commitments made under the 2015 nuclear deal and Trump has responded with imposing sanctions on Iran’s export trade in iron, steel, aluminium and copper. The warmongers are delighted. However, the main danger of war is still the Israel-Palestine crisis. As I have stated, Kushner’s plan for the Middle East is expected to be unveiled in June so as to avoid a clash with Ramadan. From what we can gather, he will say that any two-state solution cannot work and should be taken off the table.

He will advance the idea of diminished autonomy within a smaller area for several Palestinian Bantustans. Apparently, they will be presented as ‘autonomous regions’, alongside a much-expanded Israel, which will, of course, include the Golan Heights and all of Jerusalem. According to some, Kushner basically wants to accept the 1967 borders as permanent. The incentive for the Palestinians will be that Saudi Arabia will apparently make substantial investments in Palestinian areas.

This is a recipe for disaster that will not be accepted by the Palestinians – it would surely result in a new war. Even the king of Jordan – an imperialist stooge – will not be able to sit safely in his palace if he accepts such a deal. The Qataris would not survive either, although perhaps Saudi Arabia would be able to keep its population in check, but this is the kind of ‘peace deal’ that would create huge turbulence.

To divert attention from all this – if this plan is actually announced in June, and I expect it will be – a useful ploy would be to trigger a conflict between Israel and Lebanon, and between the United States and Iran. We witnessed the rumblings of Israeli-Lebanese conflict in April. Hassan Nasrallah – the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, who heads a party that is an exponent of neoliberal politics in the Middle East – is important in terms of political strategy. He is saying that the Israel army is not ready to attack Lebanon. Remember, the only time Israel has suffered defeat in its entire existence came with an incursion into southern Lebanon. We can assume that Israel will make sure that it is not repeated – so what will happen?

We have seen a number of different opening moves connected to the Kushner plan. Most importantly, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has been declared a terrorist organisation. In effect a declaration of war. Imagine if the British government declared that the entire French army was a terrorist organisation – that would signal an immediate prelude to war. We are still, after all, in the era of the ‘war on terror’.

Starvation

The US has imposed sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and ended the waiver on countries buying oil from Iran: 85% of its income coming from oil. But this will now be squeezed to the point of strangulation. This is no longer just sanctions – it is a policy of imposing starvation. No doubt there will be ways around the siege, but Iran would be then selling oil without insurance – a bizarre arrangement under modern capitalism. And in order to attract customers in the first place, Iran is already having to sell its oil well below the market price.

China has said it is ready to step in and buy Iranian oil and claims it will deal with subsequent American sanctions – there is already a conflict between US and China regarding tariffs and it could be that China believes it is not losing much in terms of its relationship with the US. Presumably, this will be one of its bargaining chips in the next round of negotiations with Washington.

The US has been quite explicit about the purpose of its sanctions on Iran. They are imposed to put pressure on working people of Iran, to make life as hard for them as possible. This has been openly admitted by the ultra-hawkish John Bolton, for example. They are trying to foment a rebellion from below against the state – in other words, they are regime-change sanctions.

The other motivation behind the sanctions is that they might prompt Tehran to do something really stupid, such as mount an attack on the US naval forces in the Gulf or provoke flare-ups in Syria, where Iran, Turkey and Russia are basically an occupying force. Israel is bombing Iranian positions in Syria on a regular basis and Tehran is not saying much about it. It can retaliate via Hezbollah, of course – Israel is claiming that Hezbollah now has land-to-land missiles, which can hit Israeli cities.

Bolton, Pompeo and attorney Rudy Giuliani are hoping to provoke the Iranians into mounting an attack, which would legitimise an Israeli response. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah is probably correct to claim that the Israelis are not yet ready to deploy land forces, but they do have an airforce far superior to that of any other state in the region – it would easily be able to target Iran’s nuclear facilities. It would not be necessary for the US to become embroiled in such a conflict from the beginning, but Washington would surely intervene on the side of its primary ally in the region at some convenient stage.

There is also the possibility that things settle down and the prospect of war recedes. After all, Iran-US negotiations – open and secret – have taken place throughout the last 40 years. In 2017, when both president Donald Trump and president Hassan Rouhani were attending the United Nations general assembly, there was a ‘chance meeting’ in a corridor and a handshake.

Apparently Macron was the intermediary – the French president called Rouhani and asked him if he would be interested in a meeting. But the day before Trump had delivered a blistering speech to world leaders, in which he denounced the Iranian leadership as dictators who have turned a wealthy country into an “economically depleted rogue state, whose chief exports are bloodshed and chaos”. So, understandably, Rouhani said ‘no thanks’ to a chat, citing his talks with Barack Obama, which had caused him lots of problems back home – and Obama had not launched a tirade like Trump!

On the other hand, it is important to remember here that, as I have already pointed out, over the last 40 years there have been many examples of cooperation between Iran and the US – including military cooperation.2 So we must be aware of the possibility of tensions receding and a relative calm being established.

That said, US senators are comparing the current period to the one that prevailed before the Iraq invasion. The constant attempt to equate Iran with terrorism and Al Qa’eda come from the same template as the one used against Iraq – it was false then and it is false today.

A number of senior US figures – not least Hillary Clinton – have admitted that the US knew about Islamic State and its predecessor being financed by the Saudis. However, the US turned a blind eye because the activities of this organisation weakened Iran. But, incredibly, IS was destroyed as a state with help provided by Iran. Alliances are made, alliances dissolve, and yesterday’s allies become today’s ‘terrorists’ – the cynicism of the ruling classes is beyond a joke.

Lessons

We must draw some lessons. If there is an escalation and the threat of war becomes palpable, there will be many people on the left who will automatically defend the Islamic Republic. No doubt they will point to the superficial improvement in Iranian rights – some women now go unveiled, for example. We will be inundated with the ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ – the enemy of my enemy must be a friend, so we must support the Iranian government. That is something we have rightly rejected in the past.

We will also see a major challenge for the Labour leadership and – given the trends at the top of the party that we have noted and commented on before – the possibility that John McDonnell will strike a ‘statesman’ like pose and Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition will be muted because of the need to avoid charges of anti-Semitism.

Since Corbyn’s election as leader, Labour has said very little about Iran. In 2017 Corbyn was challenged by Jon Snow about his appearances on Iran-sponsored Press TV. The Labour leader responded weakly and came across as very apologetic. Of course, we also have that bizarre Emily Thornberry statement at the height of the protests in early 2018 when she told the BBC’s Political thinking podcast:

Our approach now is one of extreme caution when it comes to Iran and a recognition that the society in Iran is an immensely complex one, and seemingly contradictory. For example, with these current riots, sometimes they are calling to reinstate the monarchy, sometimes they’re calling out against [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, sometimes they’re calling for Khamenei, sometimes they’re calling for the price of eggs.3

But that is about it. Even on Yemen, Corbyn has been pretty tight-lipped. McDonnell’s last parliamentary intervention on Iran dates back to 2013, when he submitted a motion on Iranian trade unionists, presumably prompted by Hopi.

I realise there are other pressing issues in British political life at present. However, the question of the Middle East is hardly unimportant. If the conflict escalates, we should not expect any strong opposition from the Labour leadership. The Stop the War Coalition, weakened by contradictory positions on Syria and eager to ensure no damage is done to Corbyn, is unlikely to take any serious initiatives. That does not auger well.


Notes

  1. www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-04-26/early-returns-what-if-no-one-trust-trump-in-a-war-with-iran.
  2. www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0003871.
  3. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/iran-protests-deaths-latest-emily-thornberry-boris-johnson-united-nations-a8145371.html.

This article was first published in the Weekly Worker.



Raking in fortunes

It is workers who have been hit the most, writes Yassamine Mather, while those close to the regime have benefited enormously

Mehdi Khalaji: doing very nicely, thank you very much

We all remember Hillary Clinton’s promise of “targeted sanctions” against Iran’s Islamic republic. They were deployed to ‘moderate’ the Shia government’s regional policies, as well as its internal human rights record. Of course, anyone with any knowledge of the regime in Tehran would have told the then secretary of state how futile such policies were.

We knew that, given the existing political and economic structures in Iran, sanctions would enrich those in power, while creating misery, through food and medical shortages, for the majority. Yet none of us could have predicted the extent to which those associated with the government of the populist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the supporter of the poor and disinherited!), were benefiting from sanctions – profiting to the tune of millions of dollars.

Last week in a trial in Tehran we got a glimpse of what had occurred under the ‘targeted’, ‘smart’ sanctions of the Obama era. The latest government drive to root out corruption – concentrating on events that occurred under the previous government, not the current one – has revealed a scandal which, according to the Iranian judiciary, involved the theft of some $7.4 billion.

The case involves 14 executives and board members of Iran’s Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC), going back to the last years of the second term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2010-13). Most of the suspects are in custody in Iran, while three who now reside abroad and are being tried in absentia.

The charges read out in court involve “disrupting Iran’s economic system” by profiteering from the multi-tiered exchange rate. According to a senior judiciary official, who addressed the hearing on March 7, “Despite numerous letters [from] the minister of oil … to the defendants that the foreign currency proceeds must be paid in full … the defendants did not pay any attention … and seized a portion of the foreign currency.”

In other words, they were involved in circumventing sanctions when selling petrochemical products and in the process they embezzled a percentage of the profits. A spokesman for Iran’s prosecutor general explained on March 9:

The suspects converted the foreign currency into Iranian currency before returning it to the government, making a profit in the process. They kept some of the foreign currency, allegedly selling it for up to three times the official rate on the black market.

Of course, this case is not unique. We already know of a similar one – that of billionaire businessman Babak Zanjani, who is currently in prison awaiting execution.

All this is a familiar story. The immediate effect of sanctions is a dramatic fall in the rate of exchange and Iran’s currency continues to fall, as new sanctions are imposed. The current administration under president Hassan Rowhani relies on the export of oil and petrochemical products and often the deals negotiated open the way to uncontrolled black-marketeering.

As with most other industries, Iran’s petrochemical companies have been privatised and inevitably those close to various factions of the Iranian religious state have benefited. Managers are often nominated by the president and his cabinet, and also involve influential MPs in the majles (Iranian parliament), as well as the Revolutionary Guards militia.

The case of the Iranian PCC is getting widespread attention, mainly because of the sordid tale of one of those being tried in absentia – you couldn’t make it up. The controversial figure involved is Marjan Sheikholeslami Aleagha, who is currently in the United States. She was apparently a supporter of ‘reformists’ in the regime, but switched to support for Ahmadinejad, once he was in power. She now lives in the US and is married to Mehdi Khalaji, a ‘senior researcher’ in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). The institute is by all accounts a rightwing, pro-war, pro-sanctions set-up – it was established in 1985 by, amongst others, Martin Indyk, an Australian-trained academic and former deputy director of research for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to an article by David Ottoway, published in 1989, “Indyk described the think tank as friendly to Israel, but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way.”1

In December 2003, professor Rashid Alkhalidi, director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute, criticised WINEP in an interview with Al Jazeera, claiming it represents “the fiercest of the enemies of the Arabs and the Muslims”, and described it as the “most important Zionist propaganda tool in the United States”.2

As for Khalaji, Iranians know him as one of the most ardent advocates of sanctions! In recent months he has promoted ‘discussions’ with the pretender to the Iranian throne, Reza Pahlavi. In a number of BBC Persian TV debates, where he was promoting sanctions, I have argued against his position. And now, of course, Farsi social media is inundated with comments about his political stance and his wife’s role in the current scandal.

According to documents presented to last week’s court hearing, Marjan Sheikholeslami transferred proceeds from sales of Iranian petrochemical products to the accounts of her trading companies in Turkey, profiting by a cool $9 million.3

Another individual facing corruption charges is Reza Hamzelou, who was managing director of the Iranian PCC in 2010-11. It is now alleged that in the autumn of 2011, as new economic sanctions went into effect, he was given a new role: to bypass them by selling petrochemicals on the black market.

By the time all this was happening, I had already written extensively on the consequences of the US’s ‘targeted’ sanctions. According to the theocratic government’s own statistics, by 2009 one third of the state assets had been privatised (value: $37 billion, out of $110 billion), and 78% of such privatisation occurred under Ahmadinejad, who was following the International Monetary Fund’s model for ‘structural adjustment’. In many ways, this dismantling of the public sector resembles what happened in Russia and other east European states in the 1990s, when vast sections of the economy were turned over to oligarchs at bargain-basement prices. In Iran it was the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran (RGCI) and its subsidiaries, followed by individuals associated with pro-Ahmadinejad factions of the regime, who benefited from relentless privatisation. In this period tens of billions of dollars in state assets were handed out to the RGCI in secret deals. The sanctions were supposed to be ‘targeted’ at the Revolutionary Guards, close associates of the supreme leader and senior clerics, but, because these people own everything, they were the least affected.

Of course, it would be a complete mistake to believe that anything has changed in Iran. Now that the country faces a new wave of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, it would be foolish to think that with the departure of Ahmadinejad the economy is more transparent or that those associated with the Rowhani government are not involved in sanctions-busting, the black market and dodgy currency deals. As before, the ones who are suffering from sanctions are mainly the workers – for instance, those who have lost their jobs, as companies incapable of importing basic raw materials go bust; those who have not been paid their wages for months; civil servants who have suffered pay cuts; patients who cannot get the medicine they need or receive treatment in hospitals where basic surgical equipment cannot be repaired.

Next time someone tells me about corruption in Iran, I will remind them that the money made from it manages to find its way out of the country. So how come western banks and financial institutions – which in the two years since Trump’s presidency began have, in order to avoid US-imposed penalties, blocked the accounts of thousands of Iranian law-abiding citizens in their searching for ‘money laundering’ – have failed to detect millions in dirty money sent from Iran to Canada and the US?

Next time anyone advocates sanctions against Iran, they should be reminded of a certain Mehdi Khalaji – he also advocates US sanctions, while his wife has been raking in millions as a direct result of them.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

First published in the Weekly Worker

Notes

  1. Washington Post March 24 1989.

  2. www.aljazeera.net/programs/fromwashington/2005/1/10.

  3. This and other court details translated from Tasnim News: www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1397/12/16/1963593.

Forty years of inequality

The US administration preferred Islamists to leftists, says Yassamine Mather

The masses drove out the shah then found themselves subject to a cruel theocracy

Commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the February 1979 uprising in Iran has been marked by dozens of scholarly seminars in Europe, numerous documentaries produced by the Persian-language media, as well the usual military parade inside the country.

Documentaries produced outside Iran concentrate on memoirs of key players who are still alive – from the wife of the ex-shah, Farah Diba, and the officials of the Pahlavi court, to Abolhassan Banisadr, one of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s closest allies in 1979, who is now in exile in France. Most of them have made similar comments on previous anniversaries of the Iranian revolution, but this time quotes from American general Robert Huyser’s reports (originally declassified in 2015), which have been repeated by a number of news agencies, give us a better idea of US plans after the shah’s departure.

Iranian opponents of the Islamic Republic have peddled various conspiracy theories about Huyser’s secret mission of January 1979. However, the published documents show the confusion emanating from the Carter administration, which was trying to manage events thousand of miles away, in circumstances where it had failed to understand the reasons behind mass protests against its favourite Middle Eastern tyrant. One of Huyser’s main tasks was to encourage the shah to leave the country and to stop a potential military coup by generals loyal to him. According to BBC World Service journalist Kambiz Fattahi, who has studied the state department’s declassified documents, 10 days after the shah’s departure, Khomeini sent a message to Washington offering a deal:

If president Jimmy Carter could use his influence on the military to clear the way for his takeover, Khomeini suggested, he would calm the nation. Stability could be restored, America’s interests and citizens in Iran would be protected.1

Khomeini’s note to the president was declassified in 2016, but it is only now, on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, that comments and analysis of it have become well known – shedding more light on the Carter administration’s secret negotiations in the crucial weeks after the shah’s flight from Tehran. While, as I have pointed out, Huyser’s main mission was to stop pro-shah generals from organising a military coup, he had in fact given the generals the green light for such a coup if the left was in a position to take power. In other words, the secret deal demonstrates that the US administration was more fearful of the left than the Islamists – particularly the working class, whose strikes had paralysed the country. In the true tradition of US ‘foreign intervention’, not least during the cold war, it was better to ally with the Islamists against secular and leftwing forces.

The plan agreed between the Carter administration and Khomeini (via his secular advisors) was to hold back the workers’ movement and organise a smooth transfer of power to Khomeini. What shattered those plans was the involvement of homafars (technicians and junior flight crew) in the Iranian air force, who took up arms against their commanders in support of the Organisation of Iranian People’s Guerrillas on February 11-12.

As I have written on a number of occasions, in February 1979 we were not facing a situation of ‘dual power’ in Iran. While the Islamists were powerful before the uprising, leftwing activists were the last to be released from prison. In fact Islamists had faced far less repression under the shah than the left – holding meetings in mosques and other religious institutions had been tolerated. They were also much better off financially, benefiting from donations from the bazaar. That is why the religious movement was far better organised than the left and other secular forces. In addition the left was politically confused, made many mistakes and allowed the Islamists to outmanoeuvre them.

Looking back at the film reels of 40 years ago, it is interesting to see how the current situation in Iran is hardly what was envisaged at the time of the February revolution. In late 1978 and early 1979 two of the common slogans on demonstrations were: ‘Bread, work, freedom!’ and ‘Equality, independence!’ Forty years on, I do not think anyone in their right mind would argue that Iranians has won ‘freedom’ or ‘equality’, let alone democracy. The supreme leader dominates the political agenda, while presidents are ‘elected’ from a pre-selected list of supporters of the current order. Prisons are full of labour and civil rights activists, and the Shia religious order cannot even tolerate opposition from within its own ranks. Leaders of the reformist green movement have been under house arrest for the last 10 years.

That is why, when I was asked to talk at a seminar to mark the 40th anniversary, I decided to speak on ‘“Equality” and its relation to “independence”.

Inequality

Needless to say, the Iranian people would not have rebelled against the shah had it not been for the massive gap between the rich and poor. In the absence of any financial support for the peasantry, the shah’s ‘land reform’ had impoverished the countryside, while the massive exodus to the big cities created sprawling shanty towns.

Two parallel universes existed – not just in terms of income and standards of living, but also in terms of culture. The secular upper classes in north Tehran looked down on the poor and even the lower middle class. The word chadori (the long cloak worn by religious women) was used by westernised, upper class woman as a derogatory term. In the words of Pierre Bourdieu, certain forms of ‘cultural capital’ were valued over and above others – they helped or hindered social mobility just as much as income or wealth.

Far from being a ‘conspiracy by the west to depose the shah, because he was getting too powerful’ (one of the theories put forward by Iranian royalists), the uprising was a direct result of the failures of the shah’s regime to respond to the economic crisis that followed the boom of the early 1970s. Most skilled workers faced a drop in their living standards in 1976, while the ‘White Revolution’ in agriculture had left massive numbers of peasants landless and penniless, forcing them to seek seasonal jobs in the big cities. Recession left them unemployed and destitute. In addition to the above two groups, the small independent producers had been forced out of business, and sometimes made bankrupt, by the decision of Iran’s chamber of commerce to shore up the already privileged position of the big capitalists. Corruption and the rule of a clique around the royal court meant that many traditional merchants, often associated with the bazaar, were deprived of large profits available to the more privileged sections of the ruling class.

Such decisions, exemplifying the arrogant dictatorship of the royal family, fuelled widespread political discontent, while the suppression of leftwing and in fact all secular opposition allowed sections of the clergy and the Islamic movement to mobilise what was in reality class discontent in the name of religion. The clergy, which had survived the repressive measures of the shah’s dictatorship by making compromises with the regime, was in a much better position to benefit from political discontent than secular and socialist groups, who had lost many in their ranks through execution and imprisonment. In the summer of 1978 religious demonstrations in major cities were led by the clergy, financed by the bazaar and supported by independent producers, the urban poor and students.

After the revolution, as protests against inequality and for better wages and working conditions continued in factories and throughout the oil industry, the new Islamic government attacked protesters and labour activists. For a regime whose main support was based in the bazaar and amongst small capitalists, defence of private property became paramount.

In addition, the non-homogeneous (multi-class) mix in the Islamists’ camp necessitated a policy of denying class struggle, or at least marginalising it and removing it from the political agenda. This social bloc, united under the umbrella of religious culture, had no other way of surmounting the class antagonisms within it between the poor shanty-town dwellers and the much better-off bazaaris. The new religious state needed ‘unity’, and it therefore quickly developed a hatred of the left, which wanted to continue the struggle, and champion independent working class action. In the first month after coming to power the new regime used paramilitaries and civilian supporters to attack workers’ protests. In March 1979 those attending a meeting of oil workers in Tehran refinery were attacked by Hezbollah and Bassij militias, who were shouting Hezb faghat hezbollah: ‘Only one party – Allah’s party’.

New and weak

The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) was the only time when the state took welfare measures such as issuing coupons to most of the population. The harsh conditions created by the war masked some of the underlying inequalities within the country. But even then the rich and powerful were able to pay bribes to prevent their sons being sent to the front – some even found ways to send their offspring abroad to avoid conscription. In other words, there was not much equality in terms of those who were sent to the front, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers lost their lives.

The end of the war was marked by the country’s re-integration into the world economy. The death of Khomeini led to the appointment of a new supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who was by comparison relatively weak – not yet the dictator he was to become in later years. He was completely loyal to Akbar Rafsanjani, the senior cleric who had nominated him as vali faghih (‘guardian of the imbecile’, or supreme leader). The international domination of finance capital and globalisation, as well as the ascendency of a powerful ‘reformist’ faction in the Iranian regime, paved the way for a massive post-war reconstruction plan, entirely in line with the new capitalist world order. No-one pursued this more eagerly than ayatollah Rafsanjani, who was already a businessman with a considerable personal fortune. It is this period that marked the beginning of an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in Iran’s Islamic Republic.

This is the time when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund became involved in aiding Iran’s economy – a situation that has lasted until today, despite the Islamic leaders claims of ‘independence’. These institutions drove the policy of privatisation and the maximisation of profit for the sake of ‘growth’ (plus the ending of welfare subsidies).

The following report by the World Bank in October 2018 gives a reasonable summary of the situation:

Iranian authorities have adopted a comprehensive strategy encompassing market-based reforms, as reflected in the government’s 20-year vision document and the sixth five-year development plan for the 2016-2021 period … On the economic front, the development plan envisages an annual economic growth rate of 8% and reforms of state-owned enterprises, the financial and banking sector, and the allocation and management of oil revenues among the main priorities of the government during the five-year period.2

However, in Iran – as elsewhere under neoliberal capitalism – there was no ‘trickle-down effect’. There was no reduction of the gap between the rich and the poor, let alone fulfilling promises of ‘equality’. While clerics and their closest civilian and military supporters have made billions of dollars from sanction-busting and the black market, ordinary Iranians have faced hunger, abject poverty and death due to the shortage of medicines and surgical equipment. No doubt the display of grotesque wealth is adding insult to injury, but the supreme leader does not pay much attention to the injury.

Last year a New York Times reporter was shocked by what she saw in a programme screened by the pro-government Press TV:

It was not just the wealth that struck me, but how freely Iran’s ‘one percenters’ flaunted the symbols of western decadence without fear of government retribution ….

After a revolution that promised an egalitarian utopia and vowed to root out gharbzadegi – the modern, westernised lifestyles of Iran’s cosmopolitans – how have some people become so rich? Much of Iran’s wealth, it turns out, is in the hands of the very people in charge of maintaining social justice. Hard-line clerical leaders, together with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, have engineered a system where it is largely they, their family members and their loyal cronies who prosper.3

The son of an Iranian diplomat, Sasha Sobhani, who apparently has half a million followers on Instagram, recently posted photographs from his travels to Greek islands. There he was sitting on the deck of an expensive yacht drinking champagne. Under one post he wrote: “How long will you be jealous of me?”

In other words, nothing is left of the egalitarian slogans of the February uprising. Today most young Iranians laugh at their rulers’ claims of pursuing ‘social justice’ and, just as in February 1979, Iranians live in two parallel universes. Gold-topped ice cream, Lamborghini and Porsche cars in north Tehran are a world apart form the real life of millions of Iranians who face hunger and lack of basic medication, not to mention the tens of thousands who still live in shanty towns, such as Nassir Shahr just outside Tehran. In addition, the dominance of superficial, US-type celebrity culture, spread widely via social media amongst well-off sections of Iranian youth, means that the rich flaunt their wealth shamelessly – increasing the anger and resentment felt by the majority of the population.

The poverty line in 2018 was set at approximately $480 a month per household. This means that 33% of the population – more than 24 million Iranians – live below that poverty line. The median income for an average household is only $885, leaving those above the official poverty line struggling to make ends meet. The top one percent spend 86 times more than the poorest one percent. According to the Iranian paper Donya-e-Eqtesad, “The bottom 10% of the population spend one 14th of the sum spent by the richest 10%.”

Sanctions

When Donald Trump reimposed sanctions against Iran, following the US unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in November 2018, Iran’s oil and banking sectors were hard hit. The currency lost more than half its value last year. No need to remind readers that those in power, or close to the centres of power, are not affected by these new sanctions. They can still buy goods using unreal government rates of exchange – selling them at the highly inflated, semi-official price, thus securing huge profits. In addition those related to centres of power have a monopoly over the distribution of food and medicine. Most of them have amassed their astronomic fortunes through control of the black market during the era of sanctions. This group is using its expertise in sanction-busting in the growing black economy sector to accumulate yet more wealth at the expense of the working class and the poor.

Khamenei and increasingly the government under president Hassan Rouhani tell Iranians that the ‘sacrifices’ they are making are worth it, because, after all, Iran is now politically independent. This is not quite true. The nuclear deal signed in 2016 was in fact a sign of submission to western dictat. Speaking to crowds gathered for the celebrations of the February uprising, Rouhani said the country was in a “state of war”, and, as Iranians increasingly question the price they have to pay for this celebrated ‘independence’, the obvious reality is that it is meaningless, given the country’s economic dependence on global capital. Economic sanctions have had a devastating effect on Iran’s economy precisely because of this dependence – at least in terms of the importation of basic goods.

If you intend to take on the world hegemon, it helps if, in addition to economic independence, you enjoy overwhelming support within your own borders. But this can hardly be achieved if you accuse workers who protest at the non-payment of wages of being agents of foreign powers; if you arrest every lawyer who dares represent a leftwing activist; if you accuse retired teachers and state employees demanding payment of their hard-earned pensions of being spies!

On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution the Iranian state went through the usual routine of massed street celebrations, while Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and US president Donald Trump exchanged Twitter insults.

Trump wrote: “40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future.”

Zarif responded: “#40YearsofFailure to accept that Iranians will never return to submission. #40YearsofFailure to adjust US policy to reality. #40YearsofFailure to destabilize Iran through blood & treasure. After 40 yrs of wrong choices, time for @realDonaldTrump to rethink failed US policy.”

The clerics and their government managed to get tens of thousands of Iranians to attend celebrations. However, the majority were soldiers, teachers, school pupils and government employees. Footage shows that there was none of the enthusiasm or spontaneity of 1979. In contrast last month’s demonstrations at the Haft Tapeh sugar plant and the workers’ protests in Ahvaz in mid-January all showed that the spirit of 1979 is alive and well. If there is going to be any change in Iran, it will come from these forces – and definitely not the supporters of ‘regime change from above’ sponsored by the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

First published in the Weekly Worker

Notes

1. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-36431160.

2. www.worldbank.org/en/country/iran/overview.

3. www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/opinion/clerical-rule-luxury-lifestyle.html?_r=0.

Israel and Saudi Arabia in cahoots

Saudi plans for regional domination are not meeting with much success, writes Yassamine Mather

Arms sales remain healthy

More than six weeks after the death of Jamal Khashoggi we know a lot more about his tragic plight after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. However, it is still unclear who ordered his execution, what will be done about it, who knew what when …

According to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, audio tapes of Khashoggi’s last moments in the consulate have been shared with the CIA and leaders of the ‘free world’, including the United States, the UK and EU. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau admits his intelligence services have received the audio tapes and listened to them and, while French ministers deny having received such recordings, other European and US officials remain quiet on the subject.

According to The Guardian,Saudi officials have claimed that Erdoğan “betrayed the kingdom by disclosing details of the investigation and refusing all overtures from Saudi envoys, including an offer to pay ‘significant’ compensation”.1 However, it is unlikely that Turkey, playing its own game in this sad saga, will be tempted by blood money, which theoretically can only be offered to relatives of the deceased.

By November 13 the drip-drip of information about Khashoggi’s death reached a new level, with revelations carried by the New York Times and Al Jazeera, quoting Turkish intelligence officers, that soon after the assassination, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of the agents involved in the murder, phoned his superior with the message “tell your boss [believed by some to be crown prince Mohammed bin Salman] that the operatives have carried out their mission”. The recording was, according to Turkey, shared last month with Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel.

The allegations, true or false, have caused a considerable dent in bin Salman’s authority. Meanwhile, we have seen the return from self-imposed exile of Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the only remaining full brother of the Saudi king; the release from prison of another royal, Khaled bin Talal al-Saud, who had been held in custody following last year’s purge, when princes and business ‘leaders’ were held in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. But MBS remains crown prince for the time being.

There are also further revelations about MBS’s antics since he ascended to the second most important position in the Saudi kingdom. According to the New York Times, “Top Saudi intelligence officials close to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman asked a small group of businessmen last year about using private companies to assassinate Iranian enemies of the kingdom.”2

Last week, as oil prices fell following ‘excessive supply’ from the world’s major producers, Saudi Arabian authorities told ministers from other oil-exporting countries at an Opec meeting that they had no prior knowledge of the Trump administration’s plans to exempt seven countries – purchasers of Iranian oil – from new sanctions against the Islamic republic imposed on November 5. As a result the Saudis, who had already increased their oil production, were forced to do a U-turn – a clear sign that US-Saudi relations are not as warm as last year.

Israel

Over the last few weeks Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sissi have been lobbying the US government in support of MBS and, according to the website Middle East Eye, “Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman attempted to persuade Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start a conflict with Hamas in Gaza as part of a plan to divert attention from the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” A “war in Gaza would distract Trump’s attention and refocus Washington’s attention on the role Saudi Arabia plays in bolstering Israeli strategic interests”.3 Yet all this – including attempts to bribe Erdoğan with promises of Saudi purchases of arms from Turkey – seems to have failed so far.

To add insult to injury, Qatar-Israel-Hamas negotiations, which started a few months ago, seem to have progressed. Last week, in what was an unprecedented move, Netanyahu allowed the transfer of $15 million to Gaza, to pay for “salaries”, following the Palestinian Authority’s decision to cut them in Gaza last year. The money is also supposed to contribute towards medical care of the wounded. Despite criticism by some, including his own ministers, who have denounced the transfer of millions to Gaza as “protection money”, Netanyahu has defended the initiative. In fact, the Israeli prime minister said: “I’m doing everything I can in coordination with security experts to return calm to [Israeli] villages of the south, but also to prevent a humanitarian disaster [in Gaza].”

According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, Qatar and Israel had agreed to establish a sea passage between Cyprus and Gaza – a route that would be under Israeli security supervision and monitored by international forces.

Of course, some of this seemed to be in doubt following a ‘secret’ security operation on November 11 by Israeli special forces, using a civilian vehicle deep inside Gaza. What was a plan to target and execute a senior Hamas commander was botched – an Israeli officer was killed and another was wounded. Seven Palestinians were killed.

There is speculation in the Middle Eastern press that opponents of the Qatar deal in the Israeli government planned and ordered the Israel Defence Forces operation. Some ministers, including Naftali Bennett, who had strongly criticised the Qatar-Israel-Hamas deal, were happy to see an escalation of the conflict in Gaza. However, three days after the IDF adventure into Gaza, there seems little sign that either side wants a full-scale war at this particular time. A ceasefire was agreed on November 12 and seems to be holding. MBS’s dream of an Israeli-Palestinian war diverting attention from his plight has not materialised.

Meanwhile, Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has resigned, labelling the deal with Gaza “a capitulation to terror”.

Iran

Saudi officials have changed their story about the Khashoggi execution so many times that it is difficult to believe anything they say. However, they have consistently denied allegations that MBS played any role in the planning of this political murder. Instead they blame rogue elements, including general Ahmed al-Assiri, who discussed a $2 billion plan with a private intelligence firm to “sabotage Iran’s economy”. During these discussions Assiri is said to have also asked about plans to kill general Qassem Soleimani of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

A few days earlier fresh allegations were made about the kind of activities Saudi publicists are alleged to follow in UK. According to The Guardian, “A UK-based Iranian TV station is being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.”4 Although it is difficult to verify the paper’s claims that bin Salman is the “force behind the TV channel” via his media advisor, Saud al-Qahtani, there is no doubt that Iran International’s relentless promotion of pro-Trump ‘regime change’ groups such as Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and individuals such as the son of the ex-shah do follow a clear political agenda. The reporter who is associated with the article has faced a barrage of verbal abuse, and threats of legal action, as well as threats to his safety.

Of course, the TV channel is not unique in promoting individuals and organisations who have been emboldened by Trump’s new sanctions. There are many exiled Iranians, including royalists, ‘liberals’ and even some claiming to be on the left who endorse sanctions as a means of achieving regime change. In the last few weeks some of us have tried to balance the situation by writing or speaking against this type of regime change and as a result we are accused of ‘helping the Islamic Republic by criticising its opponents’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was precisely the reluctance of the Iranian left to expose Ruhollah Khomeini and his brand of Islamic fundamentalism prior to the February uprising of 1979 that led to the nightmare of the religious state. It is a state which claims to be the government of the disinherited, while presiding over one of the most corrupt regimes on earth, where the gap between the rich and the poor is reaching unprecedented levels.

Last week Iranians were treated to an interview with the former shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, courtesy of Iran International TV. In answer to the sycophantic ‘questions’ that started with praise of the hapless ex-prince, every time he opened his mouth he managed to say something stupid.

In other words, if a section of the al Saud family is behind the funding of this TV station run by exiled Iranians, they are failing badly – every time they promote MEK or Reza Pahlavi, they only manage to strengthen Ayatollah Khamenei and the Tehran regime. As much as Iranians hate the increasingly dictatorial tone of the supreme leader at a time of severe economic crisis – not all of which can be blamed on sanctions – the alternatives presented by US regime change planners are both too stupid and too corrupt to be taken seriously. All of this amounts to yet another setback for MBS and the Saudi royals.

First published in the Weekly Worker

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/12/saudi-arabia-crown-prince-mohammed-wings-clipped-as-khashoggi-death-rattles-riyadh.

2. www.nytimes.com/2018/11/11/world/middleeast/saudi-iran-assassinations-mohammed-bin-salman.html.

3. www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-arabia-israel-gaza-khashoggi-1952586885.

4. www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/31/concern-over-uk-based-iranian-tv-channels-links-to-saudi-arabia.

The Iranian opposition: fishing in muddy waters

Repression and exile have clouded the view of Iranian anti-government forces, writes Mohamad Moein in Tehran

Throughout history governments have faced opposition to their rule and the current period is no exception. These days in Iran , the opponents of the Islamic Republic are known as the opposition. In English speaking countries, the term opposition was first used in relation to the British Parliament and later became commonplace in other countries. Hence, ‘opposition’ is a new word whose academic life dates back to the early twentieth century in Western democracies. It refers to structured political groups that do not accept a government or a state and want to change it, if the majority of the people vote in their favour in free elections. In other words, the term opposition refers to a party that presents its program and alternative to society, and accepts that people accept or reject the program and their alternative.

In Iran, the governments that have come to power in recent decades have faced opposition inside and outside the country. The objective of this opposition is to overthrow the rule of those in power one way or another. During the rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, the ineffectiveness of resolving the country’s internal crises through political means, by removing political freedoms, became clear. This resulted, by the end, in the participation of a wide range of people, parties and groups in protests that led to the collapse of the regime in 1979. Many hoped this collapse would result in the coming to power of a revolutionary government capable of building a better Iran, resulting in a brighter future.

But it did not take long for the new government to reveal its true nature; it not only failed to take a single step towards improving democratic rights, but on the contrary established a transition from a secular dictatorship to a religious one. In this respect the revolution ended when, having succeeded in overthrowing the old order, which was their declared aim, the people provided the arena for a new dictatorship. On the other hand, the international conditions of that era were dominated by the Cold War and the beginning of a devastating war with Iraq. All factors that helped the consolidation of dictatorship.

On this basis, the government that emerged from the revolution initially claimed to be adhering to its interpretation of democracy ‘in an Islamic framework’ but over time, with the strengthening of the foundations of state authority, all pretence of democracy disappeared and we witnessed the true nature of a totalitarian and ideological dictatorship. It was in such circumstances that individuals, groups and parties were eliminated one after another from the circles of power. It was this policy that created – and strengthened – opposition inside and outside the country. Accordingly, to date, the opposition has had an endemic and ineffective political life, inevitably strengthening those in power.

There are many explanations for this phenomenon and a variety of causes can be mentioned. But the main reasons for the opposition’s ineffectiveness against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be classified as follows;

1) The opposition has been incapacitated in its organisational functioning, because the constitution of the Islamic Republic does not provide any status for the opposition, or any clear transparent legislation regarding the Islamic state’s relations with those holding political views opposed to its rule.

2) The second reason is reliance on verbal and theoretical opposition. Throughout these years the opposition has not produced an alternative concrete platform for solving the current problems of the country. To put it simply, the opposition does not have a proper, pragmatic alternative, and most of its programs are propagandist. It is quite clear that should they gain power, they will act just as badly as the current government.

3) The third reason is lack of courage amongst the opposition. They fear rejection and lack of popular acceptance, and as a result of this fear are incapable of providing clear and independent commentary. In other words, the opposition has not yet reached such a degree of sophistication that it can announce its official point of view about current affairs inside and outside the country, nor is it willing to discuss the consequences of its declared propagandist policies.

4) Fourth, the opposition does not have a proper analysis of the current situation and conditions inside the county. It is ignorant of internal developments. With the explanations it has, it could be said that the opposition are like spear-fishers hoping to catch fish in muddy waters.

5) Fifth, intellectual poverty and absence of political, social and economic theory have led to a situation where opposition figures duplicate and copy speeches, actions from each other, all lacking any conviction or ingenuity.

In other words, the opposition is incapable of producing original thought and theory; it continues to live and think in the past.

6) The sixth reason is the failure of the opposition to cooperate in the social dimension. Simply put, the opposition does not have the ability to work collectively: the opposition has no practice of debate and democracy, and therefore seeks only to eliminate rivals in a totalitarian manner.

7) Finally, possibly one of the most important reasons for the opposition’s ineffectiveness is their dependence on foreign money. They are at the mercy of foreign governments and often have no alternative but to express the views and positions of these governments. According to Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher, “In these times, what distinguishes the “real revolutionaries” from mere masqueraders is not only the clear vision “to know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up but the willingness, and moral courage to “seize power” when it is lying there, and “assume responsibility for the revolution after it had happened.” Sections of the opposition have different political outlooks which are briefly outlined below, and the reasons for their failure to engage the masses discussed.

Monarchists:

The most obvious point regarding this group is the fact that their ideas and plans are frozen in time: they believe in return to a glorious past! And in this respect their ideals are completely clear. They are seeking to revive royalty in Iran in the form of a return to power of the short-lived Pahlavi dynasty. This section of the opposition, who have been living mainly in the United States or other Western countries, hold views that have not changed much in the last forty years. Throughout their exile they have not even tried to understand the world we live in, they are ignorant of current international developments, they remain opposed to any democratic ideas. When it comes to the revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah, they believe in conspiracy theories: “The West overthrew the Shah because he was developing the country”, “it was all the fault of Jimmy Carter and his Human Rights agenda!!”…

Among the reasons for the ineffectiveness and exclusion of monarchists inside Iran are their inability to understand the current world, either the international space or the historical conditions inside Iran today, as well as the belief in re-establishing a sovereign monarchy. The ideology justifying this programme, of natural hierarchy and disbelief in the possibility of equality and non-discrimination is itself repellent to most people in Iran. From the point of view of the monarchists, the poor will always be poor and the king must be a shrewd king. But many of the people who form current Iranian society who had already overcome the kingdom in 1979, have no belief in the rule of kings or desire to return to the past, and this part of the opposition is completely rejected by the people. Inside Iran they lack support, they are ineffective. Young people in Iran don’t believe in hereditary privilege and are aware of the ignorance and incompetence of this section of the opposition. Consequently, the chances of this section in the Iranian political arena are zero or close to zero.

Mojahedin-e Khalq or People’s Mujahedin of Iran:

The crucial point about this opposition group is their contradictory history and their military aggression into Western Iran, using Iraqi tanks and artillery when Saddam Hussein supported them. This was originally an Islamic left-wing group. In the early days of the revolution it was closely linked to the Islamic state. However it fell from grace as Khomeini and his allies consolidated their share of power and as the group’s disagreements with Khomeini grew. Mojahedin members and supporters were dismissed from the circles of power and the group declared itsef for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran through armed struggle.

One of the main reasons for the ineffectiveness of this group is the sharp difference between the group’s claims and its actions. We are talking of an anti-democratic secretive group with dictatorial practices within, against its own members. Many years after the death of the leader of the group (Massoud Rajavi), thought to have been killed during the second Gulf war, the group’s leadership has not acknowledged this information. Armed struggles and blind assassinations have always been amongst the reasons for ordinary Iranians rejecting this group. In addition there is confusion about the group’s goals and objectives.

However what distinguishes this group from other opposition groups, what makes them a despicable force hated by the Iranian people, is their cooperation with the enemy during the Iran-Iraq war and their participation in an effort to invade Iran, helped by Iraqi troops, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Many Iranians consider them more dangerous, far more horrific than the current Islamic Republic. So not only do they have little support in the country, any attempt at promoting them, for example by supporters and allies of Donald Trump, such as John Bolton or Giuliani backfires, strengthening the Islamic Republic. In summary the PMOI is viewed negatively in general and its recent history is considered disgusting.

The virtual opposition or quasi-opposition groups:

In recent years, we have seen a flood of unidentified opposition groups. This type of opposition, often very small groups, with fewer members than the fingers of one hand, is often composed of very young opponents of the regime. In general they are more familiar with basic concepts of democracy however their behaviour is marked by lack of experience, so they play on emotions to alarm their audience and as a result they attract some supporters amongst the young generation. On the whole such groups are more rebellious, however they remain ineffective because they lack organisation and political theory.

In addition, since Iranian society is a traditional and conservative society, the fact that such groups thrive by crossing social red lines, damages their reputation beyond their immediate supporters. But the most important reason why such groups remain ineffective is their reliance on lies and deceit, for the sake of political advancement. They believe it is permissible to use ‘fake’ information to oppose the government. From the point of view of this type of opposition, attacking other opposition groups is not just a tactic but a strategy for further development.

HOPI STATEMENT: MAY DAY IN IRAN SUPPORT WORKERS’ STRUGGLES!

iw2Hands Off the People of Iran has consistently identified the workers of Iran as the solid anti-imperialist force in that country, a force that has shown resilience in opoposition to the religious state . This is the section of Iranian society that the anti-war movement in the west must be a partisan of and ally with. This understanding explains why we have been implacably opposed not simply to any military attack on the country, but also the so-called ‘soft war’ option of sanctions: when the working class is distracted daily by the struggle to simply keep body and soul together, its ability to intervene in national politics with its own, radical agenda for democratic change is drastically restricted.

We therefore enthusiastically welcome news from Iran that May Day – international workers’ day – saw workers tenaciously defy military and security forces to organise illegal gathers and protests throughout the country. In Tehran and other major cities, slogans were raised against low pay, unemployment and the non-payment of wages. In an audacious symbolic act, the largest demonstration of all gathered outside the Islamic parliament, the Majles. We send our warm congratulations to all those who participated in these inspiring May 1 actions and re-commit ourselves to aid their struggles, first though mobilising the workers’ movement in this country to take a stand against war and sanctions and, second, through the direct provision of financial and other aid where we can.

The potential power of the workers is not simply recognised by Hopi, however. Increasingly, forces very far from the progressive movement – frustrated by the impotence of political groups such as the reformist Greens – are taking an interest in the class that has been the most persistent and courageous opponent of the Islamic regime.

For instance, the US journal Foreign Policy writes: “As Iran’s economy continues to deteriorate, the labour movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes … And thus far, Iranian labourers have not joined the opposition green movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime’s mismanagement, corruption and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits and job security – enough reason for Iranian labourers to organise and oppose the regime …”. More ominously for today’s theocracy, it goes on to draw a parallel between the repression of today and “the Shah’s treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime’s denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker’s rights.”1

In the UK during the same week, The Economist published an article with the strap: “Though watched and muzzled, independent labour unions are stirring”.2

The new, restive mood amongst the working class coincides with turmoil at the very top of the regime:

* Confusion is rife about who will or will not stand as a candidate in the country’s forthcoming presidential elections and whether the Guardian Council will allow Mohammad Khatami (the last ‘reformist’ president) or Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anointed successor) to participate

* On April 29, the Guardian wrote that according to a unconfirmed report from a source in the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligent unit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been arrested and held for seven hours. This is yet to be confirmed, but what is true is that the man had threatened to release audio tapes proving there was fraud in the 2009 presidential elections. Before he was released, Ahmadinejad was apparently warned to keep silent about matters ‘detrimental’ to the Islamic regime – like presidential vote-rigging, for instance

* Iran’s press and media are dominated by speculation about ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani after he announced he is not ruling himself out as a candidate in the June 14 polls

In this fluid situation, what is the role of activists in solidarity with the workers of Iran? Hands Off the People Iran says we must:

1. Step up our efforts to block any military action against Iran. The regime is already using bellicose posturing from the US and Israel to depict its opponents as a fifth column for western imperialism. An actually military attack would dramatically derail the slow recomposition of the working class movement and give the theocracy a golden opportunity to unite the people around a ‘defence of the nation’ … led by itself, of course

2. Fight to end the form of war that is currently being waged on Iran – sanctions. The main victim of the these is the working class and the resultant poverty and desperate struggle for the basic necessities of life effectively excludes it from the political life of the country. The oil industry and parts of the manufacturing sector are on the verge of a complete shutdown and as a result tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Others have not been paid any wages for up to two years, yet they continue going to work so that they can keep their jobs. Workers make ends meet by taking up extra part-time work – anything from driving taxis to selling goods on the pavement.

We say it is our internationalist duty to provide solidarity and material aid to the working people of Iran. Their struggles, though defensive in the main, should be a source of pride for us in the resilience of our class. The key problems are the barriers placed in the way of workers organising as a political force. Given this vacuum, regime change forces of the right – both green ‘reformists’ within the religious state and the US-sponsored ‘republican and royalist’ champions of regime change from above – are now trying to hitch the social power of this section of Iranian society to their stalled reactionary projects.

So far they have had little success. But there is no room for complacency.

Notes

1. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/04/22/labor_and_opposition_in_iran

2. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21576408-though-watched-and-muzzled-independent-labour-unions-are-stirring-aya-toiling