Stepping up the threats

It is mid-summer in an election year, so we should not be surprised by the hawkish statements regarding Iran coming from the US – not just from the Republican contender, Mitt Romney, but also the current US president. However, even when we take into account the timing, some of the statements Romney has just made in Jerusalem are more than worrying – and they have been matched by Barack Obama’s promises to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on the despatch of bunker-buster bombs to the Gulf region.1

According to the Financial Times, in a keynote speech delivered in Jerusalem, Mitt Romney stated that the US has a “moral imperative” to stop Iran – the “most destabilising country in the world” – from developing nuclear weapons.2 Earlier in the day one of Romney’s advisors, Dan Senor, had said: “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision”.3

In March 2012 Obama had criticised the “bluster and big talk” of Republicans candidates about a possible war with Iran: “This is not a game. There is nothing casual about it.”4 However, with the polls suggesting a tight presidential race,5 the US president has himself joined the “bluster and big talk” about Iran, the suggestion that the use of bunker-busters may now be on the agenda representing a real escalation. It is sad reflection of our time that the fate of 75 million Iranians and the possibility of military air raids against Iran’s nuclear facility might be decided by the rise and fall of Obama’s ratings in the polls. Added to this are reports that the United States is sharing with Israel full details of its possible military plans in relation to Iran.6

As far as Iranians are concerned, the war started on July 1, when a combination of new EU and US sanctions came into effect. The result has been large numbers of job losses, long queues for basic food, riots and demonstrations – no wonder Iranians are convinced that the confrontation with the west has entered a new phase. Sanctions cover not just nuclear, missile and military exports to Iran, but also oil, gas and petrochemicals, plus refined petroleum products; shipping in general; and banking and insurance, including transactions with the Central Bank of Iran – its director, Mahmoud Bahmani, commented that sanctions are “no less than a military war”.7

But it does not end there. On July 30, negotiators from the United States Congress and Senate reached an agreement regarding a new round of sanctions. The Senate Banking Committee’s Democratic chairman, Tim Johnson, promised to do all he could to make sure the legislation passed before the August recess: “… unless Iranians come clean on their nuclear programme, end the suppression of their people and stop supporting terrorist activities, they will face deepening international isolation and even greater economic and diplomatic pressure”.8 In addition, on July 31 Obama announced new measures to penalise foreign banks that help Iran sell its oil.9

Clearly the reason for imposing sanctions and preparing for war has changed. It is no longer just about Iran’s nuclear programme. Now the US might go to war because the US has suddenly realised that the country’s rulers suppress the Iranian people and support “terrorist activities”. Iranians have every reason to ask, why now? The Islamic regime has been suppressing its own population since the day it came to power and in the last decade the bulk of the state’s most brutal repression has been directed at workers and labour activists who have campaigned against the religious capitalist state’s implementation of neoliberal economic policies dictated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

As for the regime’s “terrorist activities”, over the last 33 years its main victims have been the Iranian people themselves. However, there is no doubt that many of the US’s current and previous allies in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, can match Iran in this regard, but so far there have been no ultimatums issued against them.

The nearer we get to the presidential elections, the more we can expect both candidates to emphasise their support for Israel and declare further measures to punish Iran. Contrary to what some commentators are saying, this is not just about gaining more votes from amongst Jewish Americans: a lot more is at stake. In these times of economic crisis the hegemon capitalist power cannot tolerate regimes such as Iran or Syria and, contrary to what the Senate Banking Committee chairman says, the possibility of air raids against Iran would remain even if the country’s clerical dictators came “clean on their nuclear programme, end the suppression of their people and stop supporting terrorist activities”.

Inside Iran, after months of denying or playing down the effects of existing and future sanctions, the regime now admits that the current situation is not sustainable. The price of basic food items has shot up, the country can no longer export oil and the reaction of Iranian leaders over the last few days has only compounded the sense of panic.

As factions of the Islamic state continued blaming each other for the appalling economic conditions, with some now talking of a possible U-turn regarding the nuclear programme, supreme leader Ali Khamenei was forced to intervene. He urged all factions to stop bickering, reminding everyone that the current threat of war has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear programme. Referring to attempts at a rapprochement with the west during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Khamenei commented that such policies had failed in the past.

You know that military confrontation is looming when Iranian leaders call on the people to have more children. Echoing Ruhollah Khomeini’s infamous call to Iranians to defeat Saddam Hussein’s Iraq through population growth so as to create a “20-million-member army”, Khamenei blasted family planning programmes and urged his subjects to reproduce more. Of course, many Iranians would say that in the current economic climate they cannot afford to feed one or two children, never mind a much larger family. Iran’s population growth rate has fallen from 3.9% in 1986 to 1.3%. in 2011.10

US strategy is quite clear: sanctions are putting the reactionary rulers of Iran under severe pressure. The intended consequences are clear too: it is hoped that the pressure will drive Iranian rulers to take forceful countermeasures which the US will use as justification for military action, such as closing the Straits of Hormuz (through which 30 % of the world’s oil flows) or embarking on a terrorist adventure.

Some sections of the left, notably those influenced by US ‘regime-change funds’, claim that sanctions are actually a blessing. The population will be forced by the food shortages, absence of medical equipment and lack of jobs – not to mention the continued repression by the religious state – to rise up against the regime. Leaving aside the callousness of such wishful thinking, there is no direct correlation between the worsening of living conditions and the ability of the people to make revolution. The problem in Iran, as elsewhere, is in the absence of a truly nationwide organised working class movement, and in its absence the crisis could pave the way for the coming to power of the most dubious rightwing forces – or merely the transfer of power from one faction of the Islamic regime to another.

Hands Off the People of Iran activists have been discussing our intervention in the current situation. In counterposition to the disastrous CIA-funded Iran Tribunal, we are investigating the possibility of setting up a workers’ tribunal that will examine in depth both the crimes of the Islamic regime – not least the mass execution of prisoners in the summer of 1988, including aspects the Iran Tribunal is conveniently keeping quiet about – and the devastating effects of the current imperialist sanctions and military threats. This would help publicise not only the life-threatening shortages caused by sanctions, but also the psychological effects of war threats on millions of Iranians already under pressure from a repressive dictatorship.

This is a major project that may be beyond our current capabilities. However, we think such a proposal can gain momentum and in the meantime we plan to hold a symbolic event that will help us to judge how we can advance the possibility of a workers’ tribunal.

With this in mind we will be contacting those involved in the International Endowment for Democracy, such as professor Bertell Ollman, who exposed the pro-imperialist agenda of the National Endowment for Democracy during the war against Iraq. The idea is to bring together all those opposed to the pro-imperialism of the NED amongst US and UK academics, activists and trade unionists to put both the Iranian state and the imperialists in the dock.

We will also seek to work closely with those sections of the Iranian left taking a principled position on the issue of ‘regime-change funds’ – and in particular with those former political prisoners who took such a courageous stance in opposition to the sham Iran Tribunal.

1. ‘US adds 13.6-tonne bunker-buster to arsenal’:

2. ‘Romney forced to clarify Iran position’:

3. Ibid.

4. ‘Obama warns of “loose talk” on Iran’:

5. The Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday July 29 shows Romney on 47%, with Obama two points behind:

6. ‘Panetta: US, Israel united in favour of more Iran sanctions’:


8. ‘Deal struck to tighten sanctions against Iran’:

9. ‘Obama announces new sanctions’:

10. ‘Iran urges baby boom’:

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