Tag Archives: Iran

Joining forces against war and expulsions

Milton Keynes Hands Off the People of Iran and the local Stop the War Coalition group joined forces for a meeting on the threat of war against Iran reports Dave Isaacson (this report was originally published in the Weekly Worker).

Moshé Machover (left) and Dave Isaacson at the meeting. Photo: © Brian Robinson.

Comrades from the Hands of the People of Iran campaign in Milton Keynes have responded to the recently escalating sanctions and war threats against Iran by working closely with the local Stop the War group to build opposition to any imperialist intervention. We worked together to organise a joint Hopi/STW public meeting to discuss these issues on Monday May 28.

Over 20 people attended, which for a town such as Milton Keynes is reasonable. The meeting was addressed by Israeli socialist Moshé Machover, who is also a member of the Hopi steering committee. He gave an excellent opening, looking at the reasons why policymakers in the US and Israel want to see a change of regime in Iran and why some actively favour the methods of war to achieve such an aim. Moshé examined the long-term strategic interests of Zionism in Israel in particular. He argued that these interests flow from the fact that Israel is a certain type of colonial settler state, based upon the total exclusion of the indigenous population, to the extent that this can be achieved (unlike some other settler states such as South Africa and Algeria, where native peoples were needed for their labour-power).

With Israel’s determination to scupper any hopes that Palestinians have for an independent sovereign state on the one hand, and the Zionist nightmare of ‘demographic peril’ (the fear that the growing Palestinian population will increasingly outnumber Israelis) on the other, the very presence of the Palestinians is intolerable to Zionism. Comrade Machover explained that the solution that many Zionists have longed to put into practice is to simply expel the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza: ie, ethnic cleansing.

Indeed the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is on record telling students in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in November 1989 that “the government had failed to exploit politically favourable situations in order to carry out ‘large-scale’ expulsions at times when ‘the damage would have been relatively small. I still believe that there are opportunities to expel many people’.” Israeli provocations that lead to a regional conflagration involving Iran and the US could create just the “politically favourable situation” Netanyahu wishes for – a sideshow while they ethnically cleanse the Palestinians.

Moshé’s talk was well received and there were some very interesting questions which prompted further discussions on issues such as the current conflict in Syria, Israel’s own development of a nuclear arsenal, and an assessment of the Occupy movement. One speaker expressed scepticism about the scale of the ethnic cleansing Moshé argues Israeli politicians would like to carry out. He felt that such a thing would just not be acceptable in this day and age. Moshé responded that it is precisely our job to make sure that such acts are made unacceptable, and indeed made impossible, through our collective opposition. To achieve such aims we need political organisation and a programme.

Everybody I spoke to left feeling that the meeting had been a success. Everyone took home Hopi literature and many bought a copy of the Weekly Worker or of Moshé’s new book – Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution. As well as Hopi and STW, the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch was also present with a stall. These are all good signs that people are taking the issues seriously and want to learn more.

As Moshé explained at the end of the meeting, this summer is a particularly dangerous one for the Middle East. We must keep a close eye on the situation and do all we can develop the ideas and organisation we need to pose an internationalist and socialist alternative to imperialism and Zionism. Hopi is very clear: we stand in solidarity with the Iranian people – not their regime – and oppose all sanctions and war threats. In Milton Keynes we will continue to work closely with the local STW group (which incidentally displays none of the sectarianism towards Hopi that we have experienced at a national level). It is also worth mentioning our gratitude to Milton Keynes trades council, an affiliate of Hopi, who financed the meeting with a £100 donation.

Audio files of the opening speech and answers to questions at the meeting are available to listen to on the HOPI website. Thanks to Brian Robinson for producing the recordings.

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Iran: imperialism finds new pretext for threats

Yassamine Mather

As Iranian workers went out in remarkable numbers for May Day, a new dispute over some small islands in the Gulf shows that despite apparent progress on the nuclear question a new source of tension has been found. Yassamine Mather of Hands Off the People of Iran reports (first published in the Weekly Worker).

A week can be a long time in politics, but in Iran it can seem more like a year.

Last week, as news agencies were reporting rumours of the regime’s possible retreat over its nuclear programme, the price of gold dropped on the Tehran exchange market – a clear sign of reduced tensions between western powers and Iran. The factional fighting of recent years also seemed to belong to the distant past, as figureheads of various factions of the regime, including those arch enemies, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the current incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended the meetings of the National Expediency Council. They even managed to smile for the cameras in a pre-arranged photo-shoot.

However, then came news of another conflict in the Persian Gulf – this time between Iran on the one side and Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries on the other. Arab and US media reported that the Peninsula Shield Force, the military coordinating army of the GCC, had been carrying out military manoeuvres to “test harmony and coordination among ground, air and naval forces and their readiness”.

The military exercise was seen as a response to Iran’s continued occupation of three islands in the Gulf – the tiny Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb islets, near the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz, that was seized in 1971 by the shah after British forces left the region. Abu Musa, the only inhabited island of the three, was placed under joint administration in a deal with Sharjah, now part of the United Arab Emirates. They have since been a bone of contention with the UAE, which claims sovereignty over them.

While the dispute seemed to have been forgotten for most of the decades since, in the last two months the UAE has been mounting increasingly vocal demands for the return of their territory – with the backing of the GCC and the Arab League. This, of course, has brought an angry response from the Iranians, who vowed to “crush any act of aggression” and prompted a visit to Abu Musa by Ahmadinejad a few weeks ago. In Tehran the rumour is that even the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was not aware of the trip before it took place – on the eve of the international nuclear talks.

After Ahmadinejad’s trip to Abu Musa, the foreign minister of the UAE recalled its ambassador to Iran, claiming that it amounted to “flagrant violation” and an “occupation”. But things did not end there. The UAE succeeded in convincing the other Persian Gulf states to support it and the GCC issued a statement condemning the visit.

No-one can be in any doubt that the renewal of this dispute after 41 years is a pretext for a much wider conflict between Iran and the leaders of the Persian Gulf states, who nowadays are taking a prominent role in opposition to the Islamic Republic. The Gulf emirs are convinced that Iran is seeking to harness the forces unleashed by the Arab uprisings in order to destabilise their own internal control and, rather than wait for events to overtake them, have clearly decided to use the dispute over the islands as a lever to ramp up their hostility towards Tehran.

Of course, it is unlikely that the Gulf states will go to war with Iran. However, they have become an integral part of US plans for regime change in Damascus and Tehran. One option they are certainly taking up is increasing their support for groups opposing the Syrian and Iranian regimes. But, as the Saudis, Emiratis and Qataris try to vent their frustration with Tehran on Syria, they will almost certainly provoke Iran to adopt retaliatory measures. But over the last two weeks, without waiting for such a response, the US mainstream media have been portraying the dispute as yet another example of Iran’s ‘irresponsible warmongering’.

Most Iranians believe the issue of the ownership of the islands has surfaced now as part of the campaign to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. They do not believe the Emirates’ claims to be acting independently in this matter.

Internal conflict

As most of the world was concentrating on elections in Europe, the second round of polling for the Islamic parliament, the majles, took place in Iran. Results declared on May 5 showed the Iranian president’s support crumbling, with ultra-conservative rivals consolidating their hold on the majles. Ahmadinejad’s supporters won only 13 of the 65 seats contested in the May 4 vote, further reducing his power base in the 290-seat legislature. The president’s opponents won 41 seats and this follows the victory of Khamenei loyalists in the first round of voting in March, when they had already secured an outright majority.

On the day the increase in that majority was announced, conflict between the president and the majles reached new heights, as the ‘integration committee’ rejected Ahmadinejad’s proposal to increase revenues from subsidy cuts – a move which could effectively block the implementation of the second stage of the subsidy ‘reform’ plan.

Ahmadinejad had presented the draft of the national budget bill for the Iranian year beginning on March 20 on February 1, in which it was proposed that the revenues from subsidy savings would be increased from about $44 billion to $110 billion. And last week the government decided to suddenly remove controls on energy prices to complete the implementation of the subsidy ‘reform’. The majlis voted to say this decision is illegal because it runs counter to the agreed ‘reform’, which allows for the subsidies on fuel, electricity and certain goods to be cut over the course of five years. Too deep, too fast. Majles speaker Ali Larijani started legal action against Ahmadinejad, at the same time as two complaints were sent to the judiciary, accusing the government of “incurring irreparable damage” to the economy by violating foreign exchange laws, “at a time when the country faces numerous sanctions”.

Clearly the short-lived peace between various factions of the Islamic regime, forged by the supreme leader, has already broken down – with serious implications for the president.

Meanwhile, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton urged India to do “even more” to cut its purchases of oil from Iran to keep up the pressure on that country to prove its nuclear programme is peaceful. As a result of sanctions, drugs for cancer, heart disease and several other ailments are now in short supply, according to the ‘reformist’ daily, Shargh. The shortage is the result of international sanctions against the Islamic republic, the implementation of subsidy cuts and foreign-currency exchange-rate fluctuations that Iran has experienced in recent months, claimed the newspaper. Supply of the affected drugs has reached “worrying levels”, it said.

May Day

However, the conflict is not restricted to infighting within the regime. This year, Iranian workers participated in a surprisingly large number of May Day protests – some organised through activist networks, and many more occurring within industrial complexes. After hearing of similar protests elsewhere, workers demonstrated outside the gates of their workplaces demanding action over low wages, non-payment and lack of job security. All these issues have been compounded by sanctions. Many workers held up placards saying “We are hungry”.

A small, impromptu gathering took place in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj. According to reports by the Free Union of Iranian Workers, on May 1 hundreds of workers congregated in that city chanting, “We are workers, we are hungry”, and “Workers’ solidarity”. Other signs read: “Bread, housing, liberty” and “Imprisoned workers should be released”.

May Day 2012 will be remembered as the day Iranian workers managed to raise their voice despite the difficult circumstances they face – not just in terms of the appalling economic conditions resulting from sanctions and the regime’s attacks, but also under circumstances of an increasingly repressive religious capitalist dictatorship. For Hands Off the People of Iran this means redoubling our efforts in solidarity with Iranian workers, to make sure their voice is heard above all the talk of war, sanctions and territorial recriminations.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.org.uk

Don’t forget the upcoming public meeting, ‘No war on Iran’ on Monday May 28th at the Fishermead Trinity Centre, Fishermead Boulevard, Milton Keynes. Speaker: Moshé Machover. Jointly organised by HOPI and MK Stop the War.

Public meeting: no war on Iran

The Iranian people – devastated by sanctions and subjugated by their own regime – have much to fear. Israel is rattling its sabres. The American public are clearly being prepared by the Obama administration for an attack on Iran. UK parliamentarians are unsurprisingly supine in their acquiescence towards imperialist intervention. For our part, as communists, we are stepping up our efforts to convince people of the necessity of opposing both any future attack, and the sanctions that are currently devastating the people of Iran. It is these people in Iran who, being overwhelmingly at odds with their regime, must be the ones to settle scores with the likes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Progress will come as a result of revolt from below, not imperialist intervention from above. US, or Israeli, attacks would be a disaster.

In response to the growing threat of war against Iran activists from the Milton Keynes Stop the War group and the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign have got together to organise a joint public meeting setting out the case for opposing the war threats and sanctions on Iran. The meeting will take place on Monday 28th May at 7.30pm in Fishermead Trinity Centre, on Fishermead Boulevard, Milton Keynes, MK6 2LA. The speaker will be Moshé Machover who is on the steering committee of Hands Off the People of Iran and a founder of the Israeli socialist group Matzpen. Please put the details in your diary and let others know about it too. It is hugely important that we build the biggest possible voice to counter the war threats and stand in solidarity with the people of Iran.

On the weekend of April 21-22 there is also a weekend school that Hands Off the People of Iran are hosting at the University of London Union on Malet Street in central London. This is an excellent opportunity to examine in more depth the issues behind the war threats. There will be a number of speakers over the weekend including Iranian socialists, John McDonnell MP, Moshé Machover, and NUJ President Donnache De Long. Full details are on the HOPI website.

War threats intensify

It is clear that the Obama administration is preparing US public opinion for war, writes Yassamine Mather (first published in the Weekly Worker)

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Israel: ready to attack

 

On Saturday April 14 Iran will attend talks with six world powers. The US has indicated this is Iran’s “last chance” to avoid military intervention and the Obama administration is taking very specific demands to the talks as preconditions for further negotiations: for example, Iran “must immediately close” a large nuclear facility allegedly built underneath a mountain if it wants to avoid a devastating strike.

Other “near term” concessions to avoid a potential military conflict include the suspension of high-level uranium enrichment and the surrender by Tehran of existing stockpiles of the fuel, according to senior US officials. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made the usual noises about time “running out for diplomacy”, while expressing “doubts” about whether Iran has any real intention of negotiating a solution. In other words, preparing US public opinion for an attack that is possibly already scheduled.

The preconditions put Iran’s Islamic government in an impossible situation and, although Tehran might use the talks to buy more time, accepting such conditions would represent such a terrible humiliation that it would be tantamount to political suicide for a dictatorship whose unpopularity continues to rise. But, there again, the US is hardly aiming to make life easy of the theocracy. In Tehran, some senior clerics are hoping that the 12th Shia Imam will make his reappearance even sooner than they are apt to predict.

As for Washington, in an election year the Obama administration has decided it cannot afford to look “weak” on Iran, as the Republican right ups the pressure for military action. To add to the pressure, the US navy has announced the deployment of a second aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to the Persian Gulf region, where it will join the USS Abraham Lincoln. This will increase its ability to launch a massive air war on Iran at short notice.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Research on Globalization quoted political analyst Ralph Schoenman to the effect that Nato and the US are arming Israel with missile capacity in relation to a “projected and planned attack upon Iran”, According to Schoenman, Italy’s sale of 30 M-346 training jets to Israel is part of these preparations. And the Israeli military has gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan, according to Mark Perry of the journal Foreign Policy:

“Obama administration officials now believe that the ‘submerged’ aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance – the security cooperation between the two countries – is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran … senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border.” One “senior administration official” is quoted as saying: “The Israelis have bought an airfield … and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.” [1]

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is even more terrifying: “The roulette wheel continues to spin and the ball falls into a different numbered slot every time. Following defence minister Ehud Barak’s estimate that around 500 Israelis will be killed in the event of a counterattack by Iran, Israel air force performance analysts have recently published a study calculating that around 300 Israelis will die if Israel launches a war against Iran.” The paper criticises the Israeli government for its “obsession” with an Iranian “hypothetical nuclear bomb”, allegedly “forgetting the threat” of Iranian and Syrian chemical weapons. It calls on Netanyahu to protect Israeli citizens against an Iranian assault: “So, dear Bibi, ahead of the hot summer, we’ve got a tiny request. Give us gas masks.” [2]

For most Iranians the war has already started. After months of denials the ministry of oil admits that Iran’s export of crude oil has dropped sharply even before the EU embargo from July has officially started. Insurers are showing growing reluctance to cover tankers carrying Iranian oil and refiners are said to be “increasingly wary” of crude from the country because of the threat posed by sanctions. China, India, Japan and South Korea are the four biggest buyers of Iranian crude in Asia, and all of them have cut imports.

However, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remains in denial, claiming this week that the country has enough capital reserves to go “two to three years” without selling oil. It is difficult to believe such claims, when the government’s efforts to improve the plight of the currency so clearly failed – the Iranian toman dropped to half of its value against the dollar in January 2012.

Iran’s car manufacturing industry is also facing a serious crisis after Peugeot Citroen, fearing the enforcement of US-led financial sanctions, stopped its trade in February. Iran was Peugeot Citroen’s second-biggest market in 2011 in terms of trade volume. However it came under increasing pressure after a US lobby group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), called on the US Congress to investigate the French car company’s transactions with the Islamic Republic.

In addition, top financial institutions such as Société Générale and the Rabobank Group have stepped back from business with Iran in recent months, fearful of political risk and logistical difficulties covering every aspect of financial transactions (including areas not directly affected by sanctions). Smaller banks that are willing to continue business with Iran demand much higher fees. According to the Wall Street Journal, “firms and other intermediaries still brokering these trades are charging more than 6% per transaction for legitimate trade deals with Iran, on top of traditional banking fees … Other institutions involved in financing legitimate trade with Iran declined to speak on the record, saying they feared publicity could lead the US treasury to increase its scrutiny of their US-dollar operations.” [3]

The response from Iran’s pragmatist capitalist ayatollahs is clear: let us resolve our differences with the US. This week former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani criticised the country’s current foreign policy – in particular the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. In an interview with the Iranian International Studies quarterly journal, Rafsanjani stressed the importance of direct talks with the US.

Rafsanjani said that in a letter to ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he had urged the former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic to “resolve” seven outstanding issues while he was still alive, one of them being the poor state of US-Iranian relations: “I wrote that our current approach, which is to not talk or have any ties, cannot continue. The US is the world’s leading power. What is the difference, in our view, between Europe and the US, or between China and the US, or between Russia and the US? If we negotiate with them why can’t we negotiate with the US? Holding talks doesn’t mean we’re surrendering.” [4]

Iranian allies?

The Iranian regime, the Shia occupation government in Baghdad and Iran’s allies in the Lebanese Hezbollah are all following events in Syria with great concern. The fall of the Assad regime would be a serious blow to the Shia camp and Tehran feels more and more isolated in a Sunni-dominated Middle East. For the last three decades much of the Arab media has blamed Iran for meddling in internal Arab affairs – not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon and Bahrain.

In Palestine Hamas has distanced itself from both Iran and Syria. Strengthening its relations with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, it has denounced the Syrian regime’s crackdown on its opponents and stated that it would stay ‘neutral’ if Israel attacked Iran. As a result of this shift Hamas is now getting a highly negative press in Iran, which hopes that at least it will be able to rely on Hezbollah. However, even there the relationship is not what it used to be.

In June 2011, Lebanon’s new prime minister, Najib Mikati, formed a government in coalition with Hezbollah. While Israeli and US officials are keen to exaggerate the role of Hezbollah, the reality is that financial, political and therefore military power remains firmly in the hands of Christian and Sunni parties. Iranian finance might have helped Hezbollah set up a social-service network in the Bekaa valley, allowing it to recruit fighters and acquire an arsenal of rockets, but there is no comparison between this and the multimillion-dollar investments by Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries in Lebanon.

Hezbollah was set up in 1983, under the Iranian ‘reformist’ premiership of Mir-Hossein Moussavi (currently under house arrest) and some Hezbollah leaders have longstanding relations with Iranian clerics and revolutionary guards currently out of favour in Iran because of their support for the ‘reformist’ movement. In fact, wary of the instability in Tehran since 2009 and a slashing of Iran’s annual budget for Hezbollah by 40% in early 2009, Hezbollah has been forced to impose austerity measures, reducing salaries and staff numbers and placing many construction projects on hold. In addition the party is being challenged at home by the indictment of several of its members for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

All in all, Hezbollah is not as powerful as the US and its allies claim and, although in the event of a military attack on Iran it will do what it can to support a Shia ally, the organisation is not in a position to prove an effective deterrent to military attacks. This is why raising false hopes about the ability of Hamas or Hezbollah to stop an attack on Iran is so misplaced.

Genuine solidarity with the people of Iran has to come from anti-war forces beyond the Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East. We in Britain and elsewhere need to raise awareness of the current situation in Iran and the region so as to build an effective anti-war campaign. Next weekend’s school organised by Hands Off the People of Iran in London will be an important part of such an effort.

Hopi’s opposition to war and sanctions, as well as to the Islamic Regime, is attracting new support in Britain and abroad. Iranian comrades in Canada joined the anti-war protests last month in Toronto, where Hopi posters were prominent, and this prompted discussions and debates with the Canadian anti-war alliance. When I debated James Clark of Toronto Coalition to Stop the War in a TV broadcast, he agreed with many of the points we have raised over the last few years. A further debate is planned and we hope to make similar interventions in Vancouver and Montreal. Hopi’s principled position is also supported by a number of Iranian leftist activists in Chicago and Washington. Over the next few weeks we intend to widen our activities in North America – opposing war, while building solidarity with Iranian workers, students, the women’s movement and Iran’s oppressed national and religious minorities. The April 21-22 London school will hopefully feature an online session to coordinate solidarity with activists in North America.

In France the collective around the journal Carré Rouge has played an important role in introducing Hopi to the French left. Translations of many Hopi articles in both the printed and online versions have helped us gain supporters in the French-speaking world. We hope this cooperation will lead to Hopi meetings in France and Belgium.

Marathon support

This Sunday, April 15, 40 runners representing Workers Fund Iran will take part in the Vienna marathon to raise money for the charity.

Workers Fund Iran was set up in December 2005. It aims to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (employed and unemployed), who are victims both of the economic policies of the Iranian government and the sanctions imposed by imperialism. It aims to put at the centre of its activities the need to rebuild international solidarity – directly, with the workers of Iran. WFI is involved in many fundraising activities to support its work, ranging from social gatherings to solidarity cricket. Yet another WFI tradition is perhaps the ultimate test: marathon running. Last September WFI participation in the Berlin marathon raised well over €500.

Over the last few years Workers Fund Iran has sent funds to a number of working class families, including contributing to the medical expenses of a well known trade unionist, and helping with the housing costs of a number of working class families particular badly hit by the poverty that is affecting large numbers. Of course, WFI has very limited resources. However, every penny collected in the UK is sent to Iran – the charity’s administration and management is run on an entirely voluntary basis.

As the war threats intensify, it is more important than ever to extend our solidarity. Please be generous in your sponsorship of our runners. Go to https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/workers-fund-iran-11724/donate, where your contributions will be gratefully received.

Notes

1. www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/28/israel_s_secret_staging_ground.

2. Ha’aretz April 8: www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-tiny-request-on-the-eve-of-an-iran-war-1.423197.

3. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303299604577323601794862004.html.

4. http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2012/apr/04/3586.


Iran: all options remain on the table

Rhetoric about Iran is all too reminiscent of the prelude to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, warns Ben Lewis (first published in the Weekly Worker)

On Monday February 20 parliament debated the prospect of military intervention against Iran. This against a background of increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States and Israel, as well as the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The debate was initiated by Conservative MP John Baron, perhaps the only Tory MP who opposes an attack on Iran. His motion was simple and straightforward: “This house believes that the use of force against Iran would be wholly counterproductive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons; and calls upon the government to rule out the use of force against Iran and reduce tensions by redoubling diplomatic efforts.” Malcolm Rifkind, Tory chairman of the intelligence and security committee, moved an amendment that completely changed its content. The amendment deleted everything except “This house” and replaced the rest of Baron’s motion with: “… supports the government’s efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through a combination of pressure in the form of robust sanctions, and engagement led by the E3+3 comprising the UK, US, France, Germany, China and Russia; and recognises the value of making clear to Iran that all options for addressing the issue remain on the table”.

It was perhaps no surprise that a cross-party consensus quickly formed around the Rifkind amendment, which was passed by an overwhelming majority of 285 to 6. Those who voted against the amendment were Labour MPs John McDonnell, Paul Flynn and Dennis Skinner; Jonathan Edwards of Plaid Cymru; Mark Durkan of the Social Democratic and Labour Party; and Baron himself.

That meant, of course, that an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs lined up for war. Michael McCann deserves particular mention: “diplomacy and sanctions should not be our only options – nothing should be ruled out”. Diane Abbott, who has often spoken out against war and occupation, voted for the Rifkind amendment: ie, in favour of “robust sanctions” and against clearly spelling out that military intervention was off the cards. But then Abbott is now one of Ed Miliband’s shadow ministers.

It would appear that we are now closer to some sort of strike against Iran than we have been for quite some time. Reinforcing the sense of urgency, Baron reminded us that, given “tough new sanctions, state-sponsored terrorism and naval forces in the Gulf”, this “may be the only opportunity” to debate Iran before an Israeli air-strike, perhaps even a “regional war”.

Baron’s speech in support of his motion criticised “yesterday’s failed policies” of “sanctions and sabre-rattling”. Contrary to the stated aims of those supporting them, he said, sanctions and threats of military action only had the effect of strengthening the regime, particularly the “hard-liners”. He also did a good job of pointing out the shortcoming of the IAEA’s report on Iran, highlighting that there is not a shred of “concrete evidence” of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Given the utter disaster that ensued following the questionable evidence concerning Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003, we should be very wary of another disastrous war, said Baron. His request to foreign secretary William Hague to say where the evidence of Iranian nuclear weaponry could be found in the IAEA report fell on deaf ears.

That said, his case was significantly weakened by the fact that he questioned whether Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had actually called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” – apparently, the complexities of Farsi might mean that he was simply calling for “regime change”. The problem with this kind of apologia for the theocracy’s impotent rhetoric is that it buys into the ‘logic’ of the warmongers in Israel, the US and the UK: if the mullahs do want Israel “wiped off the map”, they must be prepared to launch a nuclear strike on that country, which means they must be developing the ability to do so, which means other Middle East powers will rush to develop nuclear arms themselves, which means there will be a “second cold war”.

Anti-war case

As Hands Off the People of Iran supporter John McDonnell was able to point out, the notion that the current sabre-rattling results from Israeli fears of a nuclear holocaust is frankly absurd. While it is “open to doubt” that Iran is close to having nuclear weapons, the issue “is really about nuclear capability – which is a threat only if one believes that nuclear weapons will be used”. And no-one does really believe that. If we are anxious about nuclear proliferation, he said, we have to “start with the root cause”, which is “Israel illegally gaining nuclear weapons”. The way forward had been spelt out by former British ambassador to Iran, Richard Dalton, said McDonnell, when he called for a “nuclear-free zone across the Middle East”. But that would mean facing up “the issue of Israel holding nuclear weapons”.

Comrade McDonnell pointed out that he is no friend of the regime: he has consistently tabled motions supporting campaigns like those of the Tehran bus workers and against the persecution of film director Jafar Panahi. But sanctions and the threat of military action “are strengthening the hard-liners in Iran and hurting the Iranian people, who are desperate to throw off the yoke of that theocracy”.

Sanctions represent “a siege of Iran”, which means we are “already at war by proxy”. As a result, Iran’s currency is collapsing, imports of grain are drying up and “people are becoming impoverished”. This is hardly “undermining the regime”. On the contrary, it is “hardening support for it by giving it the excuse that an external enemy is causing the impoverishment and hunger”.

Finally he referred to Israel’s “own domestic political agenda”: the “crisis atmosphere suits Netanyahu and the hawks who surround him”. Which was why there have been “covert military actions” carried out by organisations and individuals trained by Mossad. These acts “have prompted more terrorism around the world through Iran-sponsored attacks”, while the Israeli-sponsored “cyber-war” has “provoked even more retaliation”.

However, the eight-hour debate was dominated by the ratcheting up of threats. Labour MP Michael Mann was keen to draw on the example of Nazism and portray Ahmadinejad as the new Adolph Hitler. Apparently a recent conversation with one of his constituents who was present as the Nazis marched into Vienna had reminded him of Edmund Burke’s vacuous remark: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Absolutely sickening stuff.

With those on the ‘opposition’ benches going to such hawkish lengths, Rifkind’s case for leaving “all options open” sounded highly restrained by contrast. He made the rather odd point that if Baron’s motion were adopted then this would, paradoxically, increase the likelihood of military intervention against Iran. Why? Well, the Israelis would feel deserted by their allies and thus compelled to act unilaterally. At this point, John McDonnell intervened with a timely and well-aimed question: what sanctions would be imposed on Israel, were this to happen?

None, of course. In fact an Israeli strike might not be such a bad thing: “The Israelis acted unilaterally against Iraq when they removed the Osirak reactor, and both the western world and the Arab world breathed a huge sign of relief. It would ultimately depend on how successful the Israelis could be, and that is a separate question.”

That said, for the most part both Rifkind and foreign secretary William Hague were particularly keen on stressing two things: that the US was the “key country” in thinking about these questions (ie, the US will ultimately decide, and Britain will follow its lead) and that they would, of course, prefer a “peaceful” solution based on sanctions and “dialogue”: ie, negotiations with a pistol pointed at the head of those on the Iranian side of the table. After all, diplomacy requires “carrots and sticks”.

Rifkind stated that if it did come down to US-sanctioned military action, the “adverse consequences” would only be “relatively temporary”, with “short to medium-term” effects for a “few days, weeks or possibly even months”. The alternative, however, was the “permanent” prospect of an Iranian state with nuclear weapons. The circumstances under which such ‘pre-emptive’ military action might take place were, of course, a “military question” that should not be discussed in parliament.

According to Hague, “Our quarrel emphatically is not with the Iranian people” – although it is fine to wreck their lives through sanctions, it seems. No, “we want them to enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as we do and to live dignified lives in a prosperous society”. But “the Iranian government’s current policies endanger the interests of the Iranian people themselves, as well as undermining global security”.

This government celebrated the Arab spring a year ago by sending a delegation of British arms dealers around the Middle East – led by the prime minister – so they could ply their wares to a series of dictators. David Cameron showed himself more than willing to continue selling rubber bullets, tear gas and heavy arms to Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen immediately after his visit to Egypt in February 2011. Weapons to be used against those fighting for some sort of “dignified” existence in the face of “appalling” abuses of their human rights.

Behind all the delusional, self-righteous crap, though, lies an undeniable drive to war. Labour rebel Paul Flynn made the obvious point that the debate and the rhetoric deployed by the politicians has a distinct feeling of 2003 about it. This should be of enormous concern to all of us committed to any notion of democracy and progress in the Middle East and beyond. Almost 10 years on, and after the trail of death and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, our rulers are now contemplating a repeat.

We must do our utmost to oppose any such intervention. What is more, we must highlight the real motives behind the rhetoric: the US, through its main regional ally, Israel, is attempting to regain full control over a region that is going through extremely rapid change. We need the biggest, most militant and most daring show of opposition to their project. At all times we must expose the duplicitous lies of ‘our’ leaders and strengthen the force that can stop wars and a further descent into barbarity: the international working class movement.

ben.lewis@weeklyworker.org.uk

No war on Iran! For regime change from below!

Make your voice heard against war and repression, urges Hands Off the People of Iran chair, Yassamine Mather

The war drums against Iran are beating ever louder. The new embargo on Iranian oil, to come into force on July 1, is only the latest in a long list of measures imposed by US and EU imperialism. It bans all new oil contracts with Iran, and cuts off all existing deals. Also, all of the Iranian central bank’s European assets are to be frozen.

We are told that the sanctions are designed to weaken the regime and “force Iran back to the negotiating table” over its nuclear programme. This is clearly nonsense:

  • In reality, the ‘nuclear danger’ is used by imperialism as an excuse to deal with an increasingly unstable situation in the Middle East. Imperialism has recently lost a number of friendly regimes in the region (like Egypt) and needs to reassert control in this oil-rich area. War is also a useful distraction from economic misery and the current crisis of capitalism.
  • Former International Atomic Energy Agency analyst Robert Kelly has debunked the latest report purporting to show that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Of the three pieces of ‘evidence’ that are not out of date, two are entirely unverifiable, and one an obvious forgery (see http://hopoi.org/?p=1841). But the regime draws sustenance from these rumours: the threats against Iran help the theocracy to stay in power, neutralise the opposition and unite the people behind a regime under attack from imperialism.
  • The new sanctions will make it even more difficult for Iran, Opec’s second largest producer, to be paid in foreign currency for its oil exports (which were worth more than $100 billion in 2011). Previous rounds of EU and US sanctions targeting Iran’s financial system have already caused a shortage of foreign currency. A shortage of foreign currency means that Iran cannot import food at a time when food prices have already risen to astronomical levels. The Iranian rial has tumbled to a new low.
  • But the sanctions are unlikely to dramatically weaken the regime. The rich and powerful are able to protect themselves to a large degree from the effects. In fact, leaders of sanctioned regimes are almost always strengthened (and enriched) by sanctions.
  • However, the sanctions will mean even more misery for ordinary Iranians: many workers will not receive their wages in time (if at all) and even the BBC has warned that social security payments and the remaining food subsidies could be the first to be cut by a theocracy under financial pressure. This will only increase the hardship and miserable conditions that our brothers and sisters in Iran have had to endure for many years.
  • Further, the military provocations of US-led imperialism – assassinations, sabotage and preparatory military manoeuvres in the region – have also dramatically upped the tension in the country and are being used by the theocracy to increase repression.
  • As the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove beyond doubt, democracy can only come from below, from the people themselves. But a people driven to their knees by brutal sanctions are hardly in the position to overthrow dictatorship.

We know from history that sanctions are only the first step in wars being waged against ‘unfriendly’ regimes. A military attack against Iran is very much on the agenda. Should the regime really decide to close the Strait of Hormuz, this could happen sooner rather than later.

That is why it is so important that we side now with the people of Iran in their struggle against their own theocracy and the threats by imperialism!

Make your voice heard now! Send us a message in the form of an email, voice mail, short video or a photograph holding the poster pictured alongside (download from http://www.hopoi.org) and encourage your comrades and friends to do the same. We will post all messages on a special section on Hopi’s website and on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. Plans are also afoot for solidarity events, film screenings and fundraising events.

Yassamine Mather

Chair, Hands Off the People of Iran

office@hopoi.info

Iran: Osanloo free, but repression continues

Chris Strafford calls for solidarity with working class activists in the prisons of the Islamic Republic

Mansour Osanloo: free

Trade union leader Mansour Osanloo has been freed from prison after four years. Osanloo, chair of the Syndicat of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), has been leading workers in their fight for better conditions and for independent unions in Iran.

Arrested in July 2007, he was charged with organising “propaganda against the regime” and later accused of being a threat to national security. Throughout his imprisonment he has been subject to horrific abuse. In February 2010 there was an attempt on Osanloo’s life in Rajai-Shahr prison. He was attacked by a former member of the Revolutionary Guards state militia with the support of prison wardens. Two other prisoners intervened and saved him. Later in June 2010 further tragedy hit his family when security forces attacked Zoya Samadi, Osanloo’s daughter-in-law, causing her to miscarry.

Osanloo’s release has been welcomed by trade unionists and the working class internationally. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey likened Osanloo’s courage to “a beacon of hope for the people of Iran” and said his release showed that international solidarity can help workers in struggle.

We should, however, remember the other working class activists that remain in the prisons of the Islamic Republic. Abdol Hosseini, Reza Gorgi, Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Majid Tamjidi, Hassan Moradi, Hamid Reza Solouki, Ebrahim Madadi, Majid Tamjidi, Jafar Taghinejad and Reza Shahabi are still incarcerated for their involvement in the working class movement. There is growing concern over the lack of news of Ali Nejati, Reza Rakhshan, Mohammad Heydari Mehr, Jalil Ahmadi and Ferydoun Nikoufar, who are leading activists among the Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers. Then there are imprisoned teachers Rasoul Bedaghi and Aliyeh Eghdam. Just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more working class activists in prison or on bail awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, there is continuing repression of the student movement, with those on the left paying heavily for their opposition to the regime. Leftwing student and activist Mohammad Pourabdollah, who has been in prison since February 2009, was initially sentenced to six years, although this was reduced to three on appeal. He has spent months in solitary confinement, enduring methodical physical and mental torture. On the day of Pourabdollah’s arrest comrade Alireza Davoudi was also detained and later tortured to death.

Left activist Abed Tavancheh, a member of Amir Kabir student association, is currently being held in prison in Arak. He has been arrested several times before for organising students. State thugs forced him to give himself up after threatening to evict his family and take their possessions. This is a trick used by the regime to put as much pressure and pain on the family of those wanted for or convicted of political ‘crimes’, so they hand themselves over to the torturers rather than see their family homeless and destitute. Nasim Soltanbehgi, another leftwing student activist, who was involved in women’s movement, has recently been sentenced to six years for “endangering national security”.

Habib Latifi, a Kurdish student at Azad University, was arrested in Sanandaj in October 2007 during a massive crackdown and similarly charged with moharebeh – conspiracy against national security and being part of an armed group. A charge which Latifi’s family describe as a complete fabrication. Like other activists, including student activists Ali Ajami, Mohsen Ghamin and Nader Ahsani, comrade Latifi has been tortured and can be executed at any time.

In addition to what is in reality the thought crime of “endangering national security”, student and worker activists can be charged with “waging war against Islam”. Many of those recently arrested were involved in the inspirational movement in Iranian universities in 2007 and for them state prisons are not a new experience. 2007 not only saw students protests against the regime, but the militarisation of campuses and imperialist threats.

The best way to celebrate Osanloo’s release is by stepping up the international campaign in support of working class struggle against both the theocratic regime and imperialism. The Morning Star’s editorial was correct when it pointed out: “Many crocodile tears have been shed for Iranian democrats and trade unionists by western politicians, for whom the victims of theocratic regime repression are simply pegs on which to hang their demands for military invasion of Iran” (June 4-5).

It was also excellent that the Star gave over its front page of last weekend’s issue to Osanloo, but a pity that the same anti-imperialism did not feature in its lead story. Reporter Paddy McGuffin contented himself with quoting McCluskey, Unison leader Dave Prentis, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, Amnesty International and the International Transport Workers Federation. The ITWF has previously organised protests against the Tehran regime’s treatment of trade unionists, but has deliberately avoided any mention of the imperialist threats, which the increasingly fragile regime feeds off in its attempts to cling to power.

We must continue through Hands Off the People of Iran and other anti-imperialist solidarity organisations to give practical as well as political solidarity to those in struggle within Iran.