“As numerous polls have shown, although citizens of Arab countries generally dislike Iran, they do not regard it as a very serious threat. Rather, they perceive the threat to be Israel and the U.S.; and many, sometimes considerable majorities, regard Iranian nuclear weapons as a counter to these threats,” states Noam Chomsky in his article Gravest Threat to World Peace, appearing in the New York Times published 5 January, 2013.
Reporting on the final US presidential campaign debate, on foreign policy, The Wall Street Journal observed in its report on the final debate of the US presidential campaign debate that, “the only country mentioned more [than Israel] was Iran, which is seen by most nations in the Middle East as the gravest security threat to the region,” and the two intendants agreed that a nuclear Iran is the gravest threat to the region – and world as Mr Romney said, recounting the conventional US view.
Mr Chomsky says the WSJ article, like countless others on Iran, leaves critical questions unanswered, among them: Who exactly sees Iran as the gravest security threat? And what do Arabs (and most of the world) think can be done about the threat, whatever they take it to be?
He declares that the first question is easily answered, it is that the “Iranian threat” is overwhelmingly a Western obsession, shared by Arab dictators, though not Arab populations.
“As numerous polls have shown, although citizens of Arab countries generally dislike Iran, they do not regard it as a very serious threat. Rather, they perceive the threat to be Israel and the United States; and many, sometimes considerable majorities, regard Iranian nuclear weapons as a counter to these threats.
Chomsky noted that in 1998 Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Command said: “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East, one nation, Israel, should have a powerful nuclear weapons arsenal, which inspires other nations to do so.”
Despite that Butler was a leading designer of the US’s nuclear-deterrent strategy, he wrote, as far back as 2002, that it is “a formula for unmitigated catastrophe,” and he called on the US and other nuclear powers to give their commitment to bring it to heel under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to make good faith efforts to eliminate the plague of nuclear weapons.
Chomsky points out that nations have a legal obligation to pursue such efforts seriously; that the World Court ruled in 1996: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” However, in 2002, George W. Bush’s administration declared that the US is not bound by the obligation!
A majority of the world’s opinion holders on the issue appear to share Arab views on the Iranian threat. In fact the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium, most recently at its summit meeting in Tehran August, 2012.
The article by Chomsky also dwells on the fact that India, the most populous member of NAM, has worked out ways to evade the comprehensive US financial sanctions on Iran, also, India plans are going ahead to link Iran’s Chabahar port, revamped with Indian assistance, to the Central Asia countries through Afghanistan. Trade relations between the two continue increasing and were it not for continuous US pressures via sanctions compliance, Iran-India relations would likely be substantially better and improving.
Regarding China, which has observer status in NAM, it is much the same. As China expands its development projects westward, which includes initiatives to reconstitute the old trade route from China to Europe – the Silk Road – high-speed rail will bring better connections of China with Central Asia, to Kazakhstan and beyond, surely eventually reach Turkmenistan, with its rich energy resources. An Iran link and extensions to Turkey and Europe are assured in a more distance time frame.
Chomsky reminds his readers that China has also taken over the major Gwadar port in Pakistan, enabling it to get oil from the Middle East yet avoiding the Hormuz and Malacca straits, which are chocker-block with traffic and under effective US control. Crude oil imports from Iran, the Arab Gulf states and Africa could be transported overland to northwest China through the port.
So much for the strategic implications of the various powers seeking oil and gas to sustain development and maintain economic momentum but which also lie at the root of the nuclear issue – energy reserves, where they are and who controls their access. Resolve the associated fears and competing nations could relax their aggressive postures. This brings this writing to its core target – the reduction in nuclear weapons multilaterally.
It did not escape the attention of those taking a stand on such elimination of nuclear armaments as a first step to general arms reduction everywhere that Iran is these days figuring more and more in this effort, despite that western comment sees such moves as window dressing only and castigating and other words demonising Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
From the point of view of the protagonists of peace at any price outside the realm of violence, it was well noted that at the Tehran summit in August 2012, NAM reiterated the long-standing proposal to mitigate or end the threat of nuclear weapons in the Middle East by establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. They agree with Chomsky that “moves in that direction are clearly the most straightforward and least onerous way to overcome the threats. They are supported by almost the entire world.”
There was an opportunity to move forward on that issue in December 2012 when an international conference was planned on weapons reduction in Helsinki, Finland. That conference did take place, however only NGO’s participated and that was at the alternate conference hosted by the Peace Union of Finland. The ‘Upper Crust’ international conference was cancelled by the US side shortly after Iran agreed to attend. The US move came after the news that Israel was refusing to attend. As Chomsky points out: “The United States will not allow measures to place Israel’s nuclear facilities under international inspection. Nor will the US release information on “the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities.”
The media statement telling that, “the Arab group of states and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) member states agreed to continue lobbying for a conference on establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” was welcomed by Peaceniks following these events.
December 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israel to join the NPT, 174-6. Chomsky reminds us that the NO Vote came from “the usual contingent: Israel, the United States, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.” He also brought to readers attention that a few days later, the United States carried out a nuclear weapons test, again banning international inspectors from the test site in Nevada. Iran protested, as did the mayor of Hiroshima and Japanese peace groups.
Establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone of course requires the cooperation of the nuclear powers: In the Middle East, that would include the United States and Israel, which remain refuseniks. The same is true in like zones in Africa and the Pacific that await implementation because the US insists on maintaining and upgrading nuclear weapons bases on islands it controls.
As the alternative NGO meeting convened in Helsinki, a dinner took place in New York under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an offshoot of the Israeli lobby. According to an enthusiastic report which Chomsky seen on the “gala” in the Israeli press, “Dennis Ross, Elliott Abrams and other ‘former top advisers to Obama and Bush’ assured the audience that ‘the president will strike (Iran) next year if diplomacy doesn’t succeed’ – a most attractive holiday gift.”
What is holding everything at this stage in the evolutionary process where Mankind might finally throw off this hypnotic stare into the world of wars and nuclear power in its endless cycle of violence is the lack of balanced information that reaches the living rooms of the average citizens of the USA. Without that, the ordinary voting man and woman can hardly become aware of alternatives and how diplomacy has once again failed, and begin questioning government and the political parties. As Chomsky ends his article, “Virtually nothing is reported in the United States about the fate of the most obvious way to address ‘the gravest threat’ – establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.”
Another worthy news item is the application of Al Jazeera to have a North America Desk for all US coverage – good luck to Al Jazeera!
Noam Chomsky is the author of more than 150 books and has received worldwide attention for his views.