UK visit to Iran only emboldens Tehran

The decision by a group of British parliamentarians to meet with top Iranian officials is another sign that London is foolishly attempting to restore diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Earlier this week, Jack Straw, who was British Foreign Secretary when the UK invaded Iraq in 2003, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He was joined by three other British MPs, including Norman Lamont, who held the post of Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s government during the early 1990s. It is likely that a reciprocal visit to London by Iranian MPs will take place in the near future.

The visit comes a month after the UK’s newly appointed chargé d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, journeyed to Iran in a first diplomatic visit by a British envoy since London extracted staff from Tehran after the storming of its embassy in November 2011. Sharma is on record as saying he is “very much looking forward to renewing direct UK contact with the Iranian Government.”

All of which confirms the view that Britain and the West are trying to rehabilitate Iran in the wake of an international agreement regarding Tehran’s nuclear policy. In addition to America’s diplomatic work, the British delegation is the fourth visit by European politicians since Hassan Rouhani took office in August. In November, David Cameron and Rouhani spoke on the phone. The last time a British prime minister had direct contact with an Iranian leader was a decade ago.

The Tehran trip can hardly be compared to the enthusiastic overtures made by London towards Beijing in recent months. David Cameron and other top UK politicians have been wooing China for some time in a desperate attempt to attract Chinese money into Britain’s ailing economy. Still, the all-party parliamentary expedition to Tehran and the diplomatic desire to restore relations is yet another sign that London is willing to work with regimes that have bad human rights records.

Iran is a dangerous country – not just to its Jewish and Arab neighbors but to the world at large. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies see the West’s rapprochement with Iran as a deliberate political and diplomatic realignment. Iran’s gradual rehabilitation should be seen in the broader context of the West’s inability to deal with Tehran’s genocidal intentions towards Israel, as well as its vicious proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. It’s beginning to look like a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” First, Bashar al-Assad is let off the hook after attacking his own people with chemical weapons. Then sanctions against Iran are relieved. And if a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai is to be believed, there is now a diplomatic backchannel between the UK and Hezbollah.

The West’s appeasement of Iran and her proxies has obvious echoes of Britain’s misplaced appeasement of Hitler at the end of the 1930s. Neville Chamberlain has gone down in history as the man who was duped by the Fuhrer. Will Obama and Cameron be castigated by future historians for failing to stop the world’s most dangerous regime? In all likelihood, the answer is yes. Indeed, the West’s leaders already look weak and silly. Russia, Iran and Syria have successfully wrongfooted the West and have changed the political and diplomatic climate in a surprisingly short space of time. Britain and the US, on the other hand, have been on the backfoot and are now trying to save face by reformulating relations with Tehran.

The rehabilitation of Iran has echoes of Britain’s reconciliation with Libya, a pariah state since the end of the 1960s. But in the 1990s the relationship between the UK and Libya improved, with events culminating in Tony Blair’s declaration of a “new relationship” with Colonel Gaddafi in December 2003. The fact that Gaddafi was behind one of the worst terrorist attacks ever perpetrated against the West (the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988) was conveniently forgotten. I can foresee a time when Iran is similarly reconciled to the West.

Should Israel be worried? Yes, because the budding Iran-West rapprochement not only isolates Israel, it actually makes war in the Middle East far more likely. Iran will be emboldened by the US and UK’s overtures and (in all probability) will continue its nuclear program. Meanwhile an exhausted West will relax sanctions in the full knowledge that a nuclear Iran is inevitable.

Israel, though, is hardly likely to allow Iran to go nuclear and will take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites (possibly with Saudi Arabia’s tacit blessing) This may happen next year; perhaps 2016 or 2017. Binyamin Netanyahu has already promised that Israel “will act against [Iran] in time if need be.”

If attacked, Tehran will play the role of victim and appeal to the West. Having made their peace with Iran, the UK and the US will find themselves in the absurd position of condemning Israel for making the world a safer place. In the long run, however, Israel’s actions might be viewed more positively. The Jewish state was widely criticized by the international community after it destroyed a nuclear reactor south of Baghdad in 1981. But fast forward two decades and Operation Babylon is viewed in a better light. Bill Clinton, for example, used an interview in 2005 to express his support for the attack, describing it as “a really good thing.”

Israel must view the Iran situation with a long lens and act accordingly. As a Brit I can only apologize for my country’s inability to see Iran for the dangerous bully that it really is.




Press TV tops worst news poll

In a private poll of around 100 freelance journalists, Iran’s Press TV has been cited as the most unreliable and biased international news organization.

Other news organizations named and shamed were Saudi Arabia’s Al Jazeera, Britain’s Morning Star and Russia’s Russia Today.

79 out of 103 freelance journalists – from Britain, Canada, the US, France, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Italy – said Press TV was “very guilty” of biased media coverage, hysterical headlines and anti-Semitic content.

press tv

Press TV’s obsessions with Israel, Zionism, conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial were cited as reasons why the Iranian news outlet cannot be trusted or taken seriously. The fact that it is a division of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and is funded by the Iranian state does not lend Press TV any credibility, either.

One freelance journalist in the Netherlands described Press TV as “unremittingly awful” and she questioned why any self-respecting journalist would want to work for an organization that “demonizes Jews.”

With its headquarters in Tehran, Press TV was launched in 2007 and has correspondents around the world. It is closely linked with far-right/white supremacist media organizations in the USA, including the American Free Press and Veterans Today.

Netanyahu’s Iranian dilemma

In the absence of any real progress in stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has urged the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to take firmer action against the regime in Tehran.

“I think that it is important that Europe joins the United States and Israel and all responsible elements of the international community, and demand a cessation of the Iranian nuclear program,” said Netanyahu.

The Israeli PM expressed his concerns about Iran during Ms Ashton’s visit to Israel and Gaza. Her trip to the Middle East came nearly a week after the election of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who won more than 50% of the vote.

The new man in Tehran is considered a moderate but there is no evidence that Iran is about to change course. So it is no surprise that Netanyahu is warning the EU and the rest of the world not to ease pressure on Iran until Rouhani’s intentions are clear.

“The real test regarding the elections in Iran will be if Iran changes its policy and stops enriching uranium, removes the nuclear material and closes the illegal nuclear facility at Qom,” remarked Netanyahu.

But it is already evident that Rouhani is not going to roll over. In a press conference, Rouhani ruled out the possibility that Iran would reduce its uranium enrichment activity. He also said the sanctions are illegal.

Well, the sanctions are not illegal. But the sanctions are tough. Indeed, Iran has been the subject of several UN Security Council sanctions, as well as unilateral measures by the US and the EU, including asset freezes and trade restrictions on oil and gas companies. Several countries, including Australia and Japan, have also implemented sanctions. As a result, Iranians cannot make overseas payment and the country’s oil exports have dropped by a million barrels a day.

Despite hard-hitting sanctions, Tehran has pressed on regardless. Earlier this year, the regime unveiled plans to install a new generation of centrifuges, which are up to six times as powerful as the current generation. Moreover, it is fighting hard to extend its influence in Syria and Gaza, using Hamas and Hezbollah as proxies in its war against both Jews and Sunni Muslims.


It is entirely possible that Iran will have a nuclear warhead within a matter of months. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, thinks that Iran will be capable of producing a bomb by the middle of next year. Some analysts believe Iran could be nuclear-ready by the end of this year.

Strangely, Israel’s combative rhetoric has waned in the past few months. A strike against Iran’s nuclear installations seemed highly possible last summer. But this year there has been little appetite for military action. Perhaps President Obama’s reluctance to offer military and/or diplomatic cover is the reason for Israel’s unusual hesitancy. Or perhaps Netanyahu has failed to convince ordinary Israelis that a strike would be the best solution. Or perhaps it’s because previous heads of Israel’s intelligence community have said an attack on Iran would be unsuccessful and counter-productive.

So, should Israel continue to hold its nerve and see if sanctions work? And if they don’t, does that mean a precarious policy of containment or a situation akin to the Cold War in which both sides had the capability of destroying the other?

Still, Netanyahu is painfully aware that he risks going down in history as the man who let a tyrannical anti-Semitic regime get a nuclear weapon, which is perhaps the biggest existential threat to the six million Jews in Israel.

Aware of his place in history, Netanyahu may decide that a surgical strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities is the only feasible solution. Plus, there is the argument that the Iranian people themselves would be better off if Israel took action. Sanctions are affecting the lives and morale of ordinary Iranians and will eventually lead to the collapse of the middle class, thereby robbing Iran of its best chance to topple the Ayatollah regime from within.

In a situation where doing nothing only makes things worse, military action is probably the best course of action. It would alleviate Israel’s security fears and put an end to the crippling sanctions. Whether Israel will be assisted by the US remains to be seen. But if Obama refuses to lend a hand, then the Jewish state may once again have to take unilateral action to defend itself.

Iran sanctions: the clock is ticking

The European Union has agreed a fresh round of sanctions against Iran, including asset freezes and trade restrictions on oil and gas companies. But is there any evidence that such embargos are thwarting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

Although the EU should be praised for taking tough action, there is no indication that Tehran has changed course. The regime still insists that its nuclear project is for peaceful purposes. Moreover, it is refusing to reduce its uranium enrichment activity unless sanctions are lifted.

It is true that Iran’s economy is in freefall. Its currency, the rial, is at an all-time low. Oil exports have fallen to 860,000 barrels per day, compared with 2.2 million bpd at the close of 2011. And in the words of UK prime minister David Cameron, “there are signs that the Iranian people are beginning to question the regime’s strategy with even pro-regime groups protesting at the actions of the government.”

But Iran’s leaders are not easily cowed by international or internal pressure. Despite being a pariah nation since 1979, it is now the dominant Islamic power in the Middle East. It survived a wave of strikes and protests in 2003 and 2009 respectively, and will probably survive the current economic crisis by clamping down on demonstrators and opponents. In the meantime, millions of ordinary Iranians will suffer the consequences of rising prices and economic collapse.

There is also a risk that Israel and the West will be blamed for inflicting punishment on innocent people who have no connection with the regime in Tehran. Indeed, Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader are likely to exploit the sufferings of ordinary people for propaganda purposes. In the meantime, Iranians are forced to live in poverty as their leaders consolidate their hold on the institutions of power. Let’s not forget that Saddam Hussein continued to rule Iraq despite years of sanctions.

Plus, there are reports that Tehran is preparing to force an end to sanctions by wreaking environmental havoc. According to Der Spiegel, Iran is threatening to cause a massive oil spill in the Strait of Hormuz, thereby creating an ecological disaster and blocking a vital shipping route. If this happens the West will have no option but to lift the embargo and cooperate with the Iranian authorities in order to facilitate a clean-up.

But in truth, all Iran has to do is bide its time. A new report by the Institute for Science and International Security reveals that Iran will be able to produce weapons-grade fuel in two to four months, with additional time needed to integrate the uranium into a nuclear warhead. In the meantime Iran’s nuclear facilities are being buried in deep underground bunkers. The longer the international community hesitates, the less chance it has of destroying these facilities.

Sanctions may be decimating Iran’s economy and they may be causing internal strife, but there is no evidence yet that Iran is prepared to relinquish its nuclear dream. In the meantime, the clock is ticking.

So, should Israel continue to hold its nerve and see if sanctions work? Netanyahu is painfully aware that Iran is busy burying its nuclear project in hard-to-reach bunkers. He also knows that it is only a matter of months before Iran is capable to dropping a bomb on Tel Aviv. Israel has to act very soon, regardless of sanctions.

Moreover, there is the argument that the Iranian people themselves would be better off if Israel took military action. Iran’s civilians would probably be largely unaffected by targeted strikes on the country’s nuclear facilities. In contrast, sanctions are affecting the lives and morale of ordinary Iranians and will eventually lead to the collapse of the middle class, thereby robbing Iran of its best chance to peacefully topple the regime from within.

Military action, then, seems the best course of action. It is quick, decisive and relatively painless. It would also alleviate Israel’s security fears, which have reached fever pitch in the past few months. Of course, there will be retaliation from Hezbollah and possibly Hamas. But Israel is vastly superior to either of these organizations and is used to dealing with their murderous tactics. Dealing with a nuclear Iran is quite another thing.