Attendee list for the event.

Dear Charlie Wolf,

I read your opinion piece, What’s alarming is that they believe what they say, on TotallyJewish.com with great interest being a close follower (like yourself) of the standoff between Iran and the West, and having a number of Iranians friends; they are Western-oriented (there’s an oxymoron) and no slavish cheer-leaders of their government I can assure you. I too am sometimes surprised at how critical they can be of Israel, even on the left.

However, I am equally astonished at how imprisoned we are in our own narratives. Contrary to the standard dogma I am highly critical of the West for being an extremely bad friend of Israel in pursuit of our own greedy agenda and see the deep divisions in the region as a product of our own deep-rooted folly.

One of the problems we have in the West is that we draw a fence round our nation states, pat our own backs about how liberal we are and then righteously bomb the rest of the world to blazes to suit our own ends. This is a somewhat colourful summary but I am sure you will get my drift, which is to say that I think you might be just as imprisoned in your own narrative as the Iranians you were debating with on Press TV.

You must be aware of the writings of Uri Avnery. Without expecting you to agree with him, you will at least accept that his views don’t come about through being pickled in 30 years of propaganda. If you read his history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict you will see that his perspective is not a million miles from that of the Iranians you were debating. See: Truth against Truth: A Completely Different Look at the Israeli Palestinian Conflict.

Believe me, I am not trying to claim anyone has any monopoly on Truth. The people I most respect are the dissidents challenging their own myths, in our case, people like Ron Paul and Uri Avnery.

I wish you and your countrymen a peaceful and prosperous 2008.

Chris Dornan

The West must reevaluate it relation ship with the whole middle east.

Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance – Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US has long been saying that Iran is a rational actor and has now been vindicated by the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. In a recent article Parsi asks Is Iran NIE a Blessing in Disguise for Israel? Parsi’s point is that Israel’s Iran policy has been getting out of touch with reality, leading to a strategic paralysis.  However, the NIE provides the opportunity and ammunition for wiser voices to begin asserting themselves and argue for a policy of accommodation with Iran through Condoleezza Rice’s good offices at the US State department.  This would be a reversion to the policy of security through the periphery where alliances are sought with states like Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia to balance the hostile Arab states on her borders, a policy which Israel continued to pursue after the ‘79 revolution; Israel was one of the few powers to help Iran repel Saddam (the real threat to Israel) while trying to patch things up with the US, so giving rise to the Iran-Contra scandal (see Treacherous Alliance).

Scott Ritter has long been saying that Iran has no nuclear weapons programme and has also been vindicated by the NIE, but in a recent article, US Must Reevaluate Its Relationship With Israel, has suggested that Israel is the irrational actor and more than hinted that President Ahmadinejad’s speculations about the impact of modern European history on the middle east—though provocatively expressed—may not have been quite so entirely ridiculous as their universal condemnation might have suggested.  He accuses Israel of being no friend to the US by interfering in US domestic politics in pursuance of Israel’s own national security and suggests that such unfriendly interference in an ally’s internal politics may be harming Israel’s long-term strategic interest.

As interesting as this thesis is, I would like to turn it on its head and argue that Americans and Europeans have been no friends to Israel, that the pursuit of a global empire and our desire to control the energy resources of the region have corrupted Israeli policy. These theses aren’t incompatible but I would say that the perspective proposed here is a healthier perspective for Europeans and Americans to focus on rather than pointing the fingers at another group of victims of our Middle Eastern imperial follies.

Ritter inveighs against Israel’s ‘shameless invocation of the Holocaust to defend its actions’ but if this is so we should ask why this situation has come about. Europeans have a brutal history of persecuting Jews, culminating in the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century where a vulnerable and collectively harmless and deeply civilised people were stigmatized and demonized across Europe and North America. When the Nazis institutionalized this trend far too little was done by all Europeans to halt it right up to the Allied reluctance to bomb the concentration camps—this was about much more than the ‘good Germans’. The centuries of persecution culminating in the Shoah have traumatised and scarred Europeans (including Americans) as well as Israelis and this terrible guilty taboo remains.

On top of this is our need to dominate the middle east, which has the most rotten luck in having all of our oil buried under their countries, the whole giving rise to a marvellous scam where we can exchange our oil for guns so that the Arabs can feel secure from the guns we supply to Israel (and other Arabs, and Persians), allowing the Western plutocrats in the oil and guns industries to retain their licences to print money, and keeping the rest of us in the cheap oil needed to support the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed (at the expense of the future generation’s biosphere).

All of this culminated in the neo-conservatives proposal to mop up the remaining unfriendly middle eastern states, after Afghanistan and Iraq, rampaging through Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, returning to Iran in five years. No wonder Donald Rumsfeld’s testy relationship with his chief of staff, with his stubborn request for several hundred thousand troops to execute Operation Iraqi Liberation.

There is more to this than self-flagellation (this not being just about the neoconservatives—they are merely a pathological example of something that we have refused to confront, the ‘good people’ being just as accommodating as they always have been). The US and the UK have demonstrated that they know how to make peace—yes, even this Bush administration—when it suits them, as they did in Northern Ireland. The first step is to patiently lean on both parties, as the British and Irish governments did with the Anglo-Irish agreement in the 1980s, and engaging the hard men in dialogue and, well, buying them off—as we know war is a profitable business and the alternatives need to be incentivised. And we have been doing none of this in the Middle East, but handing out guns all round and making the Israelis dependent on us, so keeping the racket going, and our guilt complexes have hidden this behaviour from us. Instead of using our perspective outside the situation, been a true friend to the Israelis, and shown tough love, we have been as indulgent as any narcotics vendor. It is we that have been the profoundly corrupting influence.

With the unravelling of this narrative there is every sign that the Israelis are starting to panic. However, there is no objective reason for this: Annapolis demonstrated the reality that the region accepts the fact of Israel and have done so since at least the Egyptian peace treaty. The Israelis have a perfectly good nuclear deterrent and nobody is realistically going to expect them to put it on the table until there is the prospect of full formal relations with all her neighbours and the IDF remains quite capable of dealing with serious military threats. But Trita Parsi is right. The NIE offers the opportunity to establish the kind of strategic peaceful relationship that arms can never in themselves provide.

Peace will not be served by any further demonising, of whatever kind. Since the 2001 attacks on the world trade centre the Iranians have been searching for a way to break the logjam and normalise relations and they keep trying to break though, the latest overture coming from a recent press conference by President Ahmadinejad: ‘We see this as a positive step and a step forward and if they take one or two more steps the situation will be totally different and the problems will lose their intricacy and the road will be paved for resolving regional and international issues and bilateral cooperation.’ There is no doubt that this is diplomatic code to say that the bargain offered to the State department in 2003, so carelessly discarded by the White House in a moment of hubristic insanity, is still on the table—de facto recognition of Israel, end of support for Palestinian rejectionist groups, cooperation in converting Hezbollah into a purely political party, a tightly monitored civilian nuclear programme—all in return for normalised relations with the US and security guarantees. Yet we keep to our dehumanising narrative that Tehran government is irrational and has to be dealt with through coercion, threats of force and ultimately force itself—irrational propaganda that we may have started to believe.

A better way needs to be found that recognises the interdependence and fragility of our situation, and that peace and security of one can only be achieved by working for the peace and security of all.

[Note: Siobhain Butterworth is the reader’s editor of The Guardian newspaper.]

Dear Siobhain Butterworth,

I am writing about Julian Borger report Decision time for US over Iran threat and the newsdesk podcast interview of Julian Borger by Jon Denis on the 11th November, the day after the release of the IAEA director general’s report on the Iranian civil nuclear programme. I wrote a letter to the editor but have received no reply or acknowledgement and, as far as I can tell the issues have not been addressed so I am writing to you. I still find these Guardian reports highly disturbing.

In Decision time for US over Iran threat Julian Borger says:

The installation of 3,000 fully-functioning centrifuges at Iran’s enrichment plant at Natanz is a “red line” drawn by the US across which Washington had said it would not let Iran pass. When spinning at full speed they are capable of producing sufficient weapons-grade uranium (enriched to over 90% purity) for a nuclear weapon within a year.

In the newsdesk podcast, Jon Denis introduces his interview with Julian Borger by saying:

Iran has installed 3000 centrifuges. That is enough to enrich uranium to make a nuclear warhead within a year—that’s according to a report by Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA.

And the interview proceeds:

JB: It says that they now have 3000 centrifuges installed and they are feeding uranium gas into those centrifuges [and] they are up and working. The significance of that is that if those 3000 centrifuges were spinning full speed and working properly for the course of a year they could produce enough weapons grade uranium to make a bomb and for the US we know that that is the read line they have drawn down, past which they don’t want Iran to go.

JD: What happens if Iran does pass these red lines?

JB: The US is faced with a choice. Whether to relax the red line, abandon it and retreat to a red line further back, or to take action. This is the tough choice facing the US administration, but also the choice that is facing the Israeli government; at what point do you believe that there is some point of no return in the Iranian nuclear programme and take military action to set it back? It certainly raises the tension.

And towards the end of the interview we find:

JD: What is Iran’s view of this IAEA report?

JB: Iran’s view is that it is a complete vindication of Iran’s position. Most of the report was about Iranian cooperation with the investigation that the IAEA is carrying out into the past nuclear activities. That is the main subject of the report, it just noted in passing that Iran had come to this important benchmark. There were positive notes in the report about Iranian cooperation though it pointed out that it was far from perfect but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seized on the positive note to say ah look you see we were right all along.

Here are my questions.

1. Why is The Guardian reporting that ‘according to a report by Mohammed ElBaradei’, Iran now has the capacity to ‘enrich uranium to make a nuclear warhead within a year’? The IAEA report says no such thing, but it does say:

Since February 2007, Iran has fed approximately 1240 kg of UF6 into the cascades at FEP. The feed rate has remained below the expected quantity for a facility of this design. While Iran has stated that it has reached enrichment levels up to 4.8% U-235 at FEP, the highest U-235 enrichment measured so far from the environmental samples taken by the Agency from cascade components and related equipment is 4.0%. Detailed nuclear material accountancy will be carried out during the annual physical inventory taking which is scheduled from 16 to 19 December 2007. Since March 2007, a total of seven unannounced inspections have been carried out at FEP.

To enrich uranium for electricity generation requires uranium enriched to about 4.8% while a nuclear weapon requires uranium enriched to over 80%. While Iran was reporting to the IAEA that it was achieving the 4.8% level the IAEA can only find evidence that levels of 4.0% are being achieved and that uranium is being fed through the cascades at a lower than expected rate.

Indeed Iran had already announced that it had 3,000 centrifuges operating as we can see from a report in the Jerusalem Post on the 7th November:

US experts say 3,000 centrifuges are in theory enough to produce a nuclear weapon, perhaps as soon as within a year.

If the relevant clauses in the report cast doubt on the performance levels that the Iranians are claiming they are achieving and need to fuel their electricity programme, how can The Guardian summarise the IAEA report as confirming that the Iranians are achieving the vastly higher levels of performance that would be needed to make a bomb within a year?

2. Why has The Guardian seized on ‘a note in passing’, that merely adjusts downwards the Iranian public claims about the effectiveness of their enrichment programme, to dominate its report of the IAEA report? Only when Jon Denis got round to asking about the Iranian position at the end of the podcast interview did we find that most of the report was confirming the progress that was being made in clearing up IAEA outstanding questions concerning past activities.

3. Why does The Guardian say that if the Iranians continue to exercise their inalienable right under the NPT to enrich uranium for their electricity generating programme, under tight IAEA supervision, that a ‘tough choice [is] facing the US administration’ […] ‘but also the choice that is facing the Israeli government; at what point do you believe that there is some point of no return in the Iranian nuclear programme and take military action to set it back?’ There are many people that believe that the NPT is being exploited for political purposes by the USA to pursue regime change in Iran and that Iran is merely exercising its rights under the NPT signed and ratified by USA, UK and Iran. There are many others that say that even if Iran is positioning itself to weaponise its civilian nuclear programme that it is many years away and that the policy of coercion leading inevitably to military action and war would be a catastrophe, not least for nuclear nonproliferation. Why is The Guardian saying that the US and Israel are facing a tough choice as to whether to attack Iran if she continues to enrich uranium under IAEA supervision.

The truth is that many independent experts believe that the Iranian uranium makes a very unpromising starting point for a weapons programme. This is what Frank Barnaby of the Oxford Research Group had to say last year in Iran’s Nuclear Activities:

Iran will, however, have to solve a difficult technical problem before producing significant amounts of highly enriched uranium. Iranian uranium is reportedly contaminated with large amounts of molybdenum and other heavy metals. These impurities could condense and block pipes and valves in the gas centrifuges. In spite of this problem, the Iranians should be able to enrich uranium to the low enrichment needed for civil nuclear-power reactor fuel. But they would not be able to enrich above about 20 per cent in uranium-235.

They would, therefore, not be able to produce uranium enriched enough for use in nuclear weapons. To do so they would first have to remove most of the molybdenum. They would need foreign technical help – from, for example, China or Russia – to solve this problem.

Many doubt if the Iranians will be able, in the foreseeable future, unaided, to enrich their own uranium to the high levels needed for nuclear weapons.

I hope it is unnecessary to remind anyone of the appalling failures of the press in allowing itself to be manipulated in the government’s preparation of public opinion before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Many people who have looked at this issue closely conclude that the US government is manipulating intelligence and the nuclear nonproliferation framework for political ends, and these are not crackpots. Given the importance this issue has for us all, the following should really be essential reading for everyone, never mind journalists reporting on this story. It is but a tiny sample.

My final question is this and it really subsumes all the others. Why is The Guardian uncritically reporting and indeed adopting the US government’s line on the Iranian enrichment activities?

Yours sincerely,

Chris Dornan

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

The Guardian in London reported today (Friday),

Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium – enough to begin industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel and build a warhead within a year, the UN’s nuclear watchdog reported last night. […]

The installation of 3,000 fully-functioning centrifuges at Iran’s enrichment plant at Natanz is a “red line” drawn by the US across which Washington had said it would not let Iran pass. When spinning at full speed they are capable of producing sufficient weapons-grade uranium (enriched to over 90% purity) for a nuclear weapon within a year.

I suspect that this isn’t a very fair or balanced summary of the report, and I have written a letter to the paper explaining why, but it is difficult to be sure without being able to see the report, and it doesn’t seem to have been posted on your website. Given the well known failures of the press in the lead up to the Iraq war is it really wise to allow such crucial information to be made available exclusively through the news corporations? Some independent citizens are trying to support the work of the IAEA but it will be easier to do this if we aren’t taken out of the loop.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Dornan

[We may all soon become candidates for the Darwin Awards at this rate. Where have we seen this before.]

Dear Sir

Concerning Julian Borger’s article, Decision time for US over Iran threat, Julian says:

The installation of 3,000 fully-functioning centrifuges at Iran’s enrichment plant at Natanz is a “red line” drawn by the US across which Washington had said it would not let Iran pass. When spinning at full speed they are capable of producing sufficient weapons-grade uranium (enriched to over 90% purity) for a nuclear weapon within a year.

The reader would be forgiven for assuming after reading the above paragraph that, according to the IAEA, the Iranians are within a year of having produced enough highly-enriched fuel to make a nuclear bomb, but, as I am sure Julian Borger is well aware, no reputable expert believes any such thing. This is what Frank Barnaby of the Oxford Research Group had to say last year in IRAN’S NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES:

Iran will, however, have to solve a difficult technical problem before producing significant amounts of highly enriched uranium. Iranian uranium is reportedly contaminated with large amounts of molybdenum and other heavy metals. These impurities could condense and block pipes and valves in the gas centrifuges. In spite of this problem, the Iranians should be able to enrich uranium to the low enrichment needed for civil nuclear-power reactor fuel. But they would not be able to enrich above about 20 per cent in uranium-235.

They would, therefore, not be able to produce uranium enriched enough for use in nuclear weapons. To do so they would first have to remove most of the molybdenum. They would need foreign technical help – from, for example, China or Russia – to solve this problem.

Many doubt if the Iranians will be able, in the foreseeable future, unaided, to enrich their own uranium to the high levels needed for nuclear weapons.

Is this really the right choice of topic to sensationalise?

Yours faithfully,

Chris Dornan

Dear Ron Dellums,

There is no need to reply to this message. With regards A RESOLUTION OPPOSING WAR WITH IRAN, I just wanted to thank you. You are a beacon of independence of thought and common sense, that is in such short supply at the moment. Your inspiring example has inspired me to campaign for our city to do the same.

Chris Dornan