Uri Avnery and Jeffrey Sachs on the Iranian Nuclear Deal


Editor’s note:
Avnery is sage in his analysis, but too much into big-power-politics thinking for comfort. As a result he underplays the role of ideology, and understates the evil deeds of the Iranian mullahs against their own people. Some people respond to the balance of power argument, then, by saying that Iran is more serious about ideology and hence might be willing to do a first strike on Israel even if that did lead to their own destruction. But here we agree more with Avnery–it is precisely because of their ideology that makes them want to remain the society that brings Islam to the world. To be the advocate for a growing Islam, rather than its grave-digger, a Muslim Iran has to avoid being wiped out by a second retaliatory strike by Israel should the Iranians use the nuclear weapons they will likely eventually acquire in ten or twenty years. It is only as a second retaliatory strike that the Iranians would need an atom bomb to use against Israel or the U.S., GOD FORBID, and that is not an unreasonable desire on their part, though we hope they never get such a weapon and we hope that neither Israel nor the U.S. ever engage in a first nuclear strike against Iran or any other country.
Best scenario is for a worldwide disarmament of all nuclear weapons with the same kind of strict guidelines this deal imposes on Iran (including disarming the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, etc.). Short of achieving global nuclear disarmament, the most likely outcome in the next few decades is Mutual Assured Destruction, the strategy that kept the crazies who ran the U.S. and Communist Russia from using nuclear war against each other. In postponing the development of a nuclear weapon, the treaty now going before Congress deserves our support, because it might postpone an American/Israeli attack on Iran that would be even more disastrous than the Iraq war proved to be hopefully it will be the prelude to a new era in which the people of Iran can non-violently replace the mullahs with a more human-rights respecting regime that might even make peace with Israel once Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and acts in a spirit of generosity toward the Palestinian people. But since Israel is unlikely in the coming years to do that, the best we can hope for is a balance of power, and this agreement is a hopeful move toward that end.
That will mean, sometime in the next twenty to thirty years, Iran will have a nuclear weapon that will keep Israel or the US from attacking it–a sad prospect, but probably the likely outcome whether or not there was a nuclear deal with Iran unless the US was really ready to invade Iran and fight a ground war that would be far less easy to win than the war with Iraq, and far more likely to spur global wars and domestic terrorism far more dangerous than the balance of power between Iran and Israel that Iran’s eventual nuclearization would produce. What a MAD world–yet this is what will likely happen unless the West really takes a whole new path toward generosity, peace, and nuclear disarmament.
– Rabbi Michael Lerner

The Treaty
Uri Avnery

AND WHAT if the whole drama was only an exercise of deception? What if the wily Persians did not even dream of building an atomic bomb, but used the threat to further their real aims? What if Binyamin Netanyahu was duped to become unwittingly the main collaborator of Iranian ambitions? Sounds crazy? Not really. Let’s have a look at the facts.

IRAN IS one of the oldest powers in the world, with thousands of years of political experience. Once they possessed an empire that spanned the civilized world, including our little country. Their reputation for clever trade practices is unequaled. They are much too clever to build a nuclear weapon. What for? It would devour huge amounts of money. They know that they would never be able to use it. Same as Israel, with its large stockpile. Netanyahu’s nightmare of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel is just that – a nightmare (or daymare) of an ignorant dilettante. Israel is a nuclear power with a solid second-strike capability. As we see, the Iranian leaders are hard-boiled realists. Would they even dream of inviting an inevitable Israeli retaliation that would wipe from the face of the earth their three-millennia-old civilization? (If this capability is defective, Netanyahu should be charged and convicted for criminal negligence.)

Even if the Iranians did deceive the whole world and build a nuclear bomb, nothing would happen except the creation of a “balance of terror”, such as saved the world at the height of the cold war between America and Russia. The people around Netanyahu pretend to believe that, unlike the then Soviets, the Iranian mullahs are crazy people. There is absolutely no evidence for that. Since their 1979 revolution, the Iranian leadership has not made one single important step that was not absolutely rational. Compared to American missteps in the region (not to mention the Israeli ones), the Iranian leadership has been thoroughly logical. So perhaps they traded their nonexistent nuclear designs for their very real political design: to become the hegemon of the Muslim world. If so, they owe a lot to Netanyahu.

WHAT HAS the Islamic Republic ever done in its 45 years of existence to harm Israel? Sure. Tehran crowds can be seen on television burning Israeli flags and shouting “Death to Israel”. They call us, not flatteringly, “the Little Satan”, as compared to the American “Great Satan”. Terrible. But what else? Not much. Perhaps some support for Hezbollah and Hamas, which were not their creation. Iran’s real fight is against the powers that be in the Muslim world. They want to turn the region’s countries into Iranian vassals, as they were 2400 years ago. This has very little to do with Islam. Iran uses Islam as Israel uses Zionism and the Jewish Diaspora (and as Russia in the past used communism) as a tool for its imperial ambitions.

What is happening now in this region resembles the “religious wars” in 17th century Europe. A dozen countries fought each other in the name of religion, under the flags of Catholicism and Protestantism, but in reality using religion to further their very earthly imperial designs. The US, led by a bunch of neocon fools, destroyed Iraq, which for many centuries had served as the bulwark of the Arab world against Iranian expansion. Now, under the banner of the Shia, Iran is expanding its power all over the Region. Shiite Iraq is now to a large extent an Iranian vassal (we’ll come back to Daesh). The leaders of Syria, a Sunni country ruled by a small semi-Shiite sect, depend on Iran for their survival. In Lebanon, the Shiite Hezbollah is a close ally with growing power and prestige. So is Hamas in Gaza, which is entirely Sunni. And the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are Zaidis (a school of the Shia.) The status quo in the Arab world is defended by a corrupt bunch of dictators and medieval sheiks, such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf oil potentates.

Clearly, Iran and its allies are the wave of the future, Saudi Arabia and its allies belong to the past. That leaves Daesh, the Sunni “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq. That is also a rising power. Unlike Iran, whose revolutionary élan long ago exhausted itself, Daesh is radiating revolutionary fervor, attracting adherents from all over the world. Daesh is the real enemy of Iran – and of Israel.

PRESIDENT OBAMA and his advisors realized this some time ago. Their new alliance with Iran is partly based on this reality. With the advent of Daesh, realities on the ground have changed completely. The shift reaffirms the old British maxim that one’s enemies in one war can well become one’s allies in the next, and vice versa. Far from being naïve, Obama is building an alliance against the new and very dangerous enemy. This alliance should logically include Bashar Assad’s Syria, but Obama is still afraid of saying so aloud.

Obama and his advisors also believe that with the lifting of the crippling sanctions, Iranians will concentrate on making money, lessening their nationalist and religious fervor even more. That sounds reasonable enough. (Netanyahu thinks the American people are “naïve”.  Well, for a naïve nation the US has done quite well in becoming the world’s only super-power.) One by-product of the situation is that Israel is again at loggerheads with the entire political world. The Vienna treaty was signed not just by the US, but by all leading world powers. This seems to create the situation described by a jolly popular Israeli song: “The whole world is against us / But we don’t give a damn…”

Unfortunately, unlike Obama, Netanyahu is stuck in the past. He continues demonizing Iran, instead of joining it in the fight against Daesh, which is far, far more dangerous to Israel. One does not have to go back to Cyrus the Great (6th century B.C.) to realize that Iran can be a close ally. In the relations between nations, geography trumps religion. Not so long ago, Iran was Israel’s closest ally in the region. We even sent Khomeini arms to fight Iraq. The Mullahs hate Israel not so much because of their religion, but because of our alliance with the Shah. The present Iranian regime has long since lost its revolutionary religious fervor. It is acting according to its national interests. Geography still counts. A wise Israeli government would use the next ten-or-more years of a guaranteed nuclear-free Iran in order to renew the alliance – especially against Daesh. This could mean new relations with Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas too.

BUT SUCH far-reaching considerations are far from the mind of Netanyahu, the son of a historian, who is devoid of any historical knowledge or intuition. The fight is now going to Washington DC, where Netanyahu will be fully committed as a mercenary of Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Republican Party. It is a sorry sight: the State of Israel, which has always enjoyed the full unblinking support of both American parties, has become an appendix of the reactionary Republican leadership. One victim of this is the legend of the “invincible” pro-Israeli lobby. This crucial asset has now been lost. From now on, AIPAC will be just one of the many lobbies on Capitol Hill.

AN EVEN sorrier sight is Israel’s political and media elite on the morrow of the signing of the Vienna treaty. It was almost incredible. Almost all political parties fell in line with Netanyahu’s policy, competing with each other in their demonstrations of abject loyalty. From the “leader of the opposition”, the pitiful Yitzhak Herzog, to the voluble Yair Lapid, everybody rushed to support the  Prime Minister at this crucial hour. The media were even worse. Almost all prominent commentators, left and right, ran amok against the ‘disastrous” treaty and heaped their uniform disgust and contempt on poor Obama, as if reading from a prepared government “list of arguments” (as indeed they were).

Not the finest hour of Israeli democracy and the much lauded “Jewish brain”. Just a despicable example of all-too-common brain-washing. Some would call it presstitution. One of Netanyahu’s arguments is that the Iranians can and will cheat the naive Americans and build the bomb. He is sure that this is possible. Well, he should know. We did it, didn’t we?

Uri Avnery is an Irsaeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset. He is the founder of Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace activism group.

Saying no to the Warmongers

Jeff Sachs  |  July 17, 2015  |  Project Syndicate

NEW YORK – The accord struck in Vienna to rein in Iran’s nuclear activities has warmongers fulminating. Citizens worldwide should support US President Barack Obama’s brave effort to outmaneuver them, taking heart from the fact that the signatories include not just the United States, but all five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Many of the warmongers are to be found in Obama’s own government agencies. Most Americans struggle to recognize or understand their country’s permanent security state, in which elected politicians seem to run the show, but the CIA and the Pentagon often take the lead – a state that inherently gravitates toward military, rather than diplomatic, solutions to foreign-policy challenges.

Since 1947, when the CIA was established, the US has had a continuous semi-covert, semi-overt policy of overthrowing foreign governments. In fact, the CIA was designed to avoid genuine democratic oversight and provide presidents with “plausible deniability.” It has gone on to topple dozens of governments, in all regions of the world, with no accountability there or at home.

I recently examined one period of CIA activity in my book To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace. Soon after Kennedy assumed the presidency in 1961, he was “informed” by the CIA of its plot to overthrow Fidel Castro. Kennedy felt stuck: Should he sanction the planned CIA invasion of Cuba or veto it? New to the gruesome game, Kennedy tried to have it both ways, by letting it proceed, but without US air cover.

The CIA-led invasion, executed by a motley group of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, was a military failure and a foreign-policy disaster, one that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year. During the missile crisis, most senior security officials advising the president wanted to launch military action against Soviet forces, a course that could well have ended in nuclear annihilation. Kennedy overruled the warmongers, and prevailed in the crisis through diplomacy.

By 1963, Kennedy no longer trusted the advice of the military and the CIA. Indeed, he regarded many of his putative advisers as a threat to world peace. That year, he used diplomacy relentlessly and skillfully to achieve a breakthrough nuclear agreement with the Soviet Union, the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

The American people strongly – and rightly – supported Kennedy over the warmongers. But three months after the treaty was signed, JFK was assassinated.

Viewed through the lens of history, the main job of US presidents is to be mature and wise enough to stand up to the permanent war machine. Kennedy tried; his successor, Lyndon Johnson, did not, and the debacle of Vietnam ensued. Jimmy Carter tried; Reagan did not (his CIA helped to unleash death and mayhem in Central America throughout the 1980s). Clinton mostly tried (except in the Balkans); George W. Bush did not, and generated new wars and turmoil.

On the whole, Obama has tried to restrain the warmongers, yet he has given in to them frequently – not only by relying on weaponized drones, but also by waging covert wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. Nor did he truly end the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; he replaced troops on the ground with US drones, air strikes, and “private” contractors.

Iran is surely his finest moment, a historic milestone that demands full-throated approval. The political difficulty of making peace with Iran is similar to that of JFK’s peacemaking with the Soviet Union in 1963. Americans have been suspicious of Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis, in which Iranian students held 52 Americans at the US embassy for 444 days. But their suspicion also reflects jingoistic manipulation and a lack of perspective on US-Iran relations.

Few Americans know that the CIA overthrew a democratic Iranian government in 1953. Iranians had had the temerity to elect a progressive, secular prime minister who believed that the country’s oil belonged to its people, not to the United Kingdom or the US. And few Americans recall that after the coup, the CIA installed a brutal police state under the Shah.

Likewise, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the US armed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to go to war with Iran, resulting in hundreds of thousands of Iranian deaths in the 1980s. And US-led international sanctions, imposed from the 1990s onward, have aimed to impoverish, destabilize, and ultimately topple the Islamist regime.

Today, the warmongers are trying to scuttle the Vienna accord. Saudi Arabia is in a violent struggle with Iran for regional supremacy, with geopolitical competition converging with the Sunni-Shia rivalry. Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear power, wants to retain its strategic monopoly. The US warmongers seem to view any Islamist state as ripe for toppling.

Obama is correct that America’s true interests, and those of the world, are with peace, not continued conflict, with Iran. The US is not a partisan in the Shia-Sunni struggle; if anything, the US confronts mainly Sunni terrorism, funded from Saudi Arabia, not Shia terrorism backed by Iran. Obama is also right that, despite Israel’s arguments, the agreement will reduce the possibility of Iran ever becoming a nuclear state.

The best way to ensure that outcome is to normalize relations with it, help its economy recover, and support its integration into the international community. Iran is a great and ancient culture. Its opening to the world as a place of business, tourism, the arts, and sports would be a boon to global stability and prosperity.

The new treaty will verifiably prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for at least a decade – and keep it bound to nuclear non-proliferation thereafter. This is the time to begin a broader US-Iran rapprochement and build a new security regime in the Middle East and the world that leads toward full global nuclear disarmament. To get there requires, above all, replacing war (including the CIA’s secret wars) with commerce and other forms of peaceful exchange.

Read more by clicking here.

9 thoughts on “Uri Avnery and Jeffrey Sachs on the Iranian Nuclear Deal

  1. The key so far as Congressional action is concerned is that the permanent membership of the Security Council and Germany have signed on to the agreement. In effect and despite the howls of the “American exceptionalists,” we are not in a position to demand changes. Let us suppose, for instance, that being dissatisfied we keep sanctions without the agreement of other nations. Does anyone doubt that the financial transactions necessary to go around these sanctions would flow through London or perhaps Frankfurt? I think Speaker Bohner is aware of these considerations and, for the time being at least, is merely playing to his so-called base. The responsible thing to do for for those of the Republicans who are responsible is to get behind this agreement, however much that may dismay the less able of their colleagues.

  2. The US is the primary negotiator, a partner in the agreement and vaember of the Security Council. Why would the US not have a right to demand changes in provisions? Personally I’m undecided about the agreement and hope it’s strong enough to work.

  3. I’m not sure why you think that in twenty or thirty years Iran will still be pushing a religious agenda. Iran has one of the youngest populations in the world, and one of the world’s lowest rates of participation in religious workship. It’s clearly in a very rapid transition to becoming a predominantly secular society – a transition equivalent to the era of Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR. Young Iranians want to make business, and art, and love – not war. And it’s hard to believe that Iran will still be a theocracy in five years time, let alone twenty or thirty.
    Here in Europe we’re more than ready to be friends with the Iranians. Iranians are like us in so many ways, and they’re cool. Iran is a big and exciting economy, and even despite the sanctions the Germans have been all over it for the last few years (they see trade with Iran being worth €6-7bn to them by 2016). And now that there is agreement, the USA won’t corral the European Union back into sanctions (the Chinese and Russians haven’t been playing along anyway). So if Congress votes against the deal, they risk going it alone on Iran – a choice that will just further marginalise the American position as a global power. The world is changing, in attitudes as well as realities, and the USA is getting left behind.

  4. Of course the Iranians are cool. They are more akin to the Amrricans than the Saudis. Just go to the cities in Iran and Saudi Arabia and see the stark differences there! In Tehran you see women working, going to universities with men, driving cars etc. Do you see that in Mecca or Riyadh? No. But we would rather do business with the Saudis than the Iranians. How foolish can we be!

  5. The nuclear issue was bogus from the beginning. Iran has no nuclear weapons program. This is the assessment of the IAEA, Israeli and US intelligence. It has a legal program for nuclear power and nuclear medicine, sanctioned by its membership in the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty. What Iran has is oil and no US military bases. What Iran has is a government that is not controlled by the US, a government willing to defy US dictates. The sanctions against Iran, like those against Cuba, Chile, Venezuela and so many more were intended to generate the internal conditions to allow another coup d’état – insert another compliant Pinochet or tyrant Shah. They failed. What the US has caused in the Middle East with its aggressive wars, its subversion is nothing less than conflagration. Hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions wounded and forced to flee their homes. Thousands of US youth dead or maimed. Not a pretty sight. Obama chose another route. No war on Iran. Subversion will continue but use fewer resources. Pivot to the Pacific and eastern Europe where US hegemony is truly challenged by big economies. Yes, peace for now. But don’t trust the US to keep the peace. Imperialism has but one goal: plunder the world for the 1%.

  6. Yes, Iranians are cool, at least the ones I’ve met are. The story we have been told about Iran has been and is lethally dishonest. They could have been our ally in the struggle to limit the influence of Saudi inspired extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but our government (of, by, and for the oil and gas companies) had a different plan.
    In August, 2008, the New York Times, trying to explain what a John McCain presidency might look like, examined his actions on Sept. 11, 2001 (“Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of McCain Doctrine”, by David D. Kirkpatrick, NY Times, Aug. 17, 2008.) According to the Times, Senator McCain booked himself onto every TV and radio interview he could squeeze in. His message throughout the day was that “we” had to go after Afghanistan but “we” couldn’t stop there. “We” also had to make war on the other terrorism-supporting states of Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
    We, the American people, should know that on Sept. 11, 2001, the only countries that gave diplomatic recognition and aid to the Taliban were Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. The main supporters of the Northern Alliance (the opposition to the Taliban) were India, Russia, and Iran. If the War on Terror had been for real, our government would have allied itself with India, Russia, and Iran and demanded that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE stop aiding the Taliban. That didn’t happen.
    Instead, we get McCain and hundreds of other “experts” misdirecting us toward Iraq and Iran. The attacks of Sept. 11 were directly tied to an extremist ideology pushed by Saudi Arabia and supplied and directed through the Pakistani military and ISI. How dishonest was it for John McCain, just hours after the 9/11 attacks, to shift the blame to the secular dictatorships of Syria and Iraq and the Shia theocracy of Iran, three countries that would be the least likely to support bin Laden? The answer is: completely dishonest.
    What could account for the policy of endless war “we” are engaged in? The CIA World Factbook offers a clue. It lists the world’s largest oil and gas reserves (different from the largest oil and gas producers.) The list goes like this:
    Oil Reserves Natural Gas Reserves:
    1) Saudi Arabia 1) Russia
    2) Venezuela 2) Iran
    3) Iran 3) Qatar
    4) UAE 4)Turkmenistan
    5) Iraq 5) U.S.
    6) Kuwait 6) Saudi Arabia
    7) Canada 7) Iraq
    8) Russia
    9) Libya
    (The list goes on.)
    It seems that if a country has a business arrangement that is satisfactory to the U.S. government and the oil companies then it can be a repressive dictatorship and still be protected (Kuwait) or just left alone (Saudi, UAE, Qatar.) If, on the other hand, a country has funny ideas about sharing too much of its oil profits with its own people, it will be attacked (Libya, Iraq) or just sanctioned, sabotaged, and threatened (Venezuela, Iran.)
    This might be one explanation for the nonsensical behavior of our government. Would people like John McCain, Dick Cheney, and Barack Obama spend trillions of our tax dollars, thousands of our soldiers lives, and cause millions of innocent families to be killed, wounded, maimed, and made homeless just for a few billion dollars in profit? They would have to be extremely evil to do that. But their actions seem to show that their words are just a cover for theft.

  7. The US is a net producer of oil now. It’s the Chinese who are thirsting for the oil and the Russians who are thirsting to sell Iran sophisticated arms. No, iran is not cool. They still want too destroy Israel by using their proxy army, Hezbollah

  8. Each point of view contributes to a greater awareness of the complexity of supporting a balance in personal, national, and international relationships. To me it seems that the challenge is in how to encourage the major Western religious communities whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim to come together with the intent of educating itself in how to live the inherent value that resides in the core of our belief in One Supreme Being, that being We are All One Family. The rabbis, the imams, the priests must take a leadership role in more effectively introducing a spiritual influence into the political environment by taking a visible stand that resolving this sibling rivalry is one of the critical issues in the living of our shared religious foundation. This will provide the role model for the teaching to be carried into one’s personal family, the community, and the nation.

  9. I find it very disturbing to see Tikkun giving legitimacy to the views, currently progressive or otherwise, of Jeffrey Sachs, whose neoliberal policy advice to Eastern Europe destroyed the lives of millions. Check this book review by Doug Henwood:
    http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Sachs.html Tikkun can & should do better than this.

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