Time is fast running out - It is clear that the Obama administration is preparing US public opinion for war, Yassamine Mather, 12th April 2012
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.” 
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.” 
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.” 
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.” 
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.
2. Ha’aretz April 8: www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-tiny-request-on-the-eve-of-an-ir....