Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Iran: Our ally in the war on terror
This article of mine appears in the First Post.
No Western leaders have yet congratulated President Ahmadinejad on his controversial election victory in Iran. But among the list of leaders who have done so is a name that many will find surprising: President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
Karzai telephoned Ahmadinejad to congratulate him on his victory, saying that relations between Afghanistan and its Western neighbour had "expanded" during Ahmadinejad's time in office and that he hoped ties would continue to strengthen.
You won't read too much about it in the mainstream Western media, but the truth is that in a battle which the US President and British Prime Minister repeatedly tell us is fundamental to our own security - Iran is on 'our' side.
Shia Iran's opposition to the Sunni fundamentalists of the Taliban is longstanding - in fact, over the past 20 years or so, it's fair to say that Iran has been more consistently and firmly opposed to the Taliban than the United States.
After the Taliban took power in 1996, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, denounced the group as an affront to Islam, and the killing of 11 Iranian diplomats and truck drivers in 1998 almost led to an Iranian invasion of Afghanistan, which was averted by the intervention of the US and UN.
After 9/11, Iran played a key role in the toppling of the Taliban and participated with the US and other Western countries on post-war planning for Afghanistan. Iran's contribution to the anti-Taliban struggle was acknowledged by US officials: James Dobbins, who worked with diplomats from Iran and other neigbours of Afghanistan to create the first post-Taliban government, said that the Iranians were the "most active" of the foreign backers of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, while Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that two days before the fall of Kabul, there were places in Afghanistan "where there are some Iranian liaison people, as well as some American liaison people" working with the same Afghan forces.
But in May 2003, under pressure from the neocons, President Bush cancelled co-operation with Iran.
Since then, US officials have claimed that Iran is actually working against Western interests in Afghanistan and has been aiding the Taliban. But hard evidence to support these claims has proved as elusive as Iraqi WMD. The allegations of US officials have been refuted by those closest to the action - like General Dan McNeill, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, who said there was "no information to support" the assertion that Iran had provided weapons to the Taliban.
In fact, Iran's line on the Taliban remains as uncompromising as ever. Only last October, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned the West not to hold talks with the Taliban: "We advise them to think about the consequences of the talks... which are taking place in the region and in Europe and avoid being bitten in the same spot twice."
So why if Iran is on 'our side' in the war against the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, does the West remain so hostile to Tehran? The answer, of course, is the enduring influence of the neocons, who see the world through a pro-Israeli prism.
Iran is opposed to the Taliban and it is certainly no friend of al-Qaeda. But because of its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, it is deemed by the 'Israel-firstists' to be public enemy number one. The neocons have successfully managed to conflate Israel's perceived enemies with those of the West: Iran is seen as a threat to Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, therefore it's a threat to the US and Britain. They've also managed to spin the myth of a coherent and unified Islamic network of terror, which includes Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, the Taliban and al-Qaeda - and before 2003, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, too. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims: "These terrorist states and terror organisations together form a terror network, whose constituent parts support each other operationally as well as politically."
Bowing to neocon and Zionist pressure to isolate Iran is undoubtedly hampering Western efforts in Afghanistan. Enlisting the Islamic Republic's support in the battle against the Taliban is no guarantee of success - but it would certainly increase the chances.
Last weekend, we heard that Iran was preparing a new package of "political, security and international" issues to put to the West. It's highly likely that Afghanistan will be among the issues covered in that package and that there will an offer of Iranian co-operation in return for concessions on the country's nuclear energy programme.
The pro-Israeli lobby will do all it can to get the proposals rejected; but if, as Obama, Brown et al state, it is really true that the war against the Taliban is fundamental to our national security, and that it is a conflict that must be won, then Western leaders would be wise to give them the most serious consideration.