ALP hypocrisy: Sanctions on Iran, support for rogue nuclear-armed state Israel

Less than a week after the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran on June 9, the Australia government is planning its own unilateral punitive measures. On June 10, the US government announced plans for unilateral sanctions, the European Union (EU) followed suit and on June 15 Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith announced planned sanctions that, “put Australia at the forefront of efforts to persuade Iran to reverse its current path of confrontation with the international community”. The “confrontation with the international community” is simply about Washington and its imperialist allies’ repeated allegations, without evidence, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

The justification for the sanctions against Iran stand in hypocritical contrast to the refusal of the US and its Western allies, including Australia, to impose any sanctions on Israel, despite its violation for over 40 years now of UN Security Council resolutions demanding that the Zionist state end its occupation of the Palestinian territories it seized in the June 1967 war.

Iran’s nuclear program

Unlike Israel, Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its nuclear installations are monitored by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Despite many years of IAEA inspections, the agency has found no evidence that Iran has, or ever had, a nuclear weapons program. Iran has repeatedly affirmed that its nuclear program is aimed at providing electricity and thus save a large amount of oil from domestic consumption so as to maximise export revenues. To back this up, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa (a religious ruling) in September 2004 saying that “the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons”.

Esam Al-Amin reported in a June 9 article on the Counterpunch website that US President Barack Obama hosted a 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12. He met with dozens of heads of government and pushed for a fourth and tighter set of UN sanctions on Iran. His main argument was the refusal of Iran to accept the IAEA proposal of transferring the bulk of Iran’s low-enriched uranium outside the country in exchange for a smaller amount of more enriched fuel rods to produce medical isotopes.

The following day, Obama met with President Luiz Lula da Silva of Brazil and Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey. Both countries are currently members of the UN Security Council and Da Silva and Erdogan pressed the importance of a diplomatic resolution to the Iran nuclear issue. During the meeting, Obama not only encouraged their diplomatic efforts, but he also vowed to be constructive and flexible, as well as promising to send them in writing the parameters of any deal deemed acceptable to the US. Brazilian and Turkish officials worked together on a diplomatic solution.

As promised, Obama sent two separate letters on April 20 to Da Silva and Erdogan detailing the US parameters of a possible deal. In his letters, Obama set four conditions for any resolution to be satisfactory to Washington. The first condition was “Iran’s agreement to transfer 1200 kg of Iran’s low- enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country” in exchange for about 120kg of more highly enriched uranium fuel rods for use in the production of medical isotopes. He emphasised that this condition was essential and non-negotiable. Second, he agreed “to support and facilitate action on a proposal that would provide Iran nuclear fuel using uranium enriched by Iran”, a crucial demand by Iran which it has always insisted was its right under the NPT treaty. Third, Obama offered his acceptance to the compromise suggested by the IAEA last November by allowing “Iran to ship its 1200 kg of LEU to a third country”, suggesting Turkey as the designated country. He went further by offering assurance to Iran that its LEU would be held “in escrow” in Turkey “as a guarantee during the fuel production process that Iran would get back its uranium if we failed to deliver the fuel” for the making of medical isotopes. His final condition was that Iran had to convey to the IAEA in writing its “constructive commitment to engagement through official channels”.

Armed with the concrete US conditions, Da Silva arrived in Tehran on May 15 and was joined by Erdogan the following day. After 18 hours of negotiation, an agreement based on the US and IAEA proposals was signed by the governments of all three countries on May 17. A week later, Iran submitted an official letter to the IAEA acknowledging the agreement and stating its intention to transfer its LEU to Turkey within one month once the plan was accepted.

The White House and the US State Department dismissed the deal out of hand within 24 hours, rejecting the very terms of the agreement that Obama had set out in his April 20 letters. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even called it “a ploy” before a May 18 hearing of the Senate’s foreign relations committee. Former IAEA director-general Mohammad ElBaradei told Jornal do Brasil on June 3, “if you remove over half of the [nuclear] material that Iran has to Turkey, that is clearly a confidence-building measure regarding concerns about Iran’s future intentions”. As for the remainder of the enriched uranium in Iran, ElBaradei stated that, “the material that will remain in Iran is under IAEA safeguards and seals. There is absolutely no imminent threat that Iran is going to develop the bomb tomorrow from the material that they have in Iran.”

It seems that Obama’s offer was the actual ploy and that Washington hoped that Tehran would reject the offer, and thus enable Washington to paint Iran as unwilling to seek a diplomatic compromise. Washington’s rejection of its own offer shows that the Obama administration had planned new sanctions against Iran regardless of whether Tehran accepted or rejected the offer. Not surprisingly, Brazil and Turkey voted against the new round of UN sanctions, which Washington had to considerably water down to gain the support of Russia and China.

Israel’s secret nuclear weapon program

Israel is one of the few states in the world that have refused to sign the NPT and has maintained a policy known as a “nuclear ambiguity” (neither confirming nor denying that it possesses nuclear weapons). By the late 1990s, the CIA estimated that Israel possessed between 75-130 nuclear weapons.

The Israeli nuclear weapons program was initiated with French assistance in the 1950s. In 1958, Israel started to build a nuclear reactor in the southern town of Dimona, which became the centerpiece of the program. Dimona started producing nuclear bombs in 1968. Currently, the Dimona site has a plutonium-tritium production reactor, an underground chemical separation plant and nuclear component fabrication facilities. All of the production and fabrication of special nuclear materials (plutonium, lithium-6, tritium, and enriched uranium) takes place at Dimona, although the design and assembly of nuclear weapons occurs elsewhere, including an assembly facility operated by Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., north of Haifa.

Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu blew the whistle on Israel’s nuclear weapons program via the London Sunday Times in 1986. In a December 2005 interview with Joe Parko, a retired US college professor, Vanunu said: “I worked from 1976 to 1985 at the Israeli secret underground nuclear weapons production facility at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert. During my time there, I was involved in processing plutonium for 10 nuclear bombs per year. I realised my country had already processed enough plutonium for 200 nuclear weapons. I became really afraid when we started processing lithium 6 which is only used for the hydrogen bomb. I felt I had to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East so I took 60 pictures of the underground nuclear weapons processing plant some 75 metres under the Dimona plant.

“I resigned my post and left Israel in 1986. I first went to Australia and then made a connection with the Times in London. After a group of nuclear scientists verified my photos as proving Israeli nuclear weapons production, my story was published in England. A few months later, I was kidnapped by the Israelis in Rome and sent secretly by ship to Israel, where I was subjected to a closed military trial without counsel. I was sentenced to 18 years in prison. I spent 12 years in solitary confinement.” A condition of Vanunu’s 2004 release from prison was that he was banned from international travel or contact with foreigners. He is currently serving a three-month prison term for meeting foreigners at a Jerusalem hotel last December.

Israel offered nukes to apartheid South Africa

On May 24 the British Guardian revealed official evidence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. While researching for a book on the close relationship between Israel and apartheid South Africa, US Jewish academic Sacha Polokow-Suransky had unearthed in the South African archives the top secret minutes (now declassified) of meetings in 1975 between South Africa’s defence minister Pieter Botha and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president. At the meetings, Israeli officials “formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal”, according to Polakow-Suransky. Among those attending the March 31, 1975 meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. According to the Guardian report, “He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons”.

A little more than two months later, on June 4, 1975, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho missile project was codenamed Chalet. The secret minutes of the meeting record that, “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available”. The document then records: “Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.”

The “three sizes” are believed to refer to conventional, chemical and nuclear warheads. The “correct payload” the South African apartheid regime desired was a nuclear one, as outlined in Armstrong’s memo. Conventional and chemical payloads could have easily been produced in South Africa at the time. Botha did not go ahead with the deal, in part, because of the cost. In 1975, Peres and Botha also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

Labor’s hypocrisy

The Labor government’s hypocrisy is clear. Israel is a country that is currently occupying territories of three Arab nations — Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, and has launched bloody wars against its neighbours, including against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-2009. It is a country that has illegally employed weapons, such as white phosphorus, against civilians and committed numerous other war crimes and crimes against humanity, some of which have been reported by UN commissions of inquiry. It is country that refuses to declare its nuclear arsenal or sign the NPT. Despite this, there are no sanctions against Israel.

The sanctions imposed on Iran are meant to hide their real intent — a fate even worse for Iranian working people than the repressive semi-theocratic capitalist regime that currently oppresses them. As happened in Iraq, the UN-imposed sanctions are part of a long-term plan by Washington to “soften up” oil-rich Iran before an Iraq-style “regime change” US-led invasion and occupation. As with Iraq, Western claims that Iran is seeking to produce nuclear weapons are aimed at “softening up” Western public opinion for military action. Washington still has a long way to go to achieve such support. According to a February 12-15 CNN poll, 71% of Americans think Iran already has nuclear weapons, but only 23% favour military action “right now” to shut down Iran’s nuclear program, while 63% favour diplomacy and economic sanctions to accomplish this.

A February 3 study of Iranian opinion polls conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that 86% of Iranians — and 78% of supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in last year’s Iranian presidential election — said that Iran should not “give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances”. PIPA noted that there was little difference between Iranian government supporters and Mousavi backers in their assessment of US policy toward Iran. Nine out of 10 Mousavi supporters believe Washington’s goal is “to maintain control over the oil resources of the Middle East”.

Continued US and Australian government support for nuclear-armed Israel’s genocidal attacks on the Palestinians shows Washington and Canberra do not care about the defence of human rights. And despite their rhetoric on the subject, their refusal to press Israel to come clean about its nuclear weapons arsenal, demonstrates that they have no real interest in stopping nuclear weapons proliferation or promoting global nuclear disarmament.