Following the Pack Regardless of the Consequences

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The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has once again demonstrated his willingness to support US and Israeli policy regardless of the consequences. In answers to parliamentary questions last week he justified sanctions against Iran because of concerns about the “military dimensions” of its nuclear programme. At the same time he said he did not support sanctions against Israel. Both countries have appalling human rights records but only one (Israel) is believed to have operational nuclear weapons. Israel is also guilty of war crimes and has repeatedly violated international law.

Even more worryingly, Minister Gilmore would not rule out the possibility of granting the US or other NATO countries the use of Shannon Airport to facilitate military action against Iran.

Lets deal with the Israeli situation first. Eamon Gilmore said in his answer to a parliamentary question from Pádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein) that

I am repeatedly urged to consider sanctions against Israel for various reasons. I have made clear that, like all previous Irish Governments, the Government does not support such sanctions, and further that there would be no possibility whatever of achieving an EU consensus in favour of such sanctions.

So because its not a popular thing for a European to do these days, Eamon Gilmore will not sanction Israel. But in case anyone has forgetten, Israel has committed war crimes, engaged in collective punishment, targeted and killed innocent civilians, repeatedly ignores international law and has the nuclear capability to wipe out millions of people. But what does Eamon Gilmore have to say about them? He simply refers to them as “a very active proponent of complete nuclear disarmament”.

Iran is a different story. It has no nuclear weapons, as far as the West knows. However the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is the UN’s nuclear watchdog published a report last November in which it expressed “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme”. The West is now ramping up economic sanctions against Iran to try to force the government to comply with IAEA recommendations, and Eamon Gilmore is in full support of this move. Here’s what he had to say:

The EU, US and Canada, with the support of other international partners, have introduced further restrictive measures against Iran following the IAEA report in the hope that these will bring the Iranian authorities back to the negotiating table soon to address comprehensively the widespread international concerns, as set out in numerous UN Security Council and IAEA Resolutions, regarding possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. The international community, including Ireland, the EU and the US, is united in the view that sanctions must be maintained until Iran does so.

Israel and the US are now calling for military strikes to damage or destroy Iran’s nuclear programme, supposedly to stop any activity which might lead to them acquiring nuclear weapons. And from what Eamon Gilmore said – or more importantly did not say – this week, he would have Shannon and Ireland support this.

Mr. Gilmore may have already forgotten about Iraq, where years of sanctions lead to the premature deaths of 500,000 children, devastated the economy and failed to remove the “enemy”, Saddam Hussein. Granted, the Iraq sanctions affected the entire economy, whereas the Iran sanctions are targeted specifically at financial transactions that would benefit government or the military. But these “smart” sanctions are already raising prices and causing shortages of food and heating fuel for the poor. And like in Iraq, there are grave doubts over whether the Iranian government will be moved by the hardships endured by ordinary people throughout the country.

Officials in the Obama administration are also of the view that sanctions will not deter the Tehran government from pursuing its nuclear programme, according to recent reports. Consequently the scene is now being set for an attack. In an article entitled Time to Attack Iran (with no question mark), for example, Matthew Kroenig of Georgetown University and the Council for Foreign Relations wrote in the January/February edition of Foreign Affairs that

…skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease — that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.

For Kroenig and others, the suffering of ordinary men, women and children living in Iran – or for that matter in Israel when there are reprisal attacks – are not “consequences” that matter. Just like the former Secretary of State Madeline Albright who famously said that US policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children in Iraq, policy makers and politicians in Washington are still oblivious to human suffering.

It is indeed quite shocking to see the US getting ready to go to war again. They have been quietly massing troops and armaments on two islands located just south of the Strait of Hormuz, within easy striking distance of Iran (these are Socotra which is part of a Yemeni archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and the Omani island of Masirah). In addition to the 50,000 or so US troops that are already in the region waiting for orders, an additional 50,000 US soldiers are being readied for ‘any contingency’ by March. Military sources familiar with the American buildup on the two islands have said it is the heaviest American concentration of might in the region since the US invaded Iraq in 2003 (DEBKA-Net-Weekly).

There are other options however. As Dr Stuart Parkinson of Scientists for Global Responsibility pointed out in a recent article, the West could put a greater emphasis on diplomacy in response to Iran’s nuclear programme. It would not be easy to persuade the Iranian regime to change course, but as Parkinson points out, the risks could hardly be worse than the military option. One possible solution is a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. There was renewed interest in the proposal for such a zone at the 2010 review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And right now preparations are being made for an intergovernmental conference on the issue, to be held in Finland during 2012.

So back to Eamon Gilmore. In addition to the comments reported above he also said last week that Ireland regards the establishment of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems as a particularly important objective. But one of the biggest obstacles to the success of such a proposal is the nuclear weapons capability of the country he visited recently, Israel. According to various authorities, including the Federation of American Scientists, Israel has at least 80 nuclear warheads – which is a long, long ways away from the “possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme” that Gilmore claims to be worried about in the case of Iran.

It is time for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste, who is also now the chairperson of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe, to start thinking before he parrots Israeli and US policy. Another military mis-adventure that is likely to cause millions of deaths in the Middle East, with reprisal attacks all across the US and Europe – possibly including Ireland – is not in anyone’s interests.  Nonetheless theprincipled, independent foreign policy that Ireland was once renowned for has been abandoned. And instead, Eamon Gilmore and some of the other political followers of James Connolly now seem to want more than anything to be on the side of the imperialists.

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