Willing to fight

Least of Khamenei’s problems

The US bears the main responsibility for the current situation in Iraq and Syria, writes Yassamine Mather

As discussions regarding the final draft of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers continue, opponents of the deal in Iran and elsewhere are doing their utmost to make sure the Geneva agreement (summarised as the intention to reach a deal) collapses before the June 30 deadline.

The French ambassador to the United States claims the negotiations are so complicated that a deal is unlikely in the current time scale. Over the last few months France has echoed the views of the Israeli government and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, often appearing more hard-line than the US. The Hollande government’s priorities are clear - finalising arms sales to the Persian Gulf countries ahead of any deal with Iran. Earlier this month Qatar signed contracts worth €6.3 billion for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets and missiles from France.

Two weeks ago, Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon implied that Israel might have to nuke Iran in order to prevent a long war:

At the end, we might take certain steps ... I do remember the story of president Truman, who was asked, ‘How do you feel after deciding to launch the nuclear bombs, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000 casualties?’ And he said, ‘When I heard from my officers the alternative is a long war with Japan, with potential fatalities of a couple of millions, I thought it is a moral decision.’1

One cannot begin to imagine the media uproar if an Arab or an Iranian minister had made such a comment. It is also interesting to note that in this statement Ya’alon is all but admitting to Israel’s possession of a nuclear arsenal.

In the US Republican senators also continue to threaten war and more sanctions if negotiations fail, while adding conditions to the existing demands made by the US and the other five powers. Republican senator Lindsay Graham declared: “Iran must not be allowed an enrichment capability greater than the practical needs to supply one commercial reactor.”

Then there is opposition from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. They are concerned that they would lose their economic and political weight in the region if after more than three decades of isolation Iran’s relations with the west improved. Barack Obama tried to address these concerns by inviting GCC leaders to Camp David, but Saudi Arabia and Oman declined the invitation - a move that was seen as a snub to the US president. Saudi opposition to the Geneva deal is well known and there can be no doubt that the proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia (in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and according to some Iraq) have accelerated since the April declaration of a nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran’s Islamic Republic.

Obama’s comments during the summit were primarily addressed at reassuring the GCC countries that the US will continue to support them militarily. He referred to “Iran’s destabilising activities in the region”, adding: “I am reaffirming our iron-clad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners.” According to the White House, there was agreement to develop a “region-wide ballistic missile defence system”, including an early warning system, and hold exercises “emphasising interoperability against asymmetric threats, such as terrorist or cyber-attacks”, as well as increasing training in special operations and maritime security.2

It is difficult to take such statements seriously when we know for a fact that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are so committed to the overthrow of the Syrian regime that they finance, back and arm Al Nusra and at least until last year they were the main forces sending funds and supplies to Islamic State.

US legacy

On May 18, a US conservative group, Judicial Watch, published a selection of formerly classified documents obtained through a federal lawsuit. The document from 2012, issued by the Defence Intelligence Agency, talks of support from the west, Gulf countries and Turkey for the Syrian opposition: “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria … and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”3

Blogger Levant Report comments:

Overall, what we can see in the document clearly states that a Salafist principality is not desired by the west in terms of the Iraqi situation, but may or may not suggest that this principality is desired in terms of isolating Assad, which is a stated goal of the west and its allies (not just isolating, but removing).4

Looking at recent news from the region, one could say the US agency’s predictions have come true - except that now we now have a Salafist/Wahhabi region in Iraq as well as in Syria.

The fall of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, was the worst military setback suffered by the Iraqi government since almost a year ago, when IS took control of the north. According to US defence secretary Ashton Carter, the Iraqi army “vastly outnumbered” the IS forces but chose to withdraw: “What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.”5 Describing the situation as “very concerning”, he added: “We can give them training, we can give them equipment - we obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”

According to US military sources, the Iraqi army left behind artillery, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, etc. No doubt there is little willingness in the Iraqi army to fight IS, but Carter omits to mention the following reasons for its collapse:

Now IS’s overall territorial control is far bigger than the US predictions in 2012: the jihadist group rules a third of Iraq and around 50% of Syria. In fact the continuation of Bashar al-Assad’s rule is in doubt and, although many in the Middle East and elsewhere would celebrate the fall of the Assad dynasty, Syria’s future remains bleak. This week there are reports indicating that IS is marching on Damascus. Last week in addition to Palmira, IS captured part of the industrial city of Sheikh Najjar in the northern Aleppo province, as well as al-Waleed on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

So IS controls the east of the country, while in the north a new coalition of rebel forces is led by an affiliate of al Qa’eda! As the Syrian military loses territory, the two jihadist armies are approaching each other’s territories and both war and peace between the two groups present horrific scenarios. The civil war between IS and Al Nusra, predicted as the most likely scenario, will be a disaster for Syria and the region, yet if the two sides come to some agreement, it could provide the foundations of a Salafist caliphate encompassing large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Given what is happening in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the resumption of air raids by Saudi Arabia against Houthis in Yemen, it is not surprising that Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has entered the debate about the threats posed by IS. He has accused the US and “some idiotic leaders” in the Persian Gulf of trying to start proxy wars on Iran’s borders - a clear reference to IS and Al Nusra military advances in Syria and Iraq.

According to Iranian general Qasem Suleimani, the US has no will to fight IS:

The US didn’t do a damn thing to stop the extremists’ advance on Ramadi, while their air base is only a few kilometres away ... Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot? Today, there is nobody in confrontation with IS except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran.6

Nuclear deal?

In his speech Khamenei also addressed the issue of nuclear negotiations and commented: “We have said that we will not let foreigners inspect any military centre.” He also ruled out allowing international inspectors to interview Iranian nuclear scientists, adding: “This means interrogation. I will not let foreigners come and talk to scientists and dear children of the nation, who have developed this science up to this level.” This is in complete contrast to John Kerry’s comments soon after the Geneva agreement, that Iran cannot avoid answering the questions about its past actions: “They have to do it. It will be done”.

The two issues referred to by Khamenei have dominated Iranian news in recent days. Of course, as far as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is concerned, there is no stipulation for inspecting a country’s military installations. Such a move, in a world where the use of satellites allows the US and its allies to spy on military bases worldwide, would be regarded as a humiliation. However, in 2003 Iran signed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ‘additional protocols’, which allow for “provision of information about, and IAEA inspector access to, all parts of a state’s nuclear fuel cycle - including uranium mines, fuel fabrication and enrichment plants, and nuclear waste sites - as well as to any other location where nuclear material is or may be present.”7 In other words, if the IAEA suspects that nuclear fuel or centrifuges are being held in military installations, they can insist on inspections.

Regarding the second issue - interviews with (or “interrogation” of) nuclear scientists, again there is no explicit mention in the NPT (or the additional protocol). Over the last few days this has become a very controversial issue in Iran - a number of Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated with the help of the Israeli Mossad. According to Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent,

A well-sourced and convincing investigation last year by NBC News in the US concluded that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service”. It cites two senior Obama administration officials as confirming that the MEK is responsible for the killings, but denying any US involvement.8

However, inside Iran, the assumption is that Mossad could not have participated in the assassinations without US involvement. Under such circumstances the idea that Iranian nuclear scientists can be identified and interviewed/interrogated by agency inspectors will be unacceptable to most Iranians, irrespective of their position on the Iranian clerical regime.

Khamenei’s comments have also sparked bitter arguments between the supporters and opponents of a nuclear deal in the Iranian majles (Islamic parliament), with some MPs calling Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, a traitor. In defending the deal Zarif claimed that the issue of interviews was unrelated to nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 group. He added that the previous government under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had created a precedent by allowing such interviews to take place.9

Khamenei’s comments last week and his apparent hard line on inspections/interrogations - “we will not surrender national sovereignty” - are desperate comments of a deluded leader, using the rhetoric of the 1970s. At the end of the day Iran has accepted most of the conditions imposed by the P5+1 because of the disastrous economic consequences of crippling sanctions imposed by the US and the United Nations.

For all the claims of a multi-polar world, the US remains the hegemon power and it can enforce policies, including punitive penalties against banks, companies and institutions which try to bypass sanctions against Iran. Of course, some countries in less strategic areas of the world have managed to resist US dictat for a short time, but in those cases the respective governments enjoyed a level of popular support. What Khamenei fails to realise is that he presides over one of the most hated, corrupt regimes of this planet - a country where an overwhelming majority of the population abhors his rule, where the gap between rich and poor is worse than most developing countries, where the regime’s survival depends to a large extent on the illusions created by the ‘reformist’ (pro-western) factions of the regime. Such a regime has no alternative but to “surrender national sovereignty” as soon as it faces threats from the United States.

If the Syrian dictator is overthrown and Islamic State succeeds in maintaining control of a large part of Iraq, inspections and the interrogation of Iranian scientists by IAEA officials will be the least of Khamenei’s problems.



1. www.lobelog.com/israeli-defense-minister-invokes-hiroshima-and-nagasaki-in-response-to-iran-question.

2. www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/14/annex-us-gulf-cooperation-council-camp-david-joint-statement.

3. www.empireslayer.org/2015/05/point-by-point-analysis-of-declassified.html.

4. http://levantreport.com/2015/05/26/guest-analysis-by-robert-barsocchini-a-critical-examination-of-the-dia-document-on-dynamics-of-syrian-conflict.

5. mwww.dw.de/us-defense-seretary-says-iraqi-forces-lacked-will-to-fight-is-in-ramadi/a-18473778.

6. www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4661052,00.html.

7. www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/publications/magazines/bulletin/bull48-2/48203494955.pdf.

8. www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/just-who-has-been-killing-irans-nuclear-scientists-8861232.html.

9. www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=246951.