FRESH AIR

Clive Williams’ misguided claims on Iran, Israel and the Trump Administration – a fisking

Jan 11, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Iranian Protesters unveil a digital countdown showing 8411 days until Israel is destroyed (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian Protesters unveil a digital countdown showing 8411 days until Israel is destroyed (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

 

Clive Williams is a campus visitor with the ANU Centre for Military and Security Law. His article on The Conversation website asked, “Are the US and Iran headed for a military showdown before Trump leaves office?” (Jan 4).

Unfortunately, the article that he penned to address this question was a mixture of out-of-context information, factual errors and half-truths brought together by an underlying presumption that the real threat to peace and security in the Middle East is not Iran, but Israel and the US Administration.

While reviewing latest developments with regards to this topic, Williams omits some important facts.

Williams informs his readers that “[Iran’s Foreign Minister] Mohammad Javad Zarif, claimed Israeli agents were planning to attack US forces in Iraq to provide US President Donald Trump with a pretext for striking Iran”.

Oddly, he never clarifies that this is an absurd and illogical claim by Zarif, typical of the conspiratorial and bellicose way that the Iranian regime relates to all its perceived enemies. It was of course rejected outright as nonsense by Israeli officials.

Yet Williams uses Zarif’s ugly and conspiratorial claim as part of a larger picture he attempts to create of Israeli war-mongering as the real problem.

Williams says of Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu that he “would like nothing more than action by Iran that would draw in US forces before Trump leaves office this month and President-elect Joe Biden takes over.”

And he then presents Netanyahu’s alleged desire for such an attack as wholly motivated by internal political considerations and personal gain, without any real strategic rationale, saying an attack; “would not only give him [Netanyahu] the opportunity to become a tough wartime leader, but also help to distract the media from his corruption charges.”

Barely mentioned at all was the fact that Israel has good reason to want to defend itself against Iranian aggression, which Iran commits both directly and via its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza or Yemen, regardless of Mr. Netanyahu’s political interests. While he briefly mentions Iranian support for Hezbollah and “Palestinian militants in Gaza”, bizarrely, he never mentions repeated demands by the Iranian regime that Israel be destroyed, even with the Iranian parliament this week debating a bill which mandates that all Iranian governments take action to see Israel “destroyed” by 2041. That bill is widely expected to pass.

Williams makes it clear that for him the priority is that incoming US President Joe Biden “establish a working relationship with Iran and potentially resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal” (JCPOA).

One may wonder if Williams is referring to the previous “working relations” between the Obama administration and the Ayatollahs, where billions of dollars freely flowed to Iran after US lifted sanctions on Teheran, but neither that “relationship” nor these funds moderated the regime’s rogue behaviour. The funds in fact exacerbated the rogue behavior, rather than being used for the benefit of the Iranian people, being diverted to militants across the Middle East, and to violent oppression of Iranians suffering under a cruel regime, which is also harbouring known terrorists, including from Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, to protect the JCPOA and preserve the “relationship”, the Obama administration adopted a policy of kid gloves in criticising and reacting to the Iranian regime’s behavior, as even former Obama administration point man on Iran Dennis Ross recently pointed out.

These were the fruits of past ‘working relations’ between the US and Iran.

“Tehran announced it would begin enriching uranium to 20% as quickly as possible, exceeding the limits agreed to in the 2015 nuclear deal”, Williams notes. However, what does 20% enrichment mean? Williams leaves his readers guessing, instead of explaining that there is little use for 20% enriched uranium other than getting one step closer to, and more quickly, obtaining enough military grade 90% enriched uranium to produce nuclear weapons.

Moreover, Williams fails to note that, in creating 20% enriched uranium, one has already technically undertaken 90% of the enrichment effort required to make military grade enriched uranium. So 20% enrichment is not a minor step toward creating the enriched uranium fuel central to nuclear weapons, but a massive step toward building nuclear bombs.

Moreover, Williams is just wrong about Iran’s history of breaching the JCPOA. He writes:

Iran initially said it would continue to abide by the nuclear deal, but after the Soleimani assassination last January, Tehran abandoned its commitments, including any restrictions on uranium enrichment.

Iran publicly begin breaching the deal, including its restrictions on uranium enrichment, in July 2019, months before Soleimani was assassinated in Jan. 2020. There were numerous breaches before then as noted by the US Institute of Peace:

On July 1, 2019, Tehran began to breach the nuclear deal brokered with the world’s six major powers in 2015. It has exceeded the agreement’s limits at least five times:

  • In July 2019, Iran surpassed the limits on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
  • A week later, it increased enrichment from 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent.
  • In September 2019, it began using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium.
  • In November 2019, Iran began enriching uranium at the Fordo facility.
  • In November 2019, Iran surpassed the limits on its stockpile of heavy water.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed these serious breach of JCPOA commitments by Iran.

Yet Williams leads his reader to infer that Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA are responses to Israeli and US provocations such as the assassination of arch-terrorist Soleimani.

Williams mentions the well-known Israeli policy not to allow another country in the Middle East to acquire weapons of mass destruction. But he does not position this policy in the correct context, that Jerusalem is facing a hostile Iran, a rogue state whose publicly stated policy is destroying Israel and that has been focused on acquiring nuclear weapons for decades.

Williams downplays overwhelming evidence about the intentions behind Teheran’s nuclear weapons program. He dryly says that Iran “resumed” it in the 1980s. In fact, the Iranians started a vast multi-site concentrated state-sanctioned effort to build at least five atomic warheads and the long-range missiles to deliver them. Thousands of documents from the secret nuclear archive Iran kept from the world, and exposed by Israel in 2018, prove that (and not ‘claim’, as Williams says) beyond any doubt.

Yet, despite this, Teheran’s appetite for weapons of mass destruction, Williams implies, is almost a logical and understandable step.

Iran claims its nuclear program is only intended for peaceful purposes” he notes, without explaining that there is no justification for such a program in the oil rich country, and that Iran currently has no civilian use for the uranium it is enriching as its Bushehr nuclear plant gets all its fuel from Russia. Moral judgment and strategic sense are tossed aside even when Williams does appear to quietly concede that Teheran is lying about its real intentions, explaining that “Tehran probably believes realistically (like North Korea) that its national security can only be safeguarded by possession of a nuclear weapon.

It may well be the case that the Mullahs of Iran are following the lessons learnt from their friends in Pyongyang. Yet, Williams unfortunately neglects to put this logic within a very much needed moral prism. North Korea is the world’s most dangerous, armed to the teeth, nuclear-armed dictatorship, readily proliferating deadly technologies to Iran and other rogue actors and using its nuclear shield to threaten its neighbors with impunity. He appears to think we should sanguinely accept another such nuclear-armed rogue actor in Iran, being alarmed only by the prospect that those concerned about such an eventuality will provoke a military exchange with Teheran.

He also neglects the reality that Iranian national security would face few serious external threats if it were not for Teheran’s own aggressive rogue behaviour, which has made virtually all its neighbours into enemies, and created real and serious concerns in the corridors of power across the globe.

And with recent actual and planned executions of political dissidents in Iran calling attention to the escalating political silencing and violent oppression of the Iranian people, one finds it odd to see Williams musing about “strong domestic pressure” on the Iranian leadership to act against what Teheran sees – “with some justification” in Williams’ words – as Israeli and/or American provocation.

He appears so caught up with worries, frankly overblown, about a military attack or exchange that he effectively appears to paint the Iranian regime as the victimised good guys, upon whose wisdom and self-restraint the peace of the world relies in the face of baseless Israeli and US provocations.

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