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French President Emmanuel Macron has accused the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia of instigating a war as their mutual foe, Iran, was rocked by a week of protests.

Macron on Wednesday joined several other world leaders to weigh in on protests that began as demonstrations against austerity measures under Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and later spilled into isolated, deadly clashes between civilians and security forces. The French leader called for dialogue with Tehran and criticized three of his international partners for pursuing what he considered bellicose policies toward a country the trio have increasingly sought to isolate and undermine in recent years.

“The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” Macron told reporters, according to Reuters.

It was “a deliberate strategy for some,” he added.

 

GettyImages-901120004Iranian pro-government supporters march during a rally after authorities declared the end of deadly unrest, in the city of Mashhad, Iran, on January 4. A total of 21 people died and hundreds were arrested in five days of unrest that began on December 28, 2017.NIMA NAJAFZADEH/TASNIM NEWS AGENCY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Since taking office almost one year ago, President Donald Trump has led the U.S. on an increasingly confrontational path with Iran and has reversed historic measures by his predecessor that were designed to ease the longstanding enmity between the two nations. He decertified President Barack Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal, of which France was also a signatory and an eager supporter, and has subjected Iran to a travel ban and increased sanctions over accusations it backs terrorism across the Middle East.

Trump has most recently weaponized his Twitter account to launch a barrage of insults against Iran’s leadership and voice support for the scores of Iranian citizens trying to “take back their corrupt government.” He offered “great support,” seeking to align himself with those calling to displace, rather than amend, the revolutionary Shiite Muslim government in the country, despite these voices currently being a minority among protesters on the ground. Trump was quickly accused of meddling in international affairs and of mishandling matters of diplomacy on Twitter.

Trump’s aggressive approach to Iran has been welcomed by Israel, which deeply opposed the nuclear deal reached under Obama. Iran has long supported militant Lebanese and Palestinian groups opposed to Israel and, as forces backed by Iran overcame rebels and jihadis battling for control of Syria, Israel has warned it would not tolerate Iranian presence in the neighboring, war-torn country.

“This regime tries desperately to sow hate between us. But they won’t succeed. And when this regime finally falls, and one day it will, Iranians and Israelis will be great friends once again,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, according to Israeli network Arutz Sheva.

Israel has also sought the assistance of Saudi Arabia in taking on Iran. Despite the conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom not even formally recognizing the majority-Jewish state, reports have continued to emerge of a cautious detente between the two leading U.S. allies in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his influential crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, have stayed relatively quiet as Iran’s protests flared and appeared to subside. A viral video showing an animated Saudi invasion of Iran and Mohammed bin Salman’s vow in May to take Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s regional power struggle for influence “inside Iran” have been met with controversy.

GettyImages-901135572Iranians shop in Tehran’s ancient Grand Bazaar, on January 4, 2018. Life in the Iranian capital appeared to go on as usual for many Iranians.ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In his statement Wednesday, which was also carried by Anadolu Agency, Macron said the actions of the U.S, Israel and Saudi Arabia could “end up surreptitiously rebuilding an ‘axis of evil,’” which, by President George W. Bush’s 2002 definition, included Iran, Iraq and Syria. Later that year, it was expanded to include Cuba, Libya and North Korea.

Bush went on to invade Iraq the following year and dislodge Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, while Obama (along with France) led the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 and supported the uprising in Syria, which began that same year and at several points threatened the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Trump has set his sights on the “rogue regime” of nuclear-armed North Korea and the “evil dictatorship” of Iran, as laid out by his debut, “America First” National Security Strategy.

The State Department said in a statement Thursday that the U.S. had “ample authorities to hold accountable those who commit violence against protestors, contribute to censorship, or steal from the people of Iran” and Iranian prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazerin blamed the CIA along with Israel and Saudi Arabia for stirring the unrest. When Newsweek reached out, the CIA declined to comment.

As pro-government rallies surfaced throughout Iran and the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was sent to restore order, the government declared an end to the unrest, but social media chatter and international speculation about the causes and future of the demonstrations remained rampant.

Iraq Redux?

Iran: the Neocons Are At It Again

by RALPH NADER

The same neocons who persuaded George W. Bush and crew to, in Ron Paul’s inimitable words, “lie their way into invading Iraq” in 2003, are beating the drums of war more loudly these days to attack Iran. It is remarkable how many of these war-mongers are former draft dodgers who wanted other Americans to fight the war in Vietnam.

With the exception of Ron Paul, who actually knows the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, the Republican presidential contenders have declared their belligerency toward Iranian officials who they accuse of moving toward nuclear weapons.

The Iranian regime disputes that charge, claiming they are developing the technology for nuclear power and nuclear medicine.

The inspection teams of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) that monitor compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran belongs, have entered Iran numerous times and, while remaining suspicious, have not been able to find that country on the direct road to the Bomb.

While many western and some Arab countries in the Gulf region have condemned Iran’s alleged nuclear arms quest, Israel maintains some 200 ready nuclear weapons and has refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty, thereby avoiding the IAEA inspectors.

Israelis in the know have much to say. Defense minister, Ehud Barak, responded to PBS’s Charlie Rose’s question “If you were Iran wouldn’t you want a nuclear weapon?” with these words:

“Probably, probably. I don’t delude myself that they are doing it just because of Israel. They have their history of 4,000 years. They look around and they see the Indians are nuclear. The Chinese are nuclear, Pakistan is nuclear as well as North Korea, not to mention the Russians.”

The Iranian regime, with a national GDP smaller than Massachusetts, is terrified. It is surrounded by powerful adversaries, including the U.S. military on three of its borders. President George W. Bush labeled Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, one of the three “axis of evil,” and Teheran knows what happened to Iraq after that White House assertion. They also know that North Korea inoculated itself from invasion by testing nuclear bombs. And all Iranians remember that the U.S. overthrew their popular elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and installed the dictatorial Shah who ruled tyrannically for the next 27 years.

Recently, Iran has experienced mysterious cyber sabotage, drone violations of its air space, the slaying of its nuclear scientists and the blowing up of its military sites, including a major missile installation. Israeli and American officials are not trying too hard to conceal this low level warfare.

Israel military historian—strategist Martin van Creveld said in 2004, that Iranians “would be crazy not to build nuclear weapons considering the security threats they face.” Three years later he stated that “the world must now learn to live with a nuclear Iran the way we learned to live with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China….We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us…thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany.”

U.S. General John Abizaid is one of numerous military people who say that the world can tolerate a nuclear Iran—which, like other countries, does not wish to commit suicide.

Using the “Iranian threat,” served Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who on his first tour of duty back in 1996, speaking to a joint session of Congress, made a big point of the forthcoming Iranian bomb.

Somehow the Iranians, who were invaded in 1980 by a U.S.-backed Saddam Hussein, resulting in a million casualties, and who have not invaded anybody for 250 years, are taking a very long time to build a capability for atomic bomb production, much less the actual weapons.

In mid-2011, Meir Dagan, recently retired head of Israel’s “CIA,” repeated his opposition to a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, adding it would engulf the region in a conventional war.

He further took the Israeli government to task for failing “to put forth a vision,” noting that “Israel must present an initiative to the Palestinians and adopt the 2002 Saudi Arabia peace proposal, reiterated since, that would open full diplomatic relations with some two dozen Arab and Islamic countries in return for an Israeli pullback to the 1967 borders and recognition of a Palestinian state.

The war-mongers against Iran have often distorted Iranian statements to suit their purpose and kept in the shadows several friendly Iranian initiatives offered to the George W. Bush Administration.

Flynt L. Leverett, now with Brookings and before a State Department and CIA official, listed three initiatives that were rejected. Right after the Sept. 11 attacks, Iran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban. The U.S. declined the offer. Second, in the spring of 2003, top Iranian officials sent the White House a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve questions regarding its weapons programs, relations with Hezbollah and Hamas and a Palestinian peace agreement with Israel. This proposal was rebuffed and ignored.

Third, in October 2003, European officials secured an agreement from Iran to suspend Iranian uranium enrichment and to pursue talks that Mr. Leverett said “might lead to an economic, nuclear and strategic deal.” The Bush administration “refused to join the European initiative, ensuring that the talks failed,” he added.

A few days ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iran was developing a capability for making nuclear weapons someday but was not yet building a bomb. So why is the Obama Administration talking about a western boycott of Iran’s oil exports, so crucial to its faltering, sanctions-ridden economy? Is this latest sanction designed to squeeze Iranian civilians and lead to the overthrow of the regime? Arguably it may backfire and produce more support for the government.

Backing the Iranian regime into such a fateful corner risks counter-measures that may disrupt the gigantic flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Should that occur, watch the prices of your gasoline, heating bill and other related products go through the roof—among other consequences.

Isn’t it about time for the abdicatory Congress to reassert its constitutional responsibilities? It owes the American people comprehensive, public House and Senate hearings that produce knowledgeable testimony about these issues and all relevant history for wide media coverage.

The drums of war should not move our country into a propagandized media frenzy that preceded and helped cause the Iraq invasion with all the socio-cide in that country and all the costly blowbacks against U.S. national interests?

It is past time for the American citizenry to wake up and declare: Iran will not be an Iraq Redux!

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with west – a covert one

A secret campaign of surveillance, sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations has slowed but not stopped Tehran’s programme

President George W Bush in 2007

Iran’s nuclear ambitions led then US president George W Bush to launch a covert war in 2007 to thwart the programme. Photograph: Jim Young/REUTERS

The covert war on Iran‘s nuclear programme was launched in earnest by George Bush in 2007. It is a fair assumption that the western powers had been trying their best to spy on the Islamic Republic since the 1979 Iranian revolution, but the 2007 “presidential finding” put those efforts on a new footing.

Bush asked Congress to approve $400m for a programme of support for rebel ethnic groups, as well as intelligence gathering and sabotage of the nuclear programme. Part of that effort involved slipping defective parts such as centrifuge components into the black market supply to Iran, designed to blow apart while in operation and in so doing bring down all the centrifuges in the vicinity. The UK, Germany, France and Israel are said to have been involved in similar efforts. Meanwhile, western intelligence agencies stepped up their attempt to infiltrate the programme, seeking to recruit Iranian scientists when they travelled abroad.

That espionage effort appears to have paid dividends. In 2009, the US, British and French intelligence agencies were able to confirm that extensive excavations at Fordow, a Revolutionary Guard base near the Shia theological centre of Qom, were a secret uranium enrichment plant under construction. The digging had been seen by satellites, but only human sources could identify its purpose. Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy were able to reveal Fordow’s existence at the UN general assembly in September 2009, a diplomatic setback to Iran. Russia, which had been Iran’s principal protector on the world stage, was furious with Tehran at having been taken by surprise.

It is harder to gauge the impact of sabotage. Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said: “I never saw any direct evidence of sabotage. We could see that they had breakages but it was hard to say if those were the result of their own technical problems or sabotage. I suspect a little of both.”

Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, complained to the press in 2006 about sabotage but vowed that Iran would overcome the challenge by making more of the centrifuges and other components itself.

But it was impossible to make everything at home. The computer systems which run the centrifuge operations in Natanz, supplied by the German engineering firm Siemens, were targeted last year by a computer worm called Stuxnet, reportedly created as a joint venture by US and Israeli intelligence. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conceded that Stuxnet had caused damage, and last November, Iranian scientists were forced to suspend enrichment to rectify the problem. A few days later, however, the centrifuges were working once more.

The black operations have not been confined to hardware and computer systems. They have also targeted Iran’s scientists. In July 2009, an Iranian nuclear expert called Shahram Amiri vanished while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. A year later, he surfaced in the US claiming he had been abducted by American agents, and in July 2010 he returned to a hero’s welcome in Tehran.

US officials said he had been a willing defector who had been paid $5m for his help, but who had since had a mysterious change of heart. There have since been claims Amiri had been an Iranian double agent all along. The truth is unclear.

Other attempts to remove Iran’s scientists have been blunter and bloodier.

Starting in January 2010, there were a series of attacks in Tehran on Iranian physicists with links to the nuclear programme. The first target was Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a physicist and lecturer at the Imam Hussein university, run by the Revolutionary Guards. He was on his way to work when a bomb fixed to a motorbike parked outside his house exploded and killed him instantly.

In November that year, assassins on motorbikes targeted two Iranian scientists simultaneously as they were stuck in morning traffic. In both cases, the killers drove up alongside their targets’ cars and stuck bombs to the side. Majid Shahriari, a scientist at the atomic energy organisation, who had co-authored a paper on neutron diffusion in a nuclear reactor, was killed.

The other target, Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani, suspected by western officials of being a central figure in experiments on building a nuclear warhead, was only injured. Three months later he was promoted to the leadership of the nuclear programme.

A third scientist, Darioush Rezaeinejad, was killed in an attack in July this year, when gunmen on motorbikes shot him in a street in east Tehran. He was initially described in the Iranian media as a “nuclear scientist”, but the government later denied he had any involvement in the programme.

Iran has blamed the attacks on the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and in August sentenced an Iranian, Majid Jamali-Fashi, to death for his alleged involvement in the Ali Mohammadi killing. He had confessed to being part of a hit-team trained in Israel, but it appeared likely he had made the confession under torture.

Despite the millions spent, stalled machines and deaths of leading scientists, Iran has steadily built up its stockpile of enriched uranium to 4.5 tonnes – enough for four nuclear bombs if it was further refined to weapons-grade purity. At most, the covert war has slowed the rate of progress, but it has not stopped it.


Why the Middle East Will Never Be the Same Again | Common Dreams

Why the Middle East Will Never Be the Same Again

The Palestinians won’t achieve statehood, but they will consign the ‘peace process’ to history.

The Palestinians won’t get a state this week. But they will prove – if they get enough votes in the General Assembly and if Mahmoud Abbas does not succumb to his characteristic grovelling in the face of US-Israeli power – that they are worthy of statehood. And they will establish for the Arabs what Israel likes to call – when it is enlarging its colonies on stolen land – “facts on the ground”: never again can the United States and Israel snap their fingers and expect the Arabs to click their heels. The US has lost its purchase on the Middle East. It’s over: the “peace process”, the “road map”, the “Oslo agreement”; the whole fandango is history.“In the new Middle East,” writes Fisk, “Amid the Arab Awakening and the revolt of free peoples for dignity and freedom, this UN vote – passed in the General Assembly, vetoed by America if it goes to the Security Council – constitutes a kind of hinge; not just a page turning, but the failure of empire. (EPA)

Personally, I think “Palestine” is a fantasy state, impossible to create now that the Israelis have stolen so much of the Arabs’ land for their colonial projects. Go take a look at the West Bank, if you don’t believe me. Israel’s massive Jewish colonies, its pernicious building restrictions on Palestinian homes of more than one storey and its closure even of sewage systems as punishment, the “cordons sanitaires” beside the Jordanian frontier, the Israeli-only settlers’ roads have turned the map of the West Bank into the smashed windscreen of a crashed car. Sometimes, I suspect that the only thing that prevents the existence of “Greater Israel” is the obstinacy of those pesky Palestinians.

But we are now talking of much greater matters. This vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council, in one sense it hardly matters – is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for all the usual historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.

A great anger has been created in the world by decades of Israeli power and military brutality and colonisation; millions of Europeans, while conscious of their own historical responsibility for the Jewish Holocaust and well aware of the violence of Muslim nations, are no longer cowed in their criticism for fear of being abused as anti-Semites. There is racism in the West – and always will be, I fear – against Muslims and Africans, as well as Jews. But what are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, in which no Arab Muslim Palestinian can live, but an expression of racism?

Israel shares in this tragedy, of course. Its insane government has led its people on this road to perdition, adequately summed up by its sullen fear of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt – how typical that its principle ally in this nonsense should be the awful Saudi Arabia – and its cruel refusal to apologise for the killing of nine Turks in the Gaza flotilla last year and its equal refusal to apologise to Egypt for the killing of five of its policemen during a Palestinian incursion into Israel.

So goodbye to its only regional allies, Turkey and Egypt, in the space of scarcely 12 months. Israel’s cabinet is composed both of intelligent, potentially balanced people such as Ehud Barak, and fools such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Ahmadinejad of Israeli politics. Sarcasm aside, Israelis deserve better than this.

The State of Israel may have been created unjustly – the Palestinian Diaspora is proof of this – but it was created legally. And its founders were perfectly capable of doing a deal with King Abdullah of Jordan after the 1948-49 war to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. But it had been the UN, which met to decide the fate of Palestine on 29 November 1947, which gave Israel its legitimacy, the Americans being the first to vote for its creation. Now – by a supreme irony of history – it is Israel which wishes to prevent the UN from giving Palestinian Arabs their legitimacy – and it is America which will be the first to veto such a legitimacy.

Does Israel have a right to exist? The question is a tired trap, regularly and stupidly trotted out by Israel’s so-called supporters; to me, too, on regular though increasingly fewer occasions. States – not humans – give other states the right to exist. For individuals to do so, they have to see a map. For where exactly, geographically, is Israel? It is the only nation on earth which does not know and will not declare where its eastern frontier is. Is it the old UN armistice line, the 1967 border so beloved of Abbas and so hated by Netanyahu, or the Palestinian West Bank minus settlements, or the whole of the West Bank?

Show me a map of the United Kingdom which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it has the right to exist. But show me a map of the UK which claims to include the 26 counties of independent Ireland in the UK and shows Dublin to be a British rather than an Irish city, and I will say no, this nation does not have the right to exist within these expanded frontiers. Which is why, in the case of Israel, almost every Western embassy, including the US and British embassies, are in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem.

In the new Middle East, amid the Arab Awakening and the revolt of free peoples for dignity and freedom, this UN vote – passed in the General Assembly, vetoed by America if it goes to the Security Council – constitutes a kind of hinge; not just a page turning, but the failure of empire. So locked into Israel has US foreign policy become, so fearful of Israel have almost all its Congressmen and Congresswomen become – to the extent of loving Israel more than America – that America will this week stand out not as the nation that produced Woodrow Wilson and his 14 principles of self-determination, not as the country which fought Nazism and Fascism and Japanese militarism, not as the beacon of freedom which, we are told, its Founding Fathers represented – but as a curmudgeonly, selfish, frightened state whose President, after promising a new affection for the Muslim world, is forced to support an occupying power against a people who only ask for statehood.

Should we say “poor old Obama”, as I have done in the past? I don’t think so. Big on rhetoric, vain, handing out false love in Istanbul and Cairo within months of his election, he will this week prove that his re-election is more important than the future of the Middle East, that his personal ambition to stay in power must take first place over the sufferings of an occupied people. In this context alone, it is bizarre that a man of such supposed high principle should show himself so cowardly. In the new Middle East, in which Arabs are claiming the very same rights and freedoms that Israel and America say they champion, this is a profound tragedy.

US failures to stand up to Israel and to insist on a fair peace in “Palestine”, abetted by the hero of the Iraq war, Blair, are responsible. Arabs too, for allowing their dictators to last so long and thus to clog the sand with false frontiers and old dogmas and oil (and let’s not believe that a “new” “Palestine” would be a paradise for its own people). Israel, too, when it should be welcoming the Palestinian demand for statehood at the UN with all its obligations of security and peace and recognition of other UN members. But no. The game is lost. America’s political power in the Middle East will this week be neutered on behalf of Israel. Quite a sacrifice in the name of liberty…

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.