Two weeks ago an earthquake in northwest Iran killed 300, injured 3000 and affected 300,000 more people yet Canadians have raised relatively little for the victims. The reasons include a dearth of Canadian charities in Iran, general media indifference to suffering in an “enemy” country and, according to a North Shore Outlook headline, “Confusion over sanctions keeps Iran aid money in Canada.” Apparently, many in North Vancouver’s large Iranian diaspora community fear that donating to the relief could contravene the near total sanctions Ottawa has imposed.
They are right to be concerned. At the start of July Toronto Dominion began canceling the bank accounts of Iranian Canadians who had received money from, or transferred money to, Iran. The bank said it was simply complying with the government’s Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulations. In a bid to suffocate the country’s economy, the Conservatives (along with the US and Britain) have blocked virtually all financial transactions with Iran.
The sanctions are part of a low-level war the US and Israel have been waging against the country in recent years. Some Iranian scientists have been assassinated, the country’s computer structure sabotaged and Washington has distributed tens of millions of dollars to violent and nonviolent opposition groups.
Beyond economic sanctions, Ottawa has contributed to the war in various ways. Conservative officials have compared Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler and the Prime Minister recently claimed Iran’s leaders “frighten me”. In an August 23 letter calling on UN Secretary-General Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reconsider attending the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Iran, foreign minister John Baird wrote: “Iran’s current rulers will use your presence to further their own, hateful purposes. … Such a visit would only serve to legitimize and condone the record of this regime, which Canada views as the single most significant risk to global peace and security today.”
In March defence minister Peter MacKay said the military was preparing for a possible military attack against Iran. “We are pursuing every diplomatic means, but the fact remains we have to be prepared for what may come and that’s something the national defence department takes very seriously,” MacKay told Sun News. “We are always planning, always preparing.”
This isn’t abstract planning. Canadian soldiers continue to occupy Afghanistan, a country bordering Iran and in February the Canadian Press reported that small numbers of Canadian military trainers were sent to Herat in western Afghanistan, near the border with Iran. For much of Harper’s time in office the Canadian navy has been patrolling near Iran’s waters. In January a Canadian warship departed to the Mediterranean Sea, according to the Ottawa Citizen, “for at least one year to provide a persistent Canadian presence near potential flashpoints.” Two months ago HMCS Regina was also dispatched to the region to join the growing US military presence off Iran’s coast. The National Post reported: “Having the Charlottetown and other Canadian warships near Iran fits with the Harper government’s strong opposition to Iran’s suspected plan to acquire nuclear weapons.”
A number of media reports in 2008 described Canadian naval vessels running provocative manoeuvres off Iran’s coast. In July of that year, a National Post reporter on board a Canadian naval vessel explained: “The usual tense games were played this weekend as this Canadian warship responsible for refuelling and replenishing a coalition task force in the Indian Ocean passed in a heavy haze through one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Iranian radio operators trying to hail the [Canadian vessel] Protecteur were interrupted by Omanis who firmly told their neighbours not speak to the Canadians who were making an ‘innocent passage’ through Omani territorial waters.”
To justify their aggression, the Conservatives have tried to create the impression that Iran was preparing to attack Israel with nuclear weapons. During a visit to Israel six months ago foreign minister John Baird compared the situation with Iran to the Nazi holocaust. “Obviously you can understand why the Jewish people and why Israel would take [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] seriously. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf more than a decade before he became Chancellor of Germany. And they take these issues pretty seriously here.”
Despite both US and Israeli intelligence agencies concluding that there is no proof of an Iranian nuclear arms program, the Prime Minister told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in February it was “beyond any doubt” Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons. Harper went on to say he was “absolutely convinced” Iran “would have no hesitation about using nuclear weapons.”
As Canadian Peace Alliance co-chair Derrick O’Keefe pointed out at the time: “This last comment is extraordinary; Harper is in effect claiming to know for a fact that the regime in Tehran is suicidal… Any attack by Iran, let alone its use of hypothetical nuclear weapons, would result in its total obliteration.”
The strange thing is that it is Israel that possesses nuclear weapons and threatens to attack Iran, not the other way around. While Ottawa considers Iran’s nuclear energy program a major threat, Israel’s 100 atomic bombs have not provoked similar condemnation. At a number of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meetings the Harper government abstained on votes asking Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under IAEA controls.
In September 2009 Ottawa condemned as “unbalanced” an IAEA resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have its nuclear facilities inspected. The Conservatives tried to block the vote. Ultimately, 100 countries supported the resolution while Israel opposed it. Canada, India, Georgia and the US abstained. In September 2010 Bloomberg cited Canada as one of three countries that opposed an IAEA probe of Israel’s nuclear facilities as part of an Arab-led effort to create a nuclear-weapons free Middle East.
US and Israeli officials have been claiming Iran is on the cusp of producing nuclear weapons for decades. An April 24, 1984, United Press International article headlined “‘Ayatollah’ Bomb in Production for Iran” warned that Iran was moving “very quickly” towards a nuclear weapon. Three years later the Washington Post published an article titled “Atomic Ayatollahs: Just What the Mideast Needs – an Iranian Bomb.” At different points in the 1990s Israeli Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu both said Iran would build a nuclear bomb by the end of that decade.
The double standards and power imbalance in the conflict between Israel/US and Iran are staggering. Iran has no atomic bomb while Israel has over 100 and the US has 5,000 nuclear warheads. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded in 2011 that Washington devotes more money to nuclear weapons than the rest of the world combined. At just over $60 billion a year, this is more than four times Iran’s entire military budget.
The decision-makers in Washington and Tel Aviv are not threatened by Iranian nuclear weapons. Rather they worry about Iran’s challenge to their regional domination. And, like a good follower, Harper has enthusiastically gone along with his friends’ war.
Yves Engler's latest book is Lester Pearson's Peacekeeping: the truth may hurt.