I had the pleasure of joining Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola, two truly amazing reporters, this week for a chat about Iran, Israel and all that fun stuff on the fifth episode of their new podcast, Unauthorized Disclosure.
Rania Khalek is an independent journalist covering disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable communities. Her incredible work can be found at her blog, Dispatches from the Underclass and in outlets such as The Nation, Electronic Intifada, Al Jazeera America, Truthout, Salon, Extra!, and AlterNet.
Kevin Gosztola is a staff writer for Firedoglake.com, and regularly covers WikiLeaks, whistleblowing, secrecy and various issues created by the U.S national security/surveillance state. He has appeared on Democracy Now!, written for The Nation and Salon, regularly traveled to Fort Meade to cover the court martial of Chelsea Manning and co-authored a book on the Manning case with The Nation's Greg Mitchell.
I can't thank them enough for inviting me on their show - they are both inspiring journalists and I'm honored simply to have been able to share some airtime with them.
Here's Kevin's rundown of the new episode:
An intensive effort by Israel and its backers has been underway to scuttle an international deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Yet, Israel and its major lobby in the United States, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has been suffering defeats as it tries to fight a deal, which it does not want because, if the issues over Iran’s nuclear program are resolved, focus will inevitably shift to the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
According to Nima Shirazi, an analyst of US foreign policy toward the Middle East who blogs at “Wide Asleep in America,” what the world has seen for the past thirty years of US and Israeli policy is what could be called a charade. They’ve pretended there is a “looming threat” and “that Iran is just around the corner from either having the capability to build a nuclear bomb, if not having a deliverable nuclear bomb.”
Shirazi writes about this topic all the time and joins Rania Khalek and [me] for this week’s podcast. He highlights AIPAC’s struggle to scuttle this Iran deal. He briefly highlights some of the history of myths around the country’s nuclear program that has served both the interests of the US and Israel. He also addresses the effects of sanctions on the people of Iran.
During the discussion portion of the show, Khalek and I discuss the abduction of drone victim, journalist and activist Kareem Khan in Pakistan, Joint Special Operations Command’s use of NSA metadata for drone killings and a Malaysian doctoral student’s placement on the no-fly list and how the Obama administration abused state secrets and secrecy to get away with violating her rights for about a decade.Rania also notes that we all "also briefly discuss the coming retirement of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) head Abe Foxman, or as Nima likes to call him, 'the supreme leader of the ADL.' I hope the ADL listens to this episode because we offer our choices for Foxman replacements."
I urge everyone to continue following both Rania and Kevin's work - it is undeniably vital and consistently impressive.
A partial transcript of my interview segment is below. You can (and should) listen to the entire podcast here or download it here.
RANIA KHALEK, Dispatches from the Underclass: I would like you to give us some insight as to what’s happening with the interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. And also, if you could touch on the recent news about AIPAC's [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] massive failure at forcing more sanctions to derail the interim agreement.
NIMA SHIRAZI, US foreign policy analyst: Sure. As your listeners probably know, a massive international deal was signed between Iran and six world powers—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which are all nuclear weapons states, as well as Germany—signed an interim agreement with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program back in November.
Since then, because of that staggering success of diplomacy and a real move away from a lot of the warmongering rhetoric that we have been hearing for pretty much a decade prior to this, it really signaled a shift. And what we’ve since then is this intense effort on the part of Israeli officials, their lobbyist in Washington and the bought and paid for congress members who pretty much do everything AIPAC says.
We’ve seen this really intense effort to scuttle this interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program because without that looming bogus threat, Israel is really hamstrung in forcing the United States to do what it wants it to do and the focus then returns to Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights and to the occupation.
So without this looming threat of Iran, which now is being decreased day by day due in large part to the way that the United States and other countries in the West are reacting and responding to the new presidential administration of Hassan Rouhani in Iran, we see again this massive push to ruin this agreement by levying more sanctions on Iran, which would effectively ruin the entire deal as stated. IF any sanctions are put on Iran, the deal is off, diplomacy stops again and all the agreements up until this point are null and void.
So there’s this huge push toward doing this and what we’ve seen in the past few months and more intensively in the past few weeks is this huge failure on the part of AIPAC to actually get not only a veto-proof majority in the Senate to back these new sanctions, but at this point the bill will not even be put to the floor of the Senate.
Harry Reid has completely backed off of this. We thought for a while that he was going to put this forward at the behest of AIPAC, who pretty much wrote the bill. It has leading champions in the Senate from Chuck Schumer to Bob Menendez to Mark Kirk, all these really gung-ho AIPAC shills. And even with that, the veto-proof majority never wound up happening in the Senate.
And, more recently, just this past week, we heard that this bill will not reach the floor, there will be no vote. Effectively this threat of new sanctions is over, at least for now. Obviously that doesn’t mean AIPAC is going away. They’re going to regroup and try again. But for now it’s really good news and really surprising news especially to people like us who follow this stuff and the machinations of AIPAC and their people in Congress quite closely.
Maybe this is too optimistic, but it serves as kind of the third major defeat – the Iran failure is certainly the biggest we’ve seen to date—but it’s kind of the third defeat of AIPAC in the past year I’d say starting with the failure to scuttle the approval of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. They worked really hard on that. They worked really hard on getting Obama to bomb Syria. That wound up not happening after a massive public outcry and namely the British parliament refusing to go along with that. And now Iran.
Obviously, this isn’t going away. AIPAC is here to stay at least for now. But this is a major, major defeat and I think things are moving in a certain positive way.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, Firedoglake: Nima, to how we got here, I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts on what I consider to be this charade between Israel and the US and how this hysteria and everything we believe about Iran has just basically been fueled by the releasing of information from official, anonymous sources pumping out propaganda or completely false information about the country—and any examples you would share to that.
SHIRAZI: The number of examples to share are probably far more than we can get to in the time we have. I would actually preface whatever I wind up coming up with by saying that I would urge all of your listeners to go out and buy Gareth Porter’s new book called “Manufactured Crisis”, which actually goes over bit by bit, piece by piece of this ridiculous charade, as you said, about Iran’s nuclear program—
GOSZTOLA: That’s actually how I came up with my question.
SHIRAZI: Oh, well there you have it. Gareth Porter is a fantastic investigative journalist. He works for IPS. He publishes all over the place and he’s been doing this stuff for decades. And he has basically compiled in one very very accessible volume pretty much most if not all of the major propaganda points and debunks them all regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
What we’ve seen over the past basically 30 years of US and Israeli policy, pretending that this is a looming threat, pretending that Iran is just around the corner from either having the capability to build a nuclear bomb if not having a deliverable nuclear bomb. This has been going on for 30 years. I write about out this all the time.
What we’ve seen is effectively this game that is played. It winds up being very very serious because the implications are millions of people’s lives. But its this game where Iran is cast as this insane irrational genocidal suicidal martyred state that basically is so hell bent on getting nuclear weapons that they will lie, cheat and steal to do this and they must be stopped at all costs by the good guys. But the facts are completely anathema to this. They do not track these propaganda points at all.
Iran is an original signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. All of their nuclear sites and all of their nuclear material is safe-guarded and internationally inspected and monitored.
KHALEK: And Israel’s is not, right?
SHIRAZI: Right, Israel, which has a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons—I mean one is enough and they have a few hundred—is not safeguarded, never signed on to that treaty and they are not regarded as a proliferation threat, however Iran for some reason is.
Basically what Gareth sets up in his book, it’s actually really amazing, is you really see how once the threat of the Soviet Union started to wane a new enemy was needed and the way that you cast an enemy as being supremely dangerous is you pretend that they’re arming themselves with the most dangerous weapons on the planet.
So it’s not merely that Iran is a threat to US or Israeli hegemony or ideological stranglehold over the Middle East if not the entire planet, but you say they are actively pursuing weapons that can effectively obliterate the entire world.
KHALEK: And they’re really bad at it.
SHIRAZI: Exactly. They must be really terrible at it because apparently they’ve been around the corner from having a massive arsenal of nukes for 30 years and still don’t even have a single one and still don’t even want one. So it really doesn’t work in the propaganda’s favor. However, because of the dutiful media here, a lot of people, if not all of us who consume this media, are fed these lies with very little to challenge them or debunk them.
Iran has never been found to have diverted any element of its nuclear program to military purposes. There are inspectors and monitors there all the time. For the past decade, four reports a year have come out by the IAEA, which monitors nuclear programs around the world, saying that Iran is fully compliant. Where there have been issues with noncompliance in the past, those are all resolved, although we don’t hear that. Those have all been resolved not only between Iran and the IAEA but in Iran’s favor.
The IAEA, which is responsible for safeguarding all this nuclear material and making sure that there is no weaponization threat, has admitted time and again that what Iran says they were doing they are actually doing, which is not pursuing a nuclear bomb but rather acquiring the technology to have a domestic and indigenous nuclear program, fully functional and mastering the nuclear fuel fight so they don’t have to rely on anyone else. And again, all that we hear is that Iran is hell bent on nukes that never seem to appear and there’s no evidence for them.
KHALEK: Going back to the interim agreement, which is a really good thing, but at the same time it’s not all butterflies and roses and rainbows and sunshine and whatever other wonderful things you can think of—
KHALEK: Thank you, unicorns. Because Iran’s still under certain sanctions and I don’t think people really understand how sanctions affect a country like Iran. It actually hurts people, which is something that you have written about pretty extensively. So could you talk about the negative aspects of what’s still happening? I mean we’re still threatening Iran regularly, right? Like the military option’s never off the table—
SHIRAZI: Exactly, John Kerry actually said that recently.
KHALEK: Yeah, there’s always this looming threat. Even though AIPAC was just defeated and had to stand down, there’s still always this looming threat of sanctions from some officials. So I guess could you talk about the negatives that are still taking place and the impact of sanctions on the people of Iran?
SHIRAZI: While we hear that no new sanctions will for the time being will be approved or applied to Iran, that doesn’t really touch the 30 plus years of sanctions that have already been levied on that country of over 70 million people, much more intensely in the past decade and even in the past few years under Obama than has been in the past.
But what we’ve seen in terms of what these sanctions do is it basically to a large part embargoes Iran and takes Iran out of the international trading community. It can’t access money that is Iran’s money because that stuff is held in escrow, it’s basically held hostage by a foreign countries telling banks to not allow Iran to utilize the money that is Iran’s.
What we hear all the time is that sanctions don’t hurt the people they’re only to hurt the government and to change the decision making process of the Iranian government.
As a quick aside, the decision making process in the Iranian government has been determined by all US intelligence agencies, as well as Israel’s and European agencies, to not want at this point a nuclear weapon. So if sanctions are supposed to change that calculation, I don’t think that actually makes sense. But I guess that’s the line we’re fed, that Iranian leaders want a bomb and sanctions are supposed to hurt them and hurt the economy and make the Iranian people turn against their government and force them to abandon these ambitions, which everyone knows Iran doesn’t have, but we’re supposed to think they do.
However, the reality is that these sanctions really, really hurt Iranians and have been for decades now. We hear all the time that unemployment is very high in Iran, it is. We hear that inflation is very high, it is. Inequality is high. And yet what we don’t hear are the reasons why and it’s not only because of policies by the Iranian government, although that does have to do with it, but it’s that Iran has been effectively made a pariah in the international trading community and in the international economy for so long that they don’t have the jobs to give because no money is flowing into Iran and money flowing out of Iran is very difficult.
On the ground, we see these sanctions affecting medical care for Iranians. Cancer patients can’t get treatment because these sanctions block medical care. People who are in favor of sanctions would argue, well there are workarounds and you can have approvals and authorizations done, you just have go through the red tape to do it.
But pretty much all trading partners and banks and institutions that facilitate this kind of trade are so worried about the backlash from the United States that says they will prosecute anyone that breaks the sanctions laws, that basically all of these companies and all of these entities effectively treat Iran as if they don’t want anything to do with it. So even though in certain cases treatment or medicine could get through, the effect of the sanctions is that it makes it virtually impossible for that to happen because they’ve scared the entire world into abandoning Iran.
KHALEK: There’s one thing I do want to ask you about in terms of the sanctions and in connection to AIPAC losing. It seems like it would behoove United States Empire to actually be on better terms with Iran, especially with the way things are in the Middle East right now. And it seems like with Israel constantly beating the drums of war and the pro-Israel lobby constantly trying to beat the drums for war and sanctions, it seems like that’s something where the US and Israel perhaps don’t see eye to eye. So I guess I’m wondering, who benefits at this point? Who benefits from all the warmongering and fear mongering and treating Iran as a pariah? I’m totally against US Empire, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t see how that benefits US Empire at this point.
SHIRAZI: The best thing that could happen in a way for continued US access and privilege and hegemony in the Middle East is to be on really good terms with Iran oddly enough. That would really help. It’s certainly in the United States’ government’s best interest to end this stalemate with Iran.
Who it does benefit is Israel because it completely takes the focus off of their own human rights violations and their own violations of international law and their own obligations.
And it also really helps the Arab dictatorships in the region that can continue pretending that Iran is a looming hegemonic expansionist threat to their own power and as a result continue getting more and more weaponry to repress their own people from the United States government. So we see a lot of these dictatorships using this Iran threat just like Israel does in order to get more military funding and planes and tanks and training and all of this stuff. Saudi Arabia inks billion dollar deals all the time with the United Sates.
Who doesn’t benefit, again, is Iran and the United States. These are two nations that actually have a lot in common, perhaps not governmentally at this point but at least the populations of those two states could easily be on very very very good terms.
It’s also, from a frustratingly neoliberal perspective, would be an unbelievable market to open up to the rest of the world.
Europe is chomping at the bit to get back into Iran as it was during the dictatorship of the Shah before the revolution. And what we’ve seen in the past couple months are delegations after delegations from European states going to Iran and taking photo ops with the foreign minister, photo ops with business partners, oil executives.
France and Italy and Sweden have all recently sent delegations. Even the European Union Parliament keeps sending delegations. This is something that Europe really wants to end. It wants to end having to go along with the United States sanctions and fear mongering about Iran. They really want to end this because the market of Iran, of nearly 80 million people buying products and traveling, really really is something that would be hugely beneficial to Europe.
We’re seeing cracks in this 35-year wall of distrust and hostility, which is all very good, but again we’re going to keep seeing this pressure put on the United States Congress—and the president as well—by Israel and its people in Washington.