During the first few decades of the post-war era, the U.S. considered Iran one of its closest geostrategic allies, especially after the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 and restored Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Iran’s leader. The role Israel plays in the region has made the U.S. and Iran mortal enemies since the 1979 revolution that abolished the monarchy, and established an Islamic Republic. In this context, during the last couple of decades, the thorniest issue in the U.S.-Iran relationship has been Tehran’s nuclear program, which, Iran says, is focused on energy, not weapons. Even though the program is widely accepted as a nuclear power, Israel has been opposed to it. Iran and other countries, including the United States, signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015. This agreement stipulated that Iran would dismantle most of its nuclear program and allow nuclear inspections in return for billions of dollars of assistance. However, the Trump administration withdrew U.S. support from the agreement — and Israel continued its policy of sabotage and assassination of scientists.
Current talks between Washington and Tehran’s rulers to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement have been stalled, and there is little hope that progress will be made any time soon. Naturally, the U.S. puts the blame on Tehran. Noam Chomsky reveals in this exclusive interview how U.S. propaganda grossly distorts reality. Truthout. Chomsky claims that the United States and Israel are the greatest barriers to diplomacy.
C.J. Polychroniou : Noam, Iran and the U.S. are at war with each other, and have difficulty even talking to one another. Why do they hate each other so much, and how much of a role does Israel’s shadow play in this continuous drama?
Noam Chomsky At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d like to say a few words, once again, on why I feel that the entire framework in which this issue is discussed is seriously distorted — yet another tribute to the enormous power of the U.S. propaganda system.
Since years, the U.S. government insists that Iran’s nuclear program is a serious threat to world security. The Israeli authorities have made it clear they will not tolerate this threat. The U.S. and Israel have acted violently to overcome this grave threat: cyberwar and sabotage (which the Pentagon regards as aggression that merits violence in self-defense), numerous assassinations of Iranian scientists, constant threats of use of force (“all options are open”) in violation of international law (and if anyone were to care, the U.S. Constitution).
It is clearly a very serious problem. We want to know if there is a way to put it to rest. There is: Establish a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, with inspections — which, we know, can work very well. Even U.S. intelligence agrees that before the U.S. dismantled the joint agreement on nuclear weapons (JCPOA), international inspections of Iran’s nuclear program were successful.
This would solve the alleged Iranian nuclear problem and end the serious threat of war. What is the barrier?
This is not the case for the Arab countries, who have been demanding it for decades. Iran, which supports this measure. Not the Global South — G-77, 134 “developing nations,” most of the world — which strongly supports it. Not Europe, who has not raised any objections.
The barrier is comprised of the usual two outliers: Israel and the United States.
There are many pretexts that we might ignore. All know the reasons: The U.S. won’t allow the huge Israeli nuclear arsenal, which is the only one in the area, to be subjected to international inspection.
Although it is not doubtful that Israel has nuclear arms, the U.S. does in fact not recognize them. The reason, presumably, is that to do so would invoke U.S. law, which, arguably, would render the massive U.S. aid flow to Israel illegal — a door that few want to open.
All of these issues are virtually unresolved in the U.S., except in arms control circles. The forbidden topic has been brought up by the media on rare occasions. One year agoNew York Times editors proposed “One Way Forward on Iran: A Nuclear-Weapons-Free Persian Gulf.”
Note: Persian Gulf is not Middle East. The reason, the editors explain, is that Israel’s nuclear weapons are “unacknowledged and nonnegotiable.” Filling in the gaps, they are unacknowledged by the U.S. and are nonnegotiable by U.S. fiat.
There is a simple way to address this grave threat, but it is blocked in the global hegemon’s power, whose vast influence makes it difficult to even discuss the topic. Instead, we should adopt the U.S.-imposed framework and continue to discuss the possibility of renewing an agreement on Iranian nuclear weapons.
Another issue that should be ignored, even though it is so obvious that even a grand propaganda system cannot completely ignore it, is that the current crisis was created when the U.S. unilaterally ended the JCPOA over the strenuous objections from all other signers and UN Security Council, who had unanimously endorsed it. To punish Iran for its dismantling the agreement, the U.S. imposed severe sanctions on Iran. Other signers resisted, but they did so. The threat of U.S. retribution was too great, as in many other cases. Notable is the crushing Cuba sanctions that were opposed by the entire world, except for the two outliers, but still obeyed.
I am sorry for repeating all of this over and over again. However, it must be understood. Having made that gesture, let’s accept reality, subordinating ourselves to the mighty U.S. propaganda system, and keep to the permitted framework of discussion.
Turning finally to the question, first, Israel’s role is more than shadow play. Israel is right at the center of the story, both in its constant violent attacks on Iran and in the “unacknowledged” nuclear arsenal that blocks to path to diplomatic settlement, thanks to its superpower protector.
We should not discuss mutual hatred if we are referring to governments. The U.S. and Iranian governments were close allies from 1953, when the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government of Iran and reinstalled the Shah’s dictatorship, until 1979, when a popular uprising overthrew the Shah and Iran switched from favored friend to reviled enemy.
The next Reagan administration lavished support for Saddam Hussein and invaded Iran. Iran suffered huge casualties, many from chemical weapons while the Reaganites looked away and even tried to shift responsibility to Iran for Saddam’s murderous chemical war against Iraqi Kurds. Finally, direct U.S. intervention swung the war in Iraq’s favor. President Bush Sr. invited Iraqi nukes to the U.S. to receive advanced training in weapons production. This was a serious threat to Iran. The U.S. also imposed severe sanctions against Iran. The story continues.
The U.S. charges against Iran have been too well-recognized to warrant a reexamination.
Unsurprisingly, nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran have stalled again and it is unlikely that there will be a deal any time soon — if at all — to restore their 2015 nuclear deal. What are your thoughts on the major stumblingblocks in these talks? And didn’t Iran already make a huge concession when it agreed to the 2015 nuclear agreement without requiring that Israel does away with its own arsenal of nuclear weapons?
Negotiations through European intermediaries seem to have been put on hold for at least two weeks after the U.S. November election. There are still many disagreements. For now, the most important disagreement is Iran’s refusal to inspect uranium traces. This could be a sign that Iran has an undeclared weapon program prior to 2003. The U.S. does not inspect Israeli nuclear weapons programs, and therefore they are non-negotiable.
Iran’s relationship with Russia has been further strengthened since the start of the Ukraine war. Do such moves on the part of Tehran’s rulers indicate the possibility of a complete break from the West?
It’s hard to see how the break should go much farther. Iran’s closer relations with Russia are part of a general global realignment, its contours unclear, involving the major Asian states and Russia-China links.
How likely is it that Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities?
These facilities have been repeatedly attacked by Israel with sabotage, assassination, and a variety of other tactics. It is likely to proceed with further efforts to prevent Iran from gaining the capability to produce nuclear weapons — which many countries have.
Iranian leaders have always claimed that they do not intend to produce nuclear weapons. I don’t know their strategic thinking. Perhaps they are thinking along the lines of U.S. nuclear doctrine: that “nuclear weapons must always be available, at the ready, because they ‘cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict’” (Essentials of Post-Cold War deterrenceSTRATCOM 1995. Daniel Ellsberg stressed that in this regard, nuclear weapons can be used to support other aggressive actions without impunity.
No matter what the motives of Iran or any other state for these weapons, they must be eradicated from the Earth. This is a first step. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is a more significant step in this direction. It is currently in force, but without the participation of the nuclear powers. Iran participated in the negotiation of TPNW, and was one of the 122 states that voted for its adoption, even though it has yet to sign it. These are the concerns that should be foremost in all states’ minds for the safety of all life on Earth.