Threat of war and the abominable sections of the Iranian left


by yasmine

The stark warning by David Owen in his article, ‘Signs of an Israeli strike on Iran’,1 is just one of hundreds of references to the “window of opportunity for a US-backed/tolerated Israeli strike on Iran” between November 2008 and mid-January 2009, when the outgoing US president might feel inclined to give a ‘nod and a wink’ to Israel.

Over the last few weeks French president Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly suggested on at least three occasions that an Israeli attack might be imminent - and acceptable - unless Iran quits enriching uranium, and implied that in such an event the international community should turn a blind eye. In early October French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said Israel was expected to launch a military strike on Iran before Tehran acquires a nuclear bomb.2

If we are to believe an unnamed “European head of government”, in May 2008 Israel considered attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, but was told by George Bush that he would not support it. According to this source, the US was anxious that “Israel would not succeed in disabling Iran’s nuclear facilities in a single assault even with the use of dozens of aircraft. It could not mount a series of attacks over several days without risking full-scale war.”3

Of course, in the meantime the US has sold bunker-buster bombs - 28,000 M72A7 66mm LAAW systems, as well as 60,000 M72AS 21mm sub-calibre training rockets - to Israel. The Pentagon was also preparing to sell the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb to Israel4 and some analysts believe this does change the scenario compared to May 2008. In addition the next Israeli prime minister, whether Tzipi Livni or Binyamin Netanyahu, will be more hawkish than current premier Ehud Olmert.

No doubt Bush and the neo-conservatives will not be too concerned about leaving Barack Obama or John McCain with another messy war in the Middle East. In the short-term an Israeli attack and the expected Iranian retaliation might divert attention from the economic crisis and even create a temporary economic boom.

However, it is not just the US presidential elections that present this “window of opportunity” for an Israeli-US attack. The next Iranian president will be elected in June 2009 and, given the current slump in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s popular ratings, a number of ‘reformist’ candidates have indicated their candidature (as in the case of former speaker Mehdi Kahroubi) or are negotiating terms under which they may stand (as in the case of ex-president Mohammad Khatami). If Iran elects a ‘reformist’ president, little will change internally. However, it would be difficult to convince the outside world that seyyed khandan (the smiling mullah) is as much of a threat as the “lunatic” Ahmadinejad.

Most Israeli leaders agree with comments made by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy that “Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift …We couldn’t carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran.”5 No doubt some Israeli politicians calculate that in 2009 the current president’s loss of popular support might lead to the election of a ‘reformist’ candidate and in that case their best excuse for attacking Iran would be removed.

Contrary to the hysteria presented by pro-Zionist forces in the UK, including some on the ‘left’, Israel is not concerned about an Iranian attack. In the same interview Halevy added that “an Iranian attack on Israel would probably have little impact, because Iranian missiles would largely be intercepted by Israel’s advanced anti-missile defence system”. Another former senior Mossad official, who served under Olmert, told the American magazine Time that “Iran’s achievement is creating an image of itself as a scary superpower when it’s really a paper tiger.”6 However, both Israel and the United States have been hoping to impose ‘regime change’ on Iran and a change of government might deprive Tel Aviv and Washington of the “gift” of Ahmadinejad.

Irrespective of what happens during this “window of opportunity”, Iran’s future seems bleak. Economic conditions are worsening and the sudden drop in the price of crude oil - and the effect of sanctions - have made a terrible situation worse. There is also the threat of new sanctions, irrespective of whether Obama or McCain wins next month. The Iranian regime had delusions that an Obama victory would reduce the pressure on it, but it is quite clear that Obama’s proposed petrol sanctions against Iran will be much more effective than McCain’s half-baked ideas.

Plans for a ‘coalition of the willing’ led by the US, Germany, France and the UK are being finalised, and discussions are taking place regarding targeting the export of engineering products for Iranian refineries, as well as refined oil itself.7 Given Tehran’s limited refining capacity, it is quite clear that this form of sanctions will have a devastating effect on the working class and the poor in Iran, where during the harsh winters the consumption of refined oil and gas shoots up, especially in the northern provinces.

Iranian exile groups

There is no doubt that war and the threat of war sharpen differences across the political spectrum, and the Iranian opposition in exile is no exception to this. As sanctions begin to bite and the threat of military attack increases, one can detect three irreconcilable divisions.

First we have ex-leftists and feminists, mainly in the United States, who, faced with the threat of war, have moved more and more towards a defencist position regarding the Islamic republic. A horrible example of this was displayed during Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to New York, when a number of Iranian ‘lefts’ tried to prove their ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials by dining with him and were duly photographed (the ex-feminists wearing headscarves).

The second group consists of open or secret advocates of ‘regime change from above’, together with those who have benefited directly or indirectly from the billions of dollars allocated by the US and Israeli governments for this purpose. Even if they do not admit it, these groups hope that an Israeli-US attack during the “window of opportunity” or, if that fails, oil sanctions this winter will overthrow the Islamic republic and that they will have a role to play under the subsequent ‘regime change’ administration.

In such a scenario, where both the Iranian working class and Iranian people as a whole are absent, the current repressive-religious capitalist regime would at best be replaced by a repressive-secular capitalist regime. But this is being championed by an unholy alliance of rightwing royalists, republicans and the small pro-US, pro-Israeli section of the Iranian exiled ‘left’ - reformist ex-trade unionists, who see nothing wrong in joining forces with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the CIA-sponsored Radio Free Iran in imperialist-inspired campaigns for ‘workers’ rights’. Members of some so-called workers’ parties and organisations in exile seem to have no problem tailing bourgeois secularism and bourgeois feminism.

Former activists of the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI) had gradually moved to the right under the influence of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) - international labour organisations that are deeply compromised politically. They have been more or less silent on the role of imperialism in the Middle East and have acted as junior partners in implementing the reactionary agenda of the US and its allies.8

So it was no surprise to see exiled Iranian IASWI activists issuing a leaflet in Farsi last year claiming that imperialism and war were not important to the issue of defending Iranian workers. It is ironic that inside Iran these forces encourage trade unionists not to challenge either capitalism or the regime. This statement led to major debates within the Iranian left both inside and outside Iran. Comrade Torab Saleth was one of the first to attack this unprincipled position in a number of articles and talks and later Iraj Azarin (a founder-member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, who left it in the mid-1990s) and Reza Moghadam wrote a series of articles9 attacking those who seek rightwing support for Iranian workers, condemning those who deny the role of imperialism and capitalism and denouncing campaigns that deal with Iran’s lack of ‘democracy’ as if an imperialist attack would not affect Iranian workers.

In the category of those soft on imperialism one should also place groups and parties that have accepted funding from, to say the least, dubious sources, enabling them to run, for example, 24-hour satellite TV stations. In exchange they agree to compromise basic principles in the following ways:

1. They do not mention the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the threat of war and the effects of sanctions against Iran.

2. They do not identify their TV stations as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ - instead they hide behind ‘Kurdish’, ‘secular’ or ‘feminist’ names. It seems that the US-Israeli agencies funding such stations are also under the illusion that they are supporting rightwing national minority or secular groups.

3. They avoid any criticism of Iraqi occupation president Jalal Talebani.

There might be other conditions we are not aware of. It is, however, ironic that most of these ‘24-hour’ TV stations only broadcast programmes for one or two hours a day, showing scenery and playing kitsch Persian or Kurdish music for the other 22 hours. At around half a million dollars a year per station, the US and Israel are clearly not getting value for money.

Inside Iran, radical students and young workers are horrified by the antics of these so-called ‘socialists’. One leftwing student at Tehran University told us recently: “Clearly some of our exiled ‘comrades’ have lost their marbles if they think you can defend the social movements in Iran without mentioning the threat of war and the effects of the current sanctions. Have they learnt nothing from regime change US-style in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Young workers in Iran, many of whom follow internal and international events with intense interest, are also rejecting the reformist line of ex-labour activists in exile who argue that the ‘support’ given by rightwing, pro-US trade unions to Iranian workers is some kind of ‘international solidarity’. An article in Farsi published on many Iranian websites, including those of Rahe Kargar and Roshangari, denounces the position of sections of the British left, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty - whose leadership has excused in advance an Israeli attack on Iran, while at the same time has delusions about building solidarity with Iranian students. One Iran Khodro car worker told me last week: “We really don’t want this kind of support. It would be the kiss of death for us.”

Fortunately, however, in addition to the Tehran apologists and those compromised by imperialism, there is a third group of Iranian exiles that has taken up a consistently principled position - one that firmly opposes imperialist war, while calling for the overthrow of the Islamic regime by a revolutionary movement led by workers. Inside Iran, this is by far the largest of the three. Those groups that fall into the first two categories should be well aware that history will judge them as harshly as it has judged the treachery of the Fedayeen Majority, Tudeh and many international Stalinist and Trotskyist groups which supported the repressive policies of the Islamic regime in 1979 and the early 1980s.

The same applies to British groups - on the one hand, the defenders of the Islamic regime such as the Socialist Workers Party, George Galloway and his followers (they are to the right of the Tudeh and Fedayeen Majority Stalinists!); on the other hand, those like the AWL leadership who are prepared to excuse and justify a possible Zionist military intervention against Iran. Let us hope these people will learn from history.


1. The Sunday Times October 12.
The Sunday Telegraph October 5.
The Guardian September 25.
World Tribune September 15.
Ha’aretz August 20
8. See
9. Available at



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