Israel has been an apartheid state for a long time, but its cabinet is now promoting legislation that makes it impossible for even its most ardent supporters to deny that fact. With the cumulative effect of continuing land-grab and intermittent horrific attacks on Gaza, the climate of international public opinion has never been so resolutely opposed to Israel’s actions.
Iran had a tremendous opportunity to make a fundamental shift of the political balance in the Middle East through concessions on its nuclear programme. For Iranian sanctions to end just as Israel determinedly outrages the world, could change the geo-political game significantly. On any objective measure, the economic gains from ending sanctions vastly outweigh any possible economic gains from nuclear energy. I have always argued that nuclear power is a ridiculously complex, dangerous, and extravagantly expensive way to boil water. That is all it actually does, boil water to drive a steam turbine. Iran’s pig-headed insistence that its “right” to this crazed technology is much more important than the economic welfare of its people, is gesture politics of the worst kind.
Iran has undoubtedly improved, but remains a theocratic state with an appalling human rights record, where the persecution of gays is particularly horrifying. There are only two countries in the world with systems of government so appalling as to have seats reserved for clerics in the legislature. One is Iran. The other is the United Kingdom.
I can understand why, under continued neo-con and Israeli threat, retaining the option of developing a nuclear weapon has seemed attractive to Iran. It remains a gross hypocrisy that Israel suffers no sanctions for its large nuclear arsenal, while Iran suffers sanctions for the possibility it might one day start to develop one. Nonetheless I oppose the holding of weapons of mass destruction anywhere, including Iran. The unfortunate fact is that President Rouhani remains subservient to Ayotollah Khameini, and thus a golden opportunity for Iran may be missed.
It is also interesting that the latest round of talks in Vienna did not receive the breathless coverage of earlier rounds, despite their critical importance. There is a curious lethargy in the international community’s approach to the talks. That was for two reasons.
Firstly Obama is now a lame duck President. While impending full Republican control of both houses ought to be a reason to push things through quickly, Obama is wary of expending too much of his tiny remaining store of political capital in yet more conflict with Netanyahu.
The second reason is oil. With oil prices already much fallen, many of the participants are wary of releasing a flood of Iranian oil on to the market by ending sanctions. This especially affected the Russian attitude. In past talks, Russia has played a brilliant hand, with their offers to take effective control of Iranian enrichment technology having stymied an earlier Israeli-stoked Western appetite for conflict. A talks insider told me that this time, while previous offers were not withdrawn, Lavrov was far less prominent and active and no new Russian initiatives were forthcoming. Russia really does not need a further drop in the oil price right now.
I remain hopeful that Iran will realise that there is a huge opportunity here. If Iran tactically backs down on its nuclear programme in the current circumstances, that will not be a defeat for Iran but a defeat for the neo-cons.