Iran’s blunders and counterblunders

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran committed a diplomatic blunder when he told a student gathering in Tehran that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Iranian authorities themselves realised the extent of the miscalculation and decided to back off.

“Iran is committed to its obligations stated in the United Nations Charter and it has never tried to use force or threats against a second country,” said an Iranian foreign ministry statement.

At the same time as the statement dismissed the UN Security Council’s condemnation of the Iranian president’s remarks, it added that, “Iran favoured a long-lasting peace in Israel, the return of Palestinian refugees and the creation of a democratic Palestinian government.”

Israel should, of course, be concerned by such high-level declarations coming from a state which is openly hostile. And in normal conditions it would be absolutely understandable to reject such attitudes as incompatible with international law and with the spirit of the United Nations; and this was actually the basis on which most of those who condemned Ahmadinejad rested their argument.

The problem is that international law has long been neglected and, as a result, the international arena is crowded not only with hostile statements but also with serious violations and even flagrant aggression.

Iran backed down not out of conviction that what the president said did not represent Iranian feelings towards Israel, nor because Iran is unaware of the fact that international law is neither applied nor respected, when Iran itself has for long been targeted for military attack, but precisely because of that reality. Knowing that international law has failed as an instrument of preserving law and order amongst world nations, and that we live in a world where chaos is the norm and where the powerful are free to destroy the weak, it is only pragmatic to bend before the storm and avoid harm. That is what Iran is doing.

The chorus of condemnation of the reckless Iranian statement was remarkable. A host of prominent world leaders rushed to express their support for Israel from the impending Iranian danger, as well as their strongest condemnation of Ahmedinejad’s remarks. There were calls for the expulsion of Iran from the United Nations and the Security Council which convened to discuss the matter and issued a unanimous condemnation as well.

World figures, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, a host of foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, rushed to take advantage of the valuable opportunity to prove their loyalty and docility to Israel and its powerful allies in the United States. Ever belligerent UK Prime Minister Tony Blair even hinted that Ahmedinejad’s comments could be grounds for a military attack against Iran.

For all these people, international law suddenly became a precious tool of international relations, to the extent that its “strictest respect” renders statements like Iran’s “unacceptable.” If only the chorus that condemned Iran was also prepared to sing in other, much graver, cases of disrespect for the law and international norms. That would be ideal, and in fact the whole idea of the UN system was based on such an environment where law, not power, governs international dealings.

If Iran is truly guilty of a terrible transgression, then we ought to make sure there is a firm basis for the campaign against it. Israel and the United States constantly threaten Iran with military attack to destroy its nuclear facilities despite Iran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has clearly acknowledged that Iran’s current nuclear activities are entirely lawful. Meanwhile, Israel has built up an arsenal of nuclear weapons which threatens the whole region, while the world remains silent.

Other threats of force against Iran stem from allegations and innuendo that Iran is supporting the insurgency in Iraq, in particular, and that Iran somehow represents a general threat to world peace as part of Washington’s “axis of evil.”

Iran has finally emerged into independence after decades of Russian, British and later American colonial control and exploitation. Perhaps what bothers the new and faded world powers is that today Iran, no matter what its faults, is truly independent and sovereign and refuses to be pushed around by them. In the current international climate, where the United States insists on world domination, this is an unforgivable sin.

Iran, too, finds itself threatened, not just by Israel; now it is surrounded with US occupation forces on its west in Iraq and on its east in Afghanistan, under the command of a belligerent US administration which has for years been under the influence of neoconservatives intent on overthrowing the government of Iran, a legitimate government recognised all over the world and also, like Israel, a member of the United Nations.

Israel, as a member of the United Nations, should also not be threatened by anyone. But to qualify for so much support should not Israel also respect the UN Charter and implement UN resolutions? How can Iran deserve so much condemnation for a mere verbal, harmless, statement, and Israel so much unqualified support when it continues to occupy and colonise the territory of several neighbours, in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions?

A letter in The Independent succinctly states: “President Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, but Israel effectively wiped Palestine off the map 57 years ago, and where’s the indignation over that?”

This is the question that millions of people in the region ask. Israel continues to wipe what is left of Palestine off the map, while the world applauds Ariel Sharon and receives him at the United Nations as a hero. Israel, under Sharon’s command, also tried to wipe Lebanon off the map, and its leaders harboured and perhaps still harbour the intention to wipe Jordan off the map on the basis of their false and hostile claim that “Jordan is Palestine”.

If the Security Council is so keen on protecting the sanctity of international law, where was the council when all those who condemned Iran went to war to destroy Iraq, killed 100,000 Iraqis and 2,000 Americans and scores more of other nationalities who participated in that illegal war? Did the secretary-general himself not admit that the war was illegal? And is there still any doubt that all the excuses used to justify the war were proved false?

The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has just admitted that he opposed the war and tried to persuade President George W. Bush that the war was not the best solution, yet he took his country to war, costing the lives of dozens of Italian citizens. Why did he not have the courage to announce that position when it could have made a difference, when it could have vindicated the popular demonstrations, including in his own country, against that disastrous invasion? Is it not the ultimate failure and crime both against your own people and international law to commit your country to a war which you believed and knew was wrong?

Only last week, Paul Craig Roberts wrote in Counter Punch that Washington has asked Italy and Israel to recommend names for a successor to the yet-to-be-deposed Syrian president. Is that not a threat to a member state of the UN? Where are the condemners? And where is the Security Council?

It is stunning that the level of hypocrisy and the naked application of double standards has reached so far. We yet need to know how much further it can go.

EI contributor Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah was the permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.