Revolution#136, July 20, 2008

Iran’s Missile Tests

Who’s the Real Aggressor in the Middle East?

On July 9 and 10, Iran conducted military exercises that included test firing a number of long- and medium-range missiles, as well as various rockets and torpedo launchers.

The U.S. imperialists and Israel immediately denounced Iran’s actions as “provocative” and “unacceptable,” as if they were the unprovoked acts of madmen bent on war in an otherwise peaceful region—a tone that was echoed in the U.S. media coverage which featured front-page and headline news pictures of Iranian missiles being launched.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Israeli rulers stepped up their own threats of war: “We are sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and the interests of our allies,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared. “We take very very strongly our obligations to help our allies defend themselves and no one should be confused about that.” (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008)

Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, warned that Israel had “proved in the past that it won’t hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake....We must work towards an accord—but if not, then we must strike our enemy when it is required.” (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008)

But who’s the real aggressor here? Iran’s military exercises came in response to a whole history of U.S. imperialist aggression in the Middle East, years of threats of regime change, reports of U.S. military preparations for war, and rapidly escalating U.S. and Israeli military threats and maneuvers which point to a real and growing danger of a U.S.-Israeli military attack.

Provocations and Threats By the U.S. and Israel

Iran’s missile tests took place the day after the U.S. and Britain concluded their own naval exercises in the Persian Gulf—right off Iran’s shores. Yet there was no outcry in the imperialist media about those exercises, in fact one had to search the coverage to even find mention of them.

The U.S. and Britain claimed they were undertaking their naval maneuvers because Iran threatened to impede Persian Gulf shipping if attacked. Why did Iran make such a threat? In part, because in early June,Israel conducted a practice run—involving over 100 fighter planes and multiple-midair refuelings—for bombing Iran.

This is a very chilling threat. Israel is a country with 150 nuclear warheads, according to former President Carter, and its leaders and U.S. leaders have repeatedly stated that “all options”—i.e., nuclear weapons—are on the table.

And Israel is a country that has bombed other countries across the region—including Iran’s neighbor Iraq in 1981 and Syria last fall. Yet when Israel conducted its exercises—specifically practicing for bombing Iran—there was no international outcry, no denunciation of aggressive, warlike, and dangerous actions.

Iran has no nuclear weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly acknowledged that its inspections have found no evidence Iran has been or is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, even as it demands Iran provide further information about its uranium enrichment program. And a number of imperialist military experts have downplayed the military significance of Iran’s missile launches, saying they did not signify any new development of Iran’s military capabilities, much less preparations for a “first strike” against Israel or U.S. forces in the region, but rather represented a warning that Iran would respond to any attack.

Yet Iran’s tests stirred U.S. and Israeli outcry. A White House spokesman declared Iran’s missile tests violated UN Security Council resolutions and demanded Tehran “stop the development of ballistic missiles, which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon, immediately.” (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008) He failed to mention—as did the U.S. media—that Iran does not have any nuclear weapons, while the U.S. has thousands of nuclear-armed missiles and bombs, able to strike anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.

In addition to using the Iranian missile test to ratchet up pressure on Iran, the U.S. used the Iran missile “crisis” to push forward its own aggressive military buildup, specifically for building a “missile defense” system in Europe. Such a system is widely understood by military experts to be part of a “first-strike” military capability—not a “defensive shield”—and mainly directed at Russia.

“U.S. Interests” Are Unjust, Imperialist Interests

Why is the Bush regime—and the whole U.S. ruling class, including the Democrats—making such a to-do about Iran and a few missiles?What are the “U.S. interests” that they claim to be “defending” in the region?

Control of the Middle East—and Iran is a key state in the whole region—has been crucial to U.S. imperialism’s ability to be a world superpower for decades. The region is a key geopolitical cross-roads and militarily strategic region. It’s home to 60% of the world’s oil reserves and controlling the energy spigot is a crucial means of shaping the world economy and exerting leverage on all who depend on oil. It’s also a source of enormous superprofits for imperialist capital as a whole. So U.S. domination of the Middle East is in service of enforcing its global domination.

For over 60 years, the U.S. imperialists have intervened overly and covertly in the region—militarily, politically, and economically -- to maintain this setup. They’ve installed and supported tyrants, threatened and waged war, and built Israel into a regional military garrison and strike force.

Iranians know this first hand. In 1980, the U.S. encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, sparking the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, one of the bloodiest ground wars since World War 2. In 1953, the U.S. CIA organized a coup that overthrew the Mossadeq government and put the ruthless butcher and torturer—Shah Reza Pahlavi—on the throne. Today, 55 years later, the U.S. is once again threatening Iran with “liberation.” And if Iran refuses “liberation,” there’s always “obliteration” as Hillary Clinton warned.

America’s so-called “war on terror” was launched after September 11, 2001 to further protect those interests—and specifically to recast the political and social terrain of the region in order to defeat challenges coming from both Islamic fundamentalist political trends and the U.S.’s imperialist rivals to those interests.  Iran has been a target—and a prize—from the beginning. This is not because its reactionary theocratic rulers oppress the Iranian people; the U.S. has targeted Iran because the Islamic Republic is an obstacle to U.S.-enforced regional transformation in service of unchallenged global empire.

The difficulties the U.S. has run into in achieving these goals—including how the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have helped strengthen Iran and fuel Islamic fundamentalism—have only created greater necessities for the U.S. establishment to take down the Islamic Republic. This is why regime change has never been taken off the table and why the U.S. negotiating stance has been shaped to isolate and weaken Iran’s rulers and set them up for possible war—not simply resolve the nuclear enrichment issue.

Intensifying Trajectory of Confrontation and Possible War

Complex maneuvering—military threats and moves, political posturing and signaling, diplomatic negotiations—is rapidly taking place around Iran. Different scenarios are possible.Yet the deeper necessities and dynamics mentioned above are what is most fundamentally driving events.

This is the context for Iran’s missile tests—and the belligerent U.S.-Israeli response, which comes two weeks after Seymour Hersh’s revelation that the Bush regime authorized $400 million for covert operations to destabilize Iran, including by assassinating Iranians.  All these are further signs of the intensification of the current trajectory of confrontation and preparations for possible war, and of the real and growing danger of a U.S.-Israeli military attack.

Only the People Can Stop War—Not Obama and the Democrats

It is being made clear—once again—that Obama and the Democrats will not do anything to stop such a war—in fact they are adding their voices to the war chorus—whatever tactical differences they may have with the Bush regime. Right now, the Democratic-controlled Congress is considering a bill (H.R. 362) that calls for stringent sanctions against Iran and enforcement measures that could lead to imposing a naval blockade, which would be tantamount to a declaration of war. And there are reports the Democrats are pushing this even more aggressively than the Republicans.

After Iran’s missile tests, Barack Obama released the following statement:

“These missile tests demonstrate once again that we need to change our policy to deal aggressively with the threat posed by the Iranian regime. Through its nuclear program, missile capability, meddling in Iraq, support for terrorism, and threats against Israel, Iran now poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States in the region in a generation. Now is the time to work with our friends and allies, and to pursue direct and aggressive diplomacy with the Iranian regime backed by tougher unilateral and multilateral sanctions. It’s time to offer the Iranians a clear choice between increased costs for continuing their troubling behavior, and concrete incentives that would come if they change course.” (, July 9, 2008)

First, Obama is proceeding from a fully imperialist viewpoint: he repeats the same charges against Iran made by the Bush regime (which are a mixture of lies, half-truths, distortions, and “imperialist-speak”) and agrees with the overall ruling consensus that Iran is the main obstacle to continued U.S. dominance in the Middle East and so must be dealt with aggressively.

One of Obama’s criticisms is that current U.S. policy hasn’t been effective enough in weakening and isolating Iran and forcing it to agree to U.S. terms, so he’s proposing further “unilateral and multilateral sanctions” and “aggressive diplomacy” to do so. But these moves are first, acts of imperialist aggression. It was these kinds of imperialist sanctions and diplomacy that led to the death of well over 500,000 Iraqis during the 1990s. Second, they’re part of a package which includes military threats and preparations (and Obama also insists that “all options” remain on the table).  In fact, Obama has stated that diplomacy, sanctions, and economic pressure are crucial to putting the U.S. in the best position if war becomes necessary.

Obama and his team do seem to have some differences with the Bush regime over how to deal with Iran, as well as broader issues of imperialist strategy. But these differences are over how to best manage a global empire, including waging and winning the overall “war on terror.” And everything Obama has done—and what he conspicuously has not done, like clearly oppose any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran—shows that he will not put any serious roadblocks in Bush’s way if he decides to wage war.

So for any serious mass resistance to emerge against U.S.-Israeli aggression, interference, and possible war on Iran, people need to reject the terms of debate and discussion being insisted upon Obama, McCain, Bush, and the whole U.S. ruling class. That framework would have us judge everything—and act—from the viewpoint of supporting U.S. imperialist interests—U.S. dominance, U.S. interference, the U.S. military and its troops—and U.S. wars. But all this is thoroughly immoral, reactionary, and unjust. None of it—in any form -- is in the interests of the peoples of the planet, of the Middle East, or the vast majority living in this country.

The situation is very grave, very dangerous, and moving very rapidly. The time to resist any U.S. or Israeli aggression or attack is now—right now.

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resisting war against Iran.

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