An abridged version of this article was published in The Weekend Australian, 23 May 2015

Jeff Goldberg interviews US President Barack Obama on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. The President says he is confident about the deal. He believes in the deal. “Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this”. Interview with Atlantic Monthly, 21 May 2015

Please see ‘A Bad Iran Deal Must Be Stopped Now’

Many in politics believe the enemy of their enemy is their friend.

But let’s be clear, the Shi’ite Iranian regime—committed as it is to destroying the Sunni Da’esh for its own reasons—is at best a frenemy. The Lowy Institute’s Dr Rodger Shanahan suggested that because of the sudden rise of Da’esh, with all its attendant, insane genocide, mass rape and destruction of ancient culture, the West’s interests would be better served by closer engagement with Iran. I disagree.

Dr Shanahan’s analysis assumes that Iran is more moderate than it actually is. Yes, Iran desires commercial engagement with the West. However, Dr Shanahan hopes a conciliatory shift in policy by the West would bring a corresponding softening of Iranian positions.

Julie Bishop meets with Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani

Iran has repeatedly shown that it will pursue its perceived interests regardless of the consequences. As former Obama Defence Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta said, “the Iranians can’t be trusted”.

Iran’s principal aims are to undermine the Middle East’s US-backed Sunni-led status quo and to replace the US as the regional hegemonic power. Tehran also persists with the apparently unchanged ideology of its Supreme Leader Khamenei to destroy Israel. As recently as last month, General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij militia, said Israel’s destruction was ‘nonnegotiable’. These Iranian policies contradict Dr Shanahan’s advice that, because Iran has allegedly moderated, Australia can join the cosying up to Iran. No one should doubt Iran’s commitment to its client Hezbollah (still officially classified as a terrorist organisation by the Australian Parliament).

Iran is increasingly dominant in preserving Assad’s brutal Syria. Recently, Hezbollah thugs working for the head of Syria’s Military Intelligence Rafiq Shehadehone beat to death another security chief, Rustom Ghazaleh, who questioned Iran’s near-complete dominance of Syria. (He objected to Hezbollah using his house as an artillery position.) It may not be long before an Iranian putsch eliminates Assad and installs an even more subservient client. Iran’s direct regional aggression continues all the while. Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels captured Yemen’s capital. General Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards acts as a Persian viceroy, dominating Iraq’s government and Shi’ite militias. These form a picture of an Iranian policy of aggression in pursuit of regional dominance.

Rustom Ghazeleh, Syrian security chief, beaten to death by Hezbollah thugs for questioning Iranian dominance in Syria

So alarmed are America’s chief Middle East ally, the Saudis, that Prince Turki bin Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief, said in February, “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too”. He went further: “[Obama] did go behind the backs of the traditional allies of the US to strike the [Iran nuclear] deal… [Although] the small print of the deal is still unknown”, it “opens the door to nuclear proliferation, not closes it, as was the initial intention.” According to the New York Times, Prince Turki argued that the US was making a “pivot to Iran” that was ill advised, and that the US failed to learn from North Korea’s violations of its nuclear deals. “We were America’s best friend in the Arab world for 50 years,” he said.

Now new King Salman has abandoned US President Obama’s softly softly approach Syria by directly funding and arming the Sunni-but-non-Daesh front that is advancing steadily in Syria’s north. Worse, or is it better, the Saudi kingdom has hinted it will buy nuclear weapons from the Pakistanis.

Of course, Iran’s nuclear program is the focus of international concern. Tehran is only negotiating because international sanctions were crippling its economy. UN sanctions were only placed on Iran after several secret uranium enrichment sites were uncovered (not by inspectors, mind you, but by a dissident group). By attempting to hide installations and by experimenting with techniques only used to create nuclear weaponry (uncovered by inspections), it brought about suspicion, then crippling sanctions.

The ambitious US plan for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is what Dr Henry Kissinger calls defeat management. Professor Graham Allison from the Harvard Kennedy School elaborates in The Atlantic last month: “By eliminating 12,000 centrifuges and five bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium, the accord extends the breakout timeline for Iran to produce the highly enriched uranium core of a bomb to one year. By requiring the reconfiguration of Iran’s planned plutonium-producing reactor at Arak, the accord essentially closes this door to a bomb.”

The top military aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, said Wednesday that 80,000 missiles belonging to Hizbullah in Lebanon are ready to be fired at Haifa and Tel Aviv. “If Zionists wish to do anything wrong (about Iran), we will raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground,” he said.

Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Reza Najafi, stressed last week that none of the paragraphs of the framework nuclear understanding in Lausanne allow for inspection of the country’s military sites.

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also dismissed the possibility of inspection of Iran’s military sites. Iran’s real leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has just said: “We will never yield to pressure … Iran will not give access to its (nuclear) scientists … We will not allow the privacy of our nuclear scientists or any other important issue to be violated.”

If it was to agree for the IAEA to have unprecedented access to suspicious nuclear sites anywhere in Iran, the accord would make it much more difficult for Iran to cheat. But this is, in my view, a frankly incredible premise on which the Shanahan thesis rests.

Only this week (20 May), Supreme of Iran’s Shite regime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is emphatic that there will be no untrammelled verification inspections by foreigners of the Iranian nuclear program

The Saudis, Turks, Qatar and Israelis, like the French socialist government and Democrats in the US Congress, sense increased Iranian power in the Middle East. Direct Saudi intervention in the region is a function of a perceived decrease of US influence in the Middle East. The Saudis have traditionally relied on the US to maintain regional stability. But a series of US decisions—such as the prospective nuclear deal, military cooperation between US and Iranian ground forces in Iraq, allowing Assad in Syria to cross chemical weapons ‘red lines’, and distancing itself from both Israel and Egypt—has convinced Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Qatar that the US is lessening its involvement in the region.

When Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Iran last month, she was the first high-ranking Western minister to visit the Islamic Republic since the initialling of the Lausanne framework. The significance of Bishop’s visit is that it marks Iran’s continuing passage from pariah to accepted member of the international community. Western countries are hustling to be at the front of the queue when sanctions are officially dropped. Western diplomats (including Bishop) are lauding ‘a change in Iranian attitudes’, despite no evidence of that. They’re also lauding Iran’s acceptance of nuclear understandings (despite revelations to the contrary) and responsible actions in the region, despite Iran actively undermining regional governments from Beirut to Baghdad and beyond, as well as prolonging Syria’s civil war.

Dr Shanahan’s article provides the intellectual underpinning for Australia turning a blind eye to the Iranian policies set out above. But providing an excuse for Australia to join the rush towards the commercial opportunities opening in Iran ignores the Khamenei regime’s actual nature and policies. It is short-termism at its worst.

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A nuclear-armed Iran in 10 years, free of sanctions, with $180 billion of reserves now freed up and with unchanged policies of regional hegemony and support for terrorist proxies like Hezbollah is not in the interests of world peace, regional stability or even far away Australia.

Michael Danby is the federal Member for Melbourne Ports


Robert Gates, Obama’s past Secretary of Defence says, the key components of the Obama’s Iran deal don’t really work:

ROBERT GATES (Former Defense Secretary/”Duty”): Well, first of all, getting the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place was a success for U.S. foreign policy. They didn’t come to the table at a goodwill. They came to the table because their economy was being strangled and the leadership was afraid they might get overthrown. So they are there because they have to be there. I think that the agreement there’re some specifics in the agreement that are very encouraging, but I– I have several concerns that I hope can be addressed in the negotiations between now and June the first is the timing of the lifting of the sanctions. Is it– are they going to be lifted right away as long as the Iranians agree to implement the agreement. Or will be– they be phased over time based on performance which has been our position all along. The second is verification. Unless we have sort of on-demand inspection at all facilities, including military facilities, I think, there is a great potential to cheat. Third, I think that this– the– the idea of being able to have these snapback sanctions, that sanctions could be re-imposed once lifted is very unrealistic. I think that the pursuit of the agreement is based on the President’s hope that over a ten-year period with the sanctions being lifted that the Iranians will become a constructive stakeholder in the international community. That– that as their economy begins to grow again, that– that they will abandon their ideology, their theology, their revolutionary principles, their meddling in various parts of the region. And, frankly, I believe that’s very unrealistic.

BOB SCHIEFFER: What if we can’t get a deal? With is the alternative?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I don’t think the alternative is war. One alternative is better deal. I think that you go back to the sanctions, I think you reinforce the sanctions, and you basically say, here are the additional things we need for this agreement to work and to be worthwhile, and an agreement that reassures our allies or at least doesn’t scare them half to death. If they choose not to come back to the negotiations, but to race to a nuclear weapon, well my guess is that will show that they intended to do that all along. Despite all their protestations, that they have no interest in a nuclear weapon, but I think– I think that there is a potential for a better deal.


Former US Defence Secretary Bob Gates on CBS’s Face the Nation, 25 May 2015


This is how the Iranian newspaper Ghanoon Daily portrays to the Iranian Republic the implications of the Australian Foreign Minister’s visit, click here to read the article