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Stephen Harper and the threat of war on Iran

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Today's agreement by the European Union to impose an oil embargo on Iran brings the world closer to war. This piece in The Guardian explains the volatile situation, concluding: "Even if Washington and Tehran remain determined to avoid an all-out war, with every passing month there is a rising chance of one breaking out by accident."

Into this tense situation comes Stephen Harper, who took the opportunity of a sit-down with Peter Mansbridge on the CBC last week to make his latest in a series of incendiary comments regarding Iran. I wrote an op-ed for the Georgia Straight to explain why Harper's rhetoric should frighten us all.

The prime minister has been fear mongering about Iran for some time, repeatedly calling Iran the greatest threat to world peace. Harper one-upped himself in this latest conversation with Mansbridge, asserting that he knew "beyond any doubt" that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons. Not only that, but Harper stated that he is "absolutely convinced" that Iran "would have no hesitation about using nuclear weapons."

This last comment is extraordinary; Harper is in effect claiming to know for a fact that the regime in Tehran is suicidal. Israel already has an arsenal of nuclear weapons -- a fact everyone knows but which the government in Tel Aviv has never formally admitted. (Israel, unlike Iran, is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Any attack by Iran, let alone its use of hypothetical nuclear weapons, would result in its total obliteration.

A slight hyperbole in that last sentence, perhaps, but Harper has it completely backwards. For all its repugnant and repressive characteristics, the regime is hardly the irrational caricature drawn by Harper. It is capable of assessing and acting on its self-interest, as indeed it has in expanding its regional influence in recent years. The theocratic government seized the opening provided by the blundering U.S. invasion of Iraq to become a powerful influence there. The same goes for Afghanistan, where Iran quietly provided military assistance to the initial invasion and has since built up its sway over the weak Karzai regime. Some careful observers of the situation in Iran argue that the aggressive sanctions from the West may be causing the regime -- extremely wary of another 2009-style mass movement -- to see increased confrontation as their best bet.

One final, related note: it's astonishing the way the mainstream media in the U.S. and Canada remain almost completely silent on Israel's possession of nuclear weapons. In Israel itself, you can go to jail for the crime of speaking truthfully about this issue. Here in Canada, every media story speculating about whether Iran's development of nuclear power is part of an effort to get the bomb should include mention of Israel's arsenal of nukes. That context is essential to understanding the terrifying dynamics at play.

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