Just how bright is Iran’s new dawn?

Despite superficial progress, Iran will effectively maintain its position as international bullseye.

Iranians walk past a revolutionary mural in Tehran, Iran [REUTERS]
Iranians walk past a revolutionary mural in Tehran, Iran [REUTERS]

Imagine that 10 Iranian soldiers aboard Iranian military vessels had turned up off the coast of the United States.

It’s safe to assume that, whatever course of action was selected by US officials in response to the incursion, it would not have involved briefly detaining the visitors and then sending them on their merry way without a disproportionate amount of bellicose rhetoric and conspiracy theories launched by the sectors of US and international society that specialise in such things.

In recent years, Iran has hardly needed to raise a finger to get neoconservative and other parties united. Back in 2011, for example, a congressional subcommittee heard testimony regarding the alleged threat to US homeland security posed by Iranian actions in Latin America.

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Among these actions was a reported request from the Iranian embassy in Bolivia for more than two dozen spaces at the international school in La Paz for the offspring of diplomatic personnel. Frightening stuff.

La Paz, mind you, is no fewer than 6,225 kilometres from Washington, DC – in other words, a much longer distance than that between the Iranian homeland and the US military boats which appeared last week in Iranian territorial waters.

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And while Iran released the 10 detained US soldiers in expedited fashion, various Western politicians and media couldn’t help but exploit the opportunity to cast the Islamic Republic as the aggressor in this case.

Out with the old, in with the new

The incident took place just days before the lifting of many sanctions against Iran as part of the nuclear deal, widely hailed as the dawn of a new era in relations between the maligned country and the so-called international community. But just how bright is that dawn?

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For starters, the US’ imposition of entirely new ballistic missile sanctions against Iran even as the other sanctions were being lifted would seem to indicate that, as far as the “international community” is concerned, the Islamic Republic is still persona non grata.

The United States' imposition of entirely new ballistic missile sanctions against Iran, even as the other sanctions were being lifted, would seem to indicate that, as far as the 'international community' is concerned, the Islamic Republic is still persona non grata.


Perennial squawking by the US political establishment about Iran’s “destabilising activities” in the Middle East is another indicator of the prevailing notion that, whatever superficial improvements the country might undertake, it is fundamentally and inescapably Axis of Evil material.

Never mind that Israel, America’s partner in crime in the Middle East, would appear to occupy the position of regional destabiliser-in-chief – and not only because it regularly massacres civilians.

A non-signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (a document for ever invoked to demonise Iran), Israel happens to possess a sizeable covert arsenal of nuclear weapons threatening the entire area, as such weapons tend to do.

And what do you know: Israel is now requesting an increase in US military aid to possibly $5bn annually, up from the astronomical sum it already receives, to counter Iran and related nemeses.

A new dawn, indeed.

Collective punishment

Barack Obama & Co can blather all they like about the nuclear deal and attendant prisoner swap as constituting a victory for “diplomacy“. But the fact is that self-appointed “diplomats” have been waging war by other means on Iran for years.

A key pillar of this war involves economic sanctions, with the first US sanctions on Iran dating back to 1979. American independent scholar Sayres Rudy recently discussed more contemporary incarnations of the sanctions regime at a conference entitled “Fragments of Empire After the American Century” – fittingly held at one such fragment, the American University of Beirut.

Joking that he develops a rash any time he hears the phrase “international community”, Rudy observed that that said grouping “proudly and visibly collectively punished the Iranian population to achieve selective disarmament of the nuclear-unarmed Iranian state, although it remains targeted and threatened continually by nuclear powers”.

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The beauty of sanctions for those who deploy them, Rudy noted, resides in their “seemingly bureaucratic, lawful, objective, transparent, and non-violent” nature, which provides a civilised veneer for what can amount to the decimation of populations.


A short 2013 dispatch on the New York Times website describes the “devastating” effects of sanctions on Iran, where “the health of millions of Iranians has been compromised due to the shortage of Western medical drugs and supplies”.

In Iraq, as we all know, sanctions dispensed with some half a million children – an outcome endorsed by Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State, as follows: “We think the price is worth it.”

Writing in the online magazine Warscapes in October of last year, meanwhile, Max Ajl pointed out that an “eas[ing of] Iran into an accommodation with the US-dominated global system” would require Iran to “become a very different country than it is now – one that does not contest Israeli interests [and] one that does not use its oil riches for human-centred development” but rather for purchases from Lockheed Martin and other such goodies.

Until that happens, Iran will effectively maintain its position as international bullseye. Maybe we should hold off on the “new dawn” celebrations.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.