Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are now visiting Iran. In November 2011 the agency reported that Iran had conducted tests “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”.
It was also concerned about medium-level uranium enrichment at Iran’s Fordo plant near Qom in northern Iran. Technology which enables higher level enrichment of uranium is a prerequisite for developing nuclear weapons. That is why uranium enrichment has been a "red line" for the US, the EU, Israel, the Gulf States and others. The IAEA report triggered a ratching up of a decade-long conflict.
In late November the US, UK and Canada announced further bilateral sanctions on Iran. The sanctions were said to be targetted on the military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls the nuclear program and owns large parts of the economy.
In the same month Israel tested a long-range ballistic missile. The test came after a week of speculation in the Israeli press about whether their government had decided to attack Iran’s nuclear complexes.
On 11 January an Iranian nuclear scientist was blown up by a car bomb in Tehran. It was the fourth such attack in two years. Iranian officials blamed the US and Israel.
In January the EU announced sanctions which (from July) will prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products and related finance and insurance to EU countries.
By this point Iran had already threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz — the transit route for around one-fifth of the oil traded globally. In response the US had said its Fifth Fleet based in nearby Bahrain would defend the shipping route and, if necessary, retaliate militarily against Iran.
All sides are still sending out mixed messages. On 26 January a report by (the US Congress financed) Institute for Science and International Security said, “Iran is unlikely to decide to dash toward making nuclear weapons as long as its uranium enrichment capability remains as limited as it is today”. On the same day President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was ready for talks on uranium enrichment.
In the “soft” outcome, Iran will resume the talks on nuclear enrichment which collapsed last year. What if it doesn’t?
The big powers, on the evidence, do not want war; but their actions drift towards a situation where events could easily spiral out of control and into a war which would set the whole region alight, as Iran uses proxy action by Hamas and Hezbollah to fight back.
War would be extremely unpopular in the US, but the US could still stumble into war. Israel has softened its stance recently, but many “hawks” are pressing for an Israeli military strike.
Some accounts of the conflict, such as Pepe Escobar’s on Al Jazeera, argue it is "all about the oil". Iran's trading alliances with China, Pakistan etc., are an increasing threat to US interests in the Middle East.
Others speculate that the Obama administration has adopted the same “regime change” line on Iran which Bush had on Iraq and Afghanistan. But these analyses slot the events into a frame which doesn’t fit.
China is not committed to Iran. It has pushed Iran to negotiate. Iran is not getting inexorably stronger. Its major ally, the Assad regime in Syria, is weakened.
Bush’s strategists thought that a “short sharp” military attack would trigger regime change in Iraq, and had successfully triggered regime change in Afghanistan. Today US strategists know that regime change cannot realistically be imposed on Iran by military action from outside, especially since the Iranian regime’s crushing of internal opposition in 2009.
This conflict is still, and mostly, about the potential of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Stopping “nuclear proliferation” — more bombs in both new territories and old — is the focus here. The possession of a nuclear bomb would make Iran more aggressive in its foreign policy, expressed mostly through its support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Ahmadinejad’s frequent declarations that “the Zionist entity” will “disappear” and “go to hell”, and the religious fervour of the regime, indicates that a nuclear-armed Iran really might use its nuclear weapons against Israel.
The prospect of Iran having a bomb is alarming. To answer “ Israel's got the bomb, why shouldn't Iran?” is evasive.
Of course we are against Israel — or the US, or Britain — having nuclear weapons. But Iran is a clerical-fascist regime explicitly committed to making another state in its region (Israel) “disappear”. And we certainly cannot trust the Iranian regime when it says its nuclear programme is only about modernising the economy or "diversifying" its energy supply.
It wil be good if Iran backs down on nuclear enrichment. Yet socialists cannot endorse the latest economic sanctions. They increase the risk of war, especially at a time of vicious factional conflict between two “conservative” wings of Iran’s clerical-fascist state over next month’s (highly rigged) elections. Ahmedinejad and the “civilian” government machine are pitted against the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and and his personally-appointed religious hierarchy on the other.
There are no “smart sanctions”, ones that will just hit Iran’s powerful, any more than there were against Iraq in 1991-2003. In an grossly unequal society like Iran, working-class people will suffer, sooner or later, from an economic fall out; jobs will be lost, and basic food prices will go up, while the regime and the capitalists will preserve their interests.
Sanctions will help the regime whip up nationalist support in its defence (including from the “green” opposition).
We are against the sanctions and war drive and we are resolutely with the Iranian working class against the Iranian regime.
To prepare the correct “moral tone” for the forthcoming elections the regime has begun the new year by executing three people a day. Whom are they killing? Iranian Afghans. Kurdish activists, political people, and people they call “heretics” (secular minded liberals they don’t like). We stand in solidarity with prisoners whose lives are on the line.
We stand in solidarity with Iranian workers who still periodically strike even as they face mass sackings (and worse), and struggle against conditions where they have no labour rights. Their organisations are precarious, and precious. We oppose the drift towards war in the name of that solidarity
• No to war! • No to the Islamic Republic! • Solidarity with Iranian workers!
At the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference in Liverpool on Sunday 29 January, student members of the Socialist Workers Party, Counterfire and Socialist Action voted against a motion opposing US sanctions or military action against Iran! Why? Because it expressed the idea of solidarity with the workers, women and oppressed peoples of Iran and criticised the Iranian state.