Barely a week goes past without the Iranian regime’s rogue status making headlines.
President Ahmadinejad is the figurehead of one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Iran under his leadership has:
• Provided support for the Syrian government in its civil war.
• Cracked down on anti-government protesters, journalists, human rights activists and lawyers, and students.
• Carried out a sharply increasing number of executions (for instance, in 2009, 252 people were officially executed, and a further 300 executed without government acknowledgement), including executing children. Human rights groups estimate Iran executes two people every day.
• Blocked access to information on the internet and from satellite broadcasts.
• Refused access to the country for UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur.
• Punished homosexuality by death, as well as using internet entrapment, blackmail and torture against gay Iranians.
• Sponsored international terrorist groups (including its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah) which have caused hundreds of deaths world-wide, particularly targeting émigré Iranian dissidents.
• Promoted antisemitism, such as in the recent speech by the Iranian vice-president when he blamed the Talmud and ‘Zionists’ for the global drugs trade.
• Promoted Holocaust-denial, sponsoring conferences which question whether the Holocaust happened, and with President Ahmadinejad himself claiming Jews had ‘fabricated a legend, under the name “Massacre of the Jews”.’
Most significantly of all, Iran has pursued a clandestine military nuclear programme which threatens to trigger an arms race in the Middle East, and if sanctions and talks fail could spark a regional conflict. In the context of President Ahmadinejad’s public threat that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’ Iran’s potential possession of nuclear weapons is particularly dangerous. The Iranian presidential website states: ‘the Zionist regime of Israel faces a dead end and will under God’s grace be wiped off the map’ and ‘the Zionist regime that is a usurper and illegitimate regime and a cancerous tumour should be wiped off the map.’
This is not just an issue for Israel. Iranian nuclear weapons would present a security threat to historic UK allies in the Gulf States, and UK economic interests in the region, and eventually with longer-range missiles, to Europe and the UK itself. A nuclear-armed Iran would also trigger a nuclear arms race by other states in the Middle East.
Iran’s nuclear programme has been a concern for the international community for many years.
The UK under both Labour and the coalition has rightly been at the forefront of imposing sanctions on Iran as the best hope of stopping Iran’s nuclear programme by forcing it back to the negotiating table. Our own Labour frontbench is robust on this. The alternatives to sanctions are either the use of military force, or meekly accepting that Iran can have nuclear weapons, with all the risks that entails.
But there is a gaping and very public hole in the UK’s sanctions regime.
I was shocked to hear that Iran Air is continuing to regularly operate flights to and from London Heathrow airport. The airline even boasts about its Heathrow route on its website!
This airline is also used to transport military related equipment for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as Iran’s Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics. It is a ‘sanctioned entity’ in the US. It runs very poorly maintained aircraft as it has no official access to spare parts, making its planes highly unsafe.
Given that the UK government’s position is that it ‘does not encourage trade with, or investment in Iran, and has withdrawn all commercial support for trade’, I find it highly objectionable that the Iran’s national airline carrier is allowed to fly here.
Iran has been known to use its commercial entities to further its political aims and avoid sanctions. Iran uses shell corporations to receive illegal payments and 130 of its 144 banned ships continue to call at many major ports. It secretly exports its arms to terrorist organisations by hiding weapons in its ships and planes, for example, mortar shells and anti-ship c-704 missiles were found on the M/V Victoria on route to the Gaza strip on 15 March 2011.
If this link between the UK and Iran continues, then the sanctions that are already in place have a huge loophole in them. Stopping Iran Air flying to and from London will ensure that the sanctions bite harder and tighter, which will help to curtail the ambitions of this rogue state.
In my work capacity as director of the grassroots network We Believe in Israel, I am running a petition to call on the foreign secretary to close this sanctions loophole.
I hope you will sign it here.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.