Recently, Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, claimed that Iran has not launched an “aggressive war in modern history (unlike the US or Israel),” a claim only outmatched in error by Yousaf Butt’s assertion that Iran has adhered to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for four-decades. In 500 words or less, I will explain why both of these claims are false.
To make sense of Cole’s position, one must interpret “aggressive war” to mean that Iran never launched a full-scale air and land invasion against another state in an act of aggression. Why Cole prefers this language is understandable: it allows Cole to gloss over Iran’s long-running covert and proxy warfare against the West, Israel, and non-Shia Muslims. Some examples: Iran was found guilty in a US District Court for assisting al-Qaeda with the attacks on 9/11; it stands accused of masterminding the 1994 bombing of a building housing Jewish charities in Argentina that killed 85 people, and wounded 300 more; and it supported the Bosnian mujahidin (“holy warriors”) with direct training from its Pasdaran (or Revolutionary Guard Corps) and provided $200 million worth of war material in all towards this effort, despite a UN arms embargo.
Under international law, moreover, a state may be held responsible for the acts of a non-state actor (NSA) if the state exercises “effective control” over the NSA or issued “specific instructions or directives aimed at the commission of specific acts, or have required public approval of those acts following their commission.”
In the Tehran Hostage Case, the International Court of Justice found that Ayatollah Khomeini’s approval of an Iranian student group’s attack on the US Embassy in Tehran (1979) was sufficient to transform the militant’s actions into Iranian state actions.
Additionally, Iran exercises ‘effective control’ over Hezbollah, an FTO, which launched a war against Israel in 2006. In the words of Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem: “the wali al-faqih [i.e. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei] alone possesses the authority to decide war and peace.” Hezbollah’s former secretary general, Sheik Sobhi Tufayli, remarked similarly: “This decision [to wage war] is neither in the hands of Hezbollah nor the Lebanese people. Iran will play the Lebanese card according to its own interests.”
As for Yousaf Butt’s claim, it fails to account for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports in 2003 (“[I]t is clear that Iran has failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement . . . .”), 2005 (“Finds that Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement . . . constitute non compliance.”), 2011 (David Albright, a physicist and former UN weapons inspector: “[I]t’s actually a quite serious violation of a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA laid the case out for [in the 2011 report]”), and the US Report in 2005 (“The United States found in the 2005 Report that Iran violated Article II of the NPT”). That the Pasdaran, which controls the Iranian nuclear program, aspires to violate the NPT should also be overlooked, I suppose.
Image credit: DaveGranlund.com