On September 19, the Irish Times reported:

“Israel has rejected the call by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and open up its atomic sites to international inspection.” (Mark Weiss, ‘Israel spurns nuclear watchdog’s call to open atomic sites to inspection,’ Irish Times, September 19, 2009; world/2009/0919/1224254860406.html)

The IAEA, which met in Vienna on September 18, adopted a resolution expressing concern about “Israeli nuclear capabilities” and called on agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to work on the issue. The motion was adopted by 49 votes to 45, with 16 abstentions. Russia and China, both permanent members of the UN security council, voted in favour. The United States and the European Union initially tried to block the vote, and then voted against it. David Danieli, deputy director of Israel’s atomic energy commission, said: “Israel will not co-operate in any matter with this resolution.” ( middleeast/2009/09/2009918173136830771.html)

Despite this defiance, despite Israel’s appalling record of violating international law, despite its record of waging and threatening war in the region, and despite possessing as many as 400 nuclear warheads, no Western journalist suggested that Israel should be bombed or blockaded as a result. Indeed, apart from the tiny left-wing Morning Star newspaper and a couple of wire agencies, it appears the Irish Times was the only English-language media outlet to cover this story.

Israel is one of three countries, along with India and Pakistan, which is not a signatory to the NPT. The treaty is intended to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but Article VI constitutes a specific obligation on nuclear-weapon states like Britain and the United States to disarm themselves of nuclear weapons, an obligation they have conspicuously failed to meet.

On September 27, the Financial Times was also a lonely voice in reporting that India “can now build nuclear weapons with the same destructive power as those in the arsenals of the world’s major nuclear powers”. According to New Delhi’s senior atomic officials, India has built weapons with yields of up to 200 kilotons. It is estimated to have manufactured weapons-grade plutonium for at least 100 warheads. (James Lamont and James Blitz, ‘India raises nuclear stakes,’ Financial Times, September 27, 2009; -9be4-00144feabdc0.html?nclick_check=1)

India has no problem delivering these weapons. Britain supplied the Hawk ground-attack aircraft used to train Indian pilots to fly Jaguar nuclear-capable bombers, also built by BAE Systems. In 2003, the Independent reported:

“The deal comes after intense lobbying by the British Government, with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw taking it in turns to persuade the Indians to buy the jets.” (Clayton Hirst and George Fernandes, ‘BAE to enjoy Indian summer with £1bn order for Hawk jets,’ The Independent, August 3, 2003)

Propaganda Stunts

Meanwhile, news that Iran has a “secret underground uranium enrichment plant south of Tehran” at Qom, ( 2009/sep/25/iran-nuclear-plant-qanda) generated a fevered war dance right across the liberal media. Simon Tisdall wrote in the Guardian:

“Today’s disclosure, and the concomitant conclusion that Iran’s leaders are congenital double-dealers, will further spur the debate among regional neighbours, in particular Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, about acquiring nuclear capabilities of their own. Thus does the feared, fabled Middle East nuclear arms race inch closer.” (Tisdall, ‘Iran has been caught red-handed,’ The Guardian, September 25, 2009; 2009/sep/25/iran-secret-nuclear-plant)

Tisdall made no mention of the September 18, IAEA resolution that was a clear reminder that “the feared, fabled Middle East nuclear arms race” has long since been started by Israel. Tisdall added:

“For its part Israel will be gratified that Iran, long its ‘existential’ security issue, is now being treated with equal seriousness by western countries and Russia.”

Israel will also be gratified that its own capacity to pose “existential” threats to its enemies is being treated with the standard seriousness – zero – by its allies.

Intriguingly, the Guardian’s former Middle East editor (2000-2007) Brian Whitaker, who is now an editor on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, posted the following message in the comments’ section under Tisdall’s article:

“This smells of a propaganda stunt by western intelligence agencies. It’s not clear that Iran has actually broken any ruies [sic] on disclosure, since the plant is said to be non-operational.” (Whitaker comment, September 25, 2009, 4:44pm;

Tisdall has form on propaganda stunts. His May 22, 2007 front-page Guardian story described ‘Iran’s secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq.’ You can see the front page here.

Iran, it seemed, was “forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal”. (,,2085195,00.html)

To use the term favoured by the late, great playwright Harold Pinter, this was “bollocks”.

A rare voice of sanity in the Guardian, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, put the latest revelations in context, noting that: “when Obama announced that ‘Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow’, he is technically and legally wrong”. Ritter explained:

“The Qom plant, if current descriptions are accurate, cannot manufacture the basic feed-stock (uranium hexaflouride, or UF6) used in the centrifuge-based enrichment process. It is simply another plant in which the UF6 can be enriched.

“Why is this distinction important? Because the IAEA has underscored, again and again, that it has a full accounting of Iran’s nuclear material stockpile. There has been no diversion of nuclear material to the Qom plant (since it is under construction). The existence of the alleged enrichment plant at Qom in no way changes the nuclear material balance inside Iran today.

“Simply put, Iran is no closer to producing a hypothetical nuclear weapon today than it was prior to Obama’s announcement concerning the Qom facility.” ( cifamerica/2009/sep/25/iran-secret- nuclear-plant-inspections)

Even if the claims of Iranian military intent are true, Ritter added, “this interpretation would still require the diversion of significant nuclear material away from the oversight of IAEA inspectors, something that would be almost immediately evident. Any meaningful diversion of nuclear material would be an immediate cause for alarm, and would trigger robust international reaction, most probably inclusive of military action against the totality of Iran’s known nuclear infrastructure”.

Instead, it is “more likely, an attempt on the part of Iran to provide for strategic depth and survivability of its nuclear programme in the face of repeated threats on the part of the US and Israel to bomb its nuclear infrastructure”.

The Guardian editors were unimpressed. The following day, a leader, ‘Iran: Time to come clean,’ described: “the US president stressing that a negotiated solution still existed, while Mr Brown talked of serial deception and drawing lines in the sand. The truth is that neither man has the luxury of waiting to find out what Iran’s true intentions are”. (Leading article, ‘Iran: Time to come clean,’ The Guardian, September 26, 2009)

Again, no mention of Israel’s refusal to come clean. The previous day, a Guardian leader had warned feverishly of how “the whirring centrifuges spin Iran ever closer to the threshold of being able to manufacture a nuclear bomb”. (Leading article, ‘Iran: Spinning out of control,’ The Guardian, September 25, 2009)

As ever, thoughts of military action came naturally to the Guardian editors:

“Iranian negotiators should realise that their centrifuges are reaching their highest trade-in value. Push it any further, and Iran will not have an internationally monitored production line of enriched uranium to feed its nuclear reactors. Instead of international finance and trade, it will attract blockades and bombs.”

Iranian policy, then, would “attract” blockades and bombs – Iran would be responsible for +our+ criminal actions. The Guardian is like a habitual wife-beater blaming the victim for his violence. Not a word in this Guardian editorial of how the blockades and bombs attracted to Iran’s neighbour, Iraq, were based on a torrential outpouring of British and American lies. As the World Socialist Web Site observed on September 30:

“In an editorial published Sunday, the Financial Times of London joined the media onslaught against Iran, calling its rulers ‘cheats and deceivers’ who ‘cannot be remotely trusted’ in relation to the country’s nuclear program.

“If the newspaper is committed to exposing ‘cheats and deceivers,’ why has it waited so long? It could have provided its readers with this valuable service nearly seven years ago during the buildup to the war against Iraq. After all, this epithet perfectly fits the role played by the US and British governments.” ( 2009/sep2009/pers-s30.shtml)

Just four weeks before the Guardian wrote of “whirring centrifuges” spinning the Middle East to destruction, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published by a group of prominent scientists:

“We have not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program… But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world… In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and the international community… But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far.”
( /articles/2009/09/02/un_nuclear_watchdog_say s_iran_threat_hyped/)

On September 30, the Guardian itself reported:

“The UN’s chief weapons inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, said today he had seen ‘no credible evidence’ that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, rejecting British intelligence allegations that a weapons programme has been going on for at least four years.” (Julian Borger and Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘”No credible evidence” of Iranian nuclear weapons, says UN inspector,’ The Guardian, September 30, 2009)

On September 16, Newsweek revealed that US intelligence agencies had reported that Iran had “not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program” since the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007, which stated with “high confidence” that Iran had “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003. (Mark Hosenball, ‘Intelligence Agencies Say No New Nukes in Iran,’ Newsweek, September 16, 2009;

On the Guardian’s letter’s page, John Heawood delivered a powerful counterblast to the Guardian’s earlier warmongering:

“Your editorial (Time to come clean, 26 September) states ‘Iran’s cat-and-mouse game with nuclear inspectors hands a propaganda victory on a plate to Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier who has made little secret of his air force’s preparations for a long-range strike’.

“This ‘propaganda victory’ is easily demolished by relevant facts which you fail to mention. Fact: Israel has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Fact: Israel has had nuclear weapons for at least 30 years. Fact: Israel has done and still does its best to conceal the existence of these weapons. Fact: as recently as 18 September Israel refused a request from the IAEA to open its nuclear plants to inspection. Fact: an unprovoked Israeli attack on Iran would be a violation of the UN charter and a war crime. And please don’t claim that Iran’s as-yet ambiguous nuclear activities are a provocation. What Israel most fears from Iran is not a nuclear threat to its territory, but a nuclear threat to its own nuclear domination.

“That western powers dangerously demonise Iran is one tragedy. That newspapers uncritically imitate them is a worse one.” (Heawood, Letters, ‘Nuclear nightmare in the Middle East,’ The Guardian, September 29, 2009)

Nearing The End Game (Again)

Like an endlessly nagging child, the Telegraph continued its push for war with Iran:

“We are nearing the endgame of diplomacy towards Iran… If the Kremlin vetoes or dilutes a sanctions resolution, this will make a peaceful resolution of the confrontation with Iran far less likely, and shorten the odds on a war in the Middle East next year.” (Leading article, ‘Obama is gambling with Europe’s security,’ The Daily Telegraph, September 19, 2009)

Nothing new here. On the February 12, 2007 edition of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, the Telegraph’s Con Coughlin declared that military action with Iran was looming now that “diplomacy is almost at an end”. A year earlier, in 2006, Gerard Baker wrote in the Times:

“The unimaginable but ultimately inescapable truth is that we are going to have to get ready for war with Iran.” (Baker, ‘Prepare yourself for the unthinkable: war against Iran may be a necessity,’ The Times, January 27, 2006)

The Telegraph added this week:

“Sanctions are already hurting a country whose Achilles’ heel is its economy but they have not curbed its nuclear ambitions. That is why the military option, the destruction of vital links in the production chain, must remain on the table. The risks of a strike are considerable, but so is the shattering of the non-proliferation regime through Iranian defiance.” (Leading article, ‘Iran ups the ante,’ The Daily Telegraph, September 28, 2009)

Again, not a word about Israel’s “shattering of the non-proliferation regime,” or about its “defiance” 10 days earlier in flatly refusing to cooperate with the IAEA resolution. On the same day that the Telegraph discussed the “risks of a strike” – it meant risks to ‘us’ – a BBC news report reminded of the risks to ‘them’.

“At least 13 people have been killed in a series of bomb attacks across Iraq, local officials say. A lorry with explosives blew up at a police station near the central city of Ramadi, killing seven policemen. In southern Iraq, a bomb planted on a bus killed three people in the province of Qadisiya. In Baghdad, a series of bombs killed at least three people.” ( /2/hi/middle_east/8279056.stm)

It is indeed with a sense of wonder, verging on awe, that we witness the same media performing the near-identical war dance on Iran that they performed on Iraq just seven years ago. To us it seems like yesterday – the sense of madness is fresh in our minds. When Obama acts the stern father in demanding: “Iran must comply with United Nations resolutions,” he is repeating, with the alteration of but a single letter, the same sentence in the same tone used by George Bush and Tony Blair on Iraq.

In 2007, Paul Krugman wrote of Iran in the New York Times:

“But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.” (Krugman, ‘Fearing Fear Itself,’ New York Times, October 29, 2007)

The lunacy of the current propaganda campaign against Iran is bad enough. The fact that it comes so soon after the lies on Iraq – every last one of them now exposed for all to see – makes it far worse. But it is taken to an altogether different level by the fact that the last set of concocted threats has resulted in the devastation of an entire country, with over one million killed and four million made refugees (they are still out there, although not for the mainstream media). The icing on this malevolent cake is that there is next to no reference to these horrors in the latest media propaganda campaign. There is no sense that journalists recognise the consequences of what they helped make happen in Iraq. There is no sense that they feel even a tiny tug of horror at the prospect of repeating the same catastrophe in Iran.

As Noam Chomsky has observed, it is not that they want to cause harm; they simply step on Third World people the way they might step on ants. It is perhaps best described as a kind of speciesism, rather than racism.

Journalists who rightly dismiss out of hand the idea that some cosmic father figure is guiding the universe, or that some saviour (unaccountably delayed for 2,000 years) is on his way, are reduced to childish gullibility by the presence of a black man with a gift for public speaking in the White House. What level of social insanity is it that persuades people to imagine that a single individual has the power to undo what centuries of entrenched, organised and determined vested interests (that have not gone away) have put in place? A rare and admirable note of realism was sounded by a group of academics on the Guardian’s letter’s page:

“Though Obama’s leadership has enhanced America’s image, as yet there has been no major change from the policies and outcomes of the Bush years. Yet the Obama presidency is still reported in the mainstream media as a happy departure from the ‘disastrous Dubya’…

“Obama presents himself as the ‘un-Bush’. But when you look at substance, rather than style and rhetoric, and the structural constraints on presidential power, you can legitimately question the extent of his ability to change US policies. We call for a richer and better informed debate on US policy abroad. We need to end this unhealthy obsession with personalities and look properly at the issues – an admittedly difficult task given the supremely gifted and charismatic president now in office.

“Journalists must be more forthright about the multibillion-dollar Pentagon budget, the massive numbers of US military bases around the world, the sheer scale of the US national security state.” (Professor Inderjeet Parmar University of Manchester, Dr Mark Ledwidge University of Manchester, Professor Rob Singh Birkbeck College, Dr Tim Lynch Institute for the Study of the Americas, Letters, The Guardian, September 18, 2009; 18/us-foreign-policy-obama-afghanistan)

Grow up, in other words, and wake up! But the media cannot do either because it is closer to a corporate machine than a human being. It is a product of power and reflects the needs of power. Because the needs of power remain essentially the same over long periods of time, media performance follows the same themes with eerie consistency. A key focus, unchanging for the past 60 years, is that there must be a threatening enemy to fear, hate, and if necessary destroy.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Simon Tisdall
Email: [email protected]

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor
Email: [email protected]

Siobhain Butterworth, Guardian readers’ editor
Email: [email protected]