How Canada can help contain the Iranian threat
DAVID HARRIS AND SAYEH HASSAN, National PostPublished: Thursday, February 15, 2007
Iran is an increasing danger to global security, and it demands the serious attention of Stephen Harper and his government.
In recent years, Tehran has expanded its sponsorship of terror in the Middle East through it proxies in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority; undertaken aggressive foreign operations through Hezbollah, from Europe to South America; grossly violated the rights of its citizens, especially women and students; curtailed press freedoms; and murdered a Canadian, Zahra Kazemi. Earlier this month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly boasted that his theocracy now operates 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility. This could well mean sufficient weapons-grade uranium for an atomic bomb by year-end.
Once such weapons become available, the regime will likely share them with its Hezbollah proxies, whose sympathizers and agents are active all over the world, including in Canada. Meanwhile, other countries in the Middle East will seek their own nuclear capabilities in an attempt to deter an apocalyptic aggressor.
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As a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory, Canada must recognize that Iran's nuclear enrichment and bomb-design program will destroy the foundations upon which the NPT was established. The Treaty's stature as a guarantor of international peace and stability has already been seriously eroded, thanks largely to proliferation of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and North Korean. The world is at a pivotal point, and action must be taken to enforce the NPT before Iran triggers a cataclysm.
Canada has a unique opportunity by constructively confronting Iran. From intelligence reports, we know Iran's troubled economy and needlessly provocative foreign policies have emboldened its student activists and political opposition. This is the stuff of leverage. Canada can bring additional pressure by imposing economic sanctions, and immediately suspending its $300-million in annual bilateral trade with Iran.
Ottawa should block Canadian investment in Iran's oil and gas fields, and ban Iranian bankers from Canada's financial markets. Canadian investors and public sector pension fund managers should be strongly encouraged to divest from Iran and from companies doing business with the regime. As demonstrated with apartheid-era South Africa, economic sanctions work.
In addition, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, and their children are thought to have millions of dollars invested in Canada. Some of this money could well have been misappropriated from Iranians. The Harper government should freeze such Canadian based assets.
Moreover, a travel ban should be imposed on all of Iran's state officials and their kin. Iranians who desire freedom will come to know that Canadians will not stand by and allow the Islamist regime's officials to prosper while their people suffer and the world is held hostage to the ayatollahs' belligerence. Finally, if there is to be hope for avoiding war, Canada must support Iranians who want change.
Ms. Kazemi was not the brutal theocracy's lone victim: Students, journalists, women and writers are regularly arrested, tortured, raped and executed. Victims are held for years under barbaric conditions, without hope of rescue by an independent judiciary. And those who try to speak up are targeted for abuse. Canadian officials at the UN Human Rights Council and other international bodies must press Iran immediately to release political prisoners. Ottawa should actively assist Iranian activists in Canada to publish names of such prisoners, as a means of securing their release.
In years to come, Canadians will look back on the coming months and reflect whether the international community showed sufficient resolve to avert a catastrophe. By keeping all options on the table, and working decisively with our allies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper can help ensure that the international community's efforts will not be found wanting. In truth, he -- and we --have no choice.
David Harris is a lawyer, senior fellow for national security at the Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD), and former Canadian Security and Intelligence Service chief of strategic planning. He is counsel to the CCD. Sayeh Hassan is an articling student and a democracy activist who was born in Iran.
© National Post 2007