• 20 October 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • Events in DC, Events in Iran, Sanctions

Paying for the US-Iran Feud With Blood

In the summer of 2009, in the aftermath of the elections, there was obviously a lot going on in Iran. But one of the things that I remember made everyone hold their breaths in those months is probably not what you’re assuming right now.

On July 15 2009, an Iranian passenger jet – a Russian-made Tupolev – crashed, killing all 168 people on board. Nine days later, another plane – a Russian-made Ilyushin – crashed in a local airport, killing over 20 people. The close succession of crashes frightened us all, and made us realize how vulnerable Iranians really are to sanctions.

At the time, I, along with many other Iranian Americans, was in Iran, and to get between cities and provinces I had to fly. I remember praying that nothing would go wrong as I entered each plane, before takeoff, and before landing. And I remember holding on for dear life when I heard the plane rattle the slightest bit. And I’m not scared of flying.

I remember asking my family why the crashes had occurred. Were Iranian planes just not up to par to American ones? “Sanctions,” they responded, surprised at my ignorance.

Since 1995, companies worldwide have been banned from selling US aircraft or spare aircraft parts to the Islamic Republic. This includes civilian airplanes. Even if you do believe sanctions will weaken the Iranian regime, you must concede that, at least in this one regard, they do kill innocent people.

There have been more than 200 plane crashes in the country since 1990, giving Iran the worst aviation safety record among all nations. Among these incidents, 70 or so alone have led to over 2,000 deaths, and six have been recorded among the world’s “100 worst civil aviation disasters” since the 1980s. They have involved planes made by the United States, Russia and Western Europe.

As Hooshang Amirahmadi wrote last summer:

Barred from the American and European markets, Iran has also turned to black markets where counterfeit parts are supplied. Besides, the Iranian government has often been forced to use parts from a plane considered “unusable” to patch up another “repairable” plane. The repaired plane is then allowed to fly while the crew members “pray to God for a safe landing.”

Because of Iran’s rugged geography, size, and underdeveloped land transport system (there is no internal water transport), Iranians have become increasingly air-transport dependent. No wonder that even if they are aware of the real risk, they still fly these unsafe planes. Having no other option, Iranians are paying for the U.S.-Iran feud with their blood.

Recently, it was announced that there will once again be direct flights between Cairo and Tehran, the first time since the 1979 revolution. Egypt and Iran agreed last week to start 28 direct flights a week between Tehran and Cairo, although it was not announced when these flights would begin.

And yet again, politics invaded civilian life.

“We continue to urge all countries, including Egypt, not to pursue any new business deals until Iran complies with its international obligations,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said when asked about the agreement.

When reporters asked if the White House is “going after Iranian civilian airlines,” the spokesman said such agreements would have “economic implications” and “implications in terms of business.”

What about implications for the wellbeing of innocent people?

Currently, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) may authorize the exportation to Iran of civilian aircraft parts and services for preserving flight safety.  In September 2006, for example, the Bush Administration, in the interest of safe operations of civilian aircraft, permitted a sale by General Electric of Airbus engine spare parts to be installed on several Iran Air passenger aircraft. These authorizations, however, are rare and are often prevented.

Nonetheless, U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) announced legislation recently to close even this small loophole allowing for an act of kindness, or a humanitarian gesture if you will. Why? According to Sherman, U.S. sanctions need to “hurt the Iranian people.”

In addition, the Obama Administration is now working to divert and ground Iran Air flights by pressing oil companies in Europe not to refuel civilian flights.

I’m Iranian American. I understand the antagonistic relations between the governments of the US and Iran. I understand the tension, the mistrust, even the immature name-calling on both sides. What I do not understand, and what I don’t think I ever will, is why politics must affect civilians when such an intrusion can be easily avoided.

This mistrust between Tehran and Washington should not affect whether or not I safely land in Tehran next summer. It should not kill innocent Iranians, on their way to a wedding or to visit their sick aunt, or simply going on a much-needed vacation. And it should not restrict Iranians’ “main lifeline to the outside world.” For then, you are simply doing the work of the dictator for him.

Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie

    3 Responses to “Paying for the US-Iran Feud With Blood”

  1. Mehdi says:

    Do you have any clue as to how immaculate these 3 planes are kept despite their age? These shortened 747’s purchased by the Shah are flying museums. They collectively have one of the most pristine flight records of any fleet anywhere.

    Anyone into airplanes recognizes this. You’re an ignoramus for suggesting otherwise.

    Suggestion: google airliners forum iran air and take a look at the discussion on these planes. You obviously did little or no research in your background of these planes.

  2. Pirouz says:

    You’re right, Setareh. The US should allow the sale of spare parts to Iran, including the sale of new Airbus airliners (that include US parts).

    Yes Mehdi, Iranian technicians keep vintage Boeing airliners in the air. Arab people were amazed to see two vintage 707s land in Beirut last week carrying President Ahmadinejad’s diplomatic entourage. There’s certainly a level of admiration and respect for Iranian technical improvisation- that’s for sure.

    And, entire airliners have been purchased for purposes of dismantling, to keep jets in the air. In spite of it all, Iranian airliners continue to take to the air.

    But again, Setarah’s right. It is an unconscionable act by American leaders to prevent the sale of spare parts for commercial airliners to Iran. It also goes against the letter and spirit of international law.

    But this is not a two-way commercial feud. Iran does not attempt to deny Americans their pistachios and rugs. And American civilians are not dying or being put in mortal danger directly due to Iranian policy. The same cannot be said for the other way around.

    Good post.

  3. Fern Henley says:

    Why politics must affect civilians when such an intrusion can be easily avoided is the right question.
    If our schools taught history clearly we would know this answer. Instead artists have found it necessary to remain anonymous when expressing truth. All manner of spying and lying have spun a deadly web of monetarist deceit. Mass strikes this year have been heard from earth’s people Wall Street and London and Egypt et cet. A global community of sovereign nation states with fixed currency exchange rates and Glass-Steagall standards using national economic systems of credit to mount projects to provide food, shelter, and education for our citizens would prepare us to meet the challenges of severe galactic energy changes we are experiencing in our solar system. We must circle the wagons to survive these challenges; we must have that global community of sovereign nation states. Only nuclear energy is efficient enough to supply our energy needs. We must co-operate to survive and to live abundantly as humans created in the image of the Creator.

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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