• 9 March 2012
  • Posted By Richard Abott
  • Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Ratcheting Down the Rhetoric

On Wednesday, the New America Foundation hosted a discussion about “America, Israel and Iran after Netanyahu’s Visit” (watch the video here) and the participants pointed out several important takeaways from the 2012 AIPAC conference.

Daniel Levy, Co-Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, observed that Netanyahu got what he wanted rhetorically from Obama’s speech at AIPAC. Obama may not have significantly shifted his position on Iran red lines, but as former chief of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yadlin hoped, Obama cemented the “zone of trust” Israel can have about American intentions.

This point deserves further questioning, however. Senator Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believes an attack by Israel is very likely if Iran does not open all of its facilities to inspections and stop enrichment as required by several UN Security Council Resolutions. Moreover, even if Obama used strong rhetoric about not having a containment strategy, did Netanyahu really get what he wanted? Obama did not change his redline to a nuclear weapons capability or endorse negotiations restrictions that 12 Senators (Democrats, Republicans, and Joe Lieberman) want. Perhaps he did just enough to make a modicum of political leeway for negotiations to begin.

Helping increase that space for diplomacy is what Heather Hurlburt, Executive Director of the National Security Network, described as a “truly impressive amount of unity from both active duty and retired military folks in support of the President’s caution on an attack on Iran.” She pointed out that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey stuck to his statements about Iran as a “rational actor.” She also discussed the Washington Post ad featuring former military and intelligence officials warning against war with Iran, which she said got “quite positive coverage in the military press.”

Indeed, recently Netanyahu said in an interview that although any Israeli attack would not be in a matter of years, it would also not be a matter of days or weeks. Moreover, Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, welcomed the opening of talks between the P5+1 and Iran.  This may be a reflection of Israel’s internal dynamics; Levy pointed out that in addition to Netanyahu being a fairly risk-averse politician, a new poll released this week by the Peace Index said that 62% of Israelis oppose a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Many in Israel, Levy said, find the talk of an Iranian existential threat unhelpful. In fact, in 2009 Defense Minister Ehud Barack said “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel.” Considering the massive amount of pressure we’ve recently seen from with both sanctions and rhetoric, it is natural that without imminent war, the rhetoric should and will even out. For now, at least, hard liners may be forced to give time for negotiations to play out.

Posted By Richard Abott

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Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

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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