Yves Engler: Harper government at forefront of supporting “killer sanctions” against Iran amidst deepening ties with Israel
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our series of interviews on Canadian foreign policy based on the book The Ugly Canadian. Now joining us is the author of that book, Yves Engler. As I said, he’s a Canadian commentator and author, and his book isâ€”the full titleâ€”The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy. He now joins us from Ottawa. Thanks for joining us again, Yves.
YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So kick us off. Again, as we’ve been going through these interviews, I’ve beenâ€”keep saying it should be The Uglier Canadian, because it’s not that Harper’s setting a whole new course for Canada, but it does seem to be positioned in a more, what, militant way. Is that also true in terms of Canadian-Iranian relations?
ENGLER: For sure, for sure. The Harper government hasâ€”that’s one where I think isâ€”there is someâ€”they’ve gone out of their way to be at the forefront in condemning Iran in shuttingâ€”they shut downâ€”about two months ago, they shut down the Canadian embassy in Tehran and shut down the Iranian embassy in Canada and expelled Iranian diplomats, and that was a pretty aggressive move that is often seen as the step before a full-scale declaration of war.
JAY: And why would they have done this? I mean, in a sense you would think with Canada having an embassy there, there’s some pragmatically useful role to having an outpost there. The Americans get to use it covertly. There’s some practicality to it. And closing it is sort of a symbolism for whom? Like, who cares that Canada closes their embassy?
ENGLER: Yeah, well, that. And there is longstanding allegations of Canadians spying in Iran for Washington. And, of course, going back to 1979, obviously, the American diplomats that are, you know, taken into the Canadian embassy there and taken out of the country, which the movie Argo, Ben Affleck’s recent movie, is in large part about. So there isâ€”that was clearly use of the embassy.
I think the main reason for the timing of the shutting down of the embassy, one is that I think the Harper government wants to fully support Netanyahu’s belligerence vis-Ã -vis Iraq. And so this shutting down the embassy was a sort of a small contribution to that, sort of creating the dynamic for an attack against Iran, or at least to, you know, heighten sanctions and sort of controlling Iran.
But I think the specific timing was motivated partly because two weeks beforeâ€”ten days, two weeks before shutting down the embassy, Iran had the Nonaligned Movement, a very successful Nonaligned Movement meeting there, where I think it was 110 different countries represented, 60 heads of state. The head ofâ€”Ban Ki-moon from the UN was on visit even after both John Baird (Canadian foreign minister), Hillary Clinton from the Obama administration, and Netanyahu had all publicly criticized Ban Ki-moon for going and asked him not to go. So I think this was a reaction, this was a sort of an attempt toâ€”after the successful Iranian meeting where they were able to break out of some of this isolation that the U.S. and Israel and Canada and some of Europe are trying to isolate, this was somewhat of a success. So the response that Canada did to that was to try to, you know, attack Iran diplomatically by shutting down the embassy.
JAY: Which, as you say, supports Netanyahu’s narrative and may even be something they asked for.
ENGLER: Exactly. That’s certainly possible [incompr.] And also there was some speculation even at the extreme end that this was to support Netanyahu when he was kind of in battle with Barack Obama, and there are some, you know, disagreements there where, you know, obviously, Netanyahu did the whole red-line thing at the UN, and this was sort of Canada’s kind of contribution to that. I’m not sure that that’sâ€”necessarily was a conscious attempt to sort of somewhat undermine Obama’s decision. I don’t quite go that far, but certainly clearly wanting to support Netanyahu.
And it fits within a longstandingâ€”a lot of other different elements to Canada’s policy. There’s Canadian naval vessels patrolling off the coast of Iran, running provocative maneuvers alongside U.S. armada. There’s Canadian troops in Afghanistan, occupying country bordering Iran. There’s Joint Task Force 2, the Canadian special commandos in Afghanistan. Everything they do is secretive, so I have no proof of this, but I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that the JTF 2 were involved in crossborder incursions into Iran.
So I think the Conservative government has really been [incompr.] I consider it a low-level war that Canada’s waging against Iran. The economic sanctionsâ€”the point of those sanctions is basically to have the Iranian economy [incompr.] You know. And what that means at a human level is people who are having difficulty getting milk and eggs having that much more difficulty getting those foodstuffs. And so the Conservative government has been participating in what should really be understood as a low-level war against Iran, and it’s having a consequence on, you know, millions of Iranians’ lives. Hopefully, it won’t escalate into a full-scale war, but that’s still a clear possibility.
JAY: And we pointed out on The Real News many times that this sanctions war, economic sanctions, to quote Biden, killer sanctions still are taking place at a time when there’s no credible evidence from the IAEA that there actually is a nuclear weapons program in Iran, and American intelligence agencies, as far as we know, continue to say there’s been no decision to create a bomb in Iran, yet, quote-unquote, killer sanctions are on anyway, and, as you say, Canada’s fully part of it.
Let me ask one other question. Canadian foreign policy traditionally is very connected to making money. It’s usually somehow to do with some trade advantage for Canada. It seems they’d be the overriding concern for most Canadian foreign policy. Is there some straight economic advantage in terms of this closer relationship with Israel which seems to be partly driving Canadian Iran policy?
ENGLER: Yeah. Well, a couple of things just on that. One thing I’ll say about theâ€”one of the reasons for closing down the embassy, why it was made easier to close down the embassy in Tehran, is the fact that the Harper government has had a policy of trying to dissuade economic relations with Iran. And so one of the main objectives of the Canadian embassy anywhere in the world is basically to advance the interests of Canadian corporations in that country. And because they’ve hadâ€”this campaign to try to dissuade economic relations with the radicals goes back before the actual formal sanctions, there’s so little Canadian business going on in Iran. So shutting down the embassy becomes that much easier, because you don’t have a pushback from, you know, sort of business interests that are active in that country. So that’s sort of one of the elements to sort of explaining the shutting down of the embassy in Iran.
The otherâ€”in terms of the Israel element, I don’t know thatâ€”I don’t think it’s motivated by business interests. There are deepening ties between Canadian companies and Israeli companies, and that’s been going on for quite a while. There was a free trade agreement that a previous government in 1997 signed with Israel, and since that time there’s been a real growth of trade and investment between the two countries. And I think where there’s clear deepening of ties is at the corporate, if you like, the military-industrial complex level, where Canadian military companies are increasingly tied in with Israeli companies. And a lot of that’s facilitated by public money and different programsâ€”the Canada-Israel Industrial Relations Accord, I think it’s called, where there’s $7Â million of public money a year devoted to that. And so you have, you know, a Canadian company involved in drone-making with the Israeli company.
JAY: Yeah, I was about to say I think a lot of people don’t know just how big an arms manufacturer Canada is. I mean, last time I looked, I think Canada was in the top ten. It’s the ninth or tenth biggest arms manufacturer in the world.
ENGLER: Yeah, different groups haveâ€”I think it’s as high as six; between six and twelve is kind ofâ€”depending on the formula used to quantify such things. So there is significantâ€”you know, Canada’s a huge aerospace country. I think it’s the third or fourth biggest aerospace industry in the world. And those aerospaceâ€”a company like CAE, Montreal-based company, they doâ€”I think they’re considered sort of one of the best of the flight simulation. And so a big chunk of what they do is training, you know, military pilots.
So there is a significant Canadian arms industry that goes right down into, you know, producing bullets, even, you know, at theâ€”most of it’s more at the components level, tied into American military companies, but there are, you know, still Canadian companies that produce even, you know, sort of more traditional kind of weapons like bullets. And so they’re a big lobby.
And Israel is a very successful high-tech military economy, and so from the standpoint of the Canadian military companies, developing ties with their Israeli counterparts is, you know, quite lucrative, and it’s sort of cutting-edge kind of stuff. And I think that’s definitely an important part of understanding the deepening of ties between Canada and Israel.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us.
And we’re going to continue this series on Canadian foreign policy. If you’d like to see more programming like this, we need your support. We’re in our year-end fundraising campaign. Every dollar you donate gets matched until we reach $100,000 in this campaign. There’s a Donate button somewhere over here. If you don’t click on that, we can’t do this.
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