Canada’s sudden decision earlier this month to sever diplomatic ties with Iran elicited a huge amount of media attention.
Reports, analyses and commentaries were everywhere, and their quality varied greatly.
On what we might call a higher level of analysis, CBC’s Wendy Mesley interviewed three experts – Aaron David Miller, Hooman Majd and Janice Stein – on the Sept. 9 The National about the reasons behind Canada’s move.
Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, provided a three-part explanation:
• The Canadian embassy in Tehran had been unable to function. Embassy staff had been “totally shut out” by Iran and were ”absolutely unable” to do anything for Canadians in Iranian jails.
• There was a growing concern here about the Iranian embassy’s “monitoring” of Iranian Canadians.
• The Harper government wanted to send a clear message, following the meeting in Tehran earlier this month of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement, that the decision of the international community to isolate Iran must be taken seriously.
That was the considered judgment of one of Canada’s most respected academics.
By contrast, on the lower level of analysis (if that word even applies here) was the unidimensional view of Toronto Star columnist and Ryerson University journalism professor Tony Burman. Canada cut its ties with Iran because, he claimed, Canada takes its marching orders from Israel.
As Burman put it: “Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.”
According to Burman it’s not an assessment of our national interests and Iran’s outrageous behaviour that drives our Middle East policy – at least not in this case. Rather it’s that we’re a puppet at the end of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strings. “There is little else to conclude,” Burman wrote, meaning there is nothing else to conclude. Such is the depth of his analysis.
An exasperated Burman was left to ask “what in God’s name” led us to lose our “honest broker” standing? – apparently forgetting that he’d already answered his own question: Israel.
Did it not occur to Burman that his thesis, unsupported by any actual evidence, is an insult to Canadians? Apparently not.
Burman’s presumptuousness is not uncharacteristic.
Last January he boldly, if mistakenly, predicted that, “within the next several months,” having entrapped U.S. President Barack Obama into joining it, Israel would launch a war on Iran. To Burman, the clever entanglements Israel foists on other countries, great and medium powers alike, seem boundless.
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To be taken more seriously is the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders. In his Sept. 8 column, he was also critical of Canada’s decision, downplaying the Iranian nuclear threat by claiming that even Benny Gantz, Israel’s chief of the armed forces, doesn’t believe that Iran is “pursuing” nuclear weapons.
Saunders got this wrong. Gantz certainly believes that the Iranian leadership is pursuing a nuclear weapons capacity that is very dangerous, and not only to Israel. Gantz argues only that Iran has not yet “decided” to go the final step of producing the weapons themselves.
As Gantz explained a few months ago in a much-discussed Ha’aretz interview: “If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response.”
In contrast to both Burman and Saunders was Margaret Wente in the Sept. 11 Globe. She acknowledged the grave risk that a nuclear Iran poses and commended the principled stand that our government took in breaking ties: “Instead of doing nothing,” she wrote, “Canada is using what moral force it has to condemn a pariah state. Iran probably doesn’t care. But other countries will take note, and some might even follow suit. It’s possible that the force of international opinion might even affect Iran’s behaviour. So good on us. We did the right thing.”
Paul Michaels is director of research and senior media relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
This column appears in the September 20 print issue of The CJN