It’s been five days since Foreign Minister John Baird announced that Canada would be severing diplomatic ties with Iran and still pundits are puzzling over why. Specifically, why now?
The official line from the Department of Foreign Affairs is that Iran represents “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.” Tehran supports the Assad regime, refuses to abandon its nuclear program, regularly threatens Israel, tramples human rights, sponsors terrorism, and has no respect for the Vienna Convention that guarantees the protection of diplomatic personnel.
The critics, however, aren’t buying it.
As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders points out, simply disliking another country’s policies is no reason to cut off diplomatic ties:
Closing an embassy is rarely done even in moments of hostility. By its very nature, it prevents the possibility of further relations with the country in question, good or bad, influential or ineffective. Messages of protest, off-record moves to quell an eruption, clandestine efforts to build relations with reformists within the regime – all of these options are no longer possible. Once you’ve pulled the plug, you’re out of the game.
John Mundy, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, agrees. By closing our embassy in Tehran, Mundy writes in the Globe and Mail, we have taken ourselves “out of the game.” No communicating directly with the Iran government, no diplomatic staff on the ground to assess Iranian policy, and no way to directly protect Canadian citizens living or incarcerated there.
The only good reason Mundy can find for cutting diplomatic ties is to protect our diplomatic personnel. Which begs the question, how credible is that threat? Mundy suggests that in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran, being the only Israeli ally on the ground in Tehran would certainly not be a good position to be in. Although, as Jennifer Welsh points out in her post on OpenCanada, it’s curious that other states, particularly the Europeans, have not felt the same need to completely cut off relations with Iran.
Canada has led the way to forcing the isolation of Iran – and a new round of sanctions may soon be coming, this time targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The risk is real that when the Iranian regime is pressed, it will lash out at anyone within its reach.
And it’s not just our diplomatic staff we have to be worried about. There’s also the threat presented by the Iran embassy in Canada. Frum lists a number of transgressions committed by the Iranian diplomatic service in other countries, including assassinations, bombings, and espionage.
For the CBC’s Brian Stewart, that threat is much more clear and present. He posits that the hasty diplomatic departure was spurred by new intelligence that Iran has been organizing guerrilla cells under diplomatic cover that would be used to attack the West should Iran itself be attacked. Says Stewart:
Just days before Canada hastily broke off relations, the head of the Iranian army’s joint chiefs of staff boasted to the Fars News Agency that if Iran was attacked, America and its allies should expect major terror attacks in their homeland. The deputy chief commander of the Revolutionary Guard echoed this, vowing “Any aggression against Iran will expand the war into the borders of the enemies. They know our power…"
Considering the recent attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, talk is sure to continue regarding threats against diplomatic personnel in the Middle East and when they should be withdrawn for their safety.
Photo courtesy of Reuters