Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Board of Deputies of British Jews



  1.1  The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust welcome the opportunity to make this submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We have previously made submissions to the Foreign Affairs Committee's earlier inquiry into Iran (2000-01) as well as its Inquiry on the Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism (2002).

  1.2  The Board is the representative body and voice of the British Jewish community. It was founded in 1760. The Community Security Trust was established in 1994 to provide security and defence services and advice for the community. It works closely with the Board, and with the police.

  1.3  We note the restoration of full diplomatic relations between HMG and Iran and the continued success of low-key bridge-building which has taken place. We also note the EU's successful attempts to mend relations with Iran. We welcome these positive developments. However they should not be pursued without a full realization of the negative aspects of Iranian foreign policy.

  1.4  In our previous memorandum to the Committee we pointed out that Iran continued to assist terrorist groups, and that the Jewish community in Iran suffered severely as a consequence of the government's oppressive internal policies. The situation is little changed and we wish to take the opportunity to amplify these comments. In February 2001 we noted that the Foreign Affairs Committee had produced only an interim report on Iran, because its members were unable to visit the country. We trust that during its second planned visit, it will bring to the Iranian government's attention the concern of Britain, and in particular the Jewish community, on the matters noted below.

2.  Internal repression

  2.1  A recent US Department of State report on religious freedom noted that there was no change in the situation of those religious minorities who continue to be harassed, intimidated and imprisoned during 2002. While the Jewish community may not suffer to the extent that the Bahá'ís or Christians have, Jews nevertheless continue to live under an oppressive regime. The Jews who were falsely imprisoned on charges of espionage in 1999, have now mostly been released. However, it is believed that up to five men remain in prison, and according to Iranian Jewish communities abroad, a number of others have disappeared, possibly while trying to escape from the country.

  2.2  While all religions are protected by the Constitution, the reality is that the courts and government bodies discriminate against non-Muslims. In general, those wishing to practice their faith find obstacles are constantly put in their path. Such is the climate of apprehension that the Jewish community is nervous in drawing attention to these difficulties. This climate is magnified by the government's anti-Israel policies and threats published in the media and in the semi-official sponsorship of classic anti-Semitic publications such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (published in serial form in 1994 and again in 1999).

3.  Terrorism

  3.1  The US State Department's publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001, notes that Iran was "the most active sponsor of state terrorism". Iran continues to meddle in the affairs of its neighbours, and its promotion of terrorism centres broadly on three areas: the Middle East; Afghanistan; Southern Africa. Iran promotes terror to further its strategic objects, which include strengthening its position vis-a"-vis its neighbours and extending its influence and control among them; exporting the Islamic revolution. In connection with the first of these, it should also be noted that Iran continues to arm itself heavily, that it continues to seek weapons of mass destruction, including missiles of an offensive nature, and that this process has been accelerated by the conclusion of the Moscow/Teheran agreement on military and technical co-operation in 2001.

  3.2  Iran has increased substantially its funding to Palestinian terrorist organisations, notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Despite Hizbollah's participation in the Lebanese political process, its external policies remain fixed on mounting terrorism against Israel. It is the recipient of Iranian arms, military training and assistance, the shipment of which is facilitated by the Syrian government. A recent authoritative US report notes that Iran contributes over $100 million per annum for Hizbollah terrorist activities against Israel, and that it is now pushing Hamas and Hizbollah to increase their terrorism against Israel. The Palestinian Authority is also the recipient of both arms and training from the Iranian government. It was Iran that was responsible for sending the Karine a shipment of arms to the Palestinian Authority last year, in flagrant violation of international accords. The Jordanian government recently made public its evidence of foiled Iranian terrorist plots within that country.

  3.3  It is now known for certain that the Iranian government was responsible for the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community building in Buenos Aires in 1993, as well as the bombing of the Israel Embassy in 1992.

  3.4  Iran has sought, since the late 1990s, to extend its influence among the Muslim communities of southern Africa. It has established terrorist training camps in South Africa itself and members of South African Islamist organisations are receiving terrorism training in Iran.

  3.5  While the Iranian government has continued to express its willingness to help the Afghan government, there is now evidence that senior members of al Qaeda have been sheltered in Iran, and that the Iranian government has allowed its country to be used as a transit point to other countries, notably Lebanon. Iran provides military aid to Islamist opposition elements within Afghanistan, and is reliably reported to be fomenting trouble within that country. At least two Iranian-sponsored terrorist bodies are operating in Afghanistan, in opposition to the government, Sepah-e-Mohammad and Sephah-e-Quds.

  3.6  It also should be noted that Iran provides training facilities for other foreign terrorist groups, most notably those from Central and South East Asia.

  3.7  Threats have been published recently in the Iranian press against Jewish communities around the world, as Iran continues to disrupt the peace process between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours. For example, an editorial in the government-linked Kayhan (28 November 2002) stated that Muslims must threaten the lives of "Zionists" around the world. The same article lauded the al-Qaeda attack in Mombasa, Kenya. Likewise, Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah called for suicide bombings to be exported worldwide in December 2002.

4.  Additional information

  4.1  The Iranian government continues to fund Holocaust denial in Europe and elsewhere. It was only the prompt action of the Italian government during 2002, as a consequence of private warnings from Jewish community bodies in Britain and the USA, that barred the entry to one conference organised by Italian neo-Nazis of Iranian nationals, who it is believed are acting on behalf of elements within the Iranian government.

  4.2  Iran supports the Islamist thesis that world Jewry and/or the State of Israel, are responsible for the attacks of September 11, and that the al Qaeda attack on the French oil tanker in 2002 was a part of an anti-Muslim world conspiracy.

5.  Assessment

  5.1  Despite the foregoing, there are positive signs emerging from within Iran. The youthful population appears not be fully supportive of the clerical regime's internal repression and to be seeking increased western contacts. With such increased contact there are likely to be greater opportunities for western governments to influence the hitherto narrow perspectives forced on the population.

  5.2  Increased contacts with western governments provide an opportunity to confront and confound the Iranian government's policies of exporting terrorism.

Board of Deputies of British Jews

February 2003

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