Professor Laleh Khalili is Gratiously Wrong About Iran’s support for the Palestinian Resistance
Concealing or minimizing contemporary British imperialist role in the modern world is maybe one of the formulas to how to get along in certain sections of Britain’s academia.
There is no doubt Professor Laleh Khalili of Queen Mary University of London has written one of the most informative and educative essays on the British imperialist occupation of Palestine in the inter-war period. The essay deals with the years between 1936-1939 when Britain was both crushing the indigenous Palestinian population's armed resistance to achieve its Zionist colonization project, and in the meantime, the Empire was grooming the new European Zionist Jewish settlers on how to kill and destroy the indigenous resistance. Khalili brilliantly shows how various violent methods which were initially and brutally employed in other parts of the British Empire were brought together, refined, and used against the Palestinians to make way for Britain’s Zionist colonial project in Palestine and its attendant ethnic cleansing. It is an essential read.
Since the 1930s, the Palestinian resistance to Britain’s Zionist colonial project has continued in many forms. Those of a particular age have memories of when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation Palestine (PFLP) led the line. Today, in occupied Palestine, the resistance against Britain’s colonial offspring, the Zionist usurping entity, also known as “Israel”, is led by HAMAS and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It is these two latter groups that led the fight in May-June 2021 against the occupying entity. The right of an indigenous population to armed resistance against occupation and colonialism is enshrined in international law.
Like many other armed anti-colonial resistance groups, HAMAS and PIJ have received support from foreign sympathizers and supporters. The Vietnamese in their resistance against American aggression were said to have received support from both Soviet Russia and China. The Algerians in their war against French occupation received support from Nasser’s Egypt. With the imperialist capitulation, demise, and British-American-led destruction of Arab republican states, it is a known fact that the Iranian state has taken the lead in militarily supporting the Palestinian military resistance.
Unfortunately, for some reason, Professor Khalili took it upon herself to denounce and belittle the Iranian support for today’s resistance against the Zionist evil at no lesser invidious time than during the last year’s bout of fighting which the Palestinian resistance titled, “Sword of Jerusalem Battle”. Tweeting in the midst of battle to her tens of thousands of followers, she claimed “the supposed 'Axis of Resistance' states have only ever used Palestine/Palestinians as pawns.” This is not accurate.
But firstly, exactly who are the Axis of Resistance states the Professor deems as ghastly ill-intentioned? It can be none other than Iran and Syria. But with Syria embroiled in its own struggle against Western and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-backed regime change, this only leaves Iran with the ability to provide complete military support to the Palestinian resistance. The other main group in the “Axis of Resistance” is Lebanon’s Hezbollah which led the way in resisting the decades-old Zionist occupation of southern Lebanon and won full liberation in 2000.
In absolute contradiction to Khalili, HAMAS and PIJ have both welcomed Iran’s support in glowing terms. Ismail Haniyeh, a senior official in HAMAS, has thanked Iran “financially, politically and militarily” for its support to the Palestinian resistance. While the leader of the PIJ, Ziad Al-Nakhala, has also thanked Iran for its crucial support in its resistance to the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Current Iranian support for the resistance should be no surprise to anyone with even the mildest interest in Iranian-Palestinian relations. For example, when the British installed pro-Zionist dictator, the Shah who was toppled in the 1979 revolution, the Iranians quickly handed over the Zionist embassy in Tehran to then Palestinian revolutionaries. Iran is clearly not treating the Palestinian factions as pawns as it has shown genuine commitment to the Palestinians or, at the very least, more commitment than today’s Arab states or the so-called Muslim majority states. Needless to say, the notion that the Palestinian resistance groups are mere “pawns” is also a line employed by both imperialists and zionists.
It is not only in Palestine that Khalili has a fondness for playing fast and loose with facts on Iranian geopolitics. Take for example the coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mossedeq in 1953. The British (not the Americans) initiated the calls to overthrow Mossedeq after he nationalized Iranian oil which was then owned by the British company which is now known as BP. Khalili rarely ever acknowledges this. In a recent article written for the London Review of Books, she absurdly claimed that the Shah of Iran was reimposed on the Iranian people by the Americans and then “he agreed to share control of Iran’s oil with the Seven Sisters [the seven major oil companies]”. This is an ahistorical sleight of hand and speaks nothing about the geopolitics behind the 1953 coup. What clearly happened is that the British agreed with the Americans that they would split ownership of Iranian oil if it colluded with them in overthrowing Mossedeq. Why Khalili feels the need to be inaccurate and even deceptive is a mystery since, after all, she is a Professor of International Politics. Furthermore, the notion that the Shah “agreed to share control of Iran’s oil” is not only historically misleading but literally dumb. It is tantamount to writing the “the newborn child agreed to be suckled by his mother.” More so, Khalili applies the same sleight of hand when she mentions the North Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, always ignoring Britain’s central role in organizing western mercenaries, Israeli arms, and Saudi finance to arrest the development of the new republic. A corrective account of both Britain’s leading role in the 1953 coup and in instigating North Yemen’s civil war can be read in Stephen Dorril’s history of the British equivalent of the CIA, MI6 first published more than 20 years ago.
Khalili’s dubious attitude toward her native Iran was also on display in an exchange with American government State officials in a conference held at Columbia University at the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011. In a Q&A, she advises the Empire’s officials that if their support for “protesters” becomes known to the wider public, then these protesters would become “tainted” and the governments of Iran (and Syria) will be able to push back and “bash the protesters." The advice she showers the officials is cleverly caveated with supposedly self-deprecatory remarks about how she, as a lefty, shouldn’t be advising American imperialism. Then she advises that in countries, which are not “avowedly pro-US” i.e Iran, the Americans should “stay out”. Khalili’s comments to these officials perfectly chimes with former American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s admittance that young people in the USA’s state department were indirectly supporting the Iranian protesters in 2009 behind the scenes while all the time mindful of “getting in the way."
Returning to the issue of pawns or puppetry, the last decades of Western regime change aggressions have produced no shortage of obscene examples of pawns waging wars on behalf of British and GCC interests which Khalili has mysteriously ignored. For example, there were the rural Aleppo salafis funded by Britain’s neo-colonial cash cow, Qatar, who invaded east-central Aleppo in 2012 and kept it hostage for more than four years. The people of Aleppo had wanted nothing to do with “regime change” or the foreign-fuelled uprising. The vilest example of pawnry was the Syrian armed factions supported by Britain and "Israel". The latter supported at least 12 different “rebel groups” in southern Syria. When the Syrian military and its allies closed in on the region, the “rebels” literally fled via occupied Palestine at Britain’s behest. The then British Foreign Secretary thanked the Zionists occupiers of Palestine for their support in rescuing their pawns i.e. “White Helmet”. The cruel irony of the latter is that the Zionists were killing first responders in Gaza, while a few months later, they were supposedly rescuing Syrian first responders at Britain’s request. In all these instances and more (such as in Libya) of Western-GCC-backed pawns, Khalili, to the best of my knowledge, has remained resolutely silent, yet in the midst of battle, she is willing to damn Iran for supposedly using the Palestinian resistance as “pawn”.
In conclusion, Khalili’s trait is to belittle and demean Iran’s contribution to the Palestinian resistance and simultaneously conceal or minimize contemporary British imperialist role in the modern world. Maybe this is one of the formulas to how to get along in certain sections of Britain’s academia. The “supposed” Axis of Resistance liberated southern Lebanon in 2000 and then fended off another “Israeli” invasion in 2006. Zionist and British-backed mercenary groups in southern Syria were expelled in 2018. The Axis of Resistance is real. Furthermore, Britain, unlike Iran, has never supported Palestinian resistance and indeed most of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place between 1947-48 was carried out during the last 6 months of the British Mandate while Britain was still the nominal ruler of Palestine. This leads to grappling with a wider phenomenon that is not limited to Professor Khalili per se. That is, how is it that scholars or activists in the imperial metropole who profess support for the Palestinian cause also support regime-change operations that are pushed by the very people who support the Zionist occupation of Palestine? Isn’t this a contradiction? Or is there something more sinister at stake, such as using the Palestinian cause as political and academic camouflage while implicitly paving the way for “regime change”?