The Department of Foreign Affairs has moved swiftly to categorically distance itself from the comments attributed to Mr John Sunde, a Foreign Affairs official, accusing Iran of industrial espionage.
Sunde’s allegations against the Islamic Republic were made at a briefing of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee in his capacity as the acting chief director of the department’s Middle East directorate.
He is reported as saying that Iranian technical missions “come here with video cameras” and that they would love to buy anything military from South Africa. Referring to the American imposed Iran/Libya Sanctions Act, he said that although Iran is keen to purchase Rooivalk helicopters, “we cant do that.”
On Tehran’s invitation to SAA to service Iran’s ageing Boeing fleet, Sunde cited an American threat to “put us on the blacklist if we so much as go near those planes”, as a reason for not being able to “do that”.
The Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Aziz Pahad, stepped in quickly to extend the government’s unequivocal apology to the Islamic Republic of Iran for what he described as “misrepresentation of SA’s policy toward Iran.” He also dismissed Sunde’s comments as bearing “no resemblance” to SA’s foreign policy “approach to Iran.”
The sting in Pahad’s repudiation of this senior bureaucrat lies however in the firm denunciation of Sunde’s statements as unmandated.
An obvious question that arises is not whether Sunde’s allegations of industrial espionage are true or not, but whether it is true that South Africa is being pressured by the US to forego lucrative military deals with Iran?
Is South Africa’s economic interest yet again being jeopardized by the misguided policies of the Americans in the same way that the arms deal with Syria was scuttled a few years ago?
It may be that John Sunde stepped out of line, but if by unwittingly rationalizing the constraints placed upon South Africa’s ability to pursue and conduct its business with states prescribed as “rogue states” and further qualified by Bush jnr as “axis of evil”, it is necessary to probe this matter further.
Necessary, because there is an epic shamelessness about the symmetry of current imperial events as John Pilger would say.
Britain, for instance, is selling arms to nearly 50 countries where major ethnic conflicts and civil wars are brewing. Despite an “ethical” foreign policy which debars the British government from selling arms to countries engaged in “internal repression or external aggression”, military exports to Israel nearly doubled from 12.5 million (British Pounds) to 22,5 million (British Pounds). As evidence of Britain’s complicity in Israel’s military machine emerged with disclosures that a British arms company BAE Systems has links to the Jewish state’s F-16 fighter jets, which dropped a 450kg “smart bomb” on a residential block of flats in the densely populated Gaza City killing children and civilians, British MP’s have called for a ban on arms sales to Tel Aviv.
The paradox is that the South African government is in the process of concluding a R375 million deal with BAE Systems, which will allow the British arms outfit to secure a 30 percent equity stake in Denel, South Africa’s arms manufacturer. Will Denel’s prospective bedmate be allowed to service Israel’s killer jets, while SAA is prevented from servicing Tehran’s commercial fleet of Boeings?
If South Africa’s sovereignty is underpinned by democracy, freedom and humanism, it is imperative that its foreign policy be guided by such values, not threats by the US.
It will follow therefore that military ties with Iran will be perfectly legitimate, as indeed would an immediate shipment of arms for Palestine – while an embargo is placed on arms – euphemistically referred to as spare parts – to Israel.
John Sunde’s gaffe may after all spark a much-needed debate on South Africa’ s relations with America. It is about time that the US be told the same that was once said of a British monarch: “The power of the king has increased, is increasing and ought to diminish.”
(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)