In withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the US President has added fuel to an already blazing fire in the Middle East.
Donald Trump this week announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. In a speech filled with lies, distortions and crude hypocrisy, he announced that his administration will reimpose the “highest level of economic sanctions” on Iran.
Going through a stream of falsehoods regarding Iran’s ambitions and behaviour in the region, Trump said that:
“(…) it is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons. Therefore, I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”
According to the sanctions that are being reimposed, foreign companies will have 90 to 180 days to wind down their operations in Iran or they will be hit with sanctions on their operations in the US. This will be a heavy hit on the Iranian economy, which is already in a dire state. Needless to say, the bulk of the pressure will be on the Iranian people who are already suffering from high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Who are the aggressors?
Painting a picture of Iran as an evil terrorist state, Trump accused the country amongst other things of being “leading state sponsor of terror”, supporter of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and of carrying out “sinister activities in Syria, Yemen, and other places all around the world”.
The only problem is that the facts tell a different story. Before the criminal war on Iraq, the western intervention in Syria and the attack on the Gaddafi regime, Islamic fundamentalism did not have a foothold in any of these countries. Beside killing millions of people, the intervention in the Middle East has destabilised the whole region and raised the spectre of Jihadi barbarism everywhere.
In Iraq alone, more than 1 million people are reported to have died as a result of the the US occupation of that country. The destruction of the Iraqi state after the 2003 US invasion and the implementation of sectarian politics directly led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which coincidentally was supported by Saudi Arabia, to stem the influence of Iran in the country.
In Syria, it was the western intervention supported by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey that supported Jihadi forces, including Al Qaeda. There was nothing moderate about the so-called moderate rebels, which the West leaned on in order to strangle the Syrian revolution and to overthrow the Assad regime.
In Yemen, the US and Britain are involved in the brutal Saudi war that is forcing millions of men women and children to the edge of starvation. It is no secret that this campaign is also leaning on Al Qaeda, which has taken advantage of the vacuum of power in the country to carve out large areas under its control in the eastern Yemen.
From Afghanistan, where the US helped the forerunners of Al Qaeda to power; to Syria, where the CIA and the allies of the US supported Jihadi organisations in hijacking the Syrian revolution: US imperialism has always been at the forefront in Jihadi proliferation.
The rulers of the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia were in a jubilant mood after Trump’s announcement. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown Prince of Saudi Arabia said:
“Iran used economic gains from the lifting of sanctions to continue its activities to destabilise the region, particularly by developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorist groups in the region.”
These words reek of hypocrisy. The rotten Saudi kingdom, a vicious, barbaric regime based on the same ideology as Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS), is the single biggest funder of Islamic fundamentalism in the world. Groups such as Al Qaeda and IS would not survive a single day without the billions of dollars flowing from Saudi Arabia.
In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu was also in an elated mood after Trump’s announcement, saying:
“Israel has opposed the nuclear deal from the start because we said that rather than blocking Iran’s path to a bomb, the deal actually paves Iran’s path to an actual arsenal of nuclear bombs and this within a few years time.”
He conveniently forgets that the only countries in the Middle East that have nuclear weapons are Israel and the United States (with nuclear weapons deployed in Turkey).
Contrary to Iran, Israel has continuously been attacking other countries, taking bites out of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and of course the Palestinian territories, which have turned into the prisonhouse of the Palestinian people. Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, Israel has been bombing sites in Syria and has supported Islamist groups on its borders against Hezbollah.
Netanyahu is determined to provoke a war with Iran, more than anything to divert attention away from the corruption cases and rising opposition against him.
The reimposition of sanctions on Iran is nothing short of a declaration of war on the country and its people, who are set to face severe consequences. As opposed to the West and their allies in the region, Iran has not attacked another country in modern times. US imperialism on the other hand has been the most reactionary and counter-revolutionary force in the region since the Second World War. Along with their puppets in Riyadh and Jerusalem, the US has been a bastion of reaction against all of the peoples of the Middle East.
After the 2003 Iraq war however, due to the collapse of the Saddam regime, the influence of Iran rose in the region. Burned by the defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, where US imperialism had to retreat with a trillion dollar bill and mass opposition to war at home, the option of direct military intervention with boots on the ground was ruled out for a period. The most tangible result of this was the resounding defeat of US imperialism in Syria, where Iranian-supported groups now form the strongest force on the ground.
It was on this basis that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was struck. Seeing the changed balance of forces, the US needed Iran’s help to stabilise the region. But it is exactly this fact that Trump is incapable of accepting. Flanked by the rabid anti-Iran hawk and new National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump is determined to turn the clock back to the era where the US could wade in and out of any Middle Eastern country as it wished.
The same goes for Netanyahu and Mohammad bin Salman. What they mean when they point to “Iran’s aggressive behaviour” is not that Iran is actually attacking other countries, but that Iran’s presence curbs their ability to attack and intervene in any country they wish.
But none of this is going to be changed by a new round of sanctions. On the contrary, the declaration of economic war on Iran will only lead to higher instability, from which the US might not emerge victorious.
Trump pointed out that the experience of North Korea shows that his method works. But if anything it proves the opposite. Far from forcing North Korea to the negotiation table, it is North Korea, a small and poor country, which – by acquiring nuclear bombs – managed to force the world’s most powerful state to the negotiation table after decades of aggression and sanctions.
If there are any lessons here for the Iranian regime, it would be that it should have acquired a nuclear bomb even sooner. Rest assured that this is exactly what the hardliners in Tehran will be advocating.
US vs Europe
Trump’s statement came to the great dismay of European countries, which have been making important investments in Iran. Apart from major oil deals signed by French and Italian oil companies, European companies Airbus and ATR have closed deals worth more than $22bn. European powers were banking on the prospect of further inroads into Iran’s large, an mostly untapped market. French president, Macron, tweeted that:
“France, Germany, and the UK regret the US decision to leave the JCPOA. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel, UK prime minister Theresa May, and Macron issued a joint statement after a trilateral phone call following Trump’s announcement. The three nations said they would “remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld” and would “ensure this remains the case, including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement”.
For the British lapdogs of US imperialism, and for Macron who has spent the past month licking Trump’s boots, the announcement came as a bucket of ice cold water.
Regardless of how much the Europeans want to remain within the agreement, however, the structure of US sanctions will make it very hard, if not impossible, for them to uphold the Iran nuclear deal. This adds to the rising tensions between the US and Europe. Needless to say, this division will only weaken the west and strengthen Iran’s position.
The height of crude demagogy in Trump’s speech was when he appealed to the Iranian people saying that “the people of America stand with you”. But what is clear to every man woman and child in Iran today is that the US government is never to be trusted.
Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani tried to tap into this mood immediately after Trump’s speech stating:
“Iran is a country that adheres to its commitments. And the US is a country that has never adhered to its commitments. Our history in the past 40 years, and even prior to that, has indicated that the Americans, speaking of their approach toward the people of the region and the people of Iran, have always adopted a hostile approach.”
The effect of new sanctions will be devastating for the Iranian economy, which is already in a bad state. Since January, the Iranian currency plunged to a record low of about 65,000 rials to 1 US dollar, down from 57,500 at the end of April and 42,890 at the end of 2017. Some experts believe the Iranian currency could drop to as far as 110,000 rials per US dollar, leading to spiralling inflation, which will affect the poorest more than anyone.
The effect of this will be a strengthening of the hardline faction of the regime, which will be able to say “I told you so”. In the meantime, the rising opposition movement, which has been on the streets since January, will be undermined as people will rally behind the regime against US imperialism.
No plan B
In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any plan or realistic alternative proposal to replace the nuclear deal. This has been pointed out by many top establishment figures – not just in the US, but also in Israel. US Defense Secretary James Mattis (who once said that America’s three main foreign policy problems were “Iran, Iran and Iran”) has said that he considered the present deal to be “pretty robust”.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said that “Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations” and that a US decision to quit the deal “would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements”.
Similar statements have been made by hundreds of people from within the US political, intelligence and military establishment. In fact, the opposition to breaking the deal was a key element in the firing of General H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson from Trump’s inner circle.
While Benjamin Netanyahu was speaking of “thousands” of “secret nuclear files” showing that Iran was breaking the deal, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said that, the deal “with all its faults, is working”. Similar statements have been made by dozens of Israeli security officials, including former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, who said that leaving the deal would be a mistake.
But for Trump and Netanyahu, this does not matter. Their actions are determined by extremely narrow and short-sighted considerations. Netanyahu is fighting for his own political survival and is set to provoke a military conflict with Iran in order to achieve this.
But in moving in this direction, he is not only adding fuel to the flames burning in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, but even to a certain degree destabilising Israel itself. Furthermore, Iran is not the Gaza strip, which has been starved for decades. Iran is a relatively strong military and industrial power, which could be too difficult for even Israel to take on in a direct military clash.
Trump is a bully and a gambler at heart. He thinks that he can intimidate Iran into making a deal with him. But just like the Israelis, he is set for a surprise. Unlike the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia, which don’t have the capability to deploy significant amounts of troops into other countries in the region, Iran has hundreds-of-thousands of devoted, battle-hardened militiamen stretching from the Persian gulf to the Mediterranean.
In the final analysis, this is going to be the decisive factor, and the US will once again have to retreat. In the meantime, Trump’s actions will lead to even more instability and suffering for the masses of the Middle East.