Trump’s sanctions on Iran are connected with Israel - GulfToday

Trump’s sanctions on Iran are connected with Israel

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iran

Pedestrians walk in front of a mural depicting former and current religious leaders at Enghelab Square in the Iranian capital Tehran. Atta Kenare/AFP

Washington has missed multiple opportunities to improve relations or reconcile with Iran since the 1979 Iranian “revolution”that toppled the Shah, a longstanding US ally. The latest occupant of the White House, Donald Trump has been flip-flopping over what to do about Iran, seen by him and hawks in his administration as their number one regional antagonist.

One day he urges Tehran to talk to him, the next day he calls Iran “the number one nation of terror”and says it is too soon to talk to Tehran. In the same breath, he offered to make Iran “rich again”if it halts its nuclear programme. Presumably he meant by lifting the punitive sanctions regime he has imposed on Iran since leaving the six-nation agreement providing for the dismantling of 90 per cent of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in exchange for easing sanctions that are crippling that country’s economy.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani preconditions talks on the lifting of sanctions, which have crippled his country’s economy and harmed its citizens. Trump is not prepared to meet this demand.

Every time an Iranian leader has made efforts to reach out to Washington he has been rebuffed. The first to do so was Hashemi Rafsanjani. a pragmatic politician who served as Iran’s fourth president (1989-1997). His ever smiling successor Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005, launched a major outreach campaign and at his urging 2001 was proclaimed as the UN Year of Dialogue Among Civilisations.

In 2009, he was a joint winner with an Iranian scholar of the inaugural award of the Global Dialogue Prize. At the turn of the century, Cyprus became a centre for dialogue involving Iranian, US, Arab, and European academics, ex-officials and activists and a Centre for World Dialogue was established in Nicosia by an Iranian businessman determined to see his country re-engage with the West.

Although under Khatami, Iran provided intelligence and logistics aid to the US during its military campaign in Afghanistan following Al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, President George W. Bush proclaimed Iran a part of the “axis of evil”which included North Korea and Iraq.

Khatami was followed by erratic hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) whose second term was a result of a falsified election and who alienated the US and its allies with bellicose talk. His successor Hassan Rouhani, a moderate reformer, was elected in 2013 and is still in office. With the support of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani’s administration negotiated the 2015 nuclear agreement, which was implemented from January 2016-May 2018, when Trump renounced and ramped up sanctions in violation of US Commitments under the deal.

Pulling out of the agreement was one of Trump’s campaign promises on which he delivered with a vengeance. He took this action in spite of opposition from former Defence Secretary James Mattis and ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who are not friends of Iran. Trump’s chief motivation for not only withdrawing from the deal but also tightening sanctions on Iran is his close connection with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who views Iran as his country’s chief enemy in the region.

Trump also sees challenging Iran as a means to secure the continuing approval of right-wing evangelical Christians who support Israel whatever outrages it commits. Evangelicals amount to about 25 per cent of US voters. In 2016, 80 per cent went for Trump. He is a “minority president”who reached office due to the obsolete Electoral College which gives extra weight to the votes of less populous states and is profoundly undemocratic. Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than he did.

Determined to run again in November 2020, Trump counts on evangelicals in four or five states to award him a second term. Evangelicals constitute influential constituencies in “swing states”which can vote either Republican or Democrat.

Nevertheless, several US analysts argue Trump could retain the evangelicals, who are not really interested in foreign policy, and win again even if he meets Rouhani and reaches an accord which would lead to the lifting of sanctions. While 71 per cent of US citizens views Iran as an enemy, 57 per cent says the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons is to negotiate a return to the 2015 agreement and 55 per cent opposes military action against Iran.

Policy makers consider Iran the “enemy” because the “revolution” ended Washington’s tight grip on Iran at a time the US was still engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union (USSR). Iran, which had a long border with the USSR, was a key regional base for US intelligence, a customer for US military supplies, and a reliable source of oil.

For the mass US citizens, Iran was demonised after 52 US diplomats and staff were seized at the US embassy in Tehran by Iranian students and held for 444 days from November 4th, 1979, to January 20th, 1981. Coming after the humiliating US defeat in Vietnam, the “Iran hostage crisis”demonstrated that the US no longer had the military reach it had enjoyed after the Second World War. This shamed both Washington and the public at large.

Like the Vietnam war, the embassy crisis was projected into US sitting rooms by the evening news which played and replayed Iranian demonstrators shouting, “Death to America.”Once the embassy situation was resolved, Washington did nothing to recalibrate US relations with Tehran until 2015 when negotiations on the nuclear deal were concluded. Trump voided the agreement to harm Iran and to spite his predecessor Barack Obama who counted it as his major foreign policy achievement.

Since 1979, Iran has provoked US and allied antagonism on both the home and regional fronts. The clerics carried out a bloody crackdown on domestic rivals, critics and opponents. Tehran tried and failed to export its “revolution”to neighbouring countries. Tehran’s effort in Iraq prompted Baghdad to attack in September 1980, launching an eight-year war.

During Israel’s ill-fated invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Iranian Revolutionary Guards trained Lebanese Shias to fight Israelis with the aim of founding a movement — Hizbollah — which could counter Israeli regional military hegemony. In 2000 Hizbollah drove Israel from southern Lebanon and in 2006 fought Israel to a standstill when it invaded Lebanon again.

Pro-Iranian militias have played a positive but resented role during the Iraqi and Syrian campaigns to defeat Daesh and Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents. Iran has given diplomatic backing and marginal military aid to Houthi rebels in Yemen.