Can U.S. alone curb Iran? | Daily News
Gulf tensions rise after Iran nuke deal crisis

Can U.S. alone curb Iran?

Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad addressing supporters. - AFP
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad addressing supporters. - AFP

Even as Malaysia’s original political strongman returns to his country’s helm in a shock overthrow of his own original governing party, the Persian Gulf region is transfixed over Israel’s dangerous military brinkmanship after United States exited the 2015 Iran nuclear arms limitation pact. And the rest of the world braces for the impact of new US political and economic sanctions against Iran, a battered, but proud, ancient West Asian power.

Malaysia’s triumphant return of its greatest modern political leader Mahathir Mohamed is likely to open a new chapter in that country’s progress as a rising economic powerhouse. But pleasant surprise of his political return at age 92 years, is temporarily eclipsed on the world stage by the United States’ latest move against Iran.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump, paused in his frantic manoeuvres to evade probes on foreign subversion conspiracy and, possibly criminal, sexual intrigue, to announce the US’ unilateral exit from the Iran nuclear pact. The pact, namely, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed in the Austrian capital of Vienna in 2015 after several years of controversial, but intense, Western pressure through harsh sanctions followed by complex negotiations between Iran and the world’s dominant powers including the US, China, Russia and the EU.

In his brief Tuesday announcement, the US President said that by August and November this year, the United States would systematically re-introduce a sweeping sanctions regime against Iran. While formally announcing the US withdrawal from JCPOA 2015, Trump seemed to leave the door open for a possible reversal of the US decision by stating that the remaining signatories of JCPOA 2015 could try to re-formulate the pact by making it even more restrictive on Iran in line with US demands.

His time table of a just the next few months is wholly unrealistic given the years it has taken for the existing pact to be finalised – as is normal with any multi-lateral geo-political agreement. Indeed, the US announcement is so cursorily formulated with virtually no indication of any US role in such re-negotiations, that the world community is given the impression that Washington is uninterested in any re-negotiation in the near future but would rather try to browbeat Tehran by brute force.

The lack of any real effort by the US to present its new negotiating position and propose a possible bargaining process to achieve a new pact only gives the impression that Washington is more interested in using sanctions in order to merely cripple Iran’s viability as a state and regional power.

Anti-Tehran rhetoric

Even if the White House has not expressly stated this objective of crude geo-political emasculation, the failure of the US leader or his Administration to offer a diplomatic and political alternative to the existing JCPOA starkly betrays Washington’s real motive. In fact, many right-wing US opinion leaders have made it very clear in their barrage of anti-Tehran rhetoric that Washington should move against Iran anyway in order to blunt that country’s growing influence in West Asia.

The fact that the US has seemingly left it to the rest of the JCPOA 2015 signatories, albeit the world’s most powerful states, to try to re-negotiate the JCPOA, also reveals something more than merely Washington’s underlying motive of undermining Iran as a powerful state. The failure of the US to take the lead in such re-negotiation reveals, once more, the growing geo-political ineptness of this one-time ‘superpower’ builder and designer of the world system as it is today.

The very crudity of Washington’s motive in undermining Iran’s stature as a nation on the one hand has immediately worsened inter-state tensions in the whole West Asian region. Only the two most repressive states in West Asia, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, America’s closest allies in the region, have positively reacted to the US’ JCPOA exit. Those two states are Iran’s bitterest enemies.

Tel Aviv, having tamed the Saudis with US help, and bullied some of its immediate Muslim-Arab neighbours into temporary acceptance of Palestine’s Zionist occupation, is anxious to neutralise a stubborn Syria and wants to stem Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Damascus. Tel Aviv simply cannot stand Iran’s growing influence in the region especially after the West’s ‘regime change’ exercise in Iraq resulted in the Shia majority community gaining political dominance in Baghdad.

A civilisation that, by the middle Bronze Age, was building the world’s largest empire of the time, Iran is today newly powerful not only because of ancient regional stature. An evolving experiment in indigenous republican democracy, Iran is a growing economic power based on a large domestic market, a high degree of social development and political stability, modern industrial and agricultural sectors and, its fossil fuel wealth.

After decades of a hostile border with the Saddam Hussein-led and Sunni dominated dictatorship in Iraq, Tehran, is today reaping the benefits of this new partnership between the original Shia semi-theocratic state of the region and its new Shia-led neighbour. Both countries are among the world’s richest in fossil fuel resources as well as socially developed, and could easily emerge as the most powerful states in West Asia with their sizeable populations and military potential.

If Tel Aviv does not like new rival powers, neither does the core Sunni state of monarchist Saudi Arabia. Tel Aviv has its own – undeclared – nuclear military deterrent capacity as well as the guarantee of an American military-economic umbrella, but still wants to stamp out any other regional power that threatens its current military dominance. Saudi Arabia is rich in oil but is dominated by a dictatorial Sunni monarchy with a fragile hold over a relatively tiny population which has a significant Shia minority. Hence Riyadh feels a mounting insecurity as Iran prospers and stabilizes.

Hence, both Tel Aviv and Riyadh have a common enemy in Tehran and all they want is a greatly weakened one with or without nuclear weapons.

Already, Israel has – without official acknowledgment – launched several airstrikes in recent weeks targeting Iranian paramilitary units currently supporting the besieged secular dictatorship in Syria against the US and Saudi-backed rebel insurgency. The Western-backed Syrian rebellion still includes powerful elements of originally Saudi-nurtured Islamist totalitarian groups such as Al-Nusra, Al-Qeada and the Daesh (or Islamic State of Iraq & Levant/ISIL).

Israeli air strikes

Last week, after several such Israeli air strikes against Iranianian-supported paramilitaries in Syria, some Iranian client paramilitaries launched an unsuccessful rocket attack on the Israeli forces on the Golan Heights border highlands of Syria that Tel Aviv invaded and occupied in 1967. That prompted a further wave of powerful Israeli air attacks that reportedly destroyed and damaged other Iranian assets such as an arms dump and troop quarters.

There are indications that Washington’s reversal of its Iran policy into a more hostile one, could encourage Israel to go further in its own moves to keep possible regional rivals weak and divided. It is possible that Tel Aviv is banking on the continued ineptness of the current Washington administration and the domestic distractions hindering the White House’ policy and strategy refinement.

The fact is that a self-centred ruling Republican Party is momentarily sustaining their incompetent President in power for their short term electoral success. This only helps all those other states who want to misguide the world’s sole (but stumbling) superpower into foreign relations misadventures that would mask their own geo-political projects.

The difference in today’s world as compared with the situation a decade ago is that not only is the Iran nuclear pact still backed by its other signatories, but also that all those signatories have a combined political, economic and military-strategic clout that matches the world’s sole superpower. Russia is not dependent on the US economically and can easily afford to sustain its ties with Iran. China, while relying heavily on trade with the US also knows that the US also relies heavily on that vast Chinese market and, hence, cannot retaliate drastically if Beijing continues business with Tehran.

The EU, though is caught because its reliance on trade as well as politico-military ties with the US does not allow it to defy US anti-Iran sanctions the way Moscow and Beijing can.

Nevertheless, the world scenario is such today, that the US may want to strike out on its own unique strategy against Iran, but whether it has the capacity to coerce the rest of the world to go along with it is a (new) big question. That may be why Donald Trump left the door open for a future policy reversal. 


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