The Persian Gulf region is being pushed to a region-wide catastrophe with global implications. This dangerous move’s architect is the United States President Donald Trump, a man of many contradictions. His administration is a mix of hawks and doves. So he blows hot and cold. In his confusion, he appears to be pushing for both war and peace at the same time. He sometimes listens to the hawks, sometimes to the doves, but often to neither and does what he wants. He is a foreign policy enigma. With North Korea, he made headway with peace diplomacy, but allowed hawks in the administration to undermine the gains. With Iran he offers talks, while his stance is belligerent.
Statecraft and diplomacy are not his fortes. The billionaire-tycoon-turned-president tries to bring in his banal business strategies and styles into international politics and diplomacy and ends up bringing about a situation worse than what existed. The Iran dispute is a case in point.
When President Barack Obama left the White House, the so-called Iran nuclear crisis had, more or less, been a dealt-with affair. In 2015, six world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – and Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities. In terms of the deal, some economic sanctions on Iran were lifted.
But Trump, being an avowed Obama hater, has a fetish to undo what Obama had achieved. His un-statesmanship is not totally unexpected, given his businessman hubris.
With Israel egging him on and with Saudi Arabia doing the same by dangling before him US$ 450 billion worth new contracts to US companies, Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, dismissing it as a useless deal. He re-imposed sanctions on Iran, vowing to bring Teheran’s oil exports to zero. He wanted the nuclear deal renegotiated to include a ban on Iran to produce or own missiles that can threaten its neighbours. Every country has the right to arm itself with whatever conventional weapon it can produce or accrue. But it is to possess weapons of mass destruction – WMDs which include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Trump’s action was condemned by the JPOA’s other signatories. They assured Iran they would continue to honour the agreement. The European Union promised Iran that it would device a mechanism to circumvent the US sanctions. But this promise has remained largely on paper. In a desperate bid to salvage its crumbling economy, Iran warned that it would resume stockpiling enriched uranium in an obvious departure from its JCPOA commitments – and its deadline for this was yesterday.
The latest development came amid increasing tensions in the region. In the past few weeks, oil tankers have come under attack. As to who did it, nobody knows, although the US and its allies were quick to pin the blame on Iran.
One positive aspect of the Iran-US dispute is that neither country wants an all-out war. But this does not nullify the danger of war. The trigger could come in the form of an attack of a limited nature. It almost happened when the oil tankers came under attack last week. The attacks had all the features of a false flag operation. It was akin to the now infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. On August 2, 1964, the US claimed that its warships were attacked by North Vietnamese forces in the Gulf of Tonkin. The alleged incident led the US to officially enter the Vietnam War. But as to whether the attack really took place remains unverified to-date. Generating causes to enter war is part of a strategy leaders of duplicitous democracies adopt to mislead their people into believing that they are morally correct and justified in dragging the nation to war. In recent months and weeks, the US has sent aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and additional troops.
In another serious development, a US spy drone was shot down by Iran last week, prompting President Trump to order a military response. But ten minutes after US fighter jets were put into action, Trump in a display of his bipolarity between war and peace, ordered them to call off the mission and return to the base.
Trump does not want ‘boots on the ground’ but would prefer a limited strike to show his machismo, now that he had officially launched his campaign for reelection.
It is claimed that, through an intermediary, Trump had intimated to Iran that US fighter jets would bomb a few empty places chosen by Iran. Teheran had rejected the proposal and warned of severe consequences if any attempt was made to bomb Iran. Why should Iran agree to a proposal to prop up Trump and suffer humiliation? After all, Iran is keen on seeing Trump defeated in the 2020 election and getting the new President to return to the JCPOA.
Spurned, Trump threatened the “obliteration” of parts of Iran if it strikes US interests.
Even a limited strike, Iran has warned, would be met by a powerful response. Besides, such an attack could also prompt Iran’s proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen to enter the war. They could launch attack on Israel and Saudi Arabia, triggering a major escalation in the conflict.
Iran sees Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal as a declaration of war. In an angry reaction, Iran warned, “If we can’t export our oil, nobody can,” hinting at blockading the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has the military capability to block the Strait of Hormuz, the 34 km chokepoint through which 30 percent of the world’s crude oil flows. If this happens, the world oil prices could rise to US$ 200 from the present US$ 65 or so. Iran also has weapons which may not match US weapons or bring the US to its knees, but its weapons are advanced enough to at least frustrate US war efforts and make Trump think twice before he takes any adventurous move.
Iran is not a political novice. In its 5,000-year history, it has faced many a war and emerged stronger.
With the chances of accidental war breaking out on the increase, UN member-states, especially, the parties to the JCPOA, should persuade the US and Iran to come to a negotiated settlement. Reports yesterday said diplomats of the JCPOA’s European signatories were meeting US officials in Paris and more talks are also due today in Vienna to explore whether the deal can be salvaged through diplomacy.