The world will soon witness two events, personally contrived by President Donald Trump, that could lead to bloodshed, one possibly to war between Israel and Iran.
LONDON: “Events dear boy, events”, famously responded UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1963, when asked what he feared the most. The world will soon witness two events, personally contrived by President Donald Trump, which many world leaders fear. Both could lead to bloodshed, one possibly to war between Israel and Iran.
14 May marks the 70th anniversary of the formal recognition of the State of Israel by the US President Harry Truman. The Israelis call this day “Independence Day”; the Palestinians have a different name, “Nakba”, the day of catastrophe. This year, 14 May has a special importance; it’s the day Trump has decided to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Thank you President Trump,” said a thrilled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “this is a great moment for the State of Israel which will make the 70th anniversary of our Independence Day even happier”. Understandably, the Palestinians are furious with the move. Listen to the words of their spokesman Saeb Erekat. “Trump’s decision on the embassy move, the ethnic cleansing of at least 418 Palestinian villages and the forcible displacement of two thirds of our people, show the determination of the Trump administration to violate international law, destroy the two-state solution and provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people.” It is the two-state solution, the main hope for a peaceful settlement between the Jews and Palestinians, which will be the greatest casualty of Trump’s decision. Expect major disruption and bloodshed in Gaza and the Occupied Territories from 14 May.
Of greater and more immediate concern is the expected US decision on 12 May to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and to re-impose sanctions on Tehran. President Trump has repeatedly called it the “worst ever”, complaining that the deal only limited Iran’s nuclear activities for a limited fixed period, had failed to stop the development of ballistic missiles and had handed Tehran a $100bn windfall which the Iranians are using as a “slush fund for weapons, terror and oppression” across the Middle East. Although imperfect in Trump’s eyes, the deal is actually working. He conveniently ignores the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) reports, supported by the EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini, that Iran has been in compliance with its obligations and that there had been no violations.
Take a look at some facts. In July 2015, Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges designed to enrich uranium needed to produce nuclear weapons, which could have produced eight to 10 bombs. Now it has only 1,044 older centrifuges which will produce radio isotopes for use in medicine, agriculture and science. Iran had been building a heavy-water nuclear facility near the town of Arak and spent-fuel containing plutonium from this could have been used for a nuclear bomb. The reactor is now being redesigned so that it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium and all spent-fuel will be sent out of the country. But, I hear you say, the Iranians have been caught lying about their nuclear facilities over many years, so what’s different this time? As part of the deal, inspectors from the IAEA continuously monitor Iran’s nuclear sites and are allowed access to sites anywhere in the country they deem suspicious, so it is virtually impossible for the Iranians to cheat. For the 15 years of the agreement, Iran will have 24 days to comply with any IAEA access requests which if denied could lead immediately to the reintroduction of sanctions.
Sanctions in the past almost crippled Iran’s economy, costing it more than $160bn alone in oil revenues. It was also denied access to more than $100bn in assets frozen overseas. So it’s not difficult to understand that the threat of the re-introduction of sanctions acts as a powerful deterrent to Iran for keeping to the agreement.
Much to the dismay of world leaders, Trump, who subscribes to the “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts” school of politics, appears to be setting the stage for a dramatic challenge to the nuclear deal. He has appointed two new members of staff, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, both known to be anti-Iran. In addition, the world has witnessed the theatrical attempt by Prime Minister Netanyahu to prove that Iran is “lying”. Against this backdrop, it would surprise many if Trump failed to carry out his threat on 12 May and re-impose sanctions.
All this matters hugely to India. Following the end of sanctions, Iran has steadily built up its supply of oil to India and is now the third largest supplier, after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Any disruptions due to the re-imposition of sanctions could therefore affect India disproportionately.
Iran has adopted a firm line on Trump’s threat, with President Hassan Rouhani insisting “there would be severe consequences if the US re-imposes sanctions”. He emphasised that the deal is not negotiable and Iran’s nuclear programme could be restarted “within hours”. An angry Iran would step up its support of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both escalating the threat to Israel. Iranian support to the Houthis in Yemen would increase, further threatening Saudi Arabia. Simultaneously, because of the embassy move, the Palestinians would carry out another “intifada” against Israel. According to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, there is even the possibility of all-out war between Israel and Iran. The Middle East in May could begin to explode.
So why is President Trump behaving this way? During the election period he announced that he would move the embassy and suspend the nuclear deal, so he is carrying out his promise. Now he seems to be revelling in keeping the world in suspense as leaders visit Washington and appeal to him to reconsider. It could, however, suit Trump’s purposes admirably to maintain this posture. Not only has he always shown visceral hatred to all that President Barack Obama achieved, but he is in deep trouble at home as the Mueller enquiry closes in. Every day provides more revelations, whether the alleged writing of his own medical report or the payment of money to porn star Stormy Daniels. Overseas adventures are a classic distraction technique for politicians in trouble at home. There is also the issue of the Jewish vote. With mid-term elections in November and his own re-election two years later, it would be handy to increase the usual 25% Jewish vote for the Republican Party. Pleasing Israel could achieve this.
If you thought Syria was complicated and dangerous, to quote the words of Trump’s distinguished predecessor, President Ronald Reagan, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
John Dobson worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998 and is presently Chairman of the Plymouth University of the Third Age.