By Ameer Ali –
President Trump’s pre-election condemnation of the 2015 Obama-Iran deal and his subsequent resolve to scrap that deal and reimpose sanctions against Iran all of which was music to Israel has taken the operational phase after Iran’s latest missile test. Irrespective of whether that test contravened conditions set by the Obama deal or not unilateral sanctions imposed on companies and individuals who deem to have connections with Iran, and Iran’s determination to ignore President Trump’s threatening behaviour are retrogressive and dangerous moves especially in the context of raging political volatility in the Middle East.
To start with, Shiism that governs Iranian thinking is a religious ideology of protest. It is an Islamic sect born out of oppression and thrives under oppression. Iran’s revolution of 1979 was staged against the Shah’s oppressive regime and was unique in the history of Islam, which did not fail to inspire the Sunnis also. In spite of the sectarian violence, currently unleashed by the Saudi regime and its oil-rich Gulf allies, primarily to shift focus from their own failings of governance, the memory of the Iranian Revolution still reverberates among radical Sunni Islamists who would wish to repeat it against their own oppressors. To the ruling tyrants of the Sunni world the mullah-led Iranian Revolution sent shock waves and it was that shock and fear which again made them to rally behind provide active support to the military man Abdel Fatah El Sisi to topple the Morsi Presidency in Egypt after the Arab Spring.
The fact that Iran did not totally collapse economically and politically under pressures from over thirty years of economic embargo imposed by the US further demonstrates to the Islamists that the Islamic state project is achievable and sustainable. Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration policy has already angered the Islamists. His new sanctions and even readiness to resort to military option to implement his policy will only strengthen the Islamist resolve. An angered Iran will be only too willing to succour if that were to eventuate.
Secondly, Iran also has its Shia enclaves not only in Iraq and Bahrain where they are a majority but also in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan as significant minorities. Already, Iran’s successful involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen has shown that the U.S ally Saudi Arabia with all its petrodollar wealth and U.S. supplied weapons is no match to Iran’s technological, diplomatic and fighting capabilities. Obama administration came to realise this fact rather belatedly and decided to soften its belligerency against Iran.
Moreover, Iran is situated strategically along the coast of Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz through which 30% of world oil supply and 20% of U.S. oil consumption flows. If Trump were to take military action against Iran the above Shia enclaves will erupt, oil supply will be disrupted and the Middle East will become the main theatre of a wider conflict.
Thirdly, it may be that behind Trump’s policy of narrowing the U.S-Russia diplomatic and geopolitical gap on the one hand is an agenda to pull Russia away from its cosy relationship with Iran on the other. This will also not work because of the increasing economic ties that Russia and Iran have built over recent years. Russia needs Iran as much as Iran needs Russia.
Fourthly Iran’s strategic position in West Asia cannot be ignored by the U.S. if the latter wishes to exert some influence in the geopolitics of South Asia. To antagonise Iran is to jeopardise U.S. power in the South Asian region especially in the context of increasing influence of China in the Indian Ocean. The Trump regime must realise that the unipolar world is breaking down fast and indications of a re-emerging bipolar if not a tri-polar world are too obvious to ignore. In such a paradigmatic change the move by U.S. to downgrade its Iranian connection will become a costly liability. As one researcher concludes “if the international community, especially the US, wants peace and stability in the region, Iran has to be part of the peace building process, without which, it will be a futile exercise.”
Iran can be a trustworthy and profitable ally if the Trump administration stops jeopardising Obama’s carefully built US-Iran deal. Diplomatically, strategically and materially it will be too costly for the US to antagonize Iran in order to appease Israel. A US-friendly Iran can be a source of profit to Israel also if one can recall the Iran-Iraq war when Iran procured nearly 80 per cent of its weaponry at a cost of an estimated $500 million from Israel.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia