Step by predictable step, President Trump has been tempting Iran to come out and fight. Most of the mainstream Western media have obliged him by suggesting that every recent hostile event in the Gulf is Iran’s doing, and have dismissed protests from Tehran that these reports are lies. But so far, the US hasn’t got a coalition.
The United States has been itching to punish Iran ever since 1979, when its quisling ruler, the Shah, was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. Planning for a war began in 2016 when Donald Trump campaigned on preventing Iran’s nuclear ‘expansion’. It ignited in May 2018 when, as President, Trump unilaterally withdrew America’s commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated in 2015 by his predecessor with the support of the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the EU.
With breathtaking hypocrisy, Americans now accuse Iran of being uninterested in peace, of ‘pursuing nuclear weapons and regional dominance’ (Republican Senator Lindsey Graham), and of turning Yemen into ‘another Lebanon’ (Brian Hook, US special representative on Iran). ‘Forget about easing sanctions,’ energy analyst Robert McNally told the New York Times. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman responded that the US was looking for a pretext to attack Iran, using ‘maximum falsification’.
In recent months, with the US election campaign beginning, Trump appears to want to prove he has made America great again by attacking Iran, which he sees as a small target. First he imposed sanctions aimed at strangling Iran’s oil exports. A series of attacks on shipping in the Gulf, blamed on Iran, may have been the work of a US-sponsored dissident group. Iranian sailors rescuing people from a burning merchant ship were reported by US media to be attaching or detaching limpet mines, inexplicably located above the waterline, in what was apparently a set-up. When a US surveillance aircraft and a drone flew over Iranian airspace, Iran shot down the drone but resisted the temptation to attack the plane. In an obvious allied provocation, an Iranian oil tanker, Grace I, was seized by Britain off Gibraltar in July, and Iran retaliated by seizing the British-flagged Stena Impero. Both have since been released.
More drones attacked Aramco oil processing facilities at Abquaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia in mid-September, cutting global crude oil supplies by more than five percent. Iran was at once accused, even though the Houthi rebels claimed it was another of their frequent attacks from the border of Yemen on Saudi targets, and Iran denied responsibility. The new Saudi energy minister called it a ‘terrorist attack’ (The Times, 16 September 2019: 28).
It is possible that the missiles were fired by Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, as reports from Kuwait suggested. This appears to have been how a Saudi oil-pumping station was attacked in May. Iran supports militia in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. That the US does the same is much less often reported by Western media, which also tend to ignore Israel’s frequent missile and bombing attacks on Syria, and the Saudis’ on Yemen, where US-backed Saudi airstrikes killed at least 20 civilians in the last week of September. At each provocation, Iran increases its enrichment of uranium, as it warned it would from the start. In return, Iran is accused of implementing its nuclear ambitions. No-one accuses Israel of anything.
During the northern summer, French President Macron spoke in Biarritz with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, a meeting which Trump claimed he knew about in advance. Hopes of de-escalation rose briefly when Trump fired his war-hungry national security adviser John Bolton. But Secretary of State Pompeo has kept up the rhetoric about Iran having to be ‘held accountable for its aggression’ (The Times, 16 September 2019: 28). And now they have Boris Johnson on side.
On his way to the UN General Assembly, the UK Prime Minister declared the JCPOA a ‘bad deal’ and called for a better one. In this latest of his policy rollovers, Johnson reversed the support he espoused as Foreign Secretary for the agreement, and even went so far as to describe Trump as a ‘very, very brilliant negotiator’. (He even picked up Trump’s warped vocabulary: nations no longer have agreements, now they make very, very brilliant ‘deals’). France and Germany have fallen into line with Britain, calling on 24 September for Iran to resume diplomacy and to ‘refrain from choosing provocation and escalation’ (Finian Cunningham, https://ahtribune.com/world/europe/uk/3520-johnson-jester-for-trump-to-wreck-iran-deal.html). They condemned Iran for aggression and expressed ‘solidarity’ with Saudi Arabia in a joint statement which demanded from Iran a longer-term framework for its nuclear program, and monitoring of its missile program. Why Iran should be expected to reopen negotiations for another agreement to replace the one it honoured and they didn’t, is not explained.
What also remains unclear is why the Australian reported over a month ago that Australia and Britain have joined a US-led ‘taskforce’ to protect the Strait of Hormuz from harassment by Iran (‘Morrison unaware of Iran mission’, 27 August 2019: 7). Boris Johnson has reportedly discussed Operation Sentinel, the US-proposed multinational force, with Scott Morrison, but until we hear what he and his new admirer, Donald Trump, have decided, the only nation so far signed up to send forces is Australia. Johnson has prorogued Parliament, so he may be able to announce a troop commitment all on his own. If so, it may be illegal in the UK, as well as in international law. It will be aggression, as it is for Australia.
Dr Alison Broinowski, formerly an Australian diplomat, lived in Iran in 1971-73.