In April 2014 John Howard surprised an audience in Sydney by saying that war with Iran would be next. He didn’t know then about Syria but his alarming prediction about Iran looks like coming true.
On 8 April, President Trump designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation, the first such US decision about part of another government. Mike Pompeo explained it was because Iran uses terrorism as ‘a tool of statecraft’. In the US definition, a terrorist organisation engages in ‘activities that involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life…intimidate or coerce a civilian population…influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion…and mass destruction’ ̶ a description that better fits American than Iranian behaviour. If terrorism is coercive violence against a civilian population, then what the US and its allies have been doing in the Middle East at least since 2001 amounts to state terrorism. Iran at once responded by naming CENTCOM a supporter of terrorism.
Iran has no modern history of aggression, while US invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and its support of the Saudi assault on Yemen, would expose the US to indictment before the International Criminal Court, not that the US would recognise it. The State Department claims that the Revolutionary Guard was responsible for more than 600 US deaths in Iraq, for supporting proxy militia elsewhere in the region, and for using the war in Syria to establish a strategic military base from which to threaten Israel. The US itself has caused many more deaths, built military bases in Syria, and supports proxy militia. It has done everything it accuses Iran of, except threaten Israel.
Israel, as always, is at the core of contention between the US and Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly got Trump to designate the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation just before his re-election. Netanyahu – and no doubt Trump’s son in law, who is his special advisor on Israel – was behind the US exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and endorsing Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights and its settlements on the West Bank (Elijah J. Magnier, ‘Iran allies in the Middle East: the trigger finger is ready in case of US-Israeli war’, American Herald Tribune, 12 April 2019).
Iran has grievances of long standing against the US, including for the overthrow of Mossadeq in 1954 and the shooting down of an Iranian civilian aircraft by USS Vincennes in 1988. For its part, the US has always wanted revenge against Iran for the humiliating capture and imprisonment of its diplomats in Tehran in 1979, and for numerous activities of Hezbollah, including against Israel. In 1982, an Israeli war plot that influenced American intentions was revealed in a Hebrew journal (Directions, February). The Yinon plan, named after its author, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, was a long-term project to ensure that no state in the Middle East could threaten Israel, by successively overthrowing Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. In the 1990s American neo-conservatives expanded the Yinon plan to take advantage of the weakness of Russia and destabilise seven states in the Middle East in five years: Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria (Wesley Clark, Democracy Now, 3 October 2007. Michel Chossudovsky, ‘Imperial Conquest: America’s “Long War” against Humanity,’ Global Research, 29 January 2014). In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that America’s intention to prevent the rise of any challenger nation, especially Russia and China, could extend to ‘perhaps Iran’ (The Grand Chessboard, 1997). How the neocons put that intention into action is described by James Mann in Rise of the Vulcans (2004).
In 2001 the long-anticipated invasion of Iraq was an agenda item for the very first cabinet meeting held by George W Bush (Ron Suskind, biography of Paul O’Neill, cit. James O’Neill, ‘Lessons from the Iraq War: A Reappraisal’, Pearls & Irritations, 7 January 2017). Afghanistan was attacked in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003. The destabilisation program continued in Libya with support from Hillary Clinton, who as Obama’s Secretary of State was aggressively hostile to Iran. So was President Trump, whose seven countries targeted for the anti-Muslim visa ban (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen) merely replaced Lebanon with Yemen in the neo-cons’ list. Sudan and Somalia have no government worth the name, and Syria is a mess. Iran is the last to be ‘destabilised’.
Pentagon officials are reportedly hesitant about war with Iran, whose outcome could be much worse than the Iraq imbroglio. But on 8 May 2018 Trump announced the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, and imposed sanctions on countries trading with Iran, ostensibly to force Iran to cease developing ballistic missiles and supporting militants in the region. Iran responded by burning the stars and stripes inside the Majlis and launching rockets from Syria at Israeli military targets. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised Iranians ‘Don’t trust America’. Together, Pompeo and John Bolton (who ‘never saw a war he didn’t like’) now appear to be ratcheting up anti-Iran propaganda and getting Americans ready for another war. But to access the funds, it can’t be a new war, which might fall foul of the War Powers Act (1973). It has to be the same ‘war on terror’ which Congress approved in 2001. Hence the designation of the Republican Guard as a terrorist organisation.
Australian Ministers must know what the US is planning. What have they told Washinton Australia will do? Whatever the provocation, the ANZUS alliance does not oblige us to attack Iran, a country which does not threaten Australia and is not in the ‘Pacific area’. If we don’t want more illegal wars, more refugees, and more terrorism, we should be making that clear. But the prospects for independent Australian policy decisions are not good. Morrison nearly fell for the proposal by one foreign affairs expert, Dave Sharma, about moving Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem. He is standing again, and would not be likely to oppose war with Iran. Shorten has lost another expert, Melissa Parke, who told the truth about the apartheid state that Israel has become. She would oppose a war, and her advice will be missed.
Dr Alison Broinowski, formerly an Australian diplomat, is writing a book on terrorism