Mideast deal will benefit both sides: US

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will say at the opening ceremony for the US Embassy in Jerusalem that it is possible for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain more than they give in any peace deal.

Kushner, the US envoy to the Middle East and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is due to speak on Monday amid tensions over Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The Trump administration has nearly completed a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but is still undecided on how and when to roll it out, given Palestinian anger at Trump’s embassy move.

“We believe, it is possible for both sides to gain more than they give – so that all people can live in peace – safe from danger, free from fear, and able to pursue their dreams,” Kushner will say, according to speech excerpts seen by Reuters.

“Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together,” he will say.

The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in East Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the US Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.

As the US prepared to open its embassy, Israeli forces killed at least 28 Palestinians along the Gaza border, health officials said, as demonstrators streamed to the frontier. Some 900 Palestinians were wounded, about 450 of them by live bullets, the officials said.

Most countries say Jerusalem’s status should be determined in a final peace settlement, and say moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Kushner will defend the embassy move in his remarks.

“While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it,” Kushner will say.

Source: Reuters

Moving American embassy to Jerusalem perfectly legitimate

The Australian

By Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at the embassy opening last night. Picture: AFP
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at the embassy opening last night. Picture: AFP

 

Nobody doubts Israel has sovereignty over West Jerusalem. And similarly there is no doubt that Jerusalem is the capital of the modern state of Israel. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is in Jerusalem. So is the nation’s highest court, its national bureaucracy, ministerial offices and the rest.

The US is locating its embassy in West Jerusalem.

The Trump administration has said this decision does not affect its attitude to the ultimate settlement over the status of East Jerusalem.

If Palestinians decide to react to this decision with extremism or violence, that is up to them.

The impulse to move the embassy is not some derangement brought about by the allegedly fervid state of Trump’s mind. Such a move was in the past supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Some of the history is important here. When the creation of the modern state of Israel was decided on by the UN — with the strong support of Australia — a ­coalition of Arab armies attacked the fledgling Jewish state in a pre-emptive attempt to wipe it out.

As a result of this war, the borders of Israel were established. These are the borders which are typically referred to as the “pre-1967 borders”. This always included West Jerusalem. When ­Israel is asked to withdraw from Palestinian territory, no one envisages that it should withdraw from West Jerusalem.

However, as a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

As a result, these territories are called the “occupied territories”. These territories do not include West Jerusalem but the issue of Jerusalem generally is regarded as highly emotive and symbolic of Palestinian statehood ambitions.

Therefore outside powers such as the US have been reluctant to take any symbolic action that might upset the Palestinians.

On at least three occasions Palestinians have been offered a state based on Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and most of East Jerusalem. On each occasion the Palestinian leadership at the time has walked away from the deal.

The reasons for this are complex. One is that any Palestinian leader who actually makes peace with Israel will almost certainly be assassinated by the extremists on his own side. But there is also a sense among some Palestinian strategic thinkers that time is on their side. A few years ago Palestinian leaders could look at the higher birthrates of Palestinians, at Israel’s diplomatic isolation and at their strong support in the Arab world and Europe and feel that time was on their side. That is no longer true.

Israel has not been less diplomatically isolated for decades. It has made huge advances diplomatically in Asia and has a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia and a number of the Gulf states.

Moreover the Arab world has grown tired of Palestinian rejectionism and the frequent refusal of Palestinian leadership even to engage in talks with Israel. Also, given the horrendous conflict in Syria and the strategic advances of Iran, no one imagines a two-state solution is just around the corner.

An enlightened Palestinian leadership would look for maximum co-operation with Israel and maximum economic development on their territories with the hope of negotiating statehood down the track.

The Trump embassy move may help convince the Palestinians that the old rejectionist stance and maximalist rhetoric is getting them nowhere and they must work for better conditions.

To that extent, it contributes to the peace process. Whether it has any beneficial effect or not, there is absolutely no reason in principle or in standard diplomatic practice that any foreign embassy should not be located in West Jerusalem.

US embassy crosses the line to declare Israeli ‘occupation’ history

The Australian
May 15

By Eugene Kontorovich

The US was expected to officially open its new embassy to Israel in Jerusalem overnight. This will correct a surreal policy whereby, since Israel’s independence 70 years ago, the US and other nations have refused to recognise its sovereignty over its capital city. President Donald Trump announced in December he would reverse the old policy. By moving the embassy he now translates words into deeds.

The embassy’s exact location within Jerusalem has received much less attention, but it is equally consequential. It will be housed in buildings used by the US consulate, as well as in an adjacent former hotel purchased by the State Department in 2014. Most of that complex is on the far side of the armistice line that divided Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967. Thus the embassy site demonstrates that the US not only sees Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but also — consistent with bipartisan calls from congress — recognises the city as unified.

The so-called Green Line was created following Israel’s 1948-49 War of Independence. Upon the country’s founding, Jordan and its allies invaded, with the goal of preventing the creation of a Jewish state. Although they failed at that goal, the Arab armies did occupy significant territory when the armistice was called, including what is now widely referred to as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Jordan subsequently expelled all Jews from the areas under its control.

In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel recaptured these places. But in the war’s aftermath the UN invested the temporary 1949 armistice line with talismanic significance. The UN claimed Israel was “occupying” the territory that Jordan had forcibly seized not two decades earlier. Thus the international community came up with a unique demand: Israel had to keep the areas under its control, including East Jerusalem and the Old City, free of Jewish inhabitants. Any move to unify Jerusalem would be considered a war crime.

In international law, armistice lines are not borders; they merely mark breaks in the fighting. The claim that the Green Line created a permanent Judenrein zone in the area occupied by Jordan, or that it in any way changed the legal status of the territory on the far side, is unique and illiberal.

By ignoring the armistice line today, the US is showing that it attaches no legal significance to this outdated demarcation. Having an embassy that straddles the Green Line means recognising as Israel’s capital a unified Jerusalem that includes the Old City and other eastern areas. It means categorically rejecting the notion that Israel has no sovereign claims across the Green Line.

Trump made this explicit last week, announcing his delegation to attend the embassy opening “in Jerusalem, Israel”. In another sign of change, the State Department’s annual human-rights report on Israel, released last month, for the first time dropped the word “occupied” from its discussion of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Sceptics, including the foreign-policy experts who blanched when the President announced the embassy move, are trying to construe his actions as narrowly as possible. They often cite a sentence from his December speech: “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.”

Their interpretation is that Trump did not say Jerusalem consists of any specific physical area, and certainly not anything across the Green Line.

But that sentence does not mean what they claim. The President was leaving open “final status” borders — those that might be negotiated in the future. Trump was saying that American recognition of today’s Jerusalem, with its well-known municipal boundaries, in no way would prevent Israel and the Palestinians from later agreeing on different lines.

Most proposed peace plans contemplate Israel ceding parts of its undisputed sovereign territory to a future Palestinian state. In that sense, all of Israel’s “specific boundaries”, far beyond Jerusalem, are subject to change by a final status agreement. That possibility, however, does not negate US recognition of Israel’s current borders.

Others who wish to obfuscate the significance of the new embassy’s location note that it sits in a pocket of land that was a UN-administered demilitarised zone from 1949-67. But the legal theory that paints Israel as an “occupier” is not based on who controlled the land during that period. Rather, the argument is that Israel does not have the right to any territory on the Green Line’s far side. The former DMZ is exactly such a location. In 1958 a UN Security Council resolution explicitly declared that the DMZ was “beyond” the 1949 armistice line.

All this can mean only one thing: The US no longer buys into the legal theory behind claims of Israeli “occupation”. Other countries may soon follow, just as they are now announcing their intention to recognise Jerusalem. America’s affirmation of a unified city may be only the first fissure in the ossified international consensus.

Eugene Kontorovich is a director at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem think tank, and a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law School.

The Wall Street Journal

Articles in The Australian on May 10, 2018

Middle East must choose: peace and prosperity, or Iran’s clenched fist

ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN
The Australian

The Middle East stands at a critical crossroads. The fall of Daesh’s (Islamic State’s) caliphate of terror represents an opportunity to aug­ur a new beginning for the region, but also entails considerable dangers. There are stark alternatives for the future of the region. There is the path of reform and renewal, which seeks to unlock the vast human potential of the Middle East, promotes pluralism, tolerance and women’s rights, and seeks a positive and productive relationship with the international community.

It strives to empower the individual and restore the authority of the state against the centrifugal forces of tribalism, sectarianism and religious intolerance.

This is the path chosen by the leaders of the moderate Arab countries. While it is fraught with challenges and difficulties, we strongly believe that it is the only path forward for the Middle East.

But there is another path and a competing vision for the future of the region. This is the path being pursued by Iran, Hezbollah, the Houthis and their regional allies.

It is based on a backward ideology that subordinates the individual to a radical religious utopia and tramples on the fundamental rights and freedoms deserved by all. It challenges and undermines the power of the state by empowering sectarian militias and sows ethnic and religious discord and division. It is a path of conflict and destruction.

From Damascus to Sanaa, the Iranian government has ruthlessly promoted this vision to serve its own hegemonic ambitions.

To this end, Iran continues to recruit and arm scores of extremist militias that are responsible for some of the most egregious acts of violence against civilians; Iranian military forces are supplying advanced ballistic missile technologies to the Houthis and other terrorist groups to target innocent civilians in ­Riyadh and elsewhere; and Iranian proxies block and undermine international efforts to find inclusive political solutions to many of our region’s most dire conflicts.

This is a path that is already littered with countless victims, and one where there can be no winners, only losers. It’s a path that holds dire consequences not only for our people and our region but also our friends and allies abroad, who are also forced to face the ­consequences of never-ending conflict and destruction.

As many others, we in the United Arab Emirates had hoped that the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the P5+1 would encourage Iran to unclench its fists and seek a different path.

Instead, it seems to have only encouraged Iran to step up its regional aggression and intimidation. To salvage the JCPOA and preserve its positive elements, a more comprehensive deal is urgently needed; a deal that tempers Iran’s aggressive regional agendas, constrains its ballistic missile program and ensures against nuclear proliferation in the long term.

Such a deal would hold countless opportunities, not least for the people of Iran, who long for the development and prosperity that their leaders have sacrificed in pursuit of geopolitical gains. The international community, including Australia, has a critical role to play when it comes to encouraging Iran to embrace this opportunity for a better future and a new beginning. Iranian leaders must understand that their current path is a dead end, for their people and for the region.

The choice for Iran should be clear: halt its destabilising activities in the Middle East, and in return enjoy a positive and prosper­ous relationship with its neigh­bours and the international com­munity. On the other hand, if Iran chooses to continue on its current path, it must understand that this will come at a cost, and that it will remain distrusted by all apart from extremists and those who share in its negative, backward vision.

We in the UAE are unequivocal in our own choice for progress and reform. The rewards are clear. The UAE is a stable country with a vibrant economy, where women are involved in every facet of our country’s ongoing development, and where nationalities from all around the world, including almost 20,000 Australians, live harmoniously alongside their Emirati neighbours.

We believe the UAE represents a vision of what the Middle East can become. This is a vision that should be supported, and one that can prosper and spread only if the international community is clear-eyed about the dangers at hand.

Just as Australians covet stability and peace, so too does the UAE. Our vision is that of a Middle East that is prosperous and peaceful and that is no longer seen as a zone of instability that stumbles from one crisis to the next.

In our efforts to ensure that this vision becomes a reality, the UAE looks to Australia, a strategic partner and ally, to continue to embrace the opportunities that will come by supporting moderation, prosperity, openness and tolerance in the Middle East, while pushing back against those who seek to undermine the great potential of our region.

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

Trump’s habit of shaking up the status quo works in unexpected ways

Cameron Stewart
The Australian

Donald Trump has made the boldest foreign policy decision of his presidency by choosing to tackle Iran’s nuclear ambitions through aggression rather than negotiation.

Will it work? No, say America’s European allies. But Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy has a habit of shaking up the status quo in unexpected ways.

No one imagined a year ago that Trump would be packing his bags for a summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un either.

His decision to withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal sends the simple message that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by international norms and must be treated as a pariah.

In doing this Trump is taking a gamble that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are best stopped by challenging the despotic mullahs who run the country rather than making deals with them.

Trump will be accused of stoking the potential for military conflict and further destabilising the region by withdrawing from the deal and slapping sanctions back on Tehran. This, critics argue, will only hasten the desire of the mullahs to build the bomb.

Perhaps so, but the alternative also did not offer much comfort to the US.

The nuclear deal with Iran, well intentioned as it was, was weak. It was riddled with sunset clauses which would have eventually allowed Iran to develop its nuclear capabilities with impunity. In the meantime the inspection regime was more limited than it should have been. What’s more, the lifting of sanctions gave the mullahs a financial reward at a time when they continue to sponsor terrorism across the region and spread their malign influence into Iraq and Syria.

The 2015 agreement did nothing to slow Tehran’s development of a ballistic missile program that could deliver a nuclear weapon and other deadly warheads across the region and more.

Few experts doubt Iran wants a nuclear weapon capability at some point — it was caught secretly building uranium enrichment plants in 2002 and 2009.

At best, the nuclear deal may have slowed Iran’s progression towards a nuclear bomb, but it never changed the calculus that Tehran would eventually get one.

Trump is throwing that model away. He hopes US economic sanctions and political aggression will encourage a popular uprising by Iran’s youth.

Trump’s decision sets the scene for a new era of American confrontation with Iran.

It is a big gamble but the grim alternative was that under the nuclear deal Iran would continue its march — slowly but inevitably — towards becoming a nuclear weapons state.

Trump’s challenge to the mullahs may make that outcome less certain.

Trump’s Iran deal gamble could isolate US from its allies

Donald Trump speaks to the press at the White House yesterday. Picture: AFPDonald Trump speaks to the press at the White House yesterday. Picture: AFP

GERALD F. SEIB

Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the nuclear deal his predecessor negotiated with Iran represents a giant gamble, easily the biggest of his US presidency.

More precisely, the move represents a series of gambles — bets that Iran’s leaders, its economy and its people, as well as America’s allies and even the leader of North Korea, will react the way the US President hopes. Trump may well win those bets, but the dangers that would accompany a loss are quite high.

The core of the President’s gamble is that a renewal of full-bore economic sanctions on Iran will be enough to compel its leaders back to the table to renegotiate the nuclear deal completed during president Barack Obama’s term. In fact, Trump flatly predicted Iran’s leaders will do exactly that.

Alternatively, his calculation appears to be that a resumption of full-bore American pressure will so disrupt a weak Iranian economy — already reeling from rising prices, a falling currency and a long drought — that the result will be growing dissatisfaction and ­internal unrest that threatens the very survival of the regime.

Trump didn’t say he wants his move to bring regime change in Tehran, but with his references to the “murderous” government and his declaration that “the future of Iran belongs to its people” he walked to the edge of calling for it. The risk is that Iranians rally around their government over the renewed threat from America.

The further gamble is that US allies in France, Britain and Germany, who have pleaded for a different course from the President, will co-operate in a new wave of economic sanctions rather than rebel and move out to construct a new relationship of their own with Iran. European defiance could undercut the pressure Trump is trying to create and ultimately isolate the US rather than Iran.

The President’s pledge to impose sanctions on any nation that helps Iran targets US allies as much as the regime in Tehran, and could produce a sanctions fight not just with Iran, but with allies.

 

In addition, Trump is taking a chance that Iran won’t simply ­respond by resuming full-bore ­nuclear activity, turning back on the hundreds of centrifuges it still possesses to produce the enriched uranium that the West fears would put it on the path towards nuclear-weapons capability. European leaders are urging the Iranians to react calmly, without precipitous action, but hardliners in Tehran may instead seize the moment to revive actions they never wanted to halt in the first place.

Trump is further betting that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with whom he meets in a matter of weeks, will take away from his announcement the lesson the President wants — which is that an Iran-style deal that slows rather than eliminates Pyongyang’s ­nuclear program won’t be deemed sufficient. The risk is that North Korea will take away an alternative lesson, which is that the US can’t be counted on to live up to deals its leaders make.

Above all, Trump’s decision represents a gamble that the heightened tensions with Iran that now are at hand won’t escalate into conflict — with the US, with Israel or with Saudi Arabia. “The worst case is that Iran restarts ­selected nuclear activities, and ­either Israel or the US determines that is unacceptable, uses military force and Iran responds in any number of ways around the region or around the world with all its tools,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on ­Foreign ­Relations. Those tools include terrorism and ­cyberwarfare.

Indeed, after Trump’s move, “the ball is now essentially in Iran’s court as to how this crisis evolves”, says Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution.

“I think the likely short-term approach will seek to maximise whatever diplomatic and economic restitution may be on offer from Europe.”

But, she adds, “Tehran has a wide range of options available for demonstrating that its leverage on the ground in conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere across the region is at least as formidable as US economic leverage.”

Finally, Trump is gambling that his tough line on Iran will convince others in the region that the US will remain adamant and unyielding in its insistence that Iran won’t ever be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

The President said that will help ensure that others in the ­region don’t set out to acquire ­nuclear weapons of their own, and seek to beat Iran to the punch as they do so.

The risk there, of course, is that the reverse could happen. Iran could now respond with a burst of new nuclear activity, Haass notes, prompting Saudi Arabia and ­potentially others to break away from the global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and begin their own march towards nuclear arms.

The Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump, scrapping the Iran deal, and the art of the regime change

President Donald Trump signing a Presidential Memorandum on the Iran nuclear deal at the White House. Trump has called ...

President Donald Trump signing a Presidential Memorandum on the Iran nuclear deal at the White House. Trump has called the Iran nuclear deal "defective at its core". Evan Vucci
Australian Financial Review, Thursday May 10

By Stephen M WaltAs long expected, Donald Trump has bowed to his egohis petulant envy of Barack Obamahis hardline donorshis new set of hawkish advisors, and above all his own ignorance and walked away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the international agreement that prevents Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Together with his foolish decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this is likely to be his most consequential foreign-policy blunder yet.

It is important to understand what’s really going on. Trump’s decision is not based on a desire to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; if that were the case, it would make much more sense to stay committed to the deal and negotiate to make it permanent. After all, both the International Atomic Energy Agency – which monitors and inspects Iran’s facilities – and US intelligence agree Iran has been in full compliance with the JCPOA since it was signed. Indeed, as Peter Beinart points out, it is the US that has arguably been failing to live up to its commitments.

Nor was Trump’s decision motivated by a desire to counter Iran’s various regional activities, such as its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. If that were his goal, the sensible course of action would have been to stay in the deal (which keeps Iran from going nuclear) and to line up other countries to join the US and pressure Iran on these matters. Not only will Trump find it impossible to assemble the same multinational coalition that produced the JCPOA, but Iran is going to be doubly reluctant to negotiate with the US now Trump has shown America’s word cannot be trusted.

The ultimate goal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday he would send his Foreign Minister to negotiate with countries ...
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday he would send his Foreign Minister to negotiate with countries remaining in the nuclear deal after Donald Trump’s decision to pull America out, warning he otherwise would restart enriching uranium “in the next weeks”. AP

So what is going on? Simple: abandoning the JCPOA is based on the desire to “keep Iran in the penalty box” and prevent it from establishing normal relations with the outside world. This goal unites Israel, the hardline wing of the Israel lobby (e.g. the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Foundation for Defence of Democracies, United Against Nuclear Iran), and hawks including national security advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and many others. Their great fear was the US and its Middle East allies might eventually have to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power and grant it a degree of regional influence. Not regional dominance, mind you, which Iran probably does not seek and is light years from achieving, but rather the recognition that Iran has regional interests and its preferences need to be considered when important regional questions are being resolved. This is anathema for US hawks, whose primary goal is to ensure Iran remains an isolated pariah forever.

At the core of this perspective is the siren song of regime change, which US hawks and other anti-regime forces have pursued for decades. This is the ultimate goal of groups such as Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian exile group that used to be on the US terrorism watch list. The MEK is despised inside Iran but defended by both Republican and Democratic politicians (including Bolton), on whom it has lavished sizeable payments. Who says you can’t buy – or at least rent – a US politician? (Actually, nobody says that any more.)

Hawks see two possible routes to regime change. The first approach relies on ramping up economic pressure on Tehran in the hope popular discontent will grow and the clerical regime will simply collapse. The second option is to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program, which would give Washington the excuse to launch a preventive war.

Let’s look a bit more carefully at each of these options.z

Government collapse

US Vice-President Mike Pence, from right, national security adviser John Bolton and US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin ...
US Vice-President Mike Pence, from right, national security adviser John Bolton and US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin listen to Trump’s announcement. AL DRAGO

Regarding the first, the belief that ever-tighter sanctions will cause the regime to collapse is wishful thinking. The US embargo on Cuba has lasted more than 50 years, and the Castro regime is still in place (even if Fidel is now dead and his brother Raul just stepped down in favour of a chosen successor). Sixty-plus years of ever-increasing sanctions haven’t brought the North Korean regime crashing down either and didn’t stop it acquiring a nuclear arsenal. We’ve been told for years that Iran was on the brink of collapse, and it never seems to happen. Sanctions didn’t topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya either. Hardliners got excited a few months ago when anti-government demonstrations occurred in several Iranian cities, but by this logic the massive demonstrations that have occurred in numerous US cities since Trump was elected are signs that regime change is imminent in the US. Not likely in either case. Economic pressure can sometimes help convince opponents to negotiate and maybe even alter their policies, and they can weaken an enemy’s economy during wartime, but leaving the JCPOA isn’t going to bring Iran to its knees.

What if I’m wrong and the clerical regime collapsed? As we have seen in other settings, the result is not likely to be a stable, well-functioning, and pro-American regime. US-sponsored regime change in Iraq led to a civil war, a brutal insurgency, and the rise of the Islamic State. Ditto with foreign-imposed regime change in Libya. The US has also intervened repeatedly in places including Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria in recent years, and all it reaped was additional instability and fertile ground for terrorists. And let’s not forget that the original US-backed regime change in Iran – which ousted democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq and reinstated Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1953. It spawned the anti-Americanism the US has had to deal with ever since the 1979 revolution. And don’t forget many prominent opponents of the regime – including leaders of the so-called Green Movement – also support Iran’s nuclear program and aren’t about to become Washington’s lackeys even if they somehow came to power.

Preventive war

As for the second option – war – here the hawks’ hope is that if push comes to shove and an opportunity for war presents itself, the familiar combination of shock and awe will simultaneously eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and inspire its people to rise up and overturn the leaders who had (supposedly) led them into this sorry situation. This scenario is risible: if America drops bombs on Iranians, you can bet their first reaction will not be one of gratitude. Instead, a US and/or Israeli air campaign against Iran would trigger Iranian nationalism and cement the population’s loyalty to the regime more tightly.

Trump says the US will withdraw from the 2015 accord to curb Iran's nuclear program and that he would reinstate ...
Trump says the US will withdraw from the 2015 accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program and that he would reinstate financial sanctions. AL DRAGO

Moreover, a military strike by Israel or the US would not prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon; it would delay it by a year or two. Such an attack would convince just about everyone in Iran the only way to be safe is to get a deterrent of their own, as North Korea has, and the safe bet is Iran would simply redouble its efforts in hidden and better-protected sites. Once the US forces Iran down that road, it’s likely other states in the region will follow. If you think the world would be better with several nuclear-armed regimes in the Middle East, by all means choose this option. Just don’t complain to me about it afterwards.

And make no mistake: if war does come and the result is more lives lost and more dollars squandered, it may ignite a broader regional conflict, and the fault will rest solely with the man who sits in the Oval Office. No amount of dust kicking, blame casting, and semi-literate tweeting will be able to disguise that.

In short, Trump’s latest blunder shows he’s not giving the American people the more restrained foreign policy he promised back in 2016, or correcting the various mistakes made by his predecessors (of which there were many). Instead, Trump is taking us back to the naive, unsophisticated, unilateralist, and overly militarised foreign policy of George W. Bush’s first term. The appointment of Bolton at the National Security Council, Pompeo at State, and the nomination of former torture supervisor Gina Haspel to run the CIA – it is a return not to realism but to Cheneyism. Remember how well that worked?

Otto von Bismarck once quipped that it was good to learn from one’s mistakes but better to learn from someone else’s. This latest episode shows the US is not capable of learning from either. And it suggests Winston Churchill’s apocryphal comment about the US always doing the right thing should be revised. Under Trump, it appears, the US will always do the wrong thing but only after first considering – and rejecting – all the obviously superior alternatives.

 Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

Foreign Policy

Fix or Nix Iran nuclear deal?

The Australian Editorial
Thursday May 3

Critics who claim the “half tonne” trove of 100,000 secret Iranian documents, files and CDs disclosed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contains nothing new and is of no relevance are being disingenuous. Ahead of Donald Trump’s crucial May 12 decision on the Iran nuclear deal, they are highly pertinent. The brazen “lies and deceit” they reportedly reveal about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions must not be overlooked.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the documents, seized by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency in a daring night raid on a Tehran storage facility, provide “proof beyond any doubt” that “the Iranian regime was not telling the truth” when it concluded the nuclear deal with Barack Obama in 2015. What emerges, Mr Pompeo says, is that “Iran hid a vast atomic archive from the world and from the International Atomic Energy Agency — until today”. Disclosing details in front of a large sign reading “IRAN LIED”, Mr Netanyahu maintained that since the signing, Iran “has worked to preserve its nuclear weapons capabilities”. Tehran is claimed to have kept what was known as the Project Amad nuclear program team, headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, “largely in place in a new organisation housed in the Defence Ministry”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has dismissed the claims as a stunt. But they cannot be ignored as Mr Trump prepares to make one of the most important decisions of his presidency. The subterfuge Iran apparently used to cover up its nuclear program and conclude the 2015 deal with the over-eager and naive Mr Obama is directly relevant to the decision facing Mr Trump. The three European co-signatories, France, Britain and Germany, say the disclosures underscore the need for a deal to be maintained as a bulwark against Tehran resuming its nuclear program. Mr Trump is understandably unimpressed by such arguments. And France, Britain and Germany, while arguing for the US not to abandon the deal, have come around to Mr Trump’s view that it has to be “fixed or nixed”, as Mr Netanyahu says. Iran’s brazen perfidy demands a firm response.