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The Threat of Iran

Helmut Sorge | Posted : September 03, 2018

Bedrohung durch Iran


The President should have known better and reflected longer before firing verbal ballistic missiles towards the White House. No, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani got lost in some delusions other authoritarian leaders suffer from as well. “Iran’s power is deterrence,” the President of Iran insisted. “We have no fight or war with anyone but the enemies must understand well that war with Iran is the mother of all wars, and peace with Iran is the mother of all peace. We have never been intimidated- and respond threat with threat.” He further continued and addressed President Donald Trump directly, when he said, “don’t play with the lion’s tail, you will regret it. Know your words and their consequences.” 

Donald Trump, to no surprise to anyone due to his megalomaniac personality, did not hesitate to engage with Tehran, threatening on Twitter (where else), and in capital letters, a Trump-issued warning not polished in anyway by diplomatic sensitivities: 



The threat of total annihilation is not a new weapon in Trump’s verbal arsenal. Prior to Iran, North Korea heard of the warning by President Trump of promises of “fire and fury and the world have never seen,” which would wipe the nation off the map and annihilate Korea out of modern history. 

“This is moving quickly,” noted Suzanne Maloney, Iran expert and Deputy Director of the Policy Program at Brookings Institution, “The President has an establishment around him that seems eager for some kind of dust up with Iran.” Cowboy language and Wild West attitude has taken over dialogue between Tehran and Washington, the High Noon documented in one of the great Hollywood Western movies. 

A military confrontation was then later urgently proposed by Saudi Arabia and Israel, united in an unusual complicity through one common enemy: Iran. John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, who prior to his appointment at the White House asked for military action against Iran, believes that “this regime is on very shaky ground. The real question is whether the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the ayatollahs will use force against their own people.” 

The question is that if they do, will the US have the 82nd Airborne Division jump and save the souls of the brave people of Iran? Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli Defense minister, recalled that when Bolton was US ambassador to the UN, the American diplomat had tried to convince Mofaz that “Israel needs to attack Iran.” 

The question the sinister Mr. Bolton did not ask was which kind of government would replace the ruling theocrats? Elimination, as Washington learned the hard way, with the removal of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Kaddafi, is the simple solution leading to difficult answers and, more often than not, into chaos. The destabilization of the Middle East is not only the result of an idealistic, almost romantic Arab Spring (which, ironically, led to an unexpected winter) but if Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s regime eventually falls and he faces the International Court of Justice for accusations of genocide and war crimes against the Syrian people, who will step in to replace him? Will ISIS regroup, or some unknown mullah step in and will they be repressive and militant? Or some general, a confident of Putin? The consequences of further escalation may lead to further destabilization, perhaps a ballistic attack by Tehran on infrastructure to  perhaps the of Saudi Arabia, which can be reached with its Zolfaghars (435 mile range) or the Shahab 3 (that has a 994 mile reach). Who knows? Perhaps new sanctions will be imposed in early November, blocking all international oil deals with Iran possibly leading to desperate actions from the latter to, for example, restrict passage through the Strait of Hormuz, a major sea passage which sits between the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman. Iran’s Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has been armed with a large fleet of fast attack crafts, which include various types of small speedboats that can be armed with 107 mm rockets as well as heavy machine guns and anti-ship cruise missiles. These boats can also be loaded with explosive devices and used in Kamikaze style strikes. The possible involvement of the United States in a military show down with Iran could cause global military tensions a very real possibility of war. 


President Trump’s vituperative tweet only deepened questions about the long-term course of direction in American-Iranian politics. One day, the American President offers a direct meeting with the Iranian enemy “without preconditions” and a meeting “anywhere,” but in another tweet, President Trump would contemplate the elimination of the theocrat, wiping the noble nation and its 80 million citizens right off the map. 

Daniel Glaser, a former Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes stated, “Sanctions are a tool. They are not a policy. Despite US protestations to the contrary, US goals remain unclear, and the strategy by which it intends to achieve these goals remain unclear as well.” Trump, though, never changed his conviction that the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA - Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), signed by the world’s six major powers (Britain, US, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Community), and probably the most significant nonproliferation pact for more than a quarter century, was “a horrible, one sided deal that should never, ever been made.” 

One man, who pushed Trump to abandon any agreement with devilish Iran, and as top priority the nuclear treaty is Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was invited in early 2015 by Republicans to speak at the US Congress and he declared before a joint session, “This is a bad deal, a very bad deal.” Israel, which is a nuclear power itself, feared that in a decade or so, Iran would be free, and have the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. Saudi Arabia announced that if their archenemy obtained an Atomic bomb they would follow suit.

“The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat,” reported BBC commentator Jonathan Marcus. The crown prince seems “willing to take whatever action he sees necessary wherever he deems it necessary to confront Tehran’s rising influence.” This implies the possibility of a less secret approach towards cooperation with Israel.  

Didn’t the Saudi speak publicly the other day of Israel’s right to live peacefully in their own nation? A recognition of the legitimacy of the Jewish State. In private, the New Yorker learned, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia apparently said that “he was prepared to have a full relationship with Israel.”
Did the brash Prince show anger in public once Donald Trump decided to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem, for which the Jewish-American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelman paid the Republican Party and Trumps election campaign 93 million dollars? Not really.  Wasn’t Netanyahu informed before any Arab leader through secret channels, probably by Jared Kushner, about the decision in Washington to scrap the Iran nuclear deal? A decision the crown prince had asked Presidential candidate Trump to take.

Israel’s PM Netanyahu promoted, on Fox News, a closer relationship with the Arab nation and stated, “Iran is in conflict with us, Iran is in conflict with the United States, Iran is in conflict with about all Arab States in the Middle East. I think we should unite together under President Trump’s leadership to kick Iran out of Syria.” 

This public declaration camouflaged another reality. The Secret Services of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are, for some time now, cooperating with Israel’s inner and external intelligence services, Shin Bet and Mossad. The Times of Israel commented on the relationship between Israel and the Arab nation and stated the “slowly warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh” can hardly be denied anymore. Before the inauguration of Trump, Netanyahu had taken the bold step of dispatching Yossi Cohen, the current Director of the Mossad, to Washington. Cohen briefed the designated National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn on the Iranian threat, in an attempt to insure that the two governments would be closely aligned in their approach. The leaders of the Arab nations involved are still reluctant to meet publicly with Netanyahu, but when Mohammed bin-Zayed of Abu Dhabi was informed that fighter jets ordered in the US had technology on board, made in Israel, the UAE leader could care less. His fight against a common enemy had priority -- Iran. In an interview, broadcast by Saudi Arabian media, Israel’s high-ranking General, Gadi Eizenkot, confirmed Israel's willingness “to exchange experience with moderate Arab countries and exchange intelligence to confront Iran on certain matters.”

The Iran deal, which was destroyed by the Trump-led government, limited Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for relief from some, but not all, punitive US economic sanctions. Trump believes he can pressure Iran to sign a better deal, by isolating the country economically. Any foreign company dealing in, or with, Tehran also must fear Washington’s sanctions, halting economic activities by the US itself. Economic giants like Total in France, and Germany’s Siemens, have announced they will stop doing business in Iran. “The lack of unified foreign support though (China promised continued oil purchases from Iran, as is India) for the sanctions will mean lots of loopholes and more complicated enforcement,” predicts Richard Nephew, author of The Art of Sanctions, and lead sanctions expert for the Obama administration. 

“Large energy companies that withdraw from Iran,” Nephew believes, “are likely to be replaced by smaller operations that will be able to ‘potentially operate with impunity in Iran, muting sanctions impact long term’” (Wright, The New Yorker, 2018). John Bolton, Trump's advisor, promises “unprecedented pressure” on the Islamic Republic, according to the New Yorker article. 


“In a high-risk gamble,” wrote Robin Wright in her article published on the New Yorker, “the President is basically betting on the Islamic Republic’s demise.” With the withdrawal from the treaty in May of this year, Trump violated the obligations by the US, since Iran, according to ten International Atomic Energy Agency reports, has not. 

“The credibility of the White House, the country’s commitment to diplomacy as an alternative to war, the strength of America’s alliances,” Robin Wright reported, “and the mechanism to limit nuclear proliferation have all been deeply damaged.” 

Supported by the co-signers of the nuclear deal and, for the time being, united in their opposition against the Trump decision, Iran has resisted the temptation to restart their nuclear project. Despite further sanctions projected by the US for early November, and the loss of 8o percent of its currencies value in one year, Iran’s president is not giving in to Washington’s pressure – yet. 

“Today, speaking with the US has no meaning except surrender,” Hassan Rouhani declared. 

The newest American sanctions bar any transaction with Iran involving dollars, gold, precious metals, aluminum, steel, coal, commercial passenger aircraft (early august five 70 seat turboprop passenger planes built by a French/Italian consortium landed just in sanction avoiding  time at the international airport of Tehran). Europe’s foreign ministers informed the Trump government that their nations were “determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran.” India reacted harshly when Washington asked its government to reduce its important oil imports from Iran by November to zero. The administrations “hostile rhetoric rings hollow,” feels Clint Watts, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “especially if Iran does not go back to the negotiating table.” Which, for the time being, seems improbable?

There is more than just the nuclear deal which is motivating Iran, the Shiite nation to challenge Saudi Arabia, the regional Sunni power, guardian of the holy Islam sites. They are struggling for power and influence in a region, which redraws it, borders and the ownership of oil fields. “This is not simply, or even primarily, a religious struggle. It’s a political and economic one, a fight for control of resources and dominance in a politically fraught region,” reported Amanda Erickson in her article published on the Washington Post.

The US-led invasion in 2003 of Iraq caused insecurities in Saudi Arabia -- the death of the Sunni-Arab Saddam Hussein, a declared enemy of Iran, cleared the way for the rise of Iraq’s majority Shiites. Washington, no doubt, shares the responsibility for Iran’s growing dominance in the region and the Iran-phobia in Riyadh. The invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq by Washington was not just a  failure of leadership, but an error of unbelievable proportions, leading to  repercussions still seen today -- countries destroyed, millions homeless and generations lost in the ruins of folly. The American-British invasion, the occupation of Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein was not only a historic drama, but also a scam, a triumph of cynicism, for which none of the invaders ever asked for a pardon.


Conservatives in Trump’s entourage, like the former CIA director - now Secretary of State - Mike Pompeo, not only demands Iran's ayatollahs (the “Hypocritical Holy Men”), to stop nuclear missile testing (which is not part of the original deal signed three  years ago), he also demanded the stop of any nuclear enrichment, and for Iran to the retreat troops from Syrian soil. Pompeo also demanded the end of the support of the Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and finally the end of arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the release of all political prisoners.  In other words, to retreat from the world stage or, at the very least, abandon all of their Middle Eastern political activities. Like it or not, the Shia-led Iran is a powerhouse in the region. Through proxy forces in Yemen, the Houthi, issuing their support of Dictator Basher al-Assad (in his struggle against rebel fighters financed by the US and Saudi Arabia), the UAE and Qatar, Iran is a major political actor in the region. “Is it possible to make any important decisions on Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, North Africa and the Persian Gulf?” boasted the Iranian president at the end of last year. The honest answer is no. Because of Iran’s uninhibited demonstration of power and its unusual alliances blooming, private meetings at the estate of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia on Seychelles Island in Eastern Africa, or a modest office of the Council on Foreign Relations in DC took place. There, Anwar Eshki, a retired Major General in the Saudi military forces discussed with Dore Gold, a former ambassador close to Netanyahu, their “common interests in opposing Iran.” Moreover, representatives of the United Arab Emirates met secretly with Israelis on Cyprus, supposedly in the presence of Netanyahu, to discuss strategies on how best to oppose Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Washington was not informed.

Since 2011, first in Syria and then in Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabian proxy forces have been in constant brutal engagement. “Both sides though seem to have concluded that a direct war isn't in their main interests,” writes Foreign Policy magazine, “with neither having ever directly attacked the other.” However, there has always been a risk of escalation and that risk has been heightening dramatically, because of the US’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. 

“Now, Saudi [Arabian] Foreign and Security Policy have gone into overdrive”, noted Emile Hakyem, Senior fellow for Middle East Security at the International Institute, “Rather  than carefully pushing back Iran and enrolling  broad support for this effort, the approach has been haphazard, unsettling and counterproductive—and Iran remains one step ahead.” Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, which has led to many human rights violations, as seen in the numerous headlines concerning Saudi Jets, delivered by the US, dropping bombs on school buses or playgrounds. It has been costly and inconclusive. “It could lead to the very outcome that Riyadh most wanted to prevent:  the   transformation of the Houthi movement into something akin to Lebanon’s Hezbollah-except much closer to the Saudi borders.” 

In December of last year, rockets were fired from Yemen towards populated areas all over Saudi Arabia, and were rumored to supposedly have been delivered to the Houthi rebels by Iran, which for the Saudis represented an act of war. The Patriot missile interceptors had intercepted some of the rockets – since the Saudis had refused delivery the Iron Dome rocket defense technology offered by Israel. For the first time in June, Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting in Syria, fired rockets at  Israel, which responded with a barrage of air strikes on Iran’s extensive infrastructure across the border. A few years ago, Iran began using its proxies, possibly disgruntled Shia, to smuggle roadside bombs into Saudi Arabia’s oil rich eastern province, which has a majority Shiite population, disgruntled with their second-class citizen role in Saudi society. Iranian meddling in the eastern province, confirmed Washington Post reporter Amanda Erickson “is somewhat like the Soviets putting nukes in Cuba.” Tension is guaranteed.


Insecurity is spreading and  new alliances are urgently organized and none more surprising than the two countries which opposed the Iran nuclear deal most resolutely—Saudi Arabia and Israel .The two nations, supposedly, are even cooperating in the construction of an upcoming drone-assembly plant in Saudi Arabia, officially  developed in cooperation  with South Africa. Apparently, the reality is more complex: the drones, manufactured in Israel, are then shipped to South Africa, where they are disassembled and shipped to Saudi Arabia, where they are reassembled again, Made in Saudi Arabia

The United Arab Emirates are assisting Egyptian troops, who have been fighting Islamic State militants on the Sinai Peninsula with help of Israeli military aircraft and intelligence services. Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was once asked about his ideological approach towards the Jewish-state, to which he responded: “Israel has never attacked us.” He then further described their common goals, “We share a common enemy—Iran.” 

The supreme religious leader of the enemy state, Ali Khamenei, warned Saudi Arabia about how the “movement toward negotiations with the cheating, lying, and oppressive regime of Israel is a big, unforgivable mistake.” For him, anti-Americanism is his Leitmotif, enshrining his own legacy. He is adamant, certain to never speak to the US President: “Trump will wither away, perish, and his body will decompose, but the Islamic Republic will still be thriving.”


Time will tell -- it seems certain that the momentum of some kind of bigger showdown is building. In a tweet, Mohsen Rezaei, who was once the Commander of the Revolutionary Guards and a former Presidential candidate, reminded Washington that fifty thousand US troops are in target range for Iran’s weaponry, including US troops deployed in Afghanistan, which borders Iran, or Iraq and Syria (where Americans and Iranians are deployed to help rival sides of the conflict).

“A Saudi-Iran war would not be about territory or a regime change by force,” predicts Afshon Ostovar, author of Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics and Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards, and Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at Naval Postgraduate School. “Neither side can take the fight across the Persian Gulf, much less seize and hold strategic area in adversarial territory. The conflict would be about inflicting damage to both, punish the other side and compel it to cease hostile behavior.” The caveat is that even if the two nation-states are evenly matched, the military power that the United States could bring to bear would heavily tilt a conflict in Saudi Arabia’s favor. In other words, as Ostovar states: “…it would be incredibly risky for Iran to court escalation with Saudi Arabia. Such a conflict likely wouldn’t involve just Saudi Arabia, and Iran does not possess the capabilities to outlast a coalition military effort against it.”

Riyadh and Washington are undeniably converging right now when it comes to Iran issue, but that does not amount to a common strategy, judged Emile Hokayem. “Iran has the networks, expertise, experience and strategic patience required to fight and win proxy wars at low cost and with plenty of disingenuous deniability…The Saudis simply don’t, which is why seeking to beat the Iranians at this game is dangerous and costly.”

Possibly the Jewish nation, Israel, will help the Gulf States to survive the  challenges posed by Iran, if the Arabs are able to explain to their citizens, why the Jews, the eternal enemy, the oppressors of the Palestinian people, have to save the souls of the children of Islam. About  a year ago a former Israeli Defense minister, Mosche Ya‘alon stated: “We and the Arabs, the same Arabs who organized in a coalition in the Six-Day War to try to destroy the Jewish state, today find themselves in the same boat with us … The Sunni Arab countries, apart from Qatar, are largely in the same boat with us since we all see a nuclear Iran as the number one threat against all of us.”

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