Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
Would there ever be enduring peace and harmony in the Middle East? This is the nagging question following the escalated tensions in the region as the United States and Iran beat the drums of war. Since last week, there have been palpable fears that the war of words between the two foes may end up in bloody fighting.
The fear of the international community was raised to high level after the White House deployed a naval ship, the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf and reports said the Trump administration plans to deploy 120,000 troops to the region to counter any attack on its base by Tehran.
On its part, Iran had threatened to stop some of the commitments it undertook under the 2015 Joint Cooperation Plan Of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement signed by France, Britain, Russia, Germany and China. Precisely, Iran said it will resume uranium manufacturing. Iran said the decision was informed by the burden of the economic sanctions the Trump administration has imposed on it.
Iran has accused France, Britain and Germany of failing to act to halt the US sanctions. Iran gave the UK, France and Germany 60 days to deliver “on their commitments to sanctions relief.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani justified the decision thus: “We felt the (deal) needed surgery and that the year long sedatives have not delivered any result. This surgery is meant to save the (deal) not destroy it.”
The US and Iran returned to the trenches after the Trump administration on May 18, 2008, threw to the dustbin the nuclear deal, saying it was not comprehensive enough, an allegation the rest of the signatories rejected. Rather, they insisted that Iran was complying with the terms of the agreement.
Besides it strategic location, The Middle East is home to the world’s two leading religions, Christianity and Islam. It is of great economic importance to the international community. Ironically, it has remained a troubled region over the years. It has not been able to rise above ethnic and religious bigotry, a development that has made it a theatre of wars.
Rivalry among the nations of the region has made it difficult for the governments to jointly harness its vast and rich natural and human resources for the good of all. Besides the protracted Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Yemen, Iraq and Syria are soaked in civil wars and extremism continues to thrive.
Therefore, a war between the US and Iran could be the mother of all wars in the region. Since the end of World War II, the international community through the United Nations and regional bodies have work hard to prevent another world war. It is for this reason the threats of war between the US and Iran is of concern to all.
Tehran and Washington had tried to justify their respective positions, trading blame for the escalated tensions in the region. Besides accusation of hiding facts on its nuclear programme, the Trump administration has made other frightening allegations against Iran. It blames Iran for the recent terrorist attacks in the region namely: the “sabotage attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf,”the drone attacks on Saudi oil pipeline, threatening to “close the Strait of Hormuz” to shipping from the Gulf, collaborating with Hezbollah to supply a new rocket launch system to Hamas in Gaza to “hit targets inside Israel” and assembling friendly militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan in the country’s Khuzestan Province with the objective of attacking US troops based in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Tehran has denied all the allegations, saying Washington was only finding excuses to justify its aggression against it and its citizens. Iranian ambassador to the United Kingdom who was also involved in the negotiations that led to JCOPA, Hamid Baeidinejad has said his country “was being wrongly framed for the attacks and not for the first time.”His words: “We totally reject this. It is very suspicious to us and we hope an international fact finding mission could really find the reasons for these sabotages which are really suspicious to us.”
Interestingly, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have since claimed responsibility for the attacks on Saudi pipeline. Saudi is the leader of the coalition against the Houthi rebels. Also, Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has dismissed the other allegations as US “propaganda,” saying “with the help of God,” his country would defeat the US and Israel. Israel is in concord with Washington on all the allegations. “We shall not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had boosted. This is expected as Israel and Iran remain arch-enemies.
But how true is the report that President Donald Trump plans to deploy 120,000 troops to the Persian Gulf? The American leader responded thus: “I think it’s fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”Though he has denied the allegation, what is however not in doubt is the fact that he was irked by the decision of Tehran to “stop respecting limits on its nuclear activities.”
The big question. Would the US and Iran go to war? The prospect of a Middle East war is remote. The rhetoric coming from the two governments may be riotous or threatening enough to crack the nerves of peace lovers, especially the troubled people of the region who are already tired of the sounds of guns and the loss of lives and property.
Despite the escalation of tensions, the US and Iran will not go to war. Analysis of the situation so far indicates that Washington’s deployment of its bomber to the Persian Gulf is an act of deterrence and Iran knows this hence it warned that it cannot be cowed. On its part, Tehran is being cautious not to act ‘unreasonably’ to provoke a war situation.
Indeed, both countries are deploying diplomatic tactics that would send a clear message of deterrence to one another. Iran is more concerned about getting sanctions relief than going to war with the US. On the other hand, the US is more concerned about how to restrain Iran from sponsoring extremists and threatening its allies in the region.
Commentators have described Trump as a “populist,” “protectionist” and “nationalist.”A combination of these three attributes quickly explains the boastful and threatening attitude of the American president within and outside the US. On the other hand, Iranian leaders believe their country is the regions ‘superpower’ and therefore it must march force with force if threatened.
It has never accepted that Saudi’s claim of superiority over it. It believes that Trump’s objective is to reduce its geo-political status in favour of Saudi and Israel. Whatever be the disagreement of the Trump administration over the nuclear deal, the president knows that Americans are divided over his action.
A section of Americans, particularly the Democrats and peace advocates strongly believe that Trump’s rejection of the deal was a cunning attack on former President Barrack Obama. Therefore, any attempt to go to war with Iran will receive a backlash from this group(s). Trump knows this too well.
Undoubtedly, Americans heaved a sigh of relief when the Obama administration and its allies succeeded in prevailing on Iran to accept the terms of JCOPA. The thinking at the time was that Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power has been restrained.
Americans would prefer that Washington concentrate on how to improve on the economy than to spend ‘waste’ the nation’s budget on executing a war with Iran. Americans are tired of wars and the loss of their soldiers abroad. This explains reason they were perplexed when the ‘rocket man,’North Korean President Kim Jong-un threatened to hit the US military base of Guam with a “salvo of missiles” if Trump “continues his provocations.”And after his fierce threats, Trump opted for round table talks with Kim. Of course, Trump has said he was open to dialogue with the leader of Iran. Perhaps, Iran would have agreed to hold talks with Trump but for his ‘arrogant’ approach to the matter.
It is of note that the recent threats issued by the Trump administration came at a time he is facing a lot of challenges at home. The Robert Mueller report on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power seems to have ‘rubbished’ him and the Democratic lawmakers and other are now itching for his impeachment even as he has launched his bid for re-election.
It has become the tradition of American presidents to threaten perceived enemies and promoters of extremism during periods they are facing turbulence of one form or the other at home. Such action(s) increase their rating by the electorate.
Americans cannot forget so quickly the outcome of its intervention in Iraq and Syria. Its misadventure in Iraq during former President Saddam Hussein’s rule eventually resulted in Iran gaining a strong foothold in that country. Today, Iran and Iraq are romancing to the extent that Iraq recently shunned the US when it wanted to make it a base for spying on the activities of Iran. Also, Iraq diplomatically dismissed allegations made by the US that some Iran-backed militia groups based in the country were planning to attack its (US) base. Currently the US has about 5,200 troops in Iraq. Spokesmen for two Iran-backed paramilitary groups in Iraq reportedly said “there were no plans to target US forces.”They said “talk of threats was ‘psychological warfare’ by Washington.”
The Shiites would not have gained a foothold in Iraq during the era of Saddam. It was the pro-Saudi Sunni Muslim group that dominated Iraq. Expectedly, the US is not comfortable with the gains Iran has made in Iraq. This is another angle to the US aggression against Iran.
Iran lacks the military capability to go to war with the US. And even if it wants to rely on the support of its allies, it may be difficult because Iranians remain divided over going to war with a world power like America. The people are more concerned with the economy and how to improve it and make life meaningful for them. They are eager to see the US economic sanctions lifted or get tangible sanctions relief from Europe. For them, this is not the time for war.
The Obama administration intervened in Syria in 2015 by sending troops to fight the Islamic State. But the sudden withdrawal of the troops by the Trump administration was trailed by mixed reactions at home. That was because behind the argument of fighting IS was the diplomacy of restraining Russia and its allies including President Bashar al-Assad who has not been in the good books of Washington. Americans opposed to the troop withdrawal felt the action gave Syria to Russia and its allies. But unknown to many was the consideration of the loss of American soldiers to the war. As it is now, Iran, the US and the signatories to the JCOPA may have to continue talking even in the face of the ongoing ranting by the two foes.