Donald Trump kept a campaign promise and withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal which he views as fatally flawed. As a result sanctions against Iran are to be reinstated. Announcing his decision, Trump said: ‘This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.’
Trump identified as major flaws the ‘sunset’ clauses, under which key provisions expire after 10-15 years, and inadequate inspection and verification measures. Also the important fact that Iran’s ballistic missile programmes and other troubling behaviour were not addressed.
Whilst the US exit does not kill off the rest of the deal, it is not clear whether there is enough incentive on the part of Iran to sustain the agreement with the other signatories. Relief from US banking sanctions was a principle reason for Tehran to come to the table.
The reaction has been predictable. Trump’s announcement drew a chorus of opposition from Europe, whose leaders had lobbied him feverishly not to pull out of the agreement and had searched for fixes to it that would satisfy him. The leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement expressing ‘regret and concern’ and pledging their ‘continuing commitment’ to the terms of the agreement.
It also drew a public rebuke from Barack Obama, who once again defied the convention that past presidents do not publicly criticise sitting presidents. Obama said Mr Trump’s withdrawal left the world less safe, confronting it with ‘a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East’.
The only people who initially opposed the deal and who now support Trump’s withdrawal from it are those most likely to be affected by it. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have all welcomed the announcement. It takes something remarkable to have these Muslim states agreeing with Israel.
In withdrawing from the deal, Trump was looking to the future. ‘The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen,’ Trump said at the White House. ‘In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.’
Yet such has been the support for the Iran deal in the media that we could be forgiven for thinking that Iran has been acting responsibly since it was agreed three years ago. One could imagine that owing to Trump’s action a rare harmonious moment of calm and peace in the Middle East has been placed in jeopardy.
To be of any use, a deal requires good faith on both sides. Sanctions were lifted by the West and an opening was created for Iran to follow a more conciliatory course and attempt to reach détente with its neighbours. The evidence indicates that Iran has taken a very different path. The economic benefits of sanctions relief have enabled it to pursue its regional aims more effectively, in the course of which Tehran has continued to pursue horrendous terror campaigns.
In Yemen it has supported the Houthi rebels who, in their attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government, have created a humanitarian disaster. In Lebanon it has subsidised the takeover of the country by the Palestinian terror group Hamas for which it is a major supplier of funds and weaponry. In Syria, whilst supporting the Assad regime, Tehran has been stockpiling weapons capable of hitting all of Israel’s major towns.
Iran’s military involvement in southern Lebanon and Syria has put Tehran on a collision course with Israel. Intelligence officials estimated there was a 50-50 chance of Israel being involved in a direct military confrontation with Iran. We have seen the odds shorten drastically when Iran moved from a war fought by proxies to its troops in Syria launching a barrage of 20 rockets against the Golan Heights earlier this week. Israel then sent in airstrikes to take out Iranian positions in the most extensive attacks since the two nations signed a disengagement agreement after the October War of 1973.
Whilst busy doing all this Iran has continued to develop its own long-range missiles. And the chants of ‘Death to America’ have never ceased. The argument that by withdrawing from the deal Trump has destroyed the possibility for constructive dialogue with Iran is risible. That possibility did not exist.
Iran claims it wants a more constructive relationship with the outside world. Judging by its recent conduct in the Middle East, its real intention is to achieve regional hegemony by exporting its uncompromising approach to Islam throughout the Muslim world, with grave consequences for the West.
In which case, whether or not Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal the West would be facing a confrontation with Iran sooner or later. Perhaps it is better to have that confrontation before Iran is even stronger than it is today.
In effect, under the previous deal Iran was paid to act responsibly. Perhaps Trump has been reading Kipling, who got it right:
‘. . . once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.’