Declaration of War

Trump is taking on more than he or his allies can handle by trying to throttle Iran 

By Abdel Bari Atwan

The first tranche of the economic sanctions which Donald Trump decreed against Iran came into effect at 0400 GMT on Tuesday morning. It consists of a halt to all US financial transactions with the country and to auto and aircraft sales, plus secondary sanctions against foreign countries and companies that trade with Iran. This is to precede the second phase to be applied from November aimed at halting all Iran’s oil and gas exports. Trump later warned that anyone doing business with Iran would not be doing business with the US, and described the package of sanctions as “the most biting ever.”

This amounts to a declaration of war. It will cause turmoil worldwide, as many countries – notably the member-states of the European Union (EU) and India, China and Turkey – have officially announced that they will not comply with these sanctions.

Trump affirmed on Sunday while proclaiming that the sanctions were coming into effect, that he was prepared to hold a comprehensive and unconditional dialogue with the Iranians to reach a new deal on nuclear and other matters. Israeli papers have suggested that such talks could be held in New York next month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, should Iranian President Hassan Rohani consent to take part. But it is unlikely that any such meetings will be held in public. The presence in Washington of Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin-Alawi and his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could indicate that secret talks in Muscat are being considered, like those that led to the original nuclear agreement. Trump only ups the verbal ante in order to negotiate, and the Iranians will understand that.

What Trump wants from the Iranians is complete surrender. He seeks a new deal that includes a final and permanent cessation of all nuclear enrichment activities; the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure; the scrapping of its missile programmes; an end to all forms of support to its paramilitary allies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization in Iraq; disbanding the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); plus a full withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria. He knows it would be impossible for the Iranians to accept these conditions. If they opt for negotiations, be they secret or public, it would only be to gain time and strengthen their hand.

Rohani turned down eight offers to meet with Trump, and he is unlikely to accept this ninth, public, offer. He has made clear that Iran is willing to reach a serious peace deal, but if that were not possible then the ‘mother of wars’ would ensue. The IRGC’s Qods Force commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, meanwhile threatened to block the straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb if war broke out and target the 50,000 American troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The firing of missiles at a Saudi warship by Houthi forces in Yemen was a signal that these warnings are serious.

The Trump Administration wants to change the Iranian regime itself and not merely its behaviour, as US National Security Advisor John Bolton has acknowledged. It is trying to apply a scenario similar to those that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq and the NATO military intervention in Libya. This is why Trump’s advisor Rudi Giuliani promised participants at the Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e-Khalq group’s conference in Paris that he would see them again in Tehran in a year’s time.

Putting this plan into action presents the members of the so-called ‘Arab NATO’ – which Trump wants the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to form along with Jordan and Egypt – with serious, and possibly existential, difficulties. Most if not all of these countries, especially the Gulf states, can neither say “no” to Trump nor afford to comply with his orders. That would undermine the economy of the UAE which has eight billion dollars worth of annual trade with Iran. The same can be said about Qatar, which has been heavily reliant on using Iran’s ports and airspace to break the siege imposed on it by its neighbours.

Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, described talks with the US as a useless waste of time because Trump does not keep his word, and demanded he reverses his decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement before talking about any meetings. This stance has been repeatedly reiterated by President Rohani, most recently in an interview with Russia’s RT channel on Monday.

We do not want to pre-empt developments, but all the signs indicate that the Gulf region will be a scene of mutual muscle-flexing between Iran and the US in the days to come as the two sides try to take each others’ pulse. But these could easily escalate. If Iran were to make good on the threat made by IRCG Commander Gen. Hassan Jaafari that his forces will not permit a single barrel of oil to be shipped out of the Gulf if Iran’s exports are halted, that would make war as a last resort almost inevitable.

In his RT interview, his first reaction to the imposition of US sanctions, Rohani said Russia and China had promised to adhere to their existing economic agreements with Iran. This is a slap in the face of Trump and his allies, especially his Arab clients and Israel – whose prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has assumed complete control over the US president and dictates all his policies and decisions in the Middle East. Rohani also reiterated that nothing could be hoped for from talks held while sanctions are in place and that any negotiations with Washington should be based on honesty and aim at achieving results.

With two major powers on its side alonåg with India, Turkey and the EU, Iran will not be standing alone. Trump’s adventure, therefore, seems set for failure, possibly leading to military defeat and perhaps the US president’s personal undoing too.

Many in the region who have been victims of US and Israeli arrogance will be hoping for that.