There is World -Wide condemnation from Governments and media of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Nuclear Agreement with Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Instead of joining the outcry, it is interesting to try and discern the logic behind it and understand why President Trump rejected this year an agreement that he had approved last year. The answer that Trump is an impulsive decision maker is not satisfactory. No President of the US can take this kind of monumental decisions alone. This has been elaborated by a team and it is obvious that it bears the Shield of Official American Policy, in spite of Mattis earlier disagreement. It is certainly not a Trumpian whim, it is supported both by Bolton and Pompeo and a score of lesser policy makers.
The answer to why this decision was taken, is that it is not about the Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA).
There are three principal Countries whose interests and actions influenced, if not dictated, this decision of the USA:
Iran, Israel and Russia.
Iran is the primary cause. When the deal was signed by the Obama administration and the rest of the participants, in July 2015, a windfall of 10 billion dollars of financial assets was made available to Iran, while its Oil exports became free of constraints.
This empowered Iran to expand aggressively in Iraq and Syria. Iran did not use this money to improve the life of its Citizens rather used it as a means to further expand its presence in Syria, further arm Hezbollah, strengthen its proxy in Yemen and develop long range ballistic missiles.
All that was felt as a threat by Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Arab States. The GCC States showed their displeasure by the absence of King Salman and King Hamas from the Camp David meeting and their intervention in Yemen, without coordination with the USA.
The Israeli reaction was more pressing inside the political establishment of the USA, to the extent that the Obama Presidency in 2016, to improve its icy relations with Israel, granted to Israel the biggest military package aid ever, 38 billion dollars.
When the Trump administration took over, it reversed the previous Obama policy, embracing wholeheartedly the Israeli and the GCC point of view. It also aligned against one of them i.e. Qatar, essentially but not only, for its friendly relations with Iran.
However, the most important reversal of the Obama policy in the area is, that the Trump administration, gave the blankest of blank cheques to Israel.
The relations of USA with Israel are at its highest point ever. This allowed, among others, the orchestration of the Mediatic top performance of Prime Minister Netanyahu against Iran.
Israel, with total absence of strategic depth, feels choked by the recent advances of Iran. Iran, according to the sober ex-Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, has already supplied Hezbollah with 140.000 rockets, aimed at Israel, is currently establishing clusters of another 100,000 rockets in Syria and has recently threatened that its ballistic missiles can hit Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The recent extensive escalation by Israel of its direct now confrontation with Iran would not have taken place if the third parameter was not favorable – Russia.
Russia is the Country that saved the Assad regime. It has a vital interest to keep this regime in power, as this is the guarantee of the existence of the only two bases Russia has in the Med, both in Syria, Tartus and Latakia.
The Netanyahu-Putin agreement is vital for Israel. Moscow does not wish for a further expansionist presence of Iran in Syria. To emphasize this, the Russians invited Netanyahu to be in the podium, together with Putin, during the great parade in Moscow, commemorating the Russian Victory over Nazi Germany.
Putin was very clear in his salute to Netanyahu. As Al Monitor reports:
‘’I would like to once again express my gratitude to you for finding it possible to visit Moscow on our Victory Day. … We know how the Israelis, and Jewish people in general, relate to the events of the war. And this attitude unites us in many respects,” Putin told Netanyahu.
The Russian side also made a symbolic gesture: In the stands between Putin and Netanyahu, the Kremlin seated a Russian war veteran who helped liberate the Auschwitz concentration camp. Netanyahu said: “Not for a minute should we forget the sacrifices made by these soldiers … who represented the entire Russian people, and among them were around half a million Jews who fought in the war”.
He used that reference to move to the very core of his visit: “Not for a second do we forget this very important history lesson: When such a murderous ideology emerges, we must fight back against it before it is too late … [as] 73 years after the Holocaust, there is still a country in the Middle East, Iran, which openly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel”.
Putin could not have been more explicit. He even promised to reconsider the supply of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
The devastating hit of Israel to the Iranian ammunition bases in Syria had full Russian clearance.
The Israeli Military went further, by making public their open communication channels with the Russian forces in Syria, warning them in advance of attacks, to avoid harming inadvertently, Russian personnel or installations.
All this would not have happened without prior American agreement.
There is also another political factor that entered American calculation.
Iran is overextended and Iran is alone. Nobody would fight alongside Iran. The North Korean case does not apply. Iran does not have a semi-crypto strong backer, like North Korea has, China.
Europe supports the Iranian Nuclear agreement for reasons of economic self-interest.
The numbers as presented by Ian Bremmer are revealing:
Value of goods imported and exported to Iran:
The economic interest alone is enough for the EU to try and salvage the Nuclear Agreement but it is not enough for the EU to side with Iran. Together with Russia, they might however provide Iran with the political “fig leaf” necessary for Iran to continue to keep its side of the Nuclear Agreement.
Iran is facing also its own internal troubles. A problematic Economy which will rapidly worsen with the new Sanctions. In the last six months the exchange rate for the dollar in the black market has doubled. A dissatisfied population, is not willing any more to suffer privations, for the realization of the Iranian Imperial Dream. The internal struggle between reformers and fundamentalists is continuous. Iran is in a political cul-de-sac.
The only way out is for Iran and the USA to start again secret diplomatic negotiations. It is for everybody concerned the best way forward. Trump has shown that he has no compunctions to negotiate in private, the opposite of his rhetoric in public.
As things are now if Iran fights with Israel, it will lose. Then the only outlet for its frustration will be the return to terrorism support. That will signal its geostrategic defeat.
Unless some ultras prevail, Iran will not go to extremes in its confrontation with Israel.
We must also hope that Israel will show restraint and will not exploit to the full its superior tactical position at present, calculating also its future strategic situation.
There is still hope that a big war may be avoided.
Of course, there is always the possibility of the irrational.