Iran doesn't want Trump's 'deal of the century' — and its revenge tactics go far beyond official warfare

At a press conference, Trump called on the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China to come back to the negotiating table with him alongside Iran. He's bold, but he's also very naive

Faisal Bodi
Wednesday 08 January 2020 22:47 GMT
Donald Trump says US continues to look at its options and will impose 'powerful' economic sanctions on Iran

With last weekend's assassination of the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, President Trump has torn up the rulebook governing the managed conflict that has characterised relations between Tehran and Washington. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the arch-enemies have largely been content with sponsoring proxy wars using surrogate armies, establishing influence via regional clients and, in Washington's case, waging an on-off economic war of attrition.

Just 18 months after coming to power, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2013 international nuclear treaty with Tehran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), an agreement reached after years of excruciating negotiations which set the antagonists on a path of rapprochement. He followed it up by re-imposing crippling economic sanctions targeting the country and states that traded with it.

The restoration of sanctions was supposed to bring Iran begging on its knees to the negotiating table where it would meekly abandon its civilian nuclear programme and sign up to Trump's "deal of the century" for “Middle East peace” — essentially financial inducements for the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states in exchange for accepting the political status quo.

It has proved to be every much as foolish a miscalculation as Trump’s “more of the same” speech today in which he urged the other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to follow his lead. At a White House press conference a few hours ago, he said that “the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China [should] break away from the remnants” of the deal and work with him on a new one instead.

Leaving aside the fact that the Palestinians themselves rejected Trump’s initial “deal of the century” outright, there was no reason to think that a country that defied two previous paralysing rounds of US sanctions — and an eight-year long US-inspired war waged by Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s, in which it lost a quarter of a million lives — would simply raise the white flag. Other international powers have come round to recognising this fiercely independent national spirit and built it into their diplomatic strategies.

Trump broke from the policy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, not because the nuclear deal is full of holes as he claims, but because his administration cannot countenance the existence of a non-compliant Muslim country in western Asia. This is the reason why dozens of US military bases continue to encircle Iran. They are a daily reminder to Tehran of US regional hegemony and the existential threat it poses to the Islamic Republic.

Trump was, however, right about one thing in his speech. The response of the international community is crucial to peace. Not by exhibiting a vicarious satisfaction in his illegal use of military force, as the British government has done, or demanding Tehran return unilaterally to the nuclear deal as France and Germany have done (after Soleimani's killing, Iran announced that it will no longer be bound by any of its restrictions) but by convincing their most powerful ally that the way forward is to stop bullying Iran and respect its sovereign right to develop a civilian nuclear programme.

Tehran’s retaliation may have satiated the Iranian public’s thirst for revenge while being measured enough to allow Trump to claim victory in this latest duel. But if history has demonstrated anything, it is that Iran is a deft hand at asymmetric warfare. The longer Washington attempts to intimidate Iran, the more likely it is that the long hand of Tehran will seek soft targets outside the immediate theatre of conflict.

When suspected Israeli assassins killed an Iranian nuclear scientist in rush hour traffic in Tehran in 1982, retaliation came in the form of bomb attacks against Israeli diplomats in Thailand, Georgia and India. Ten years later when the IDF assassinated the secretary general of Hezbollah, Abbas al-Mousawi, in Lebanon, revenge came in the form of car bomb attacks against the Israeli embassy and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires two years apart.

The US has cast Iran as the Great Satan ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which saw the overthrow of the Shah, the fulcrum of Washington’s Middle East policy. It undoubtedly sees its work in Iran as unfinished business. But by playing the long game, the Islamic Republic has outlasted six US presidents and not only survived but grown to become the dominant regional player. There is every likelihood that it will also outlast the bumbling administration of Donald Trump.

Faisal Bodi is the media officer of the Islamic Human Rights Commission as well as a former senior editor for Al-Jazeera

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