As the United States (US) ratchets up its moves to sequester Iran over the nuclear issue, the rest of the world, including Europe, is just watching on, unable to intervene effectively to douse the growing tension in the Persian Gulf.
The situation is a throwback to 2002-03 when Washington hyped the fabrication that Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein was linked to the al-Qaeda and therefore presented a danger to the Western world. Before long, overriding objections from its allies in Europe and disregarding the United Nations Security Council veto, the then Bush administration invaded Iraq, the adverse consequences of which are still playing out 16 years later.
One hopes that the US siege of Iran does not lead to another conflagration. But the tightening of screws on Tehran shows that Washington will stop at nothing to batter Iran while the rest of the world, particularly powerful nations in Europe including Germany, France and the United Kingdom besides Russia cannot do anything to stop the US juggernaut.
The irony is that Iran has faithfully kept its side of the bargain on the nuclear agreement signed in 2015. It acceded to international demands to wind down its uranium enrichment programme, opened its nuclear facilities for inspection and remained true to the deal it signed in a multi-nation agreement led by the US, then under president Barack Obama. No one had reasons for complaint except for Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Israel was upset that its bête noir Tehran had got into the positive side of the US and its Western allies while Saudi Arabia was nervous that the deal would help its rival Iran develop its nuclear programme, even if for peaceful purposes.
The US relaxed its restrictions on Iran, much to the relief of the Middle-Eastern region and Iran’s trading partners including India and China. Everything changed with the advent of Donald Trump as US president in 2017. Among the earliest pronouncements he made was his opposition to the agreement with Iran. Trump, a Conservative leader close to Israel, made it clear he would do everything that would favour the government in Tel Aviv.
In May last, he controversially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shifted the US consulate to this ancient city that is claimed by the Palestinians as the future capital of an independent Arab state.
Trump then turned his sights on Iran, and, in a brazen move, unilaterally walked away from the deal with Tehran in May 2018. The European signatories to the agreement looked on shocked and unable to do anything. The Iranian government, under President Hassan Rouhani, which had defied hard-line pressures from within the country and signed the deal, hoped in vain for support from the other five co-signatories.
What is tragic is that powerful European allies have simply not been able to lobby the Trump administration into changing its mind. Worse, they have been unable to come to Iran’s rescue even as Washington has effectively isolated Tehran and pressured its largest trading partners including India and seven other countries from buying Iranian oil. It is as if there is no power on Earth to stop the US from carrying out what is patently an unjustified act – of punishing a nation that has done no wrong.
The only exception has been China which has bluntly refused to follow Washington’s diktat to stop buying oil from Iran. But Beijing’s resistance ends there. It’s clout has not reached a stage where it can influence other nations to follow suit. New Delhi, in a predictably weak-kneed response, has already caved in to Trump’s demand and is now looking for alternative supplies of oil.
Iran initially hoped that its top trading partners would work out alternatives so as to continue buying oil. One that could possibly work is the INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) and that is the only sliver of hope – this is a parallel supply-payment chain via Europe that avoids the US, but hasn’t yet taken off. All indications are that the US will clamp down on this one too.
Tehran has attempted to sell oil in the grey market which basically means selling at deep discounts and through private companies. It has also threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a seaway for global oil transportation. In response, the US has sent in its powerful armada to the Persian Gulf. This includes an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and the Patriot anti-missile system.
Faced with little options, Tehran has announced it will resume certain elements of its nuclear activity which it had halted following the multiparty agreement. European signatories have asked Iran not to do so as that would play into Trump’s hands, but the situation is fast escalating with Tehran forced to react against US aggression.
Isolated and with no country able to provide support, Tehran has to take care of its security even if it means dabbling in nuclear activity that it had forsaken.
The issue is just not Iran’s nuclear programme. The US appears to be wreaking revenge on Iran for Tehran’s pivotal role in supporting with military aid and personnel the Bashar-al-Assad government in Syria. Iran’s actions had helped the Assad regime survive the eight-year brutal civil war. Iran has also supported the rebel Houthi-led government in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas in Gaza, the last two of which are sworn enemies of Israel. The Trump administration has indicated Iran must give up its anti-US role in the region for sanctions to be lifted.
Iran has a strong hold over the Shia-dominated government in neighbouring Iraq, and spiritual influence over the Shia community there. Tehran, in recent years, has also developed close ties with Qatar and Turkey, both of which are allies of the US. In other words, Iran is no pushover and cannot be easily bullied into submission which implies that there is every reason for the situation to snowball into a major crisis.