24 November 2020   1 comment

Paranoia Alert

Readers should take this post with a huge grain of salt. I will readily confess that my analysis is driven by my fear of an armed attack on Iranian nuclear facilities before President Trump leaves office. It is not a likely possibility but there are disturbing patterns in the conduct of American foreign policy right now.

First, there is considerable evidence that the Trump Administration has been focused on “unfinished business” as he prepares to leave office. Two elements of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy are crystal clear after his four years in office. First, he has been especially solicitous of Israeli interests: moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain; the decision to assert that Israeli settlements do not pose an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians; the decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights which were once part of Syria; cutting all funding to the Palestinians through the UN Relief and Works Agency, the Agency for International Development, and financial aid for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem; the closing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization consulate in Washington, DC; the decision to label the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic; and switching the US terminology for the Occupied Territories to the Israeli-preferred terms of Judea and Samaria.

Second, the Trump Administration has also been solicitous of Saudi Arabian interests. Saudi Arabia was the first country Mr. Trump visited as a new President. The Trump Administration has also pushed for very large weapons sales to Saudi Arabia (and is pressing for similar aid to Kuwait and the UAE). And the Trump Administration did not impose any sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Kashogghi nor has it pushed hard to stop the Saudi slaughter of Yemeni citizens.

Third, both Israel and Saudi Arabia regard Iran as an existential threat. Israel fears an Iranian nuclear capability since it would cancel out the military superiority that Israel currently holds over every other state in the Middle East. Israel also fears Iranian proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Iranian influence in Iraq. Saudi Arabia fears Iranian subversion of the many Shia Muslims who live in Saudi Arabia and regards them as a highly destabilizing 5th column. The Washington Post explains:

“That has changed for the oldest of diplomatic reasons: self-interest. The Iranian regime views both Israel and the Sunni gulf kingdoms as illegitimate and has worked tirelessly to bring them down. Tehran also funds terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, and rebel groups such as those in Yemen, to put military pressure on Saudi Arabia and Israel. This alone brings these two together.

“Iran’s attempt to bring Iraq fully under its sway particularly presents threats to the Saudis and the gulf kingdoms. Iraq shares extensive borders with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. If Iranian-backed troops were ever stationed in the Shiite regions in southern Iraq, they could easily launch an invasion at a moment’s notice. Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is directly south of Kuwait, holds much of the kingdom’s oil wealth and Shiite population, and the oil-rich gulf kingdoms also all border the Eastern Province. It is crucial to Saudi and the gulf kingdoms’ security that Iranian forces be kept as far away as possible.

“It is against this backdrop that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon must be understood. Were Iran ever to obtain such a weapon, its ballistic missile technology would put Israel and the Arabs alike at risk of nuclear blackmail. That in turn amplifies the conventional military power of Iran and its proxies. The Islamic republic could launch invasions or incursions as it pleases, secure in the knowledge that its nuclear weapons would deter serious retaliation.”

Fourth, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently facilitated the first known official contact between Israel and Saudi Arabia. We have known for some time that Israel and Saudi Arabia have been consulting each other for some time, but the Saudis, led by King Salman, have always conditioned its contact with Israel with a firm link to the creation of a Palestinian homeland. But there is evidence that Crown Prince Salman does not hold the same view and is considered more amenable to normalized relations with Israel without attention to the Palestinian Issue.

Fifth, The New York Times recently reported that Mr. Trump has requested military options against Iranian nuclear facilities from his advisers. This personnel shuffle is decidedly curious. Why would such changes be implemented after the evidence suggested that President Trump would not be re-elected? Perhaps Mr. Trump simply had personnel axes to grind. But the changes were sweeping and quite dramatic. The report indicated that the advisers dissuaded Mr. Trump from taking any action, but we have plenty of examples where Mr. Trump has not followed the advice of his advisers. More importantly, Mr. Trump has conducted a purge of high-ranking officials at the Defense Department, and replaced them with people he deemed personally loyal. CNN reports:

“Among those who assumed new roles at the Department of Defense was controversial retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who moved into the Pentagon’s top policy role, taking over the duties of James Anderson, who resigned Tuesday, according to another US defense official.Tata had been nominated to be under secretary of defense for policy this summer but his nomination was withdrawn because of bipartisan opposition.

“CNN’s KFile reported that he has made numerous Islamophobic and offensive comments and promoted various conspiracy theories. In several 2018 tweets, he claimed Obama was a “terrorist leader” who did more to harm the US “and help Islamic countries than any president in history.”

“After the withdrawal of his nomination, Tata was designated ‘the official performing the duties of the deputy under secretary of defense for policy,’ reporting to Anderson.

“Tata is widely viewed as a Trump loyalist who maintained support from the White House even as Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee signaled they were unwilling to support his confirmation earlier this year.”

The changes assure that the new leadership of the Defense Department could be receptive to orders from Mr. Trump regarding Iran.

These points are merely pieces on a chessboard and it seems to me that they make the possibility that an attack on Iran is, at the very least, plausible. What is unclear is what the opening gambit might be. A “bolt out of blue” is probably not likely–I seriously doubt that the US would initiate an attack without significant cause. And I also suspect that Iran is well aware of this possibility and I believe that it will try hard to avoid any confrontation which might create a casus belli.

But there are myriad ways to create tension. Iran will continue to support its militias in Iraq, the most obvious place for a confrontation. The anniversary of the assassination of Iranian General Soleimani will heighten Iranian politics on 3 January and Iran will likely try to highlight that attack as a way of creating solidarity among the various factions in Iraq.

But the US could simply rely upon Israeli and Saudi capabilities to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities and could simply provide intelligence and logistical support in the initial phases of the conflict. The Iranians would probably not attack Israel, but the oil production and refining infrastructure of Saudi Arabia is within easy range of Iranian missile capabilities. Additionally, Iran would likely try to demonstrate some control over the Strait of Hormuz through which a large percentage of the world’s oil flows. If it were to take one or both of those options, then the US would likely join in an attack to assure the total destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Such an attack would only buy the world a little time before Iran could regain the ability to build a bomb which it would most certainly do if it were attacked. But the destruction of those facilities is probably not the prime motivation for Mr. Trump. I suspect that he simply wants to be able to say that he kept his promises to Israel perhaps to enhance his attractiveness as a presidential candidate in 2024. I do not have any doubts that Mike Pompeo wants to attack Iran and he certainly has his eye on the 2024 national election. More importantly, such an action would complicate President-elect Biden’s desire to rejoin the Iranian nuclear agreement (the JCPOA). An attack on Iran would guarantee that the agreement could never be revived.

I hope that these speculations are all off-base. But Mr. Trump’s scorched-earth tactics on both domestic and foreign policy give me serious pause. Lame duck Presidents do not usually want to leave office in a blaze of glory. Mr. Trump may be different.

Posted November 24, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

One response to “24 November 2020

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  1. Pingback: 27 November 2020 | World Politics News

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