On 10 May, Israel launched a barrage of missiles into the Syrian Golan Heights after an earlier Israeli attack on the city of Ba’ath in the southern Syrian province of Quneitra, which had been met with the dispatch of 20 projectiles. Many of the Israeli missiles were intercepted by Syrian air defences, though a radar site and an ammunition dump were hit. Israel claimed that the missiles were aimed at Iranian sites on Syrian soil, seeking thereby somehow to ‘justify’ its gross violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
There have been numerous such Israeli attacks in recent weeks, most of which were not acknowledged by Israel; the bombing of the Syrian T4 airbase in April, which claimed the lives of 14 military personnel, including seven Iranian Republican Guards; airstrikes on the north of Syria followed on 29 April, then on 8 May Syrian air defences wiped out two Israeli missiles in the Kisweh area; and then came the attack on the Golan Heights.
It is not accidental that this escalation of attacks against Syria and against Syria’s Iranian allies should coincide with US President Trump reneging on the Iran nuclear deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – agreed between Russia, China, Britain, Germany, France, the US and Iran – had since July 2015 somewhat relaxed the sanctions against Iran in return for the country’s agreement in limiting its nuclear programme.
Now Trump has unilaterally pulled out of the deal, reminding the whole world that American promises are not worth the paper they are printed on – and opening splits in the imperialist camp to boot.
This effective declaration of economic war against Iran, in tandem with the intensification of Israeli military aggression and the official inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem, suggests that Tel Aviv and Washington are – along with Saudi Arabia – nerving themselves up to extend the war against Syria into a war against Iran.
As always, imperialism seeks to justify its bellicose behaviour by painting its intended victims as aggressors. Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz has warned darkly: “If Assad allows Iran to turn Syria into a military base against us and attack us on Syrian soil, he must know that it is his end and the end of his regime and he will not remain ruler of Syria or president of Syria.” (Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria, BBC, 7 May 2018)
Yet, in reality, the jackboot is on the other foot; it is zionism that has occupied the Palestinian homeland since 1948 and transformed its territory into a heavily-armed military base from which it threatens anyone who dares to challenge the imperialist domination of the middle east. It is zionism that chooses to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (the violent expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948) by shooting dead scores of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza border.
What enrages both Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his backers in Washington is the fact that independent Syria has stood firm throughout more than seven years of war, facing down imperialist threats from all sides and giving heart to the axis of resistance. Iran has won admiration and influence (as well as the fear and loathing of Tel Aviv) from all people who resist imperialism for its unstinting fraternal assistance to the Syrian people in their hour of need.
The split with Europe
The frenzied eleventh-hour diplomatic efforts by Britain, Germany and France to restrain Trump from taking his fateful step into the unknown suggested a good deal more panic in London, Berlin and Paris than was to be seen in Tehran, which responded to the news with scathing contempt.
In the days before Trump made his leap he was visited by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, all of whom tried to prevent him from abandoning the deal with Iran.
Instead, the US state department harped on about engineering a ‘supplemental’ deal, which would by some sleight of hand negate or bypass the actual deal that the US, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain had agreed with Iran in 2015.
This ‘supplemental’ deal would have been a portmanteau affair, including many items that the original agreement said nothing about. For example, the original nuclear agreement made no mention of intercontinental ballistic missiles; now Trump wanted to bolt on the issue retrospectively.
There was also much controversy on the issue of a supposed ‘sunset clause’, which some interpreted as requiring the terms of the agreement to be revisited in 2025.
When asked whether, at any time, the talks between Merkel, Macron and Trump had considered any kind of ‘plan B’ in case no ‘supplemental’ deal could be agreed, a state department official said: “We did not talk about a Plan B because we were focused on negotiating a supplemental agreement. So we did not – we did not talk about Plan B.”
Like someone handing out consolation prizes for a good effort, the official gushed that the US and European partners made a “ton of progress” in attempting to reach a supplemental agreement that would satisfy President Trump, yet they were not able to resolve the sticking point presented by the supposed ‘sunset’ issue. (State Department official: ‘We did not talk about a plan B’ on Iran by Michelle Kosinski, Laura Koran, CNN, 9 May 2018)
In short, the operation was a great success, but the patient died.
Having failed to sway Trump, the humiliated leaders of Europe and Britain now must live with the prospect of seeing their countries’ companies and banks dragged through the US courts if they are found to be trading with Iran.
British and European capitalists recall with a shudder the restraints on trade that were imposed before 2015, and dread a return to those days. Iran has said that the deal still stands, simply without the US, though it clearly will not countenance any failure to act decisively.
In the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani spelt this out: “Under the current situation, Iran has no commitment whatsoever to be put in a position it was in the past as regards the nuclear issue,” adding: “I am not sure whether the European signatories of the deal will fulfil their promises.”
And for good measure the head of the nuclear committee in the Iranian parliament spoke to a motion asking the government to secure “necessary guarantees” from the remaining signatories, with the corollary that if the guarantees from all five are not met Iran should resume high-level uranium enrichment. (Iran MPs table motion on response to Trump decision, Press TV, 9 May 2018)
For their part, officials from the US state department did not rule out secondary sanctions targeting European companies, saying: “We do think, given the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’] penetration of the Iranian economy and Iran’s behaviour in the region, as well as its other nefarious activities, that companies should not do business in Iran,” adding helpfully: “That’s an intended consequence.” (CNN, op cit)
Assertions from the White House that Iran was failing to comply with the terms of the JCPOA in any capacity were baseless lies, as was confirmed by the body responsible for conducting nuclear inspections on Iranian soil.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported: “Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime under the JCPOA … Our inspection work has doubled since 2013. IAEA inspectors now spend 3,000 calendar days per year on the ground in Iran,” and Iran is in full compliance. Three days after Trump tore up the deal, the chief of inspections at the IAEA abruptly resigned. (Iran implementing commitments under JCPOA: UN watchdog, Press TV, 9 May 2018)
Aside from Saudi Arabia and Israel, the global response to Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement has been uniformly negative. It is not only China and Russia that have denounced the US move; Washington’s fellow imperialists in Paris, Berlin and London are not happy.
France’s foreign minister insists: “The deal is not dead. There’s an American withdrawal from the deal but the deal is still there. The region deserves better than further destabilisation provoked by American withdrawal. So we want to adhere to it and see to it that Iran does too; that Iran behaves with restraint.” (Trump lacks ‘mental capacities’, Iran says after US pulls out of nuclear deal, RT, 9 May 2018)
The German foreign minister said his country “will try to keep alive this important agreement, which ensures the middle east and the world as a whole are safer”. (EU, Russia, China rally behind Iran after Trump’s move, Press TV, 9 May 2018)
Even Boris Johnson declared that Britain has “no intention of walking away from this deal”. (Boris Johnson: Britain has ‘no intention of walking away’ from the Iran nuclear deal, Press TV, 9 May 2018)
The hysteria around Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons programme was whipped up by Washington and Tel Aviv in the hopes of undermining the independence of Iran, weakening the axis of resistance and promoting regime change in Tehran. The EU and Britain have never differed essentially from the US as to that end goal, only over the means by which this end goal is achieved. And for many in Europe, the JCPOA deal seems like a much better way of skinning the cat.
For those who hoped that winding down sanctions would favour ‘moderate’ forces in Iran, which might prove more ‘open to the west’, the JCPOA deal seemed to kill two birds with one stone: winding down sanctions that adversely affected European commercial activity whilst simultaneously giving kudos to ‘moderate forces’ in Iran.
A piece by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian may be taken as representative of this viewpoint. He speaks for those who fear that Washington’s broken promises will result in a more ‘conservative’ (ie, more anti-imperialist) leadership emerging in Tehran. Tisdall anguishes that Trump’s folly “will destroy remaining mutual goodwill, undermine pro-western Iranian opinion” and damage “the western alliance to the advantage, among others, of Russia”.
Note that his concern is not that the Iranian people could be threatened with a return to the worst days of the sanctions, but that imperialism will be weakened through the US’s isolation and anti-imperialist sentiment will be strengthened. (Europe must make Trump pay for wrecking the Iran nuclear deal, 9 May 2018)
Aside from these grand geopolitical considerations, what is most urgently driving European and British imperialism into mutiny over Trump’s sabotage of the nuclear agreement is the trade threatened by the US’s secondary sanctions. Many European and British corporations and banks have branches in the US, rendering them vulnerable to court actions when the sanctions come into place.
An article in a US journal, The Hill, is uncharitable about why France and Germany were so “eager to preserve the deal”, asking rhetorically: “Are they peaceniks who care about nuclear non-proliferation and desire world peace?”, before replying:
“No, their support and that of the European Union for the JCPOA is motivated primarily by rational self-interest. It translates into dollars: valuable trade with Iran. The European Union was Iran’s largest trade partner before the imposition of sanctions and clearly has an interest in recovering that position.” (There is no chance of this situation returning as, in the intervening time, China has become Iran’s top trading partner.) (For Europe the Iran nuclear deal is all about trade by Sandeep Gopalan, 7 May 2018)
The article details how France’s trade with Iran, crippled by sanctions from 2006, shot up after the 2015 nuclear deal. French oil monopoly Total was able to land a deal worth $4.8bn to develop the world’s largest gas field in South Pars; Airbus concluded an $18bn deal to supply a hundred planes to Iran; and Renault and Peugeot have a large share in the country’s car market. Macron will not easily sacrifice this lucrative market.
Nevertheless, Total, having done its sums, has decided it cannot afford to annoy US imperialism and has announced its intention of pulling out of South Pars if it cannot secure a waiver from US sanctions. (France’s Total to quit Iran gas project if no sanctions waiver by Sudip Kar-Gupta and John Irish, US News, 16 May 2018)
If a waiver is not forthcoming, this will no doubt create an opportunity for China or others to step into the breach. (Trump tears up the Iran nuclear deal: how will China act? by Lucas Niewenhuis, SupChina, 9 May 2018)
Germany’s trade with Iran suffered from the 2006 sanctions too, falling in value from $6bn in the late 1970s to $2bn in 2013. In 2017, after the JCPOA deal, Germany’s exports to Iran crept back to $3.5bn, and this upward trend has continued since then.
Since 2006, when the UN security council first passed its shameful resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for daring to assert its right to conduct its own uranium enrichment programme, life has moved on, but the world has been shaken by the eruption of the overproduction crisis in the form of the 2008 banking debacle.
With global markets glutted, the full commercial price paid by other countries for having gone along with US-engineered sanctions became all the more painfully apparent. The world will not easily stomach turning the clock back for another self-defeating sanctions war at Washington’s behest, least of all if it comes as a package with an open-ended US and zionist military adventure with Iranian regime change as its goal.