Trump going the Ariel Sharon way


Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
LET it be admitted that this columnist is an admirer of the Jewish people and fully supports the right of Israel to exist in safety. However, he is not among those who believe that the leaders of the (tiny in territory but large in global importance) state which came into being as a consequence of the devilish conduct of Nazi Germany, especially during the World War-II were always correct. They made several mistakes,including Yitzhak Rabin, but none more so than Ariel Sharon, who in 1982 inserted the Israeli Defence Forces into the civil war in Lebanon. This was between the Maronite Christians and the Shia, and Sharon ensured that the troops under his command took the side of the Maronite Christians.
The chain of events that such an intervention resulted in has had a severe impact on the security of Israel, which is the only country in the world where terror groups that are Shia seek to regularly strike. Israel would have been better served by adopting a more nuanced and neutral position rather than taking sides. Now, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is similarly taking sides in the ongoing rivalry (indeed, conflict) between the Shia and Wahabbi groups within the Middle East. The motivation for this has been his obsession with Iran, a country that admittedly gives substantial backing to groups in Lebanon and elsewhere that effect strikes against Israel.
However, Iran is not the only country giving such backing. In a greater or lesser way, almost every state in the Middle East has within it groups (and sometimes governments) that seek to promote those groups that resort to violence against the population of Israel. Less than 80% of the total amount of donations going to anti-Israel groups comes from within countries other than Iran, and yet the refrain of the Netanyahu government has been that it is only Iran that is the threat. The Prime Minister of Israel would have been delighted, had President George W Bush used force in an effort to effect regime change in Iran. Indeed, between 2001 and 2007, it was indeed possible without harsh collateral damage to US interests to take out the military in Iran through the use of air and naval power.
However, since then, Tehran has built up its retaliatory capacity, with the consequence that any conflict between the US and Iran would ensure a knockdown effect on the region, including on regimes that have for generations been allied with London and thereafter Washington. Given that, the nuclear deal reached between Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani were a plus for the US, in that it has considerably slowed down the development of indigenous nuclear technology in Iran and made the achievement of nuclear weapon capacity close to impossible during the period that the agreement is in active operation. Obama clearly calculated that the post-agreement integration of Tehran with Europe and the US would ensure that the politics of the country became less theological and more conventional, as indeed would fit better the genius of the people of this ancient country than armed confrontation with the Jewish state.
Even as the Republican Party candidate for the US Presidency, Donald John Trump declared himself opposed to the nuclear agreement with Iran signed by the US as well as the EU with Tehran. However, once in office, the administration re-certified the agreement rather than disavow it, despite heartburn in some quarters about the change of stance. Indeed, there is no reason to walk away from the Iran nuclear agreement, in view of the fact that President Hassan Rouhani has ensured Teheran’s compliance with its numerous intrusive conditions, despite having got back much less in the way of concessions than was promised during the negotiations. Of course, the agreement is opposed by Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, which for different reasons seeks to overthrow the regime in Teheran at the earliest, ideally through the deployment of the US military.
The impact of such a move on oil prices, international trade and the overall economy does not seem to have figured in the calculations of those goading Donald Trump to launch cruise missiles and worse against the largest Shia-majority country in the world. Such a step would result in the US joining Israel as a global target of terror groups within the Shia community, an outcome that would be as destructive to US security as Sharon’s intervention in Lebanon has been for the State of Israel. Should the US withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, there would be little incentive for President Rouhani to continue with the agreement. Should he do so, the EU would seek to get further concessions from Iran, including in the form of withdrawal by Tehran of regional conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the imposition of terms that would be even more consequential than was agreed upon in 2015. Kim Jong Un of North Korea would draw the conclusion that the US and its European allies are unreliable partners in any agreement, as indeed they showed itself to be in Libya in 2011.
Despite Muammar Kadhafi surrendering all WMD (or because of that), France and the UK led the charge against his government that ended in the gruesome murder of the Libyan dictator and much of his family and friends. Billions of dollars of reserves disappeared into the vaults of NATO powers, while the country itself has become a symbol of chaos and insurgency from the relative tranquillity it enjoyed during the decades when Kadhafi was in charge. Given the significant weakening of Rouhani’s position within the councils of governance in Tehran should Trump tear up the nuclear deal, it is a certainty that a withdrawal by Washington would soon result in the unravelling of the entire agreement. This would result in tensions between Iran and NATO, not to mention a spike in friction between the GCC and Teheran.
Overall, not simply regional but global stability would be impacted as a consequence of the US doing what President Trump has hinted will be the case, which is (after the Paris climate agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the tossing of the Iran nuclear deal into the nearest available White House waste paper basket. The chain of events that this will cause may result in the same consequences for the US as are being endured by Israel for more than three decades, which is to face the full fury of terror from not just Wahabbi but Shia groups. Walking away from the Iran deal would be as big a mistake for the US as intervening in the Lebanese civil war has been for Israel.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.