Analysis: How Iran and Israel Are Testing Trump – commentary

Analysis:  How Iran and Israel Are Testing Trump – Haaretz | Zvi Bar’el

Opinion - commentary -analysisThe missile test and the American response come at a very bad time for Iranian President Hassan Rohani.

Why did Iran decide to measure U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration last month by testing a ballistic missile? A similar question could be asked, of course, about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who decided to similarly try out Trump by announcing plans to build 5,000 new homes in the territories, including a new settlement.

In both cases the answer could be identical and pretty simple: Both regimes, in Iran and Israel, are establishing facts on the ground to force Trump to make clear what boundaries are acceptable to him, to test how flexible he is, and to understand what could be derived from his responses.   

Trump’s answers to both countries were not identical but they were similar. To Israel he made it clear that new construction in the territories was liable to harm the peace process, while he imposed a few perfunctory sanctions on Iran that aren’t terribly burdensome.

But there’s also a more complex reason for the entrance exam that Israel and Iran gave the new president. Both countries are immersed in a boiling cauldron of political struggles that are spewing in the direction of the United States of America as well. One can assume that if Netanyahu was not trapped in Naftali Bennett’s chokehold, he would not have hastened to announce new construction in the settlements. It also seems that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which are very busy with tense preparations for May’s presidential election, wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to carry out the ballistic missile test now.

The missile test and the American response come at a very bad time for Iranian President Hassan Rohani. The waves of criticism of him aren’t coming just from the ultra-conservative side of the political map; many liberals and reformers are also disappointed in his record during his first term. The economic benefits that he’d promised would follow the signing of the nuclear agreement have yet to trickle down to the populace, despite the improved macroeconomic statistics, including 7.4 percent growth, during the first half of Iran’s fiscal year (which begins in March).

Unemployment is still high, more than 12 percent, and 26 percent among young people. The human rights situation hasn’t improved and in some areas has even worsened. And now the Rohani regime’s historic achievement, the nuclear agreement, is probably going to be re-examined by the American administration – or worse, might turn into a power struggle between the United States of America and Iran.

Rohani still hasn’t announced that he’s running for a second term (which would be his last under the Iranian constitution), apparently fearing that declaring too early would fire up his rivals, who would begin working in earnest to invalidate his candidacy and pave the way for a more aggressive and radical candidate. Still, it’s interesting that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has not publicly addressed the missile test, leaving the Revolutionary Guards and radical preachers to deliver the warnings and threats to the United States.

Meanwhile, the official, cautious Iranian position, as presented by Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, is that Iran has the right to conduct missile tests as part of its conventional defense plan, and that the test did not violate the nuclear agreement. But that’s only partially correct. Although the nuclear agreement does not deal with ballistic missiles, the UN resolution that ratified the agreement includes a clause that forbids Iran to test missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, which the missile tested is capable of doing. This gap between the agreement and the UN resolution actually leaves it to the United Nations, not the Trump administration, to decide whether or not the test constitutes a violation. There would need to be a Security Council resolution, which the Russians could be expected to veto, to formally punish Iran or even to issue an accusatory statement that might pave the way for re-imposing sanctions.

Trump, of course, could add new American sanctions, and he could even withdraw from the nuclear pact, but then he would be putting the United States on a collision course with the European Union, three of whose members – France, Britain and Germany – are signed on the agreement, and with Russia and China, both of which oppose cancelling the deal. These countries are already deeply invested in the Iranian economy. Britain has renewed its diplomatic relations with Iran, the EU has signed a deal worth billions to supply civilian aircraft, France has oil-drilling contracts, and presumably Boeing, an American company, wouldn’t be pleased to lose a $16.5 billion-dollar deal to supply Iran with 80 airplanes. Boeing, incidentally, has rushed its first plane to Iran to turn the deal into a fait accompli.

The question now is whether Trump, on his own, and against the position of America’s allies, could turn Iran into a “non-partner” by taking positions that strengthen that country’s tempestuous radicals.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On February 9, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Theresa May defies Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu with Vow of Support for Iran Nuclear Deal

    In a visit to Downing Street just days after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile Mr Netanyahu said ‘responsible’ nations should follow President Donald Trump’s lead to head off Iranian aggression

    Ashley Cowburn Political Correspondent | Independent UK

    Theresa May has stood firm in her commitment to the Iranian Nuclear Deal despite pressure from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for fresh sanctions on Tehran.

    In a visit to Downing Street just days after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile Mr Netanyahu said “responsible” nations should follow Donald Trump’s lead to head off Iranian aggression.

    The President has recently described the deal – brokered by his predecessor Barack Obama – as the “worst deal ever negotiated”.

    But speaking in the Commons shortly after the two leaders met at Number 10 for their first bilateral meeting, Ms May made no mention of further sanctions against Tehran. “We continue to believe the Iran nuclear deal was an important step forward and important contribution to stability in the region and we continue to support it,” she said.

    In a briefing of the meeting a Downing Street spokesperson added: “On Iran, the Prime Minister was clear that the nuclear deal is vital and must be properly enforced and policed, while recognising concerns about Iran’s pattern of destabilising activity in the region.”

    Speaking in front of TV cameras as they began talks at Number 10, the Israeli PM – who is due to meet Mr Trump in Washington next week – told Mrs May: “Iran seeks to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world. And it offers provocation after provocation.

    “That’s why I welcome President Trump’s insistence on new sanctions against Iran. I think other nations should follow suit, certainly responsible nations.

    “And I’d like to talk to you about how we can ensure that Iran’s aggression does not go unanswered.”

    The international nuclear deal, under which sanctions were lifted in return for Tehran giving up its military nuclear ambitions, had “neutralised the possibility of the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons for more than a decade”, added the PM’s spokeswoman.

    Ms May made it clear that her top priority for the talks was strengthening trade and investment links ahead of Brexit as well as exploring the potential for a deeper commercial relationship after the UK has left the EU.

    She said she believed there was “much more we can do” and it was important to look at how “we can build that relationship”.

    They agreed to set up a new UK-Israel trade working group, with trade minister Lord Price to visit Israel soon to take discussions forward.

    And the PM invited Mr Netanyahu to return to Britain later this year for events to mark the 100th anniversary of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour’s 1917 declaration of UK support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

    Last week Iran confirmed it carried out the ballistic test but insisted it did not violate the landmark nuclear deal reached with world powers. Hossein Dehghan, the Iranian defence minister, said at the time:

    “The recent test was in line with our plans and we will not allow foreigners to interfere in our defence affairs.

  • Clyde Duncan  On February 9, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Despite Appearances Israel is in for a Rough Ride Under Trump

    Robert Fisk – Independent UK

    So that’s it. The guy is crackers. There’s no stopping him. And Steve Bannon appears to have his hands on the levers. Poor old Jared Kushner, the son-in-law with the much-trumpeted power to “tame” the American president, couldn’t prevent that disgraceful White House Holocaust statement which somehow just failed to mention the Jews of Europe.

    Don’t tell me it was left out to appease the Armenians – whose own 1915 genocide was always left out by cowardly USA presidents to avoid upsetting the Turks.

    But now the White House is making some Israelis deeply concerned. In an extraordinary attack, Bradley Burston of the leftist Haaretz newspaper has fired off a volley at the White House. “It’s an inconceivably scary thought,” he wrote this week, “that the Trump administration is simply winging it, breakneck speed, disrupting and detonating and taking America apart – and all of it without a plan. But here’s the even scarier possibility – that there is, in fact, a plan.”

    The plan, according to Burston, is a Holy War. “Donald Trump needs a war. But not just any war. He needs just the right global non-Christian, all-powerful, all frightening, NON-WHITE, non-negotiable enemy… And he needs a doomsday weapon he can rely on. As it happens, he already has one. It’s called Steve Bannon.” Burston has been combing through some of the nonsense spouted by Bannon at a Vatican conference in 2014.

    Here’s a sample of what Trump’s new point man said then: “…we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant … to fight for our belief against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000 – 2,500 years.”

    There’s no point in saying that this is preposterous. It is.

    “We’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism,” quote Bannon. And Burston is right when he dissects this unpleasant oration for – and I quote Burston – “not only does it predict the imminence and the inevitability of a war pitting Christianity against Islam, it obliquely suggests that Jews could find themselves a target for USA Christian anger somewhere down the road.”

    When Bannon worked at Goldman Sachs, he told his Vatican listeners, he could see “there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run”.

    Now I know that Boris doesn’t want us to compare Trump to Hitler – though Trump himself represents a kind of theatrical fascism – but the above quotation is pretty damning. This was indeed the kind of statement that could be made in the 1930s in Germany. And Burston goes on to fillet the Bannon speech a little further.

    A few minutes after the above quotation – and here I quote Burston again – “Bannon exuberantly responds to a question about the 2014 Republican primary defeat of then-House majority leader Eric Cantor – at the time the sole Jewish Republican in either the House or Senate. Bannon, calling Cantor’s defeat “monumental” and “the biggest election upset in the history of the American Republic” … and says that Cantor’s opponent won because “Middle-class people and working-class people are tired of people like Eric Cantor … selling out their interests every day to crony capitalists”.

    Now this is pretty dreadful stuff – and this, remember, is Trump’s senior advisor with a seat on the National Security Council. And despite all Trump’s glad-handing for Israel, I suspect that the Israelis themselves are going to have a far harder ride with Trump’s administration than with Obama’s.

    They might get the USA embassy moved to Jerusalem – but they might also be very worried that folk like Bannon are going to provoke a war with Iran.

    The problem is that when folk like Bannon become powerful in the most powerful nation in the world, they really can start wars.

    What did the USA government mean, for example, that Iran was “on notice” after its recent missile test (the one which didn’t actually break any rules)? Was that a warning of dislike – or war?

    Of course, when your President lives in fantasy land, you can only expect journalists to do the same. My long-standing chum Thomas Friedman has called upon America’s top business leaders to save American democracy – as if the most capitalist of all capitalists are going to oppose the President when they’re all waiting to see if Trump is going to get rid of NAFTA and the EU which help, as Friedman says, to drive so much of the world economy.

    And I doubt if the great and the good in the East Coast journalism trade are going to defend America from its elected leader. If they have been so afraid of offending Israel for so many years, they are certainly not going to offend Trump.

    But that’s the trouble at the moment. How can you be fair to a fantasist, of a man – of men – who simply tell untruths.

    I do suspect we’ve been down this road before. I seem to recall most Americans believed Saddam Hussein arranged the 9/11 attacks. And wasn’t the whole nonsense about “weapons of mass destruction” an “alternative fact”??!

    And I do recall a little problem with the 45-minute warning. [Lest we Forget: Tony Blair’s headline-grabbing claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45-minutes of an order to do so was based on hearsay information.] – You don’t have to be an American president to dream up this stuff.

    I think that May will have to summon up a little more courage if she’s going to represent her people’s view of Trump. And I do think that Boris should be careful about what he says on the subject of Hitler.

    No, Trump is not Hitler. But he has one characteristic in common with the infamous Austrian corporal.

    What he says he’s going to do is exactly what he does. And he’s got Bannon beside him.

  • Clyde Duncan  On February 9, 2017 at 11:59 pm

  • Clyde Duncan  On February 27, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Iran Begins Naval Drill Near Strait of Hormuz

    Iran’s navy begins two-day drill amid tensions with the U.S.A.

    By Ben Ariel | Arutz Sheva

    Iran’s navy on Sunday began an annual drill near the Strait of Hormuz, its first major exercise since the inauguration of U.S.A. President Donald Trump, The Associated Press reported, citing Iranian state television.

    The TV report quoted navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari as saying the two-day maneuver will cover an area of 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean near the strait.

    The report showed Iranian warships and helicopters taking part in the exercise.

    The naval drill comes amid recent tensions between Iran and the United States.

    Last month, a U.S.A. Navy ship fired warning shots at Iranian boats near the Strait of Hormuz, after five Iranian vessels approached the USS Mahan and two other American ships that were entering the strait.

    In September, the U.S. Navy said that Iran had threatened two American maritime patrol aircraft flying over the Strait of Hormuz.

    A week prior to that incident, a U.S. Navy patrol ship was forced to change course after a fast attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps came within 91 meters of it in the central Persian Gulf.

    In addition to the tensions in the Gulf, Iran has escalated its rhetoric against the United States, after the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on the Islamic Republic in response to a ballistic missile test it conducted in violation of UN Resolution 2231.

    Iran has responded angrily to the sanctions, with the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissing calls from the Trump administration to cease the country’s ballistic missile tests.

    In addition, Iranian officials have warned the United States against attacking Iran, with one senior official recently threatening his country would attack Tel Aviv if the United States “makes a mistake”.

    The latest naval drill, noted AP, does not involve Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard.

    The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, declined to comment on the exercise or discuss if it had any plans to monitor the drill.

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