This article was published on The New Arab.
On February 3, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on a number of Iranian companies and individuals.
The reason for the sanctions, said National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, is Iran’s allegedly “belligerent and lawless behaviour”, demonstrated – it claims – by the country’s recent missile launch.
“Just this week, Iran tested a ballistic missile, and one of its proxy terrorist groups attacked a Saudi vessel in the Red Sea,” states Flynn.
Washington’s motives are based on falsehoods and distortions of fact, which have unfortunately been echoed – or have gone unchallenged by many mainstream media outlets.
Let’s first review Iran’s ballistic missile launch:
The testing of a ballistic missile by Iran was deemed by the current US administration to be “in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231” concerning Iran’s nuclear programme.
The relevant clause of UN Resolution 2231 states that “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” (emphasis mine).
In an article analysing the clause, NPR‘s correspondent to the Middle East, Peter Keynon, writes that “called upon” does not represent a “clear and enforceable prohibition” to test ballistic missiles; while Iran might have “defied the spirit of the resolution”, it did not violate its terms, according to Keynon.
The US-based Arms Control Association confirms this analysis, asserting that “Iran’s ballistic missile tests are clearly not a violation of the nuclear deal”.
The EU’s spokesperson on foreign policy, Nabila Massrali, also stated that Iran’s tests “are not a violation” of the 2015 nuclear pact.
Furthermore, there is no evidence available at the present moment to prove that the ballistic missile tested by Iran was capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The US administration has failed to provide evidence about the nature of the ballistic missile, leaving its claims on the subject unsubstantiated.
As for the attack on the Saudi vessel in Yemen, Iran should clearly not be held responsible for each and every action of Houthi militias.
While the Houthis have often been portrayed as Iranian proxies, Iran’s support to Houthis in recent years has been “limited” and “unlikely to buy Iran more than marginal influence” in the conflict in Yemen, Middle East expert Thomas Juneau writes in a study on the topic.
Importantly, Juneau continues, “there is no evidence… suggesting that the Houthis have become dependent on Iranian assistance, or in any way fallen under Tehran’s authority”.
There is, on the other hand, incontrovertible evidence, of continuous, substantial US support to the Saudi-led bombing campaign on Yemen, including the provision of deadly cluster bombs banned by more than 100 nations.
If one were to consistently apply the standards for Iran to all parties in the conflict, there would be little doubt about which side displays more “belligerent and lawless behaviour”.
But the recent escalation of tensions with Iran should not come as a surprise, given that Trump’s cabinet is filled with people extremely hostile to Tehran’s regime.
In an article in the conservative magazine The National Interest, Paul R Pillar writes that many of Donald Trump’s appointments to key national security positions have a “predisposition to stoke permanent conflict with Iran” that is “more visceral than analytical”, stemming from “fervor and hatred”, which could potentially lead to “armed conflict”.
Analyst Mark Perry describes Defense Secretary James Mattis’ “obsession” with Iran, writing that former marine “Mad Dog” Mattis had a “30-plus-year-old hatred” of the country, and a “longstanding grievance against Iran”.
Another example is National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, author of a hysterical book about radical Islam, and notorious critic of the Iran nuclear deal reached under the Obama administration, which he wants to dismantle.
New CIA director Mike Pompeo has similarly called for “trashing the nuclear agreement”.
Or take Mike Pence, Trump’s vice-president, described by US reporter Ben Norton as a “long-time anti-Iran hawk”.
The new US cabinet’s hostility to Iran is not new in US politics, but starkly reflects the US’ deeply rooted bipartisan imperial outlook, and its longstanding antagonism towards all non-aligned nations, such as Iran, that still have a certain degree of independence from its influence and that challenge its authority.
Trump’s advisers and picks in key positions do not mark any sort of departure from traditional US imperial doctrine.
On the contrary, Trump has selected long-established members of the military-industrial complex of the most extreme sort, who are pushing for the extension of Washington’s imperial reach in reckless and hazardous ways.
Far from the isolationism many analysts had predicted, the unjustified aggressive attitude towards Iran of recent days indicates that Trump’s foreign policy could be more unpredictable – and at least as dangerous and destructive as that of its predecessors.
© Tommaso Segantini