Monday, July 20, 2020

The War against Iran

You might have heard that Iran has suffered a series of explosions and fires over the past few weeks. The targets have been Iran’s industrial base and its nuclear weapons program.

According to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, this is a bad thing. It might lead to war. It might empower the ayatollahs. When reading Diehl, one is struck by his sympathy with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. One is also struck by his fervent conviction that the Iran nuclear deal, the deal that the Trump administration withdrew from, was a great thing.

He does not mention that this deal guaranteed Iran eventual and legitimate access to nuclear weapons. And he does not mention that, as a part of the deal, Iran was given a plane load of cash, the better to fund anti-Israeli terrorism across the Middle East.

Supporters of the Obama deal always show themselves to be cowards when it comes to Iran. The Trump administration assassinated Iran’s leading terrorist chief, Qassem Soleimani, and the American left went cowering in the corner because it was terrified of the big, bad Iranian regime. 

Anyway, the Trump administration has been working to bring down the Iranian regime, not to empower it. Now, the Trump administration has allowed Israel to attack Iranian facilities openly.

Somehow, Diehl does not see this as a good thing. He explains:

In the past few weeks, Israel has apparently been conducting what amounts to a slow-motion, semi-covert military campaign against Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and perhaps other industrial and infrastructure targets as well. Mysterious explosions and fires have struck a key centrifuge production facility, a military base where missiles are produced, as well as power plants, aluminum and chemical factories, and a medical clinic. Last week, a fire erupted at the port of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, destroying seven ships.

The Netanyahu government may not have done all this damage: “Not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us,” its defense minister coyly said earlier this month. But reporting by The Post and the New York Times pins the largest attacks, including that at the centrifuge facility, on Israel — and Middle East analysts I consulted don’t doubt it. “I’m surprised the Israelis have not been more circumspect about this,” said Dennis Ross, a former senior Mideast official in multiple administrations.

Ross and other analysts say Netanyahu almost certainly obtained Trump administration consent, if not collaboration, for the Israeli offensive, if only because the United States is a likely target for Iranian retaliation. So far, the regime of Ali Khamenei, which is struggling with multiple crises, has played down the attacks, attributing some of them to gas leaks or other accidents. But if it chooses to respond, its targets could include U.S. bases in Iraq or shipping in the Persian Gulf, both of which it has already struck in the past year.

So, which side are you on? Are you on the side of Israel or on the side of Iran? Trump’s allegiances are clear:

Yet despite the risks, Trump appears to be all in on the Iran campaign. No doubt that’s partly because the president and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are nearly as zealous as Netanyahu about destroying the Iranian regime. But it’s also because Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has ended up heightening rather than decreasing the threat it poses, while all but excluding remedies other than military action.

But then, Iran had been increasing its production of enriched uranium. Note that Diehl presents Iran as a strong nation, one that defied the Trump administration. Before the recent attacks, that is:

Rather than succumb to revolution or cave to Trump’s demands, Tehran has responded to mounting U.S. sanctions by ramping up its enrichment of uranium. According to United Nations inspectors, it has quintupled its stockpile since Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal limiting Iranian nuclear capacity. It also started deploying a new generation of advanced centrifuges, which could have given it the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon in a matter of months; the accord Trump discarded had pushed the breakout time back to one year.

So, Obama administration alumni are horrified at the prospect that Israel might blow up the Iranian nuclear program. The alternative, they fail to say, is to allow the program to proceed, according to the terms of the nuclear deal, until Iran drops a nuclear weapon on Tel Aviv-- outcome that does not seem to worry them excessively:

The result, said Philip Gordon, who oversaw Middle East affairs at the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, is that at this point, “the only way to slow the Iranian program is to blow it up.” Remarkably, the July 2 attack on the Natanz centrifuge facility appears to have come as close to doing that as may be possible. It destroyed a plant where the new centrifuges were being assembled. According to one expert assessment, that could set back the Iranian nuclear program by at least a year.

That is, if Netanyahu’s Trump-enabled offensive doesn’t plunge us into a war.

As I said, they are quaking in their boots. They were conducting policy based on their own cowardice. Not too encouraging, I would say.

And yet, there is more to the story. It is not good news.

Two weeks ago Iran signed a strategic accord with China, thus establishing an alliance between the two nations. Iran will provide China with fuel while China will invest billions in Iran. Caroline Glick has the story.

What does this all mean, in terms of the ongoing diplomatic chess game between the U.S. and China.

First, we note that Secretary of State Pompeo traveled to Israel and told it to stop doing business with China.

Second, America has been engaging in an ongoing diplomatic war against China, sanctioning its officials over Hong Kong, the condition of its Uighur minority and its handling of the pandemic. Let’s not forget America has refused to accept Chinese hegemony over the military fortifications it built in the South China Sea.

As I have noted, the American attitude toward China, especially as led by Republicans, has been contemptuous and condescending. Our senators have been talking about how we are going to punish China, how we are going to make it pay for its bad behavior. We are going to sue....

Treating a proud nation like a misbehaving child is generally not a good idea. When we started doing so, China responded by taking greater control over Hong Kong. And then, it instructed its puppet in North Korea to end all diplomacy with the United States. Consider these to be moves in a diplomatic chess game.

Now that we have ratcheted up the stakes, it has made another move: it has formed an alliance with Iran. This is not good news.

One understands that Republicans are going all-in on their attacks on China because there’s an election coming up. They must believe that this get-tough attitude works politically. And yet, if we see the world as a giant chessboard, we can see moves and countermoves. We make a move against China. China makes a countermove. One hopes that the administration will not keep going down this pathway, but if it does it should prepare for more open conflict. We ought to know by now that the Chinese government will never back down-- even when threatened by lawsuits. 


Peter B said...

Israel is going to have a hard time not doing buisness with China. Last December, the Jerusalem Post had this:

"The great battle over the Haifa Port has played out, and China beat the US in competing to influence Israeli policy.
China will start running the port in 2021, and the US will need to decide whether to continue to dock its Sixth Fleet there or follow through on its threat to pull out."

What with the current direction the Democrats are taking in the USA, Israel has to be anticipating a sea change in US support with the next Democrat administration. Even if Trump wins a second term but the Senate flips to a Democrat majority, the US-Israel relationship is going to cool off in a major way.

Israel's eternal geopolitical dilemma has been to be stuck between two major powers and to be affected by the struggles between the major powers. Nothing new under the sun.

Sam L. said...

Pete's third paragraph lays it out, succinctly.

Dan Tige said...

I find it ironic that you condemn the Democrats for being timid about Iran while you are, apparently, timid about China.

Kansas Scout said...

In all this, China is the one making the first moves. China is the one making the big risky moves. Finally the US is responding the way it should have long ago. Can you imagine what they say about us? Its never been nice. Is all this risky? Sure. But so was declaring war against Germany following the invasion of Poland. We need to disconnect from China as soon as possible. Iran is not capable of successfully entering a War with Israel. So, this post puzzles me a bit.

trigger warning said...

Treating China with contempt?

"Internationally peer-reviewed journals published more than 100 scientific research papers from China-based authors that appear to have reused identical sets of images, raising questions about the proliferation of problematic science [...] The cache of 121 papers, credited to researchers from hospitals and medical universities across roughly 50 cities in China, all shared at least one image with another—a sign that many were likely produced by the same company or 'paper mill,' said Elisabeth Bik, a California-based microbiologist and image-analysis expert who identified the trove."
--- WSJ, 7/5

This kind of behavior is beneath contempt. IMO, it is Stealth Cold War.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

There's a difference between being timid when dealing with a teddy bear and being cautious when dealing with a grizzly bear. Being cautious is not the same as being timid. As it happened, Trump engaged China in negotiations. He used the tools at his disposal to craft a trade deal. No previous president had been such a tough negotiator. The vice premier of China was at the White House to sign the deal-- a sign of respect. Being a touch negotiator is not the same as threatening to invade. And threatening to sue and threatening to destroy. China, like Trump, tends to counterpunch. If you are ready to invade China, say so. It does not strike me as very productive or very useful, except for the politics.