Personal Links to Israel Reason behind Trumps’ Harsh Stance on Iran: Commentator
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A London-based political analyst highlighted reasons behind US President Donald Trump’s recent regime change rhetoric against Iran and said his personal links to the Israeli regime is among the root causes of such remarks.
The Trump administration has taken Washington’s age-old hostility toward Iran to “a wholly new level”, Alexander Mercouris, the editor in chief of The Duran, an online news and opinion source, said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.
“The first and most important of these (factors behind Trump’s rhetoric) is the personal closeness of the US President himself and his immediate family to Israel,” he noted.
Alexander Mercouris is a writer on international affairs with a special interest in law. He has written extensively on the legal aspects of NSA spying and events in Ukraine in terms of human rights, constitutionality, and international law, being a frequent commentator on television and speaker at conferences. He worked for 12 years in the Royal Courts of Justice in London as a lawyer, specializing in human rights and constitutional law.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: US President Donald Trump, in a recent joint press conference with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, repeated his claims on Iran, saying, “We face new threats from rogue regimes like Iran...” US Defense Secretary Mattis has also recently accused the Islamic Republic of sponsoring terrorism and called for regime change in the country. The suggestion of regime change is not the first by a Donald Trump administration official. In June, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that the US would support those wanting to bring about regime change in Iran. In your opinion, what are the reasons behind such hostile remarks by the new US administration?
Mercouris: US hostility to Iran goes back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Iran’s Revolution continues to be the single biggest geopolitical defeat suffered by the US in the last 40 years, and underpins the consistent hostility of all US administrations to Iran since then. Having said this, the Trump administration has taken this hostility to a wholly new level. This is due to a mix of individual and institutional factors. I will discuss the individual factors first.
Individual factors for Trump administration’s hostility to Iran:
(1) The first and most important of these is the personal closeness of the US President himself - Donald Trump - and his immediate family to Israel. All US politicians at least give the appearance of supporting Israel to a greater or lesser degree. In Donald Trump’s case however there is little doubt that this is based on sincere conviction. A businessman based in New York - the center of the US Jewish community - it is clear that Donald Trump has become very close to prominent members of the Jewish community in the US and through them has forged especially close personal relations with Israel. Photographs of his private office in Trump Tower show certificates in Hebrew which he has received from prominent Jewish groups and individuals, and it is clear that he has come to identify strongly with the Jewish community and that his support and affection for the Jewish state - Israel - is both strongly felt and is a logical consequence of this. Of course, Donald Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner is Jewish and an influential and important person in the administration in his own right, and his wife - Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka - is a Jewish convert. It is of course a commonplace that Israel has come to think of Iran as its greatest and most dangerous enemy. Indeed official Israeli rhetoric essentially reduces all conflicts in the Middle East into some great existential struggle between Iran - a country supposedly focused on Israel’s physical destruction - and Israel and the West, and treats all the many terrorist movements which exist in the Middle East as Iran’s tools in this struggle. This interpretation of Iran’s actions and of the conflicts in the Middle East bears no connection to reality. Far from being an aggressor in the Middle East, Iran has been consistently on the defensive ever since the Iranian Revolution and was itself the target of what was by far the greatest single and most murderous act of aggression in the recent history of the Middle East: Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran, which was supported by the West, including the US. As for the spread of the terrorism in the Middle East, anyone at all familiar with the Wahhabi ideology of the terrorist groups can see immediately that far from being connected to Iran. Iran is their principle target and the greatest and most consistent enemy. On any objective assessment the present conflicts in the Middle East are not the result of Iran’s actions. Iran did not invade Iraq in 2003, or Libya in 2011, or begin the conflict in Syria in 2012. Rather in all these cases, the initiators of these conflicts were the West. However, what is true is that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been the most consistent ally and supporter of the Palestinians in their struggle to achieve their rights, and of the Lebanese in resisting Israeli invasions and occupations of their country. That is sufficient to make Israel see Iran as the greatest obstacle to the realization of its regional and other ambitions and - especially since its defeat in the 2006 war in Lebanon with Hezbollah, which Israel blamed on Iran - it has led Israel to represent Iran as its greatest and most dangerous enemy. This Israeli interpretation of recent events in the Middle East and of Iran’s actions has been very widely spread in the West (in the US especially) where it meets little push-back or criticism. It is not therefore surprising that Donald Trump - drawn as he already is to see things very much from the Israeli point of view - has accepted it in its entirety, and that it has strongly prejudiced him against Iran.
(2) Beyond these personal attachments to the US Jewish community and to Israel, there is the further factor of Donald Trump’s ideological view of the world. Some of Donald Trump’s advisers - notably his chief political strategist Steve Bannon - lean heavily to ‘clash of civilizations’ thinking, which treats ‘Western civilization’ as engaged in a fight for its life against supposedly hostile civilizations of which the most important is Islam.The extent to which Donald Trump himself shares these views is uncertain: my impression is that he is open to them without being wholly committed to them. However to the extent that Donald Trump is influenced by this sort of thinking it would naturally prejudice him against Iran, whose Islamic Republic embodies by definition the ‘civilizational challenge’ believers in these doctrines like Steve Bannon have.
(3) Lastly, in talking of Donald Trump’s personal attitudes, it is important not to overlook his deep personal feud with his immediate predecessor Barack Obama. The mere fact that Barack Obama sought an opening to Iran and negotiated the nuclear agreement with Iran is sufficient in itself to prejudice Donald Trump against these very things, and to speak of the nuclear agreement as a ‘bad deal’ for the US.
Institutional factors in Trump administration’s hostility to Iran:
Over and beyond these personal factors, which influence Donald Trump’s policies towards Iran, there are certain further underlying factors what incline powerful political groups within the US to take a hostile view of Iran. These include the following:
(4) The very great influence in the Trump administration of the US oil industry. It is not a coincidence that the Trump administration’s Secretary of State - Rex Tillerson - is an ex-oil industry executive. Iran’s determination following the Iranian Revolution to regain control of its oil and gas industry and to retain control of it thereafter - with the gas industry by some estimates potentially the biggest in the world - almost by definition sets it at odds with the US oil industry, which must feel deeply frustrated that this country of (as it sees it) limitless possibilities for the US oil industry’s enrichment is out of bounds for it. By definition that would incline the US oil industry to support a ‘regime change’ policy in Iran, which would ‘open up’ Iran’s oil and gas industry to exploitation by them.
(5) The very great influence in the Trump administration of the US military. Many of the leading military officials who have secured such powerful positions with the Trump administration e.g. General Mattis (the US Secretary of Defense), General Flynn (Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser) and General McMaster (his current National Security Adviser) have spoken with extreme hostility about Iran. It is difficult to avoid the sense with these people that they suffer from an abiding sense of personal humiliation at Iran’s success in repeatedly besting them in the various recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that despite the huge expenditure there of US blood and treasure Iranian influence in these countries is growing whilst US influence is reducing. Unfortunately, this tends to make these people see Iran very much as an enemy, and makes them hanker for revenge against it, and seek to overthrow its government.
(6) Overriding these factors is the abiding institutional hostility to Iran within the US political establishment including its foreign policy elite, its intelligence community, and its mass media. As I said at the start of this answer, this goes back decades - to the time of the Iranian Revolution - but it has of course also been hugely reinforced by Israel’s hostility to Iran (see above) which given the very great influence Israel has in the US all but guarantees US hostility to Iran. In summary, there are specific reasons why the Trump administration is particularly hostile to Iran, some of which are individual to the personality of Donald Trump himself. Beyond that, however there are strong institutional and historic reasons for US hostility to Iran, which would be present under any US administration. Unfortunately what that means is that there are few voices for restraint in the US on the subject of Iran, which given the attitudes towards Iran of the Trump administration is extremely dangerous.
Tasnim: As a candidate, Trump repeatedly slammed the July 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, US, Britain, France, and Germany) as “horrible”, pledging to “tear up” the accord if elected. Do you think that these recent regime change comments by the White House officials have their roots in Trump’s failure to terminate the deal or you think that some regional developments are behind the remarks?
Mercouris: There is no doubt that the failure to tear up the nuclear agreement - largely the consequence of strong European opposition to such a move - is a source of deep personal frustration to Donald Trump himself. However, I have set out above what I think are the overriding reasons for Donald Trump’s hostility - and that of his administration and of the whole US political class - towards Iran. Frankly, I feel that we would be hearing ‘regime change’ rhetoric issuing forth from this administration even if the nuclear agreement had been scrapped. Indeed I would go a step further and would say that the Trump administration’s failure to scrap the nuclear agreement despite its obvious desire to do so, and despite its intense hostility to Iran, ultimately shows how unrealistic all the ‘regime change’ rhetoric actually is. If the Trump administration cannot even achieve the (relatively) minor objective of scrapping the nuclear agreement, then there is no realistic possibility of it achieving the far more grandiose and ambitious objective of ‘regime change’ in Iran. In truth, the US has been trying to achieve ‘regime change’ in Iran ever since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, with a complete lack of success. With Iran never looking stronger or more stable, and with Iran forging increasingly stronger relations with a huge network of countries including the BRICS states (especially Russia and China) and powerful or potential powerful regional states like Turkey and Iraq, the prospects of achieving ‘regime change’ in Iran have reduced to vanishing point.
Tasnim: Given the close ties between the Saudi regime and the new US administration and the oil-rich kingdom’s hostile policies against Iran, in your opinion, what role has the Saudi Lobby played in Washington’s recent regime change rhetoric?
Mercouris: There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is a very powerful lobbyist in the US against Iran. Indeed, on the issue of Iran - as indeed on many other issues - it is not wrong to speak of a Saudi-Israeli lobby speaking out against Iran. However, it is important again to say that it is not because of Saudi Arabia that the US is hostile to Iran. Whilst Saudi Arabia undoubtedly influences US opinion in that direction, the US would be hostile to Iran for the reasons I previously said regardless of Saudi influence. The real danger is that US hostility to Iran - and the hostility of the Trump administration in particular - is being used by Saudi Arabia to support its own extreme anti-Iranian policies and schemes in ways that risk involving the US in them. The extent to which that is the case - and the extreme danger from this - became very obvious during Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, when the US President seemed to endorse Saudi Arabia’s most extreme anti Iranian rhetoric and seemed willing to throw the weight of the US behind Saudi Arabia’s anti Iranian schemes. With Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talking openly about a “preemptive” (ie. aggressive) war against Iran, that is an extremely dangerous development, possibly the single most worrying one of all in the Middle East today.