The creepiest image from Donald Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the Iran deal was new NSA chief John Bolton’s looming presence as the president exited the podium. It’s too soon to tell whether Bolton will get the Iran war and regime change he has lusted after, but Israelis were told to open bomb shelters on Tuesday. Wednesday they were shot at by Iranian missiles from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Today Israel retaliated, all signs there could be serious consequences to what CNN’s Christiane Amanpour described as “possibly the greatest deliberate act of self-harm and self sabotage in geostrategic politics in the modern era.”
In 2015, Israel had considered preemptively bombing nuclear targets in Iran, but hesitated in part because President Obama wouldn’t provide bunker-busting planes and ordnance to soften up the strikes. Now PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s jingoist braying and deceptive use of outdated Iranian documents has effectively manipulated Trump. Our infuriating President, against the advice of both American and Israeli intelligence and military, but egged on by the Amen chorus led by the Sheldon Adelson wing of the GOP and like-minded Saudis and UAEs, is goading Iranians and their allies to make matters worse.
We shouldn’t be surprised if Netanyahu, to distract from his political corruption issues, stages a wag-the-dog attack to boost his right wing coalition. Stay tuned for more Iran-inspired violence. It would be ominous if Russia were to give Syria advanced air defense missiles to undermine Israel air dominance. Trump’s touted Middle East peace process can hardly be served by his destabilizing the region and abdicating responsibility in Syria.
There was never any question that Iran has been a bad actor using its oil revenues to support terrorist groups, just as it dissembled about its nuclear weapon practices. “The Iranians lie. They cheat,” said former CIA director Michael Hayden said. “That’s why you need to have the best possible verification regime in place.” The deal was far from perfect, but that intrusive oversight is now gone.
Instead of moving forward with a carefully calibrated strategic engagement, we’re rewarding Iranian hardliners and punishing the moderates, including the burgeoning well-educated cohort of young people who are eager to engage with Western culture and business opportunities, and build a future at odds with the theocratic oppression imposed by their aging leaders. But they are proud nationalists who will likely unite with their ideological opposites in the face of new sanctions.
With Trump’s breaking the deal, Iran could return immediately to producing nuclear bomb building materials, fuel and warheads. Or it could hold back for a while and try to effect some new arrangement with the Europeans, Chinese and Russians. But punitive sanctions began immediately, with implementation delays for some now doing business with Iran, and sooner or later we will be at loggerheads with our allies who want to continue to honor the deal.
It’s nice that three Americans held by the North Koreans are now free. The odds that any of the at least five American hostages in Iran will be released any time soon just got a lot worse. And breaking our word with the Iranians is likely to make a sustainable agreement with the North Koreans, including verifiable safeguards, that much more difficult. Such will be the price of another Trump crisis of convenience.