What’s An Ideologue To Do?
By John Thompson
Fireworks are flying in the Middle East again... which is not unusual. This is likewise true in Washington, which is again not unusual. However, it does not take the perception of Casandra to predict what some people are going to say about it.
The central fact behind the current folderol is that Iran is in trouble. Like Hitler watching his 6th Army painfully inching to victory Stalingrad in October 1942, the Mullahs of Iran are so close to a major success in some of their greatest schemes that they can already taste the celebratory cakes. This is the point where things unravel.
There are plenty of foreign policy 'misteps' to catalogue in the last hundred years of American governance, but for sheer ignorant willful stupidity, it is hard to imagine a worse agreement than President Obama's 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. In return for swearing that they would be good and behave themselves by stopping their nuclear program, Iran got an end to US, EU and UN sanctions and the release of billions of dollars in frozen assets.
UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon praised the agreement and said it would "contribute to peace and stability in the region." President Obama called the deal a "Historic Understanding".
Leaving aside the issue of whether or not Iran has been cheating so far as its nuclear program goes (and they probably are), what is clear is that Iran stepped up its other activities. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, arm in arm with Hezbollah, has poured out blood and treasure in Syria and in buying influence in Iraq; effectively creating its long-coveted Shia Crescent. They've also been backing the Houthis in the vicious civil war in Yemen - and occasionally firing Scud ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.
Of course, the long-suffering peoples of Iran hoped that the released funds might benefit them; but Ideological Revolutionaries with grand schemes are lousy economists and suck at civil governance. Prosperity did not come to Persia and now its people are engaged in furious protest. So, what are the Mullahs to do?
The old answer in the Middle East is to make a big stink about Israel.
The Israelis have sat back from the Civil War in Syria with two significant exceptions: Israeli hospitals have treated the badly wounded and maimed from both sides, and the Israelis have closely watched arms transfers inside Syria. Goodies like long range SAM missiles and other things that Israel does not want Hezbollah to possess have been blown up as deliveries were in progress. That's been 'normal' as the Middle East understands such things for several years.
Last week, Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen fired 20 artillery rockets into Israel. Hezbollah, which has stockpiled tens of thousands of these, stayed quiet for the nonce. The Israelis, rightly, regarded direct Iranian action on their frontier as dangerous provocation and fired some ordinance at IRGC and Qods Force targets in Syria. Tit for tat, old school, and normal insofar as the Middle East is concerned.
Except that the Iranians have refrained from directly threatening Israel for years, so why do this now?
The answer suggests itself: The Nazis fabricated a "Polish" attack on a border radio station the day before they invaded Poland in 1939. The Russians shelled one of their own border villages shortly before they attacked Finland in that same year. When Argentina's generals were facing severe criticism for their human rights abuses, they invaded the Falkland Islands.
Tehran knows calls to defend Islam doesn't rally their citizens anymore, but national pride may. The number and power of provocations on the Israeli frontier will probably be in proportion to the nervousness of the Mullahs about their own security. Expect more attacks.
In the meantime, the BDS crowd on Social media are screaming about Israeli aggression and provocation, vigorously denouncing it and signalling their own virtue. As usual, a lack of understanding about details of history or a knowledge of the situation on the Syrian-Israeli frontier is no bar to criticism. Expect them to ramp up if the crisis escalates.
In the meantime, President Trump, in his own inimitable way, has put his finger on the problem and is clearing the way for return to US sanctions on Iran. Much of the Arab world and Israel are alike in cheering him on. Blunt and truculent as he may be, Trump still has a better view of the reality of the situation than his predecessor... so when does he get his Peace Prize?