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Israel and the Trump administration are building a case for war against Iran

This looks an awful lot like a replay of 2007.

President Trump claimed that the unverified contents of Israeli Prime Minister's presentation on Iran's "secret" nuclear weapons program proved that he has been "100 percent right" in wanting to scrap the deal. CREDIT: Screenshot of CNN broadcast
President Trump claimed that the unverified contents of Israeli Prime Minister's presentation on Iran's "secret" nuclear weapons program proved that he has been "100 percent right" in wanting to scrap the deal. CREDIT: Screenshot of CNN broadcast

Israel and the United States have issued a steady volley of statements against Iran over the past few days that have built a familiar case for war against Tehran, culminating in a bizarre presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in which he used old information to argue that the Iran deal was based on lies.

A stream of news and analysis pieces cropped up Thursday about Israel’s willingness to strike back against Iran if Tehran struck first — as if Iran was seriously considering a first-strike against Israel.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Thursday went so far as to say that war between Iran and Israel is “very likely,” even though he wasn’t sure how this war would start. This is the beat of a drum that has been played before, most loudly in 2007, when Vice President Dick Cheney pushed for a war against Iran, Israel openly threatened Iran after bombing Syrian nuclear facilities, and Sen. John McCain sang about bombing Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018.  CREDIT: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. CREDIT: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

Following that familiar script, over the weekend, newly-minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited U.S. allies in the Middle East and Iran was, of course, at the top of his agenda in Saudi Arabia and in Israel, where he emphasized President Donald Trump’s view of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and accused Iran of being a threat to regional security.

Pompeo even managed to squeeze in a shot against Iran in his meeting in Jordan.

By Monday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of waging an economic war against Iran, while encouraging other states to take military action against the country.

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“Today, the war room against us is the U.S. Department of Treasury,” said Khamenei, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency. “One way of confrontation with the Islamic Republic establishment is an economic one; another way is the provocation of certain dim-witted and ignorant states in our region [against us],” he said, referring to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“The [Americans] seek to shift onto others the costs of confrontation with the Islamic Republic establishment and the powerful Iranian nation,” he said. “What Washington does best is cause insecurity. Everywhere they have set foot in, they caused insecurity and brought misfortune for the people,” he added.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, professor of political science at Syracuse University told ThinkProgress he’s worried that the stage is being set for military action against Iran.

“What is happening, in light of the missile attacks [by Israel against Iranian forces] in Syria, it really seems like we are entering a stage whereby the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia have really decided to take it a notch up in terms of militarily challenging Iran and making sure that the recent victories scored there can be nullified to some extent,” he added.

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Boroujerdi said that what’s in play is a more orchestrated plan to provoke Iran — or the force it supports in Lebanon, Hezbollah — to retaliate against Israel in some way. This could also set the stage for further Israeli attacks on Hezbollah territories.

Trump: “I’ve been 100 percent right”

A potential military action would complement Trump’s likely plans to pull out of the JCPOA, as Pompeo indicated last week.

The president has until May 12 to extend sanctions waivers to Iran under the JCPOA, which, in exchange, requires that Iran continue to limit its enrichment activities and allow inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, to inspect its facilities on a regular basis.

But the president is unlikely to do so, and said as much the last time he extended the sanctions in January. He has repeatedly accused Iran of not complying with the deal, even though the IAEA has repeatedly — and consistently — said that Iran is compliance with the terms of JCPOA. So too has the U.S. State Department, and Pompeo, a vocal opponent of the deal.

On Monday, after his visit with Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a presentation in Tel Aviv in which he alleged — as he has many times in the past — that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. While Israeli officials claimed the presentation was based on new intelligence, the IAEA was aware of the information Netanyahu spoke of well before the Iran deal and published material about it in 2011.

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Shortly after that speech, President Trump took questions from reporters on the deal. He praised Netanyahu’s presentation, and said that he remains convinced that the deal is not worth keeping.

We’ll see what happens. But I think, if anything, what’s happening today and over the last little while and what we’ve learned has really shown that I’ve been 100 percent right,” said Trump. 

But there has been zero evidence of that, according to the United Nations.

Given that Iran has not actually violated the deal, the Trump administration has, for the past several months, taken an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to trying to dismantle the deal.

Last October, the president accused Iran of violating the “spirit” of the deal. Earlier this year, he alleged that Iran is providing missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the United States has supported the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to bomb the country for over two years, triggering a massive humanitarian crisis. During German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit last week, Trump said, “Wherever there’s a problem, Iran is right there.”

President Trump has asked the European partners in the deal — France, the United Kingdom, and Germany — to “fix” the deal. But they fell short of passing new sanctions against Iran, which has repeatedly indicated that it would not renegotiate the deal three years after it was struck, nor would it remain in the deal without the United States.

Regional ramifications

In October, President Trump also refused to recertify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, as he is required to do under U.S. law every 90 days. That decertification left the door open for Congress to snap back economic sanctions on Iran with 60 days, which did not happen.

But if it does this time around, and if the banking sanctions snap back, things will become dire in Iran. And that’s not good for anyone, said Boroujerdi. To start, Iran will have to turn to China, because they’re the only country offering the no-strings-attached funds Iran will need.

Iran will also face other hard choices — and some of them might prove to be destabilizing, which, said Boroujerdi, is the Trump administration’s “game plan.”

“They are hoping that by pulling out of the nuclear deal, with the formidable challenges that Iran is experiencing, in terms of the water crisis, the currency situation, lack of foreign investment, etc., will lead to some sort of popular uprising,” he said.

But this will have major regional ramifications.

“This can really set the region ablaze. Having a country like Iran becoming unstable, in this situation, when the whole Middle East is imploding in one way or another, can really raise the stakes, considering Iran’s size, population, and the geopolitical position it occupies,” said Boroujerdi.

“I’m not sure Washington really wants to see that happen, but they are perhaps naively hopeful that this will be a self-contained regime change.”