Trump adopts Netanyahu’s line that Iran is the major threat to existence of Israel

Tehran replaces North Korea as US administration’s choice for primary external target

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is shown on a large screen as he addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, this week. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is shown on a large screen as he addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, this week. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

 

Tehran is the Trump administration’s choice for primary external target rather than North Korea, the 2017 favourite. During his address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, US president Donald Trump accused Iran’s leaders of sowing “chaos, death and destruction” and of spreading “mayhem across the Middle East and elsewhere”.

Having alienated the international community by withdrawing the US from the accord providing for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, the administration has pledged to punish European and other governments seeking to circumvent US sanctions designed to cripple Iran’s economy.

While Trump attended UN meetings, his secretary of state Mike Pompeo and security adviser John Bolton addressed the United Against Nuclear Iran summit in New York.

Pompeo called the EU’s plan to set up a special purpose vehicle to conduct transactions with Iran “one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional [and] global peace and security”.

Bolton warned the US will be “aggressive and unwavering” on enforcement of sanctions on Iran. “We do not intend for our sanctions to be evaded by Europe or anybody else.”

US hostility toward Iran was ignited in 1979 by the overthrow of Washington’s ally, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Installed in 1941, the shah preserved US and UK oil interests in Iran and opened the country to western culture and political influence.

Crisis levels

Iran’s intelligence service was mentored by US and Israeli agents. Iran joined the western Central Treaty Organisation created to counter the regional reach of the Soviet Union and hosted US military bases. Iran’s new leader Ayatollah Khomeini transformed the pro-US monarchy into an anti-US “Islamic Republic”.

The relationship reached crisis level after November 1979 when the US embassy in Tehran was besieged and 52 diplomats and citizens were held for 444 days. A US military mission to rescue the hostages failed, heaping humiliation on fury over US impotence. The US introduced sanctions on Iran. They were lifted and later reimposed by the US and UN.

Washington and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, supported Iraq’s war against Iran, launched in September 1980 in response to Tehran’s efforts to export its revolution to the region and attempt to encourage Iraq’s Shia majority to oust the Baghdad government.

Moderate Iranian presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami were spurned by Washington when they promoted reconciliation, leaving Iran isolated globally until Tehran signed the nuclear deal.

While Iran honoured the agreement by scaling down its nuclear programme and subjecting its facilities to strict UN monitoring, the Obama administration did not deliver expected sanctions reduction due to residual enmity toward Tehran.

Since 1979 Iran’s hostile attitude toward Israel, Washington’s chief regional ally, has overlaid and surpassed old US resentments. The first world figure to visit Tehran was Palestine’s Yasser Arafat.

Tehran’s support for Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Lebanese Hizbullah and military aid to Damascus have deepened Israeli antagonism towards Iran. The Trump administration has adopted prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s line that Iran is the major threat to the existence of Israel and to stability in the region.

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