Early last week, Iran announced its intention to enrich uranium above the level permitted by the nuclear deal to which it is a signatory.
Over the weekend, soldiers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. The attack was retaliation for British forces seizing an Iranian tanker delivering oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions on Damascus. The wider context of these events, however, is Tehran’s threats to shut down oil exports from Persian Gulf states if American sanctions are not lifted.
Surprisingly, the international community – and Middle East countries – are meeting Iran’s belligerence with a shrug of the shoulders. This blatant unwillingness to confront Iran could stem from dread of the regional bully menacing its neighbors. However, voices in the West are also expressing an understanding of, and even empathy toward, Iran, which is perceived as a victim clawing for its life to fend off an aggressor – President Donald Trump.
In Europe, Russia, and even certain circles in the United States, it is largely accepted that the nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama successfully secured peace and quiet. In the wake of the nuclear deal, many believed tensions in the Persian Gulf would subside and Iran would focus on rehabilitating its economy and seek acceptance in the family of nations. Trump, on the other hand, is presented as a crude violator of the nuclear deal who reinstated sanctions and pushed Tehran back to violence and terrorism.
A similar argument was made 80 years ago. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was accused of supposedly forcing the leaders of Japan to attack Pearl Harbor by imposing painful sanctions on the country. But Iran today – similar to Japan in December 1941 – isn’t a peace-seeking country. It is a belligerent regional power.
Iran doesn’t hide its expansionist ambitions and is presently focused on the so-called Shi’ite crescent stretching from Tehran through Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Gaza, and Yemen.
Obama essentially bought time, nothing more, in the hope that during the quiet years –purchased at a high cost – Iran would be appeased and become more moderate, and perhaps even see a regime change. History teaches us, however, that an aggressor can’t be placated with concessions and gestures of goodwill. Indeed, it will seize the first chance it gets to retrogress, having exploited the peaceful period to become stronger.
It wasn’t Trump who turned Iran into a monster. He didn’t force it on the path of violence and terrorism, and he isn’t the reason it is trying to conquer the Middle East. Iran’s essence – anchored in the ayatollahs’ fundamentalist and apocalyptic worldview – was established well before Trump entered office.
Iran doesn’t need to be appeased; it has to be curbed and subdued. It’s possible the world is on a collision course with Iran, but by taking the initiative and adopting an uncompromising approach, the breadth and scope of a future conflict can be mitigated, or perhaps conflict can be prevented entirely.