Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

  • Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Iran nuclear deal painstakingly negotiated by the EU (Commission president Jean-Claude Junker, right), Russia, China and Iran (Photo: European Commission)

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

The tweet was sent hours after a rocket landed less than a mile from the US embassy in Iraq's capital Baghdad.

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A few days earlier photographs were taken of missiles on at least two Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf.

Although Iran has unloaded the missiles in the meantime, the current escalation between the US and Iran is extremely worrying.

The relations between the United States and Iran have always been hostile since Ayatollah Khomeini took power in the Islamic revolution of 1979.

There are many reasons for this historic tension. One is that the then deposed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah, was a close ally to the West and the US in particular.

Another reason is that Saudi Arabia and Israel America's closest allies in the Middle East, see Iran as an existential threat.

A third reason is that the US suspects that Iran has been facilitating Al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organisations.

More recently, the US and its Middle East allies have not been able to stop the increasing influence of Iran in the region.

Since the war in Iraq in 2003, Iranian militias have been operating in Iraq, targeting US facilities. Jawad al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister from 2006 until 2014, was known to be close to the Iranian regime.

First Iraq, then Syria

Since the war in Syria started in 2011, the Revolutionary Guard and Iranian militias under the command of Qassem Suleimani have de facto taken over the control of Syria.

The Lebanese militia Hezbollah, supported by Iran, has gained strength in Lebanon and Syria. And there is the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting the Houthi rebels.

It is understandable that Israel and Saudi Arabia feel the Iranian threat coming pretty close by.

For Israel it's Hamas in the South (Gaza) and Hezbollah in the North (Lebanon and Syria), while for Saudi Arabia is the Houthis in the South (Yemen) and its own Shia population in the oil rich East.

That is the reason why Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman have pushed the United States for years to take action against Iran and even go as far as regime change.

They found supporters in the United States for this line of thinking: president George W. Bush called Iran part of the 'Axis of Evil', the recently deceased senator John McCain said many times the US should "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" and the current US National Security Advisor, John Bolton is well known for pushing for a regime change in Iran.

President Trump also followed this line by pulling the plug on the nuclear deal between Iran, Russia, China, the European Union (and Germany, France and the UK) and the US, and even imposing new sanctions on Teheran.

The EU tried to save the deal and the promised economic investments in Iran, but that appeared to be hardly possible when the US threatened to punish the companies who did that.

On 8 May, just a few days after the US sent war ships to the Persian Gulf, Iran announced it would no longer fully comply with the nuclear deal and that it might restart the enrichment of uranium, a red line for the US.

One week later two Saudi oil tankers were damaged, for which Iran was blamed. This led to a sudden escalation between the United States and Iran.

Nevertheless, a war with Iran would be a disaster of unseen proportions. Have we not learned some lessons from the war in Iraq?

Since 2003 Iraq has been the epicentre of instability and violence in the region. On top of that, it triggered the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq and later ISIS.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the war in Iraq was the mother of most post-2011 terrorism worldwide. The amount of suffering as a direct and indirect result of that insane war has been too much to put into numbers or statistics.

If the US goes to war with Iran, in comparison the Iraq war will be seen as a walk in the park.

Global war?

Not only will it trigger a total war in the region. It might even lead to a global war.

But even if the latter will not be the case, a total regional war will have devastating effects on Europe too. Just think for example of the millions of Syrian refugees now living in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

In any scenario of a regional war, they will have no other option than going to Europe. And that might be the least of our worries.

In short, Europe has every reason to try to stop a war between the United States and Iran.

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Brussels on 13 May to see top European diplomats, the welcome was rather cool.

EU's High Representative Federica Mogherini initially even said that she was too busy to meet with Pompeo.

This reaction is of course understandable. However, the question is if it is wise?

Even though President Trump said he didn't want war with Iran, he is known to change his mind on things rather quickly. It looks like the Trump administration is creating an unnecessary but then unstoppable war logic, just like it did with Iraq in 2003.

Unfortunately, the timing for Europe is problematic, a few days before European elections.

However, if the EU will miss the opportunity now to do whatever it can to avoid this insane war, and take all the time and energy to convince the US and Iran to cool down, it will probably regret it for decades to come.

Author bio

Koert Debeuf is an associate researcher at the Free University of Brussels.

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