By Con Coughlin
8 May 2018
Arguably the most telling remark that has been made during the current crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is this week’s claim by the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, that Tehran desires a constructive relationship with the rest of the world. If only.
When former United States president, Barack Obama, invested so much of his personal political capital in securing a nuclear deal with Iran three years ago – the deal from which Donald Trump has just announced Washington’s withdrawal – there was an expectation that, having signed it, the Iranians would indeed pursue constructive relations.
Rather than pursue the aggressive, anti-western policies that have come to define the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution, the deal offered an opportunity for Tehran to change course, adopting a more positive mindset in its dealings with the outside world. Mr Obama certainly believed that to be the case, which may explain why he was minded to give the Iranians such a good deal, one that conveniently glossed over decades of deception over its nuclear activities.
He took Iran’s negotiators, led by foreign minister Javad Zarif, at their word when they suggested the deal could lay the foundations for a wider engagement between the two countries, one that might end more than 30 years of mutual antipathy.
Instead, the opposite happened. The Iranians intensified their hostility towards the West and its allies, to the extent that the very idea that Iran might be interested in maintaining a constructive dialogue now seems quite laughable.
If Mr Rouhani was genuinely interested in fostering better relations, he would not allow Iranian warships to harass the US 5th Fleet as it fulfils its normal patrol duties around the Gulf region. He would not continue to support Houthi rebels in Yemen who have helped to create a humanitarian disaster there by seeking the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government.
And Mr Rouhani would not tolerate the massive arms build-up that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has undertaken in Syria and Lebanon, where it has now stockpiled tens of thousands of missiles with the capability of hitting all of Israel’s major towns and cities.
No way are these the actions of a country that wants a “constructive” engagement with the outside world. They are a graphic illustration of Iran’s desire to maintain its aggressive posture with the express intention of upholding one of the ayatollahs’ key tenets: exporting the uncompromising principles of the Iranian revolution throughout the Muslim world.
It is this aggressive mindset on the part of Iran’s ruling elite that has led to the latest diplomatic confrontation between Washington and Tehran, as Mr Trump detailed in his speech.
For how can Washington and the other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the agreement’s full title – have any faith in the Iranians when the latter’s every deed is filled with malign intent? Indeed, Washington would have been heading for a confrontation with Iran even if Mr Trump had not decided to pick a fight over the nuclear agreement.
Iran’s military build-up in southern Lebanon and Syria, in particular, has put Tehran on a collision course with Israel, where intelligence officials now estimate there is a 50-50 chance of the Jewish state being involved in a direct military confrontation with the ayatollahs this summer.
One of the reasons Mr Obama was said to be so keen to enter negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme in the first place was to reduce the possibility of direct military conflict between Tehran and Jerusalem. Yet here we are, three years later, and the war clouds are even more ominous as the Israelis prepare to defend their borders, all because of the provocative actions Iran has taken since the nuclear deal was concluded.
In this Friday, April 13, 2018 file photo, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen during an election campaign in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. Campaigning for the first election in nine years has revolved around promises of stability and growth and has avoided divisive issues such as Hezbollah's weapons and its regional alliances, virtually guaranteeing the Iran-backed militant group's continued domestic hegemony
Moreover, in view of the close bond between Mr Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel knows that it can count on Washington’s support if it does find itself involved in a direct military confrontation with Iran. I doubt that this was the scenario that Mr Obama envisaged when the negotiations concluded, but then his administration failed totally to grasp the depth of Iran’s commitment to extending its influence far beyond its own borders.
Iran’s desire to establish a power base in parts of the Arab world was reflected last weekend in the significant gains that the Iranian-backed militia Hizbollah made in the Lebanese elections. And Tehran will be hoping to chalk up a similar feat in next weekend’s Iraqi elections, where it backs front-runner Hadi al-Amiri, the Shi’ite militia chief who spent many years living in exile in Iran.
So much for Mr Rouhani’s claim that Iran wants a more constructive relationship with the outside world. On the contrary, judging by Tehran’s recent conduct in the Middle East, the ayatollahs’ real intention is to achieve regional domination. And if that is the case, then it is pointless having any deal, whether on nuclear issues or otherwise, that enables the ayatollahs to achieve their goals.