US tries to bully the world into attacking Iran

Rania Khalek
Rania Khalek is an American journalist, writer and political commentator based in the Middle East.
US tries to bully the world into attacking Iran
America’s conduct towards Iran demonstrates just how much of a bully the US government is, that anything short of bending 100 percent to America’s agenda will eventually result in punishment and war.

Newly appointed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, known as an anti-Iran hawk, began the week by giving a frightening speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, threatening Iran with the strongest sanctions in history' if it doesn’t capitulate to US demands. The 12 basic requirements Pompeo laid out, which verge on the absurd, went far beyond requiring Iran to refrain from developing nuclear weapons, which it was already doing. Among the conditions were that Iran withdraws its forces and support from groups across the Middle East that the US doesn’t like, including in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.

That is never going to happen. Unlike the US, Iran is a part of the Middle East. It has every right to engage with its neighbors, certainly more of a right than the US, a country that is on the other side of the world yet constantly meddles in Middle Eastern affairs to secure its interests.

It’s also important to emphasize the difference between Iranian and American actions in the region. For the last several years, the US and its regional allies backed an armed rebellion in Syria made up of a collection of Salafi Jihadist groups in an effort to collapse the Syrian state. This policy gave rise to groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq. If not for Syrian allies like Iran and Russia, the Syrian state would have likely collapsed and been taken over by Al-Qaeda or ISIS. In other words, the US made a huge mess in Syria and Iraq and Iran played a crucial role in cleaning up that mess in both countries through its support for the Syrian government and its backing of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq that were integral to the defeat of ISIS. Yet the US has the audacity to portray Iran as a destructive force in the region, when in reality it is the US and its allies that play the most disastrous role in bringing chaos to the Middle East with regime-change wars and support for Gulf monarchies, like Saudi Arabia, that spread extremism.

As for the Iran nuclear deal, it’s equally important to note that it is the US which is violating the deal against a compliant Iran, demonstrating that the price of honoring a treaty with the US is economic sanctions and potential war. That’s the message the Trump administration is sending to the world. It remains to be seen whether the European Union has the spine to stand up to the US. So far, the Europeans say they will continue to do business with Iran, uphold the Iran nuclear deal, and possibly invoke a law that allows European companies to dodge US sanctions, but whether they’ll follow through, only time will tell. 

But if the media discourse around Iran is any indication, it seems Trump’s war cabinet, led by mustachioed ultra-nationalist neoconservative hawk and newly-appointed National Security Adviser John Bolton, might get its way.

Depicting Iran as a menace

Part of the US strategy, which is basically the Bolton strategy for regime change in Iran that was written up for the White House last year, is to cast Iran as a menace that is puppeteering chaos across the Middle East.

Though much of the mainstream Western press claims to be opposed to Trump, when it comes to war, they often echo the administration’s talking points or participate in perpetuating false narratives that are essential to the administration’s case for war, especially with regard to Iran.

Nikki Haley at the United Nations Security Council emergency meeting that was called to address the Israeli massacre of Palestinian protesters in Gaza last week spent a portion of her anti-Palestinian screed blaming Iran for the Israeli-caused bloodshed as well as portraying Iran as a danger from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Yemen. 

Haley’s depiction of Iran would not be possible without a US press that perpetuates the anti-Iran narrative. The New York Times has been especially vital to this endeavor, as Robert Wright laid out in a devastating critique at The Intercept. But the paper of record isn’t alone

In the lead-up to Haley’s speech, as citizens in Lebanon went to the polls in early May, one article after another in the Western press warned of the looming threat of Iran’s influence in the election.

After the results came in and it was clear that the political wing of the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah and its allies made gains, the election in Lebanon was framed by many Western media outlets as though it was a violent Iranian coup.

“Hezbollah allies gain in Lebanon vote, underscoring Iran sway,”said Reuters, to give just one example.

This implies that Hezbollah seized power in Lebanon against the will of the people.

While Hezbollah is certainly in a stronger position in Lebanon politically, this was the result of democratic elections, the kind of elections the US regularly demands of countries in the region. Lebanese citizens voted for Hezbollah.

The repeated references to Iranians when talking about Hezbollah is pure propaganda. Hezbollah is a Lebanese political and armed group that is part of the Lebanese government, has a popular grassroots base of support in Lebanon and is made up of Lebanese citizens. Yes, it receives support from Iran, but it is not an Iranian group or an Iranian proxy as the Western press likes to insinuate. It is a thoroughly Lebanese group that is regionally a partner of Iran because they have similar interests. But first and foremost, Hezbollah protects Lebanon’s borders and sovereignty and works with the Lebanese state to do so.

It also erases how Hezbollah played a critical part in protecting Lebanon’s border from genocidal insurgents in Syria and preventing the collapse of the Syrian state, which would have spilled even further into and destabilized Lebanon, which helps explain why Hezbollah did well in the Lebanese election.

A similar phenomenon took hold as Iraqis went to the polls days later. The Western press again centered on Iran.

Fifteen years after the US destroyed Iraq, the country is finally beginning to emerge from the trauma and held democratic elections, something the US had been demanding from Iraq for years in the lead-up to the 2003 US invasion. Now that Iraq has democracy (not because of Western regime change but in spite of it) the Western press seemed outraged about the potential results. It appears democracy is only good when the results please the US State Department.

Iran is portrayed in the same menacing light with regard to its support for the government in Syria, where the real escalation between Iran and its adversaries is playing out.

Looming war

An hour after Trump announced the US exit from the Iran nuclear deal, Israel bombed Syria, killing several Iranians as well as other Syrian government forces.

It was clear the Israelis were trying to provoke a reaction from the Iranians, which they could then use as a pretext for war, but the Iranians did not respond.

Instead, Syrian government forces retaliated by firing at Israel. Israel bombed Syria again, claiming it was in response to Iranian rockets fired at Israel. But according to Syrian commanders on the ground, it was the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces (NDF) that responded to Israeli provocations in the Golan Heights. They said there were no Shia forces in the area and that reports that Iran fired at Israel were false.

Syria’s retaliation killed no Israelis but instead “limited” damage to some Israeli military bases, reflecting Syria’s attempt to remain restrained. Neither Syria nor Iran want a war with Israel and it’s not clear that the Israelis are too keen on going to war with Iran or its allies.

Nevertheless, the Western press repeated verbatim the Israeli version of events that Iran fired missiles at Israel, while also managing to leave out that Israel initiated the exchange in the first place.

“Israel retaliates after Iran 'fires 20 rockets' at army in occupied Golan Heights,”blared The Guardian’s headline. “Iran Fires Rockets Into Golan Heights From Syria,”stated the New York Times. And “Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria in response to rocket fire,”reported the BBC.

What happens next

In a region plagued by chaos, Iran is one of the more stable countries, and in comparison to its neighbors, which are mostly monarchies, it is one of the more democratic, combining Islamic theocracy with elements of democracy. It is by no means a flawless country, but it doesn’t deserve economic isolation and war.

Israel meanwhile, is threatening to escalate against Iran in Syria, and it’s following through on that threat by intensifying airstrikes against Iranians operating on the side of the Syrian government. These airstrikes are meant to provoke Iran into retaliating against Israel to justify a war that no one really wants.  

Thus far, Iran and its allies have maintained extreme restraint, refusing to be drawn into a war with Israel. But if Israel continues its provocations, which looks certain to intensify, Iran will have no choice but to react, at which point the US will be ready to join its regional allies in what could be an even more devastating regional war than the last. That doesn’t mean war is inevitable, but the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal made it far more likely.

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