Commentary. If on one hand the Iranians are grateful to the Pentagon for removing Saddam and the Taliban, on the other they fear that they too will end up in the Americans’ crosshairs, and that is why they expanded their missile program.

Diplomacy must take the place of fear

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing everything possible to spread fear of an Iranian bomb and to sabotage diplomacy. He is aiming to nullify the nuclear deal with Iran, but will end up shooting himself in the foot, because only respecting the agreement guarantees to the international community (and to the Jewish state) that the policy of deterrence of the Ayatollahs and Iranian Revolutionary Guard will stop short of nuclear weapons.

If the deal blows up, the Iranians will resume the nuclear program begun in the 1950s by Mohammad Reza Shah on the initiative of the Americans, it will increase the number of centrifuges, and it will exit the Non-Proliferation Treaty that was signed during the time of the monarchy.

Of course, the Israeli leadership has many good reasons to fear Iran and its allies, primarily the Lebanese Hezbollah and, somewhat less so, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose requests for the return of the Golan Heights (occupied in 1967) have not gained any traction in the international community, despite the UN resolutions to this effect. These reasons, however, must not degenerate into a war that would have devastating consequences for Europe, which would be overwhelmed by the outpour of refugees. For this reason, it is urgent that Brussels itself should defuse the situation by defending the agreement that was signed in Vienna on July 14, 2015, after long diplomatic negotiations.

Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA), the Multilateral Agreement with Iran had been negotiated by the permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, France, the UK, China and Russia) and Germany. According to the findings made by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) 11 times so far, Tehran is not deviating from the deal. In a Middle East in flames, the JPCOA is preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons, and subjects it to meticulous inspections, while not including restrictions on Iran’s missile program, which is supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

Now, if the JPCOA were to fail, that would embarrass the moderate president Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif while strengthening the positions of Tehran’s hawks. But it would also mean disappointing the many Iranians who believed in diplomacy and in the EU’s ability to provide mediation. It would also make likely the opening of a new front in the war.

For the Iranian leader, Ali Khamenei, signing the JCPOA meant giving up nuclear sovereignty for a period ranging from 10 to 15 years, after which there would be IAEA supervision in place indefinitely, with the commitment not to develop or acquire any nuclear weapon under any circumstances. In return, the Islamic Republic should have been cleared of sanctions, and the embargo should have stopped. But this did not happen, because the US has not kept its word and has not removed the financial sanctions that also have serious repercussions on business with Europe, because the banks on the old continent are reluctant to work with Tehran, fearing the sting of the US Treasury.

Because of this fact, the Iranian authorities are now asking for the deal to be respected (and thus for the renewal of the waiver by Trump on May 12), and stress that the terms are not negotiable: if Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel say they want to change them, they are losing credibility before their Iranian interlocutors.

That said, if today Tehran is the capital of a regional power, this is also thanks to the US, which removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the enemies of the ayatollahs. If on one hand the Iranians are grateful to the Pentagon for these operations, on the other they fear that they too will end up in the Americans’ crosshairs, and that is why they expanded their missile program.

Now, diplomacy must take the place of fear, and they must try to understand why they are afraid, a sentiment which one sees expressed even in literature. If the Iranians fear an attack, it is not only because of Netanyahu’s and Trump’s invectives, but also because their country has been attacked several times before, even during the Second World War when it was neutral.

British troops invaded Iran from the south, and Soviet soldiers from the north, and the population suffered through the foreign occupation that Simin Daneshvar, the doyenne of women writers of Persian literature, described well in her masterpiece Suvashun. (That book is now finally available in an Italian translation by Anna Vanzan, to be presented at the Turin Book Fair on May 14, published by Francesco Brioschi, 2018.) Again, in 1980, Iran was invaded by Saddam’s Iraqi troops, and the war lasted until 1988—a conflict narrated by Ahmad Dehgan in his novel Viaggio in direzione 270° (“Journey toward 270°,” Jouvence 2018, Italian translation by Michele Marelli).

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