After the nuclear dog and pony show put on by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—the nemesis, together with the Saudis, of Iran and the Shiite Crescent—came Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran that Obama and the 5+1 countries signed in July 2015.
The relevant context is that the first one to violate the agreement was the United States, which has continued to impose secondary sanctions on European and Western banks approving loans to Iran. The US has prevented the flow to Iran of the capital that had been expected by the government of the moderate Hassan Rouhani.
Already in the crosshairs of the regime’s hawks, President Rouhani will feel even stronger pressure from the more radical wing. Moreover, as the Financial Times reports, with the prospective new US sanctions, the Iranian energy industry will be hit even harder. Iran is the fourth country in the world in terms of oil production, and second globally for gas reserves.
Were they to be tapped at full efficiency, the Iranian South Pars natural gas fields would yield enough volume to cover Europe’s annual consumption in full. But the US and its hardline supporters say this gas must be prevented from getting to the Mediterranean coasts.
Those deciding the strategic position in the medium-to-long term are in Washington and Tel Aviv, not in Brussels and Moscow, and not in Beijing either. Just like Pyongyang and Seoul, the Xi government will be carefully weighing the effects of the US decision in relation to the coming summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un. At first glance, the message is not an encouraging one.
As expected, the mission to the US by Macron and Merkel to convince Trump to maintain cooperation with Tehran has failed. There might be a silver lining to this, however. The European Union will remain, along with Russia and China, in a position to be able to negotiate with the regime of the Ayatollahs. The American move to cancel the deal leaves the US once more in a difficult position: Washington has satisfied its Israeli and Saudi allies, but it may have given Moscow another diplomatic card to trade. Russian President Putin is basically the only leader who is talking to everyone in the region, from the Syrians to the Israelis and the Saudis, and from the Turks to the Iranians.
This scenario, with a bit of wish fulfilment thrown in, is only valid if the Syrian conflict does not spread out further. This is the crux of the matter. The war being fought against Iran will be a mixture of military actions and punitive diplomacy, i.e. economic cornering. But Europe—particularly France and Britain—has already entered, albeit indirectly, into the war against Iran by participating together with the US in the demonstrative strike against Syrian bases (while carefully avoiding the Russian ones) in order to punish Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons (about which, moreover, no one seems to speak anymore). If the conflict escalates, it is hard to imagine that other countries, like Germany and Italy in particular, would not end up getting involved.
This has been the real success achieved by Trump: the creation of an Atlantic-Israeli axis, to which we, the Italians, have given a healthy boost by the propaganda imagery coming from the presence of the Tour of Italy in Israel. We are far from the spirit of Gino Bartali.
Looking at the larger picture, this has been a proxy war fought against Tehran for seven years on the backs of the Syrians, in a conflict that began in 1979 with the rise of Khomeini and the taking of hostages at the US embassy on Nov. 4. That led to the bloodiest conflict the Middle East had yet seen when Saddam Hussein, backed by the West and the Sunni Arab monarchies, attacked the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran on Sept. 22, 1980.
The era of destabilization, which had its beginning then, has now come full circle, as the Arab states competing with Israel are being disintegrated, like Iraq in 2003 and Syria in 2011. Iran itself is now in the crosshairs, a country which has never been willing to give up its claim to its own sovereignty and independence.
Lebanon and Palestine are also pawns in this game, as well as Yemen, where another proxy war is being fought between the Saudis, Americans and Iranians. In Lebanon, where a parliamentary election has just been held after nine years, Hezbollah, an ally of Tehran, has strengthened its positions and is preparing to face a new confrontation with Israel after the last one in 2006. Lebanon, we note, is where Italy has the command of the western sector of the UNIFIL force, with the presence of more than 1,100 soldiers from the Alpine Brigade Julia.
Most of our voters, rendered disoriented by a weak ruling class, are probably ignorant of the presence of Italian soldiers in the region. And they are even less aware that Italian companies have outstanding orders in the amount of €25 billion to €30 billion from Iran, now threatened by the coming sanctions. This means that the fate of Italian jobs will be determined by the US and Israel, not Rome.
This is how it goes in the Middle East. Between ongoing wars and poignant anniversaries (70 years since the birth of Israel, and the Palestinian Nakba), torn-up agreements and military provocations, the weather forecast says storm and hail. Keep your umbrella ready—if you have one.
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