“The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!”
What on earth does this tweet from President Trump – “I am asking for World Peace” – mean? It does not at all gel with NY businessman pragmatism: that he wants to diss Obama; or, that he wants to implode Iran in order to recover US energy dominance; or, that with Iran’s implosion, the hitherto obstructed path, would thus be cleared for all Sunni Arab states desirous of normalising and trading with Israel – so to do.
But the extravagant capitalisation of WORLD PEACE implies that Trump has some wider vision, behind this new American ‘war of choice’ on Iran. ‘WORLD PEACE’: It strongly suggests Trump leading us toward a definite destiny: not just for America, but for all humanity (‘no less’). It is an apocalyptic vision. (i.e. an event that implies something not bad, but rather that the implosion of Revolutionary Iran, somehow will bring human Salvation).
The conviction that the crimes and follies of the past can be left behind in some all-encompassing transformation of human life is a secular reincarnation of early Christian beliefs. The very idea of ‘an event’ which transforms humanity and leads to ‘Salvation’ owes to religious conviction – in this case the Jewish apocalyptic current (of which Jesus was an adherent) that was assimilated into early Christianity.
Is this religious eruption Trump’s own? Or, did he absorb it from Ivanka’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism; or, has it emerged out from Trump and Pence’s Evangelical base?
We do not know. But once we move into the domain of human salvation, we need to re-calibrate our understanding of what is afoot here. We may need – when we try to understand Trump and Israel, in particular – to set aside the standard image of a hard-nosed, real-estate negotiator, and instead at least consider if there is religious impulse lurking here. Here, we must go to US [Evangelical] Pastor Robert Jeffress, who was specifically tasked by Trump and his family to travel to Jerusalem in order to Preside at the ceremony marking the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem for clues to what may lie behind Trump’s exotic tweet. Jeffress states:
“Jerusalem has been the object of the affection of both Jews and Christians down through history and [constitutes] the touchstone of prophecy [that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews in eternity];
Let us unpack and be a little clearer about the religiosity that lies behind Jeffress’ quite strong language: Dating from Exodus, Israel formed a separate, chosen people. In this way, through choosing his people, and with his Covenant, Yahweh constitutes them as a people. This boils down to saying that Israel will exist as people for only so long as it recognises Yahwey as its God. What is true for the people is true also for the land, for it is only in Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) that the Torah can be perfectly fulfilled – and conversely, Eretz Israel only has (religious) ‘meaning’ as long as the Torah is observed there. Hence the particularity of the Land – as of the people.
As we said, this was the voice elected by the Trump family to officiate at the Jerusalem ceremony. This choice signifies something, perhaps. Otherwise, as John Limbert, a retired professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the US Naval Academy and former deputy secretary for Iran (and an veteran of the US Embassy siege in Tehran) writes: nothing makes sense:
“What has President Trump done? Obsessed with Obama and a sucker for Israeli and Saudi flattery, he has rejected the idea that diplomacy might accomplish more with the Islamic Republic, than forty years of futile, mutual chest-beating.
He has chosen an approach that combines bullying, threats, accusations, and unrealistic demands, with an offer to talk. In doing so, Trump has led with his chin and given the Iranians a gift: the opportunity to say “no”, and defy a strong and threatening foreign power.
In Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s words of three decades ago still resonate. Asked about negotiating with the United States, he famously said, “Why should the sheep negotiate with the wolf?” In other words, the Americans have no interest in reaching an agreement with us: They want to eat us.
Trump has filled his administration with shills for the widely-hated Iranian dissident group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a Jonestown-like cult with a dubious past and a more dubious present … Iranians know that, as bad as the present regime is, MEK rule will be much worse—an Iranian version of the Khmer Rouge.
Trump has threatened to punish any country or company doing business with Iran and to stop Tehran from selling its crude oil. These tactics repeat those of the British during1951 - 1953 before they joined the CIA to stage a coup d’état to remove the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Trump has issued an all-caps threat to annihilate millions of Iranians followed by an offer to talk with anyone, anywhere, anytime, without preconditions.
In the meantime, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has further muddled the message—whatever it is. In his recent speech to an Iranian-American audience in Los Angeles, Pompeo referred to Iran as “that country” and denounced the entire Islamic revolution, thus denigrating the sacrifices of millions of Iranians who fought and died to overthrow the monarchy and defend their country against Iraqi invaders. With such statements, his professions of respect for individual Iranians and for the country’s ancient culture lack any shred of sincerity”.”
Plainly a deeply frustrated and confused US Iran expert. (Perhaps that is in part owing to reading events from the standard secular, US foreign policy perspective.)
Professor Elizabeth Oldmixon however explains that for a subset of the US [Christian] evangelical community, “the status of Israel is really, really important because of the way they understand the end of time “. She continues: “When we talk about the Holy Land, God’s promise of the Holy Land, we’re talking about real estate on both sides of the Jordan River. So the sense of Greater Israel, and expansionism, is really important to this community. Jerusalem is just central to that. It’s viewed as a historical and biblical capital… These are the folks who believe that there will be a millennium in the future, a golden age, where Christ reigns on Earth, [and] they believe that before Christ will return, there will be a tribulation where Christ defeats evil.”
And how big is that subset? “Roughly a third of the American evangelical population, which is something like 15 million people.”
So, we have a triumvirate of US religious Orthodox envoys (all Trump family members, or former family retainers) – who are charged with the mission of ‘WORLD PEACE’. What can this possibly mean – when said so emphatically (all capitals) by Trump, and included within the context of his imposing ‘crushing’ sanctions on Iran – other than a desire finally to instantiate “the promised Holy Land, for the Jews” – and thus bring to a close the long running Middle East conflict? The theology also suggests that with Salvation, ‘peace’ will be established.
“There's something that these Christians have in common with religious Zionists in Israel” Prof. Oldmixon adds, as something of a footnote – though it is crucial: “The founding generation in Israel was fairly secular. Their support for a Jewish state wasn't about biblical prophecy. Religious Jews were always unhappy that the founding generation wasn't really motivated by a religious understanding of the Jewish people in the world. That's something that evangelicals in this country share. They support Israel for religious reasons.”
Well let’s look what’s actually happening? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a “defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel”, when the Knesset enacted last month, a basic law [named – tellingly – ‘the nation-state law’], which specifies that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historic right to self-determination.”
The law further enshrined religiously based differentiation, including a clause that points to priority for Jewish-only communities by declaring “the development of Jewish settlement as a national value” and promising “to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
The law has been a subject of controversy in Israel. It passed the Knesset by the narrow margin of 62 to 55. Opponents argue that it constitutes a step away from democracy and from equality of citizenship. However, just to be clear, the new basic law changes nothing – for now.
Differentiated political and legal rights already exists in Israel, and legal ways to create segregated communities in Israel also exist. There is no ‘right’ to equality, and Israel is not a state of all its citizens.
The point here is not so much the issue of discrimination which is occupying the media, but rather the shift from a secular state, as the original Zionists conceived it, to a state operating to a religious impulse. In a sense, Israel moves towards a constitution based on the first books of the Old Testament, which constitute the Torah. (Much in the way that Saudi Arabia simply asserts the Qur’an to be its constitution.)
So, in what way has the Trump family been acting? What does that tell us? Well, firstly, Trump has ‘gifted' Jerusalem to Israel - the other prophetically mandatory element (apart from occupying all Eretz Israel), for the instantiation of a Jewish Holy Land. Kushner, meanwhile, has been working away to take the refugee status of 1948 Palestinians and their descendants, ‘off-the-table’, by proposing to subsidize recipient states to assimilate their Palestinian refugees, in loco. And Trump too has now committed to ‘undoing’ Iran, the ‘demon’ threatening the Jewish project, and has committed to publishing his Deal of the Century.
Of course we do not know what is in the ‘deal’, but Netanyahu has just slipped into place the legal framework (the Nation-State law) that might facilitate the present Israeli state becoming a ‘unitary’, religiously Jewish state. It cannot be a coincidence that this comes after the IDF recently informed the Knesset that the populations of Jews and non-Jews, between the River (Jordan) and the Sea (the Mediterranean) are now equal - at 6.5 million, each. The nation-state law effectively forecloses on the risk of political pluralism and equality of political rights.
Reports suggest that in Trump’s plan, the US acting alone might acknowledge a Palestinian state by declaration, but without specifying where situate, and with effectively no attributes of a state. A state ‘in name only’, in other words. No Jerusalem as its capital, and plainly no right of return for refugees – and no refugee status for the 1948 Palestinians (so-called because of their dispossession of homes in 1948); and likely no mention of settlements. (We understand that the Deal is currently in limbo, as religious parties in Netanyahu’s coalition want no mention of any Palestinian state at all – not even ‘in name only’).
White House officials say furthermore that if the Palestinians continue to refuse to engage with the plan, that the US will publish it anyway – which, effectively will be an invitation for the Israeli Religious Right to impose those parts that if favours (annexation of land in the West Bank, and further expansion under the rubric of consolidating Jewish communities – as per the Nation-State Act).
Well, it seems that the Arab world is waking up. It is dawning on them that The Deal of the Century will be as humiliating to their prestige - as was the outcome to the Six Day War. Has this been Trump’s objective all along: to instantiate a State of the Jews? Perhaps Limbert has it back to front? Rather than that the Saudis suckering Trump, Trump has been playing to the flaws in MbS’ character: drawing the Arabs into a project whose theological foundation and import they never grasped?
In any event, the wind is now blowing in another direction: King Salman has yanked the Palestinian file from out of the hands of MbS – and, after a year of secrecy surrounding the Deal, disquiet amongst Arab leaders is growing. Their acquiescence is no longer assured. They smell a rat.
The bottom line? Iran will not be crippled by sanctions, and whatever becomes of Trump's Deal, an introverted, fortress Israel will find itself in a region in which the locus of politics is slowly, but surely, drifting towards the alliance of forces who prevailed in the epic struggle over Syria. Today it is Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey who are turning their face to the East. Tomorrow, when the Iran siege turns out to be a flop, and the Deal stands naked, it may be that parts of the Gulf (Dubai, Kuwait and Oman) will be drifting, together with Qatar, towards the Russia-China axis.