President Putin was correct when he foresaw that the US actions which forced Iran towards default on the JCPOA would be quickly forgotten – as they have – and that the US mainstream ‘narrative’ would be turned wholly against Iran (which it has).
John Bolton has activated his ‘trap’, which inevitably will lead to ratchetting tensions between Iran and the US: He has inverted the paradigm from that of the ‘Greater Israel’ (the Deal of the Century) project requiring the blunting of Iranian opposition, to that of the ‘threat’ of potential Iranian nuclear ‘break out capacity’ – as Iran is effectively forced to accumulate enriched uranium (even at 3.67%).
Precisely by withdrawing US ‘waivers’ permitting Iran to stay within the JCPOA strict limits on Iran’s holding of uranium and heavy water (from Arak), by sanctioning the export of any Iranian surplus (a JCPOA obligation), Pompeo and Bolton made a default inevitable – and intentional. And with the prospect of Iranian default (and Iran’s response of threatening to go to higher levels of enrichment), Trump’s team have rewritten ‘the story’ as one of Iran grasping after nuclear weaponisation.
Why does this serve Pompeo and Bolton’s aim to drive Iran into the corner? To understand this, we have to reach back to Rand Corporation’s Albert Wohlstetter’s seminal policy doctrine (in 1958) — that there is, and can be, no material difference between peaceful and weapons enrichment of uranium. Wohlstetter said that the processes for both were identical, and therefore to halt proliferation, (untrustworthy) states such as Iran must not be allowed any enrichment: i.e. no nuclear programme at all.
This Wohlstetter ‘doctrine’ underlay all the heated arguments leading up to the JCPOA. Obama finally came down from the fence on the side of allowing Iran internationally surveilled, low enrichment – in an agreement that ensured that Iran would be at least a year away from breakout capacity (i.e. it would take Iran more than a year to switch toward assembling enriched material sufficient to build a bomb).
Pompeo and Bolton have effectively unilaterally decided that Iran may only have 0% enrichment. And the western press has taken up again the cry of the renewed ‘threat’ of Iranian breakout. Let us be clear — this where Bolton wants Iran. He has undercut the only compromise that had halted that earlier march toward a military ‘solution’ being imposed by the US, under threats of imminent military action threatened by Israel. And the Wohlstetter thesis, which still has a significant following in the US, offers no ‘off-ramp’ to ratchetting tensions.
Just to be clear: There was no proliferation ‘threat’ at all from Iran, which has been in compliance with the JCPOA, as verified by the IAEA multiple times, until the US made compliance literally impossible by withdrawing the very waivers that made compliance possible. This was President Putin’s point. The origins to the issue will now be drowned out by the clamours about proliferation.
Why are Pompeo and Bolton’s so intent on this project to corner Iran?
Well, who is pushing it? Who stands behind it? One key constituency – for Trump – is his Evangelical base (one in every four Americans say they are Evangelists). It was they who insisted on the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem; they supported Trump’s assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan; they support the annexation of Israeli settlements; and they were behind the demand that the US scrap the JCPOA. But above all – and they feel truly empowered by their achievements – and now look to Trump, finally, to actuate a (biblical) Greater Israel.
Trump is not Evangelical (he is Presbyterian by upbringing), but has over the years moved closer to the Evangelical wing, and has given signs that he believes that the actuation of a Greater Israel would finally end the conflict in the Middle East, and bring lasting peace to the region. It would be his legacy.
Whilst it is true that Trump keeps repeating (perhaps truthfully) that he does not want war, the act of creating Greater Israel, nonetheless, is no minor real estate re-shuffling of the Palestinians into alternative ‘accommodation’, so that his Israel project can unfold, and expand into a Greater Israel. Laurent Guyénot, an authority on Biblical studies writes that it possesses another, often overlooked, but highly significant dimension:
“Zionism cannot be a nationalist movement like others, because it resonates with the destiny of Israel as outlined in the Bible … It may be true that Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau sincerely wished Israel to be “a nation like others”… [But the assertion] that Zionism is biblical doesn’t mean it is religious; to Zionists, the Bible is both a “national narrative” and a geopolitical program, rather than a religious book (there is actually no word for “religion” in ancient Hebrew).
“Ben-Gurion was not religious; he never went to the synagogue and ate pork for breakfast. Yet he was intensely biblical. Dan Kurzman, [Ben Gurion’s biographer] who calls him “the personification of the Zionist dream”, [nonetheless] was a firm believer in the mission theory, saying explicitly: “I believe in our moral and intellectual superiority, in our capacity to serve as a model for the redemption of the human race”.
“Ten days after declaring Israel’s independence, [Ben Gurion] wrote in his diary : “We will break Transjordan [Jordan], bomb Amman and destroy its army, and then Syria falls, and if Egypt will still continue to fight—we will bombard Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo.” Then he adds: “This will be in revenge for what they (the Egyptians, the Aramis and Assyrians) did to our forefathers during biblical times.”
This is the point from which Bolton and Pompeo are deliberately diverting attention by laying a nuclear breakout false scent. The project to realise Greater Israel – resonating with metaphysical destiny, and redolent of special status, as when “all the nations” will pay tribute “to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the god of Jacob,” when “the Law will issue from Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem” – is music to Christian Zionist ears, since they believe this precisely is what will advance the return of their Messiah and bring Rapture closer.
Of course, any such project – implicit or explicit – could be expected to be opposed by a civilisation-state such as Iran, with its own very powerful, but contrasting metaphysics. For Greater Israel to be actualised, Iranian opposition to the Israeli ‘divine election’ plan must be curbed.
Bolton is no Evangelical, but is closely allied with the Israeli Right. Ben Caspit, a leading Israeli commentator, expands:
“The US has no intention of invading Iran,” [my] Israeli source clarified, “but the Iranians are trying to signal to the Americans that [any escalation] … could cause serious damage to American interests and at a steeper cost than anything Saddam Hussein’s regime was able to achieve …”.
“Netanyahu’s distance from the escalating tension can be understood from [his appearance] before a Congressional committee in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq to claim that Hussein was attempting to build nuclear weapons and that toppling the regime in Iraq would rein in Iran and create greater stability throughout the entire Middle East. History proved all Netanyahu’s predictions wrong … Now, Netanyahu is attempting to tone it down, so that he will not be thought of as the person pressuring the Americans to launch a military strike against Iran. It is not at all certain that he will succeed.
“Israel is now trying to downplay its support for the stance of US national security adviser John Bolton, who advocates for direct conflict with the Iranians and is therefore considered the most hawkish in the administration. According to someone who has worked with Netanyahu on military matters for years who spoke on condition of anonymity, “It should be obvious that behind closed doors, Netanyahu is praying that Bolton succeeds in convincing the president to launch a military attack on Iran, but this cannot be too obvious. [Netanyahu] cannot be identified with this approach, particularly after he has already come under fire for being the person who pressured the US to invade Iraq.” Jerusalem is watching the conflict between President Donald Trump’s current conciliatory tone, which leads him to avoid unnecessary American military adventurism, and Bolton’s more belligerent approach. The fear is that Trump will blink first in this war of nerves with the Iranians and eventually lose interest and tone down the pressure”.