WHY IS TRUMP DITHERING ON IRAN?
Last week, ahead of his meeting with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump urged Moscow to end its support for Syria and Iran.
This came on the back of Trump’s first foreign visit as US President to Saudi Arabia in May where he launched a head-on challenge to the Iranian regime, denouncing Iran as the Middle East’s main sponsor of terror. He didn’t mince his words, stating: “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region.” Trump urged the leaders of more than 50 predominantly Sunni Muslim states to “drive out” the extremists in their nations, as he branded the mullahs’ theocratic regime as: “a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel and death to America.” To underscore his commitment to confronting Tehran he sealed a deal to sell a massive $110 billion of arms to the Saudis, clearly intending that these weapons be used to counter Iran’s aggressive expansionism in the Middle East.
It is now almost two months since Trump’s explosive speech in Riyadh and yet nothing much has happened. Why has the US administration not yet listed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as an international terrorist organisation? Its extra-territorial wing – the Qods Force – has been on the terrorist blacklist for years, but its parent body the IRGC continues to support Bashar al-Assad’s bloody civil war in Syria, the vicious Shi’ite militias in Iraq and the brutal Houthi rebels in Yemen. IRGC support for the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon has long been a source of deep concern in the West. Listing the IRGC as international terrorists would send the clearest signal yet that Donald Trump means business and that he is not ‘all hat and no cattle’!
The West assumed that the US administration’s U-turn on the policy of appeasement pursued by Barack Obama had signalled a step-change in the way Trump intended to deal with the turbaned tyrants in Tehran. Iraq, which used to provide the foremost barrier against the Iranian regime prior to the US invasion in 2003, has now become the most important hub for its support for Assad and for threatening other countries in the region, such as Lebanon and Yemen. The Iranians almost control Iraq. Following his Riyadh speech, many Middle East observers expected Trump to demand the total eviction of the Iranian regime and its proxies from Iraq. But instead, US warplanes are still providing air support to IRGC led and funded Shi’ite militias who, under the pretext of ousting Daesh (ISIS) from cities like Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul, are engaged in a genocidal campaign against the Sunni population of al Anbar and Ninawa provinces, murdering thousands of innocent civilians.
By concentrating its efforts on obtaining a dominant position in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, Iran is endeavouring to secure pathways traversing Iran’s western borders through the Euphrates and Tigris valleys and the vast expanses of desert in Iraq and Syria, providing a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon and finally ending at the edge of the Golan Heights. These corridors will serve as conduits through which military supplies and military personnel can be sent to the battlefronts where Iranian proxies are actively engaged. To this end dozens of Quds Force affiliated military and political bases have been formed west of Mosul, under the guise of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militia forces.
Earlier this month, at a major ‘Free Iran’ gathering in Paris which drew tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates and their international supporters, dozens of senior former U.S. military officials and politicians from US, Europe and the Arab world were unanimous in their call that the solution to the Middle East’s crises is the expulsion of the IRGC from the region. As a practical step after the Riyadh summit, the speakers argued, the US could add the IRGC to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The Riyadh summit’s recognition of Iran as the main sponsor of terror and chaos in the Middle East marked a breakthrough in US relations with the Saudis and other Sunni Muslim nations. But if President Trump intends to show the world that he is not simply all bluff and bluster, he must stop dithering and follow up his robust Riyadh remarks with tough action, including the blacklisting of the IRGC, the eviction of Iran and its proxies from Iraq and a common front to oust Assad and end the civil war in Syria.