Christopher Pyne: What War With Iran Could Mean For The World

What is it with Iran and the United States of America?

The enmity runs deep and it has for a long time.

Back in the 1960s and '70s the US and Iran were firm allies. The last Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown in 1979. (The Crown Prince in exile, Reza Pahlavi lives in the US and I was fortunate to have dinner with him only a year ago.)

After the Revolution the relationship went seriously pear-shaped.

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In 1979, the Shah and his family fled, opening the door two weeks later for the return of the religious leader of Shia Muslims, the Ruhollah Khomeini, who is referred to in the West as the Ayatollah. The Ayatollah declared that Iran would be a theocracy and began a campaign to rid the country of Western influence.

It didn’t end there. Angered by the Shah's entry into the US for cancer treatment, revolutionaries broke every rule of international diplomacy and took over the US Embassy in Tehran. They imprisoned 52 United States diplomats and held them from 1979 until 1981, after the US Presidential election. President Jimmy Carter’s inability to free them contributed to his defeat after only one term.

A series of attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf has ratcheted up tensions between the US and Iran. (Image: AAP)

Since then, relations have not improved. Many in the US still blame Iran for the bombing of the Multinational Force in Lebanon Barracks in 1983 in Beirut that killed 241 United States service men and women. They are probably right to do so.

Iran’s behaviour over the last four decades has been belligerent and contributed to the instability that has become the modus vivendi of that troubled part of the world.

Iran is often accused of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, though they deny any involvement with the group. Iran is also said to fund and support Hezbollah in Lebanon. It reportedly backs a variety of independent militia in Iraq. It has been accused of supporting activists in the Shia majority in Bahrain who agitate against the Sunni Royal Family there. It appears to maintain a policy of active opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.

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Iran’s policies are designed to create a theocratic Iranian hegemony across the Arab world, confronting Sunni Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and others. Those countries happen to be allies of the US to varying degrees.

The greatest fear of anyone who opposes an Iranian hegemony is that Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon capability - the means to manufacture such weapons and arm them.

Hence, the US is deeply engaged in answering the question – “what do we do about Iran”?

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visits an exhibition of achievements of Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division in Iran in 2014. (Image: AAP)

The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) was created by the Obama Administration, along with a number of European powers in 2015, in part, to answer the question. It was designed to control Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran eschewed any ambition to develop a nuclear weapon capability. The Agreement contained a regime of oversight by non-Iranian monitors.

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The problem for Iran, however, is that the government of President Trump doesn’t believe what Iran says about its intentions. The Trump Administration repudiated the JCPOA at the first opportunity and imposed tough new economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These sanctions affect the Iranian economy in general, the movement of key personnel in the Iranian government and military and the financial freedom of those in the Iranian regime that the US targets, including the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Debris from the US drone shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as described by Iran. (Image: AAP)
Where is all this going to end?

The most important outcome is that there is no military conflict. President Trump has said many times that he wants the US out of military conflagrations in the Middle East.

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What we don’t know is quite how much the sanctions are hurting Iran. They will not admit to suffering any real pain. But most commentators believe that the sanctions are having a dire effect on the Iranian economy.

It’s likely that the recent acts of violence directed at oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and the shooting down of a US drone are a show of strength on the part of Iran. They may be demonstrating what they could do to disrupt the trade of oil and attract the attention of other countries that might be open to assisting Iran in circumventing the sanctions. Iran is trying to get European countries to provide them with a financial lifeline that doesn’t breach the JCPOA. So far, that has not been forthcoming.

President Donald Trump speaks alongside Vice President Mike Pence as he signs an executive order for additional sanctions against Iran and its leadership. (Image: AAP)
Iran might renege on the JCPOA.

The Trump Administration wants a new agreement with Iran that permanently precludes Iran from developing a nuclear armoury. President Trump and his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, want to force Iran back to a genuine negotiation where the US has the upper hand.

It’s possible too that the internal dynamic in Iran may well boil over causing a major twist in the issue.

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There are going to be more movements in this game of chess before it is resolved. But one thing is for certain, listening to President Trump’s words is key to understanding that he is not reacting to events, he is shaping them.

Featured Image: AAP