As the U.S. ramps up anti-Iran efforts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been filmed bragging about convincing Trump to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. Amid widespread concern over foreign meddling, why has Netanyahu’s claim been mostly ignored? We speak to Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.
President Trump’s new threats to Iran over Twitter come as his administration ramps up efforts to destabilize the government in Tehran. Those moves have increased since May, when Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Well, just last week, amid the hoopla surrounding Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin and fears of Russian meddling, another aspect of foreign meddling came into sharper focus at a private gathering. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was filmed bragging about convincing Trump to abandon the nuclear deal.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We convinced the president of the U.S. And I had to stand in front of the whole world to go against this agreement. We did not give up. And now Iran, its regime, not the Iranian people. We have nothing against them. But this regime.
SPEAKER: It will disappear, God willing.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: You’ve said it. From your mouth to the Almighty.
AARON MATE: That was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling a private gathering that he convinced President Trump to withdraw from the Iran deal, and then saying God willing to a guest, a fellow guest, who said that the Iranian government will disappear.
Joining me still is Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Trita, I’m wondering your thoughts, amidst all this concern about foreign meddling in the U.S., your thoughts about the complete lack of attention that this comment from Netanyahu got, openly claiming that he’s the one who convinced Trump to withdraw from the Iran deal.
TRITA PARSI: Yes, it’s been a point of frustration for me for quite some time to see that there’s so much focus on the Russian meddling. And I’m not saying that meddling didn’t take place or that attention is not warranted. But at the same time not looking at what Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE has been doing for quite some time when it comes to manipulating U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. And here you have Bibi Netanyahu himself openly taking credit for a decision that the vast majority of the U.S. security establishment believed, including key members of the Trump administration, including the intelligence services of the U.S. government, believed would be counter to U.S. national interests.
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AARON MATE: You know, one other interesting parallel that I think is noteworthy is that now we’re seeing some of the claims, some of the some of the anonymous claims that have been made about Russia are now being seen made about Iran. So for example, on Friday, just before Trump’s tweet and Pompeo’s speech on Sunday, NBC News put out a story, and I’ll just read you the tweet previewing it. It says: Iranian hackers have laid the groundwork to carry out extensive cyber attacks on U.S. and European infrastructure and private companies, and the U.S. is warning allies, hardening its defenses, and weighing a counterattack, multiple U.S. officials say. And of course, if you read the article, all those U.S. officials are anonymous.
So I’m wondering, Trita, if you can comment on the validity of this speculation, and whether or not you think it might be timed with this new roll out of the Trump administration’s ongoing campaign to destabilize Iran.
TRITA PARSI: I cannot speak to the validity of it in the sense that I don’t, I’m not privy to that type of information. I can definitely see the argument that this is done in a way to give credence to some of the belligerent steps that the Trump administration has taken. But I can also see that it actually is valid in the sense that we cannot have the expectation that Trump can escalate in the manner that he has, kill the Iran nuclear deal, squeeze the Iranian economy, reimpose sanctions, make threats as he is, and then expect that the Iranians wouldn’t do anything in return. I think it’s important for people to understand that if we end up in a confrontation, it’s going to be very bad. It’s going to be, frankly, horrible for both sides. And that’s precisely why does not lie in our interest to have such a confrontation.
So in a way I see your argument that perhaps this is timed. But it could also be very valid in the sense that they’re warning and saying that the path we’re going is going to generate a lot of different attacks against the United States.
AARON MATE: OK. So this speaks to what Iran is doing around the world. I’m always surprised to see it taken on faith that Iran is an aggressor everywhere, when even U.S. intelligence officials, U.S. intelligence community, most recently the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency Robert Ashley, in his testimony to Congress about global threats, he pointed out, I think accurately, that Iran’s security strategy is based around deterrence. So I’m just wondering, is that a fair characterization? And if so, just can you comment on the gulf between what even U.S. officials quietly acknowledge and then how Iran is presented as being an aggressor, both against the U.S. and to others.
TRITA PARSI: I think the U.S. intelligence and any sober analysis would show that the Iranians have primarily been focused on deterrence. That doesn’t mean that some of Iran’s actions, or many of Iran’s actions, are not problematic in and of themselves. But the idea that it is some sort of an aggressive expansionist power that is trying to establish hegemony in the Middle East is completely exaggerated and quite preposterous, and no sober analysis would point in that direction. I mean, the Iranians are spending one fifth of the amount that the Saudis are spending on military arms, for instance. They’re spending far less than even the UAE, and their population is several times as large as that of the UAE.
So the idea that they are an aggressor is only something that you would have to present if you want to justify an aggressive, belligerent policy. We saw that very clearly in Pompeo’s speech. He was giving a very exaggerated picture of Iran in order to justify the very belligerent steps that he was going to present later on in his speech.
AARON MATE: Finally, Trita, one thing that the Trump administration is doing, similar to what happened in the Iraq War, in terms of relying on foreign-based opposition groups, in this case of Iran Trump administration officials are closely embracing this group the MEK. Your group, the National Iranian American Council, had just published an open letter to Secretary Pompeo warning about the MEK. As we wrap up, can you explain?
TRITA PARSI: Yes. I mena, the MEK is a terrorist organization. They managed to get off the U.S.’s terrorist list after a campaign that arguably was illegal. But the fact that they have continued to use violence is of no doubt. I mean, they were the ones who were used by the Israelis to assassinate the Iranian scientists, for instance, inside of Iran. So this is a group that has no support inside of Iran, mindful of its backing of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq Iran war.
The only reason one would support this group is if you actually want to destabilize the country, because they have militias, they have extensive training and experience in military as well as-. Sorry, in conventional as well as guerrilla fighting, in assassinations and terrorism. This is not the type of a group you would need if you want to establish democracy, but certainly the group that you might find useful if you want to destabilize the country or start a war.
AARON MATE: From Israel to the MEK, all aspects of the foreign meddling issue that not very many people are talking about. But Trita Parsi, we appreciate you doing so with us. Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Thank you.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.