As Trump Takes Aim, Israel Hits Iran in Syria

As Trump Takes Aim, Israel Hits Iran in Syria

With the Iran nuclear deal on life support after Trump’s withdrawal, Israel has launched extensive strikes against Iranian positions in Syria. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council discusses the escalating crisis.

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

In withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump is not just reimposing sanctions on Iran, but threatening to impose them on any countries that continue to do business with it.

DONALD TRUMP: We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction.any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States. America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail.

AARON MATE: Iran says it will continue to respect the deal for now. But speaking today, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that without strong guarantees from France, Germany, and Britain, Iran will be forced to withdraw. Which makes the path forward pretty clear: unless Trump’s European allies stand up to him, the Iran deal will likely collapse. What comes next is far less clear, except for the increased likelihood of military conflict.

Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.” Thank you, Trita.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you.

AARON MATE: Trita, with the U.S. now reimposing sanctions that also could target European companies that do business with Iran, what kind of pressure will Europe be facing from the U.S.?

TRITA PARSI: Well, it’s not could, it would. These European companies that are doing legal trade with Iran will be subjected to American sanctions. And if the Europeans want to avoid this scenario they will have to essentially threaten to counter-sanction the United States, and as a result force the Trump administration to back off. The Europeans have successfully done that before, but that was more than two decades ago.

So either way, the reason we’re here now is because the Europeans to the extent possible have tried to avoid a direct confrontation with Trump, even though they’re in complete disagreement on many things, everything from Paris to now the Iran nuclear deal. But at some point they may very well be forced to actually stand up for their own sovereignty, and that’s going to be costly for them. It will also be costly for the United States. But if they manage to walk through that fire, probably will end up in a situation in which they have a more balanced relationship with the United States, in which the United States will respect European sovereignty.

AARON MATE: In terms of Iran’s reaction, President Rouhani said that Iran will continue to respect the deal for now. And in a speech today, Ayatollah Khamenei said that if Britain, France, and Germany can provide guarantees that Iran will stay in the deal, but if they can’t then it’s out. What do you think Iran does from here, how do they respond to this move from Trump?

TRITA PARSI: So what they’re doing right now is that they’re waiting to see what the Europeans will do. If the Europeans actually will stand up for their sovereignty, and by that also stand up for the nuclear deal, and they can guarantee that Iran will be given the economic benefits that it was promised, then they will probably stay in the deal. But I think at the same time they are working with the Russians and the Chinese for essentially what would be a plan C.

But I think it is encouraging to see that the Iranians have not reacted very harshly yet. They’re still waiting to see if the Europeans can do something about this. And if they can, hopefully the deal will survive and we will be in a situation in which tensions, at least between Europe and Iran, will remain low, and that we won’t have a risk of the spread of nuclear weapons. If they fail, then we’re going to be in a very very bad situation, because that means that Iran does not have to respect any of the restrictions that the deal imposed on them, because there is no deal any longer.

AARON MATE: Speaking of Iran not responding, already there have been reports of an Israeli strike targeting Iranian sites inside of Syria. Can you talk about that aspect here, where it seems that this already intense situation inside Syria, where you’ve had Israeli air strikes repeatedly over the past two years targeting, increasingly targeting Iran, now appearing to even ramp up even further.

TRITA PARSI: Yeah, we are already in a very tense situation in the Middle East, and we’ve seen numerous attacks by the Israelis inside of Syria. They say that they’re targeting Iranian positions and bases inside of Syria. It seems to me that either the Israelis are calculating that right now the Iranians cannot afford an escalation, because if they escalate against Israel there’s going to be very little likelihood that the Europeans are going to be able to save the nuclear deal. And also because prior to this we had the Lebanese elections in which the Iranians had an interest in seeing things calmed down first.

So I think the Israelis may either be thinking that this is a moment in which the Iranians cannot afford to retaliate, and as a result Israel can afford to essentially have a relatively cost-free targeting of Iranians in Syria, or it is because they are actually trying to provoke to get a larger conflict by them wanting the Iranians to respond. Either way, we are in a very dangerous situation in the Middle East right now.

AARON MATE: Trita, what are the domestic consequences for Iranian President Rouhani as a result of Trump withdrawing? This was Rouhani’s signature achievement, and he faced some pushback on it from more conservative elements inside Iran who who argued against any kind of agreement with the U.S. What does, now, the U.S. withdrawing from this deal mean for Rouhani and the overall direction of the government inside Iran?

TRITA PARSI: This has significantly embarrassed Rouhani and weakened him. Hardliners in Iran were saying from the outset that this deal should not be struck because the Iranians cannot trust the signature of the United States, and that the United States would be destined to betray the agreement and essentially stab Iran in the back. And now they say that they have been vindicated, and that this is exactly what has happened.

So Rouhani has lost a lot of credibility, and has been weakened as a result of this. He may still be able to turn it around. But what is really dangerous here for the entire world is that if the deal collapses, and with that the mindset behind the deal collapses, the mindset that said that the United States and Iran actually can work out their differences if both sides are willing to compromise and if both sides are willing to engage in diplomacy.

If that mindset also collapses the only remaining mindset is one that says that Iran actually has to be very tough against the United States. Because if it isn’t, then the U.S. is just going to bully Iran. And in that situation we are actually going to see much further escalation, and probably a much more aggressive Iranian foreign policy in the region.

AARON MATE: We’ll take a break there and come back in Part 2, and talk about how our guest Trita Parsi was targeted by the Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube as part of an effort to smear people, including members of the Obama administration, who are behind the Iran deal. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council, and author of “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.” Trita, thank you.

And thank you for joining us on the Real News.