The Middle East is a hornets’ nest, and Trump just hit it with a big stick.
There are few parts of the world more worked-up than the Middle East; it bristles with centuries-old cultural and religious quarrels that have scarred the region with endless wars. It will not find peace in the near future.
But there are ways to calm things down, such as negotiating with the major players. The diplomatic logic is this: treat a player as an outcast and it will act as such. Iran is such a player.
For three years, and until last week, the international community had been enjoying a more constructive relationship with Iran that for decades was cast by Western powers as a ‘mischief-maker’. The U.S. State Department considered Iran an “active state sponsor of terrorism”.
This new relationship was an outcome of an agreement in 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Britain, France, China, Russia, and the U.S.), Germany, and the European Union, that would limit Iran’s nuclear weapon development in exchange for a lifting of international economic sanctions against Iran.
It was a remarkable testimony to negotiation.
On 8th May, U.S. president Donald Trump signed a proclamation that he was withdrawing from the agreement. This is despite vigorous requests from the other signatories not to do so, and all the evidence that Iran has stuck to the terms of the agreement.
Trump threatened to economically punish any country or company that does business with Iran.
That’s inconvenient for the other signatories.
To be fair, despite sticking to the agreement, Iran hasn’t exactly displayed model behaviour.
It’s still the dominant player in a disruptive and powerful camp that includes the Al-Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah – a militant Shi’a group based in Lebanon – and various non-state actors fomenting violence and bloodshed in the region.
In their sights: an anti-Iranian camp comprised of Israel and predominantly-Sunni countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE.
Iran is understandably angry; President Hassan Rouhani, declared, “this is a psychological war”.
The world waits Iran’s next move in a region already on edge.
[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes – you can see it here – and on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 14 May 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]
Image: Saul Loeb/AFP