On January 12, 2016, a year before US President Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized American patrol boats that had entered Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf. Although the US sailors explained that they had drifted into the area by mistake, their IRGC captors spent the next 15 hours terrorizing and humiliating them at gunpoint.
Footage shot by the IRGC showed the 10 sailors – nine men and one woman – on their knees with their hands behind their heads, while their documents, electronic devices and weapons were being confiscated. Under interrogation by the Iranian thugs, nine of the sailors reportedly spilled sensitive data about their ships and gave their abductors their cellphone and computer passwords. For this “violation of the naval code of conduct” they would subsequently be investigated, and two of them would be relieved of their command.
The response on part of the powers-that-be in Washington was to spend nearly an entire day trying to persuade Tehran that the incident had occurred due to a mechanical or navigational error, and therefore the sailors should be let free. To this end, then-US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, during the day and throughout the night to plead for the Americans’ release.
By morning, Zarif was exhausted in general, and weary of listening to Kerry’s voice in particular. Since the act of bringing the “Great Satan” literally and figuratively to its knees had been milked enough in the meantime, and filmed for future propaganda purposes, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator was able, finally, to liberate the crew and catch some sorely needed sleep.
Kerry couldn’t have been more unctuous. Practically getting down on his own knees to genuflect, he promptly expressed his “gratitude to the Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter.”
He went on to say, “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.”
Kerry’s kissing-up did not come as a surprise to Zarif or the ayatollahs pulling his strings. They were used to it. Indeed, America’s top diplomat had spent his entire tenure enabling the mullah-led Islamic Republic to set the terms for what would become the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the “Iran nuclear deal.”
He also allowed Zarif to scream and shout at him throughout the negotiations that led to the signing of the JCPOA in July 2015. The decibel level and degree of Zarif’s verbal abuse was so extreme, in fact, that his boss, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered him to tone it down.
Kerry’s boss, on the other hand, had nothing to say about Zarif’s intimidating behavior. No, President Barack Obama was too preoccupied with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempts to torpedo what was clearly a bad deal in the making. You know, one that hands Iran gold on a silver platter – a removal of sanctions and tons of money – to keep its centrifuges spinning along with its lies about compliance.
Indeed, Obama was absolutely livid when Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress in March 2015, four months before the deal was finalized, to warn against the perils of a poor agreement. Obama was thrilled, however, when the US sailors were released on January 13, 2016, three days before the deal was formally implemented.
A mere four weeks later, on February 11, millions of Iranians marked the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution by engaging in their usual chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” while members of the Basij militia and other willing participants staged street performances in which they re-enacted the capture and humiliation of the US sailors. It was an appropriate way to celebrate Tehran’s nuclear coup.
Equally and eerily fitting was Trump’s election the following November, exactly 37 years after a group of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini supporters – calling themselves the “Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line” – seized the US Embassy in Tehran and held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days.
During his presidential campaign, Trump had vowed to “rip up” the JCPOA. On May 8, 2018, he delivered on his promise.
“[T]he so-called ‘Iran deal’ was supposed to protect the United States and our allies from the lunacy of an Iranian nuclear bomb,” he declared, citing proof provided by reams of documents that Israel managed to smuggle out of Tehran. “In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and, over time, reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.”
America, Trump stressed, “will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail. We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. And we will not allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.”
Naturally, Iran was none too happy about this, because Trump not only withdrew from the JCPOA; he also cautioned that countries continuing to conduct business with Tehran would suffer serious consequences.
Adding insult to injury, Trump last month designated the IRGC a terrorist organization. Which, of course, it is.
Iran’s reaction has been to plot military moves against US personnel, troops and/or allies in the region – something that Israeli intelligence reportedly revealed to Trump administration officials, chief among them National Security Adviser John Bolton.
On May 5, Bolton announced: “In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”
Bolton, thus, is being accused by detractors at home and abroad of trying to “drag” the US into an unnecessary war. It is Iran, however, that has been ratcheting up its rhetoric and saber-rattling.
On Monday this week, for example, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a group of clerics that the Islamic Republic is “too great to be intimidated by anyone. God willing, we will pass this difficult period with glory and our heads held high, and defeat the enemy.”
On Wednesday, as the American aircraft carrier and accompanying ships arrived in the Gulf, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami threatened to “defeat the American-Zionist front.”
Newly appointed IRGC head Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami chimed in, saying, “We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy. This moment in history is the most decisive of the Islamic Revolution.”
Although Khamenei stated publicly, on state-run TV and social media, that Iran “does not seek war, nor do they,” the US State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-essential staff at the embassy in Iraq to leave immediately. The taking of this precaution seemed to cause as much of a media stir as the deployment of planes and ships.
Yet with all the buzz surrounding the “escalation of tensions” between Tehran and Washington, one Israeli Channel 13 report that got drowned out is worth highlighting. According to the report, anonymous Arab intelligence sources claimed that there a fierce debate has been taking place between Iranian officials pushing for attacks on American and Israeli targets and those opposed, on the grounds that doing so would be suicidal.
This is key to understanding why the Trump administration’s tough stance is more likely to prevent a war than spark one. Obama’s appeasement of the ayatollahs did not cause Iran to put aside its nuclear ambitions or give up its goal of global hegemony. On the contrary, it emboldened the evil regime, and ruined the Iranian people’s chances to extricate themselves from the theocratic stranglehold to which they have been subjected for nearly 40 years.
Americans should be relieved that their country is in the hands of an administration that would not tolerate the humiliation of its men and women in uniform, let alone beg, bargain with and thank their captors. But then, begging, bargaining with and thanking Iran were the very tools of capitulation that brought about the nuclear deal in the first place.
Just ask any ayatollah who isn’t busy building himself a private bunker to escape Trump’s wrath.