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Akhila Naidu asked: Why is Donald Trump hostile towards Iran?

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  • Adil Rasheed replies: Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, relations between the United States (US) and Iran have remained adversarial. Therefore, it might not be correct to single out Donald Trump’s presidency as being particularly ‘hostile’ towards Iran, as several US administrations in the past have imposed sanctions and threatened to go to war with the theocratic state.

    Trump is also not the only person to have criticised the Barack Obama-backed nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as most members of his Republican Party (including all of its 2016 presidential candidates) continue to oppose the deal. In addition, all major US allies in West Asia — particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia – heartily welcomed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in 2018.

    The criticism of the JCPOA stems from the fact that the group of world powers (known as the P5+1 that consisted of the US, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany) which signed the nuclear deal with Iran were content on putting curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, but overlooked other contentious issues such as Iran’s controversial ballistic missile programme and its expanding network of proxy militias threatening security across West Asia. President Trump wants these issues included in a renegotiated ‘Big Deal’.

    Again, the US President’s characterisation of JCPOA as “the worst deal ever” has drawn a lot of flak, but there is no denying that by the time he decided on unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, Iran was fast expanding its influence across the Levant and in other theatres of West Asia on the grounds of capturing the territory held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There has been some justifiable criticism of President Trump’s abrasive and unilateralist approach as opposed to his predecessor’s more sedate and multi-lateralist tack, but one wonders whether President Obama would have been more amenable to Iran’s growing ascendance in the region and Tehran’s persistent calls to remove US presence from West Asia.

    As Iran has enhanced support for its regional proxies in recent years — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, Popular Mobilisation Forces (Hashd Al Shaabi) in Syriaq, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Liwa Fatemiyoun brigades in Afghanistan as well as Shiite groups in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – it is challenging the dominance of the US and its allies and is emerging as a contending hegemon. Its alleged involvement in the 2019 Abqaiq–Khurais drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities and reprisal missile strikes following the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani has proven its growing military might, despite the precarious state of its economy.

    These are some of the reasons for the growing US hostility towards Iran in recent years, which might not end even if Trump leaves office next year.

    Posted on July 06, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.