The countries that the US Secretary of State claims to have repeatedly provided support to terrorist activity are labelled as ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. Iran has been thus designated since 19 January 1984. Against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, followed by the hostage drama where the American Embassy in Tehran was stormed and 52 hostages were held for 444 days, the brazen emergence of a theocratic state and its powerful co-sectarian proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon had cocked a snook at the might, sophistry and hegemonic instincts of the ‘Star Wars’-fueled imagery of the US in the 1980s. Subsequently, Iran was accused of supporting various Palestinian groups like the Hamas (even though the same was nurtured, financed and essentially supported by the Gulf Sheikdoms through their own ‘charity-networks’).
More recently, Iran’s open support to its co-sectarian Shia regimes in Iraq (post-Saddam Hussein) and Assad ledSyria, along with Shia-Houthi rebels in Yemen, naturally posits the country against the interest of the Gulf Sheikhdoms, and by that extension, against the US interest. However, while all major global terror attacks and organisations (ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban, Al Nusra, Al-Shabaab etc.) can be traced to the benefactors in the Gulf Sheikhdoms, no Gulf country or even Pakistan (which hosted Osama bin Laden) finds itself in the list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’.
The fact that almost all operational commitments of the Iranian-footprint, directly as in the Iraqi-Syrian region or indirectly through its supported militias like the Houthis or the Hezbollah, are only for localised assertion and survival in a violently divided and sectarian region and not for conducting international terror acts as is the wont of many investments of the Gulf Sheikhdoms. However, this is of little or no consequence to the US, where the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo still insists on Iran as the ‘biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world’. Ironically, Iranian Quds Forces and militias have been in the forefront of reversing the ground situation against the biggest terror phenomenon in the region i.e. ISIS in the Middle East, as well as supporting the vulnerable Ashraf Ghani government in Afghanistan in the face of the Pakistan-backed Taliban.
Historically and in societal terms, Iranian treatment of the minority Kurds and their militias (who though of Sunni denomination are at the receiving end of the other co-sectarian forces like the ISIS, Turks or the other Gulf Sheikdom supported militias), can testify to a more reasonable equation with the Iranian dispensation, as opposed to the others. Although no international terror attack can be traced to either Tehran or its regional proxies in the last few decades, Iran remains an inexplicable fixation for the US which equates the Iranian regime with complicity with even the ISIS or Al Qaida.
Donald Trump whimsically upped the ante and tore apart the path-breaking Iranian Nuclear Deal signed by the previous Barack Obama regime. To an extent, the frost had melted and the agreement was internationally acknowledged as a mark of significant progress. On 8 May 2018, President Trump binned the deal as ‘rotten and decaying’ before reneging unilaterally, even as Iran had complied with all the terms of the agreement and had even given a wide berth to international inspectors to showcase its compliance. The International Atomic Energy Agency and the other participants in the ‘P5+1’ framework opposed the US highhandedness, but Trump went ahead and re-imposed some of the sanctions that were earlier withdrawn or waived.
The twostep sanction approach further envisages a second tranche of punitive ‘sanctions’ starting 4 November. Quite justifiably, the Iranians have approached the International Court of Justice at the Hague to seek redressal against the unilateral breach of obligations by the US and to terminate the threats of ‘sanctions’. Initially, the US offered a technical and imperious reaction of suggesting that the International Court, ‘lacked jurisdiction in respect of this case’.
However the case was pleaded and in yet another rebuke to the American approach, the International Tribunal directed the US to ‘remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran’. It listed the goods and services and added that the US ‘ensure that licences and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction in so far as they relate to the goods and services referred to’.
But the US remains adamant and has been threatening countries like India with the US law of ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’. India has civilisational, cultural and strategic relations with Iran, and this serves India’s regional, trade, geostrategic and geopolitical aspirations. India has stakes in the game-changer called Chabahar port and any disruption in the supply of Iranian crude oil, will be disastrous, most particularly because of the downward spiral of the Indian rupee.
Even earlier, India had succumbed to US pressure to protect its own Civil Nuclear Deal with the US and voted against the Iranians in the UN Security Council to endorse sanctions. However, the recent signing of the $5 billion deal for the S-400 missile system with Russia conveys a glimmer of hope that India will be able to manage the US threats to Iran. Like the S-400 system, which is regarded as a defence against China, the retention of the Indo-Iranian equation should also be defended as crucial to India’s strategic interest. India has been amongst the worst-hit nations so far as terrorism is concerned, yet like most of the terror attacks in the European cities or indeed the US, no credible link has ever been attributed to the Iranian handiwork or to its allies like the Houthis or Hezbollah.
The US insistence on a regime-change in Iran is also perplexing given its own track record of changing regimes in Baghdad, Tripoli etc. The bluff of America’s unwarranted belligerence towards Iran needs to be called, especially when the rest of the ‘free-world’, multilateral agencies and international tribunals seem to be aligned to the Iranian stand.
The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry