Donald Trump’s decision to impose new sanctions on Iran has already led to a frightening escalation of competition in the Middle East.
An exchange of rocket fire between Iran and the US’s ally Israel has brought the two countries closer to conflict in war-torn Syria.
Israel pounded Syria with missile strikes on Wednesday night, reportedly hitting some 50 Iranian military targets. It is the latest—and by far the largest—Israeli attack on Iran in recent months.
An alleged Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on the same night is said to be in retaliation for the Israeli assaults. A senior Iranian official has denied the attack.
Iran is reported to have fired 20 missiles at Israel, four of which were intercepted by Israeli rockets while the rest landed in Syria.
Western leaders, including Theresa May, condemned Iran for the attack. The German government accused Iran of “provocation” despite the fact that Israel has repeatedly attacked Iran.
The attack is also linked to Trump’s decision to impose new sanctions on Iran.
On Tuesday Trump announced he was taking the US out of a deal signed with Iran in 2015. It saw the US lift sanctions on Iran’s economy and Iran agree to limit its nuclear programme.
But now Trump has abandoned the deal and has re-imposed sanctions designed to damage Iran’s oil and banking industries. It marks a return to direct confrontation with Iran that includes encouraging Israeli military action.
Trump’s recently-appointed national security adviser John Bolton is a long-standing supporter of forcing regime change on Iran. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said last Saturday that Trump is “committed to regime change”.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has also pushed for Trump to abandon the deal.
Iran has used the wars in Syria and Iraq to extend its influence in the Middle East. Its military forces have a foothold in both countries creating a “crescent of influence” right across to Israel’s border.
The US’s allies Israel and Saudi Arabia have tried to curb Iran’s growth. Saudi Arabia has waged a brutal war against rebels in Yemen, which it says are backed by Iran. It has also imposed a near year-long blockade on Qatar in an attempt to break the country’s links with Iran.
But until now the US has stopped short of giving Israel and Saudi Arabia its full open support.
The Iran deal—signed under previous president Barack Obama—was supposed to limit Iran’s growth at a time when the US’s power in the region had been weakened.
That’s why the US’s European allies have tried to rescue the deal.
But now Trump and his advisers have made a clear return to conflict—including using Israel to push Iran back.
Israel’s role has always been to defend the West’s interests in the Middle East. Now, with the backing of the US, it may launch a major new war.