Former British diplomat Alastair Crooke sheds light on recent regional and international events in an exclusive interview with Al-Ahed News.
Let's start with the events in Iran, do you see foreign intelligence hands behind what took place in Iran recently?
I think the Iranian prosecutor has said that Iran has definitively identified at least two hands behind it. One was an American and the other an "Israeli". One a CIA officer and one a Mossad officer. I don't say that I have any direct evidence, but I think that on the basis of the pattern and the way in which America has responded to this, it seems highly likely and it follows the pattern of what you would see in these interventions and is almost exactly the same as what we saw in 1953.Then the CIA paid people to smash shops and do violent acts in order to create a certain atmosphere, and I think it is certainly quite plausible the claims of Iran that indeed it was orchestrated from outside.
After what you just said, do you think that the strategy which will be pursued by the Trump administration - because of its anti-Iranian doctrine - will continue to be stirring riots or are we headed towards something bigger, possibly war?
Well first of all I think there are two things we have to acknowledge beforehand. The first one was that these protests in no way succeeded. What I mean is that it didn't stimulate support and it didn't generate a popular reaction at all. They were very limited, there were limited numbers. The pro-violent demonstrators were really quite insignificant in numbers in a country the size of 80 million people. The second thing we have to say is that the conditions from 2009 are completely different from what they are today. In 2009 there was a segment of the population, particularly in Tehran, who were surprised by the election outcome and there was a massive vote in northern Tehran for Moussawi as the president, and they couldn't understand how Ahmadinejad had won the election and believed it had been stolen. And this was a cause, there was a real cause therefore.
So first of all it's different from that period in 2009, but the other thing that is clear is that there was not support when the United States tried to take this and enlarge this at the United Nations in a resolution. Only two states supported the United States and the majority, including the European states, did not support it, and indeed even those who were partners of the US like France, criticized the American ambassador Nikki Haley saying we're wasting the UN's time and this is not appropriate to the UN and the UN is charged with dealing with threats to international stability and this is clearly not that.
So, I don't think there was much support for this, and very clearly the Europeans have made a statement saying we want to keep the JCPOA and this (the recent developments in Iran) have got nothing to do with it. This may pull the Americans back because in the past they have relied heavily on being able to count on almost automatic support.
There are two things, I would say, which are that the domestic dynamics in the US mean that Americans may need a crisis - maybe a crisis or maybe a war - in order to resolve the polarization within its society and also to bring about the inflow of dollars that are necessary to finance its deficit.
So possibly we will see this escalate, the timing is such that North Korea might come to a head before Iran. But certainly there is this feeling in the white house amongst those who surround the president. There are strong differing views, but those who happen to be close to the president are in favor of escalation against Iran.
Since Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, has spoken about dramatically increasing the covert operations, that's why I ask if it's going to be and escalated CIA activity instead of all-out military warfare?
Yes, I think it will be escalated proxy war: CIA-covert Mossad-covert Saudi-covert operations against Iran, but also it will be financial war. And of course what happened when America decided to escalate against Iran in 2014 was essentially the sanctions: removing them from the Western banking system and the financial system.
So many of these protests and particularly their violent character was probably more likely designed to give a human's rights pretext that would then allow sanctions, and it is the sanctions that they are looking to. The American narrative is that when the international financial system was closed to Iran, then Iranians went out of the banks and went into the black market in a desperate bid to buy dollars and that created a huge inflation in Iran and the inflation and the economic stress might have led to the collapse of Iran if it had not been for Obama who rescued them.
This is the narrative of the right - that Obama rescued them (Iran) from that by starting the JCPOA. So, I think the natural conclusion is that America will be likely to try to go back to the 2014 experience and use sanctions principally, of course to try and provoke Iran as well into what they would call human rights abuses by inciting violence within Iran, and of course when you have violent rioting security forces have to ultimately use some form of effective enforcement in order to stop the rioting and that could be portrayed as human rights abuses even if they are no different to the enforcement procedures that you see happening all the time in Europe at the moment.
How would you describe "Trump's Middle East doctrine" if one can put it as such?
Trump's Middle East doctrine. You're right to say can you describe it as a doctrine. It is not exactly a doctrine, but it is essentially in one respect to do the opposite to what Obama did and in that way he has gone back to the old neocon formula which has been to embrace the Gulf states and the monarchs and the emirs of the region, and to categorize not only Iran but Hezbollah the Hashed Al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilization Units] and others as terrorist movements. In other words, to embrace entirely a particular regional viewpoint which sees the Sunnis as victims and the Shiite as the oppressors and the terrorists.
Before the elections Marco Rubio was labelled as the neocon and there were many neocons who were against Trump, people like Elliot Cohen, what made him shift to become or as you say embrace the neocon agenda?
We don't know exactly why he went in this direction. There are a number of possible explanations, one is he has a very close connection to "Israeli" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through his (Trump's) son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been the source of much of these problems in the Middle East. Through Kushner, Trump has had a huge input from Netanyahu who is well known, as well as his father before him, for hostility to Iran.
But I think also the White House has this hostility to Iran because particular officers around Trump like Mattis and Kelly and others, were in Iraq during 2003 and during that time have come into contact with "militia" who opposed them and who killed American soldiers, and they attribute all of that to Iran and do not conceive or do not confess that there was an Iraqi resistance and it was not something that was entirely an Iranian exercise.
Iran might have been partly involved but what you were dealing with was direct Iraqi resistance, just as we are seeing that the Iraqis have resisted against "ISIS" not on behalf of Iran or not mobilizing as Hashed because of Iran, but because of what has happened: the murder and killing of their sons and husbands in Mosul and the areas around Mosul.
But in Washington it's understood that all of this mobilization in Iraq has nothing to do with the Martyrs going into the Mosque every day, Iraqi martyrs ...Iraqi martyrs of the war against "ISIS"- (in Washington) they think it's Iran. And they think that what happened in Iraq - the American failure in Iraq - was caused by Iran.
Do they really have this perception that Iran is behind it?
Yes, they have that perception and it's fed to them and it is encouraged by the "Israelis" and by Saudi Arabia. Mohammad Bin Salman [MBS] is always saying that.
Rex Tillerson's call on the Hashed Al-Shaabi actually gives credence to what you said-when he said the Hashed must go home.
Exactly. They believe this. A few days ago, the famous Washington Post correspondent David Ignatius rang up the 28-year-old ambassador in Washington for information about Iran. This is the extent of Washington's understanding of the problem. So it's not clear, is it deliberate? - Because in America there's no constituency that views Iran favorably. The American military doesn't, Trump's base doesn't, and they have all been conditioned to be hostile. So Iran is an easy target in the terms that no one will oppose you. It's not an easy target in terms of doing military action, quite the reverse. Iran would present either America or "Israel" or both of them together with a formidable resistance to any attack on it. And I don't think that either "Israel" or America would be anxious to put boots on the ground and to have a land war against Iran. So Iran is militarily strong, but it is weak in that it's a very easy target to build up popular hostility and portray it as a terrorist state.
Source: Al-Ahed News