The American hero Davy (David) Crockett(1786-1836, died fighting at the Alamo) was not just a great bear skinner or “king of the wild frontier.” He also was a pretty darn good writer, and out of one of his books is a truly American phrase that is repeated today. The phrase appears in his book An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East, written in 1835.
Describing his deteriorating relationship with Andrew Jackson, Crockett wrote:
“I myself was one of the first to fire a gun under Andrew Jackson. I helped to give him all his glory. But I liked him well once: but when a man gets too big for his breeches, I say Good bye.”
Today Iran’s Defense Minister, Hossein Dehghan fired a big warning at President-elect Donald Trump. He said Mr. Trump’s interest in undoing the so-called Iran nuclear deal was causing “unease, particularly among Persian Gulf countries,” meaning Iran and half of Yemen, effectively under Iranian control (the others are all frightened of Iran as a nuclear power and want the US to knock off the regime). Then the Defense Minister raised the temperature, stating “enemies may want to impose a war on us based on false calculations and only taking into consideration their material capabilities.” The enemy he is talking about is, of course, the United States. Then he added, If such a war were to occur, it “would mean the destruction of the Zionist regime [Israel]…and will engulf the whole region and could lead to a world war.” To add a little more to the broth, the Defense Minister also threatened the Gulf States, or at least the smaller ones, saying “city-states on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf would also be destroyed, “because they lack popular support.”
Thus the message to the President-elect is that if you mess with the agreement and cause trouble, you will start a big war. Iran will immediately destroy Israel and also start revolutions and conflict in the peripheral Gulf States (such as Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait). In a sort of curiosity, the Minister specifically excluded Saudi Arabia from the threat.
Minister Dehghan is not exactly a potential friend of the United States. He led Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Guard’s Air Force, and he played an important role in the bombing of the Beirut Barracks in 1983. That attack, against multilateral peacekeepers, killed 241 U.S. (220 Marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers), 58 French peacekeepers (55 paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment and three paratroopers of the 9th Parachute Chasseur Regiment) and six civilians. The Barracks was attacked by two large trucks stuffed with explosives driven by suicide bombers. All of this makes the Minister, in this writer’s opinion, an unacceptable interlocutor who probably should be hauled before the International Court of Justice.
Dehghan added an additional insult: he noted that it was unlikely that Mr. Trump would take any action against Iran because “he measures the cost of everything in dollars,” intended not only as a slur on a businessman but also an anti-semitic slur. While Mr. Trump is not Jewish, he makes no secret of his friendship toward Israel. His daughter married an Orthodox Jewish man, Jared Kushner and she converted to Judaism, giving Mr. Trump a personal connection to Judaism. More than that, Jared Kushner is credited as the architect of the successful Trump campaign for the Presidency, no small accomplishment.
One must ask, what should one make of such threats? Iran has no realistic ability to fight any war against the United States, nor would it succeed in launching any direct attacks on Israel. Iran’s strategy is to gain control over movements in the Middle East bringing asymmetrical forces closer to Israel’s border. Its most successful operation so far has been its sponsorship of Hezbollah, which has rocketed Israel on a number of occasions. Hezbollah now has its forces embedded with Iran’s in Syria where it is supporting the Assad minority government, itself propped up by Russian air power. And the new President of Lebanon, although a Christian, has close ties to Hezbollah, increasing their control over that country. Thus Dehghan’s statements, which may be for domestic consumption, are not aligned with Iran’s foreign or military policy.
What will the President-elect make of this? While we do not know for sure but almost certainly it will confirm for him that he is on the right path in opposing the nuclear agreement which he thinks is badly flawed. He will also recognize that real negotiations with Iran are nearly impossible with the kind of threats coming from the Defense Minister. Finally, following Davy Crockett’s observation, he will immediately recognize as a shrewd businessman that Iran is not holding any real cards and that the rogue nation has become too big for its breeches.