Back From the Brink in Iran

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JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIALS

President Donald Trump’s temperate remarks from the White House last week in response to the “revenge firing” of long range missiles into a large air base in Iraq hosting U.S. forcesshould be reassuring to Americans on all points of the political spectrum.

Trump said he and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had agreed that no further military escalation on either side would be forthcoming. 

“That is a good thing for all parties concerned,” Trump said, “and a very good thing for the world.” 

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To that we say: Amen.

Tensions in the always volatile Middle East have run high since Trump ordered the assassination of Qassem Solemani, the top Iranian general and terrorist mastermind who was killed the week before. The action ordered by the White House elicited both praise and condemnation.

Adding more tension to the situation was the belated admission by Iran that one of its ballistic missiles had “by  accident” shot down a Ukrainian civilian passenger plane, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. Iran’s admission failed to quell protests in Tehran that had already demanded that the regime stop its foreign adventurism. 

Most Democrats – and some Republicans – criticized Trump for killing a foreign leader at the Baghdad airport. They warned that such a major action was wrong to undertake while U.S.-Iranian relations were worse than at any time since the Islamist Revolution of 1979 and Iran’s overtaking of the U.S. Embassy, which led to 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days.

Most Republicans praised the decision on Solemani, stressing that he was personally responsible for killing at lease 600 Americans, for ordering a strike on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and for directing an operation that killed an American contractor.

Even strong critics of the president acknowledged that Solemani was a ruthless leader of the vicious Iranian Republican Guards and has coordinated terrorist action by groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had “exquisite” information that Sulameini planned imminent attacks on four American embassies, although that assertion was called into question earlier this week when The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said he had not seen specific evidence of a threat to the embassies. 

The president campaigned four years ago on the theme of removing the United States from what he called “endless wars” in the Middle East and attempts to accomplish “regime change” in adversarial nations, as was done in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime.

Major powers have not engaged in such high stakes brinksmanship since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which brought the world close to a nuclear confrontation. Thanks to the skillful diplomacy of President John F.  Kennedy’s administration, a way was found for the Soviet Union to pull its missiles from Cuba in exchange for the United States removing some aging Jupiter missiles from Turkey. 

Now, amid increasingly warlike communications between Washington and Tehran, those who favored a face-saving stand-down prevailed and a major war has been avoided, at least for now.

Everyone can be justifiably relieved that both sides appear to have agreed to a period of calm. Trump said he embraces efforts to seek peace with Iran, and he encouraged our NATO allies to become more engaged in attempts to curtail Iran’s bellicose and terroristic actions.

If there is any “good news” in this still unfolding scenario, it is that a dangerous terrorist has been eliminated, that there were no casualties in Iran’s retaliatory strikes and that some Iranian officials appear to want to engage in more moderate diplomacy.

We pray that cooler heads in both Washington and Tehran can continue to avoid a major military conflict and work toward a just, true and lasting peace between the two nations.