Telegraph, April 21, 2018 - It is tempting to view the “fire and forget” air strikes on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons infrastructure last weekend as a one-off, a powerful warning shot to show one of the world’s most reviled dictators that, with Donald Trump in the White House, there are clearly defined red lines that must not be crossed.
The president himself seemed to lend encouragement to this conclusion when he used the somewhat tainted phrase “mission accomplished” to describe the attacks, which also involved the British and French military.
This was a classic exercise in what might come to be known as the “Trump Doctrine”, where Washington uses the threat of overwhelming military force to achieve its diplomatic goals.
The White House clearly believes a similar threat will, at the very least, persuade the despot of Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad, to cease using weapons of mass destruction on his own people.
It is, though, highly unlikely that the Syria attack will be the last time Mr. Trump feels compelled to intervene militarily in the Middle East.
On the contrary, given the way another rogue regime, namely Iran, is conducting itself in the region at the moment, it would seem almost inevitable that the Trump administration will find itself involved in some form of confrontation with the ayatollahs in the very near future.
However, they are not easily cowed by intimidation from Washington.
Indeed, they seem to derive great satisfaction from maintaining their perpetual state of antagonism towards a nation they call the “Great Satan”, an attitude that has not changed a jot since Mr. Trump’s predecessor, the hapless Barack Obama, led the way in signing the highly controversial nuclear deal with Tehran in 2015.
For all its flaws, Mr. Obama argued it was worth signing the deal because it would encourage Tehran to adopt a more reasonable approach to its dealings with the West, and might even end decades of hostility.
Instead, the opposite has been the case, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard opting to spend the billions of dollars they have acquired through the lifting of sanctions on broadening and deepening their malign influence throughout the Middle East.
Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and, of course, Israel: all of these countries have been on the receiving end of unprovoked acts of Iranian aggression.
The Syrian conflict is perhaps the best example of how Tehran exploits political turmoil to further its own ends.
Tehran has used its alliance with Assad to build what amounts to a state-within-a-state in Syria, just as it did in neighboring Lebanon in the 1980s when it set up Hezbollah.
The Guard now has its own airfield, underground command and control facilities, thousands of missiles and an estimated 20,000 Iranian-trained militiamen at its disposal.
The military build-up even includes its own dedicated drone base.
The purpose of this investment, moreover, is to increase Iran’s ability to confront directly Israel, its long-standing foe across the Golan Heights.
Not surprisingly, this highly provocative behavior by Tehran has not gone unnoticed by the Israelis.
In the past few weeks, they have shot down a drone that had infiltrated Israeli airspace and launched a series of raids on Iranian convoys suspected of shipping weapons to Iran’s new Syrian bases, as well as to Hezbollah.
Nor have these developments passed unnoticed in Washington, where the more hawkish members of Mr. Trump’s administration, such as new CIA director Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, make no secret of their hawkish attitude towards Tehran.
It has even been suggested Mr. Trump wanted to bomb the Iranian positions during last week’s missile strikes on the Assad regime but was dissuaded for fear of provoking a wider conflict.
Yemen is another country where Iran’s unwanted meddling is becoming a cause for concern in Washington.
America’s main priority in that benighted country is to eradicate the al-Qaeda-affiliated cells that have established terror bases, from which they continue to plot attacks against the West.
But their efforts are being frustrated by Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels who are fighting against the country’s democratically elected government.
The strength of Washington’s feelings over Iran’s involvement was made public last week when a senior Pentagon official told the Senate Foreign Relations committee that Iran was using the Yemen conflict as a “test bed for Iran’s malign activities.”
Certainly, with the Trump Administration currently giving serious consideration to withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - to give the Iran nuclear deal its proper title - next month, Iran need to watch its step.
For unless there is a significant change in Tehran’s behavior, it could discover the Trump administration’s willingness to use overwhelming force against its enemies is not just an empty threat.