Iranian threats ratchet up tensions with US
Developments in the region between now and the middle of October will determine the next phase of the US-Iran cold war.
The face of interference. Commander of Iran’s al-Quds Force Qassem Soleimani in Tehran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
2017/07/23 Issue: 116 Page: 1
The Arab Weekly
Washington- Iranian President Hassan Rohani vowed to resist and retaliate against any economic sanctions that US President Donald Trump imposes on Iran after the Trump administration announced sanctions against 18 Iranian individuals and companies.
The Trump administration had already certified that Tehran had met its obligations under the nuclear deal signed in 2015 after the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran’s adherence to that agreement.
The new sanctions, a White House statement said, were imposed due to Iran’s violation of “the spirit” of the nuclear deal — presumably a reference to Tehran’s development of ballistic missile capabilities — as well as Iran’s “malign activities” that undercut the “positive contributions” of the nuclear deal.
Trump warned of “new and serious consequences” unless Tehran returned Americans “unjustly detained” in Iran, the White House said in a statement July 21. The United States is seeking the return of Robert Levinson, a former law enforcement officer who disappeared more than ten years ago in Iran, and demanded that Tehran release businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer.
Rohani said: “We will stand up to the United States” and that Iran would have an “appropriate answer.” The Iranian parliament considered increasing funds for Iran’s missile programme in response to US sanctions.
Mohamed Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and who arguably is more powerful than Rohani, responded to the new US sanctions with a thinly veiled threat against US military facilities in the region.
The US government’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which monitors Iranian broadcasts, reported Jafari as saying that if the United States wants to pursue sanctions against Iran’s defences and the IRGC, “it has to move its regional bases to a distance of about 1,000km around Iran and be aware that it would pay a high price for any miscalculations.”
While a direct Iranian attack on a US target in the region is unlikely, Tehran could ratchet up its “malign activities.” With the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate on the verge of collapse, the dynamics in Iraq and Syria are changing. Iran has a strong presence in both countries and fears are growing in Washington that the ultimate victor would be Tehran.
The Trump administration is navigating a thin line: It wants to keep the 2015 nuclear agreement in place while maintaining pressure on Tehran and assuring its regional allies — principally Saudi Arabia and Israel — that it is serious about containing Iran’s ambitions.
As for Rohani, although he defeated his hard-line opponent by a comfortable margin, he must signal his determination to stand up to the “Great Satan.” He knows Jafari is looking over his shoulder.
The US State Department is legally required to report to Congress every 90 days on Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement. Developments in the region by the middle of October will determine the next phase of the US-Iran cold war.