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
Mark Habeeb

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.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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