Thursday, May 17, 2018

Iranian Reactions To The Strategic Change In The U.S.'s Iran Policy And To Israel's Activity To Eliminate The Iranian Threat To It From Syria - A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon

by A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon

Iran is now facing two fronts that coordinate with each other – the political-economic front, led by the U.S., and the military front, led by Israel


In his May 8, 2018 speech, U.S. President Donald Trump turned the tables on Iran, on its European partners, and on supporters of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) worldwide, when he announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the agreement. Following this, Iran is now facing two fronts that coordinate with each other – the political-economic front, led by the U.S., and the military front, led by Israel, that aims to eliminate the Iranian threat to it from Syria.

Iranian Reactions To President Trump's Withdrawal From The JCPOA – The Political Level

Despite the U.S.'s move, the Iranian regime does not want to leave the JCPOA – for the same reasons it accepted it in the first place. The agreement gives Iran nuclear-state status; it elevates it to the level of a global power; it obliges the West to upgrade Iran's civilian nuclear program; and it protects the Iranian regime from being attacked by the West. Therefore, the Iranian regime will adhere to the agreement even if only Russia and China continue to support it.

The threats issued by Iran prior to Trump's announcement – i.e. that Iran would also leave the agreement and would resume enriching uranium – have been replaced with Iran's granting of extensions (that this week was extended from two weeks to two months) for its demand that the European governments guarantee monetary compensation for European companies that will be trading with Iran and that will be subject to punitive measures against them on the part of the U.S. Such monetary guarantees from Europe are impossible to obtain, and are not carried out even today, when American sanctions on companies trading with Iran are already in force because of Iran's human rights violations and support for terrorism. Thus, there is no possibility that such guarantees will be given by the governments of Europe after the U.S. has left the agreement.

Therefore, the Iranian regime's policy of negotiating with the Europeans, Russia, and China should be seen only as an attempt to stall and to look for formulas for Iran's submission, with regime spokesmen frequently issuing ambiguous, general threats in order to gain some sort of diplomatic achievement.[1]

This policy of Iranian President Rohani has won the full backing of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who in a speech following the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA did not announce that Iran was withdrawing from the JCPOA, as he had stated in the past that he would if the U.S. did. Furthermore, he has given President Rohani increasing room to maneuver in reaching new agreements with the Europeans.[2] This was also Khamenei's modus operandi when the agreement was accepted – he spoke against it at the same time as he approved it. Iran has no real tools to deal with the U.S.'s withdrawal from the agreement, or with the Europeans' anticipated withdrawal from it as well, which may happen because they have no option.

This modus operandi, in which the Iranians act like a superpower against weak rivals but rationally and submissively when facing a dangerous and powerful rival ready to use economic or military force against them, has for years been characteristic of the Iranian regime (see MEMRI reports analyzing this and identifying Iran as a paper tiger: MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1150, Tehran vs The Awakening Sunni Arab Camp: Significance And Implications, March 31, 2015, and MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6183, Iran Threatens Saudi Arabia: 'The IRGC... Will Take Vengeance' On The Al-Sa'ud Regime; 'Our Responses Will Be... Harsh And Decisive,' October 11, 2015).

Since Iran is rejecting any change to the JCPOA, particularly any discussion on the subject of its missile program or its regional expansion in the Middle East, and since the European countries – despite their opposition to the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement – agree with the U.S. that there is a need to include the Iranian missile program and regional expansion in any agreement with it, it does not appear that the upcoming meetings between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his French, German, and UK counterparts will yield any breakthrough.

There has also been a shift in Iran's position concerning its nuclear program and the resumption of its uranium enrichment in excess of the percentage permitted it by the JCPOA. While prior to President Trump's announcement, Iranian regime spokesmen had threatened to renew uranium enrichment, since the announcement the regime has taken no steps aimed at doing so, or at resuming activity in any other areas of its nuclear program.

Iranian Reactions To Israel's Military Activity To Eliminate The Iranian Threat To It From Syria – The Military Level

At this time, Iran is not ready for a widescale confrontation with Israel, and the steps it is taking in the hostilities are minimal. It has announced a policy of restraint, and has responded in measured fashion, one time only, to the serial Israeli attacks that caused Iranian loss of life and damage to Iranian battle arrays in Syria.

As on previous occasions, Iran is for the time being refraining from publishing any reports on the May 10, 2018 widescale Israeli attacks that struck as many as 50 Iranian targets in Syria. The Iranian media reports on the hail of Iranian rockets on Israeli military targets in the Golan Heights depict this as an operation carried out by the Syrian army, not by Iran, and in response to an Israeli attack that preceded it.

Iran also is refraining, in its media, from presenting the Israeli attacks as a direct Israel-Iran confrontation.

Will The Continuation Of Israel's Activity Against Iranian Forces In Syria Lead To All-Out Israel-Iran War?

As far as Iran is concerned, any postponement of all-out confrontation with Israel is preferable, because Iran has not yet completed all steps of its deployment in the region, and U.S. forces still remain in Syria. But it should be remembered that pressing ideological, geostrategic, and political factors are at play here as well, and they are pushing it into such a confrontation with Israel.

A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon


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