Trump has hurt Iran without firing a bullet
The nuclear agreement (JCPOA) with the Iranian regime, which was signed by former US President Barack Obama and five other Western governments, will remain a subject of intense debate for years to come. Was it born out of the necessity to recognize Iran’s nuclear reality, or was it the result of a “Caesarean Operation” of bad and inefficient negotiations?
Dennis Ross, a veteran diplomat who knows the Middle East and previously worked for the Obama administration, sees the world as being a better place thanks to the deal, and believes that chaos occurred after the election of Donald Trump, who launched a war on the agreement. There are different opinions on the agreement; some praise it and believe it restricts Iran’s nuclear military project, while others criticize it because it has turned the region into a playground where it is wreaking havoc.
In my view, on the nuclear side the JCPOA has its positives, but it cannot be blameless of Iran’s crimes. Selfishly, the negotiators disrupted the sanctions in return for a suspension of enrichment. So, Tehran suddenly found the door wide open, and sneaked out of the cage, moving thousands of its troops and militia fighters to fight abroad.
The international “dam” that had established the economic and military sanctions collapsed; and “borders” drawn in the sand, which had determined the positions of the countries of the region and the world, simply disappeared.
The regional system collapsed the very day we saw Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joyfully holding the papers of the agreement on the balcony of his room at the Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna, the Austrian capital.
During and after the negotiations, Iran’s forces, which previously were only operating in Lebanon and Gaza, were now deployed in an unprecedented manner in the region. Iran has become the largest power on the ground in Syria, its officials have appeared publicly leading the battles in Iraq, it has launched missiles aimed at Jeddah, Makkah and Riyadh, and it strengthened its political control of Lebanon.
Ross believes that Iran’s arrogant regional bullying during Trump’s term — including launching rockets at Israel, sending drones into Israeli airspace, and launching missiles against Saudi cities — is merely Tehran’s reaction to the US president’s toughness against it. However, the reality we see here, within the region, says the opposite.
An essential part of Iran’s raising the level of confrontation is meant to put pressure on the Trump administration, the same technique it used successfully with the Obama White House, which used to retreat in the face of every crisis with the Tehran regime. Hence, Iran realized it could blackmail the Obama administration with the escalation in Iraq and Syria — it even detained US sailors, and then released them in a humiliating way.
The US sanctions have caused the collapse of the Iranian currency, which has fomented serious internal unrest threatening the existence of the regime as a whole.
It is true that Trump has chosen not to fight the Iranians militarily in Syria, but still he has succeeded in building a political and military coalition to pressure Iran after it was confidently celebrating what it thought was the final victory there. Trump has paved the way for Israel, supported the Syrian armed opposition groups, pressed Russia and warned the Assad regime that it would not remain in power if the Iranians and their militias remained in Syria.
This opened the gates of hell on Iran and its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Yemen; the areas where Iran had been winning its battles before.
The Trump administration has decided to militarily confront Iran without being directly involved in the war zones of the Middle East. This culminated in his decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, which is Iran’s biggest setback since the Khomeini revolution in the late 1970s. The decision has included reinstating economic sanctions and the US setting 12 tough conditions for it to return to the agreement.
Ross believes that Trump is leading the region toward a huge explosion, and big wars. It is, of course, possible that Iran may actually raise the level of confrontation, but Tehran knows too that the price has become higher than before. Without firing a single bullet, Trump has hurt the regime. His restrictions have caused the collapse of the Iranian currency, which has fomented serious internal unrest threatening the existence of the regime as a whole.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed