In other words, the pain of sanctions will force people to rise up and overthrow their leaders. This is as naïve as it is cynical. It reflects the long-discredited theory that sanctioned populations will direct their frustrations and anger at national leaders and demand a change in policy or the regime. Sanctions have never worked for this purpose.
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Despite the immediate headlines, Trump’s tweet has little significance for the Heights. The international community, including the UN, is not going to shift its position on their status. And, while Netanyahu may be boosted, the Israeli presence will continue to depend on the strength of arms, the expansion of settlements and the acceptance of actors such as Russia.
Forty years on, the Islamic Republic is sticking to its worldview and the dichotomy of its original religious ideological and republican dimensions. The ability to be independent from international influence is something many Iranian officials and military commanders brag about. Still, this independence comes at a price, a price that Iranians feel on a daily basis with sanctions depriving many of them of a normal life. Much progress and development has been made in post-1979 Iran that continues to win the regime support. At the same time, there are areas that remain underdeveloped and for which the republic attracts regular criticism.
This course of events can lead to further escalation. Iran sees no other choice but to stick to its current options for deterrence. The U.S. wants to deprive Tehran of this capability that can cause trouble for Washington and its regional policy. But the Iranians look at the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA as a betrayal and do not want to repeat the same mistake with regards to their BMP. That’s why some argue that U.S. nuclear deal withdrawal works against its disarmament policy.
Saudi leaders have scaled back their planned purchases and now only expect to build two reactors. If the Trump administration continues to pursue nuclear exports to Riyadh, it should negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Kingdom as required by U.S. law, and also take extra steps to reduce nuclear proliferation risks.
More aggressive to US enemies, arguably more erratic with US allies and with the financial benefit to the US at the centre of his foreign policy, Trump’s involvement in the Middle East has not been a stabilizing factor in one of the most turbulent periods of the region’s recent history. With at least two years left in the White House, it is too early to say what his lasting legacy in the Middle East will be, but the signs do not point to a positive one.
Trump threat and his earlier vow to stand by the Kurds despite the troop withdrawal gives Saudi Arabia and other Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt political cover to support the Kurds as a force against Iran’s presence in Syria. It also allows the kingdom and the UAE to attempt to thwart Turkish attempts to increase its regional influence.
But the real question is, what will the Kurds do? Initially following Trump’s pull-out tweet, an SDF alliance with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia seemed most likely. There were early signs of the SDF reaching out to both parties and protesting the US move. Within days, pro-al-Assad forces were reportedly moving into areas previously dominated by the SDF.