Iran’s strategy following the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA has focused on two objectives. The first is to push back against the maximum pressure policy with the aim of proving its irrelevance in bringing Iran to the negotiating table on US terms. The second is to drive a wedge between the US and its regional allies, especially Iran’s Arab neighbours.
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The imbalance of forces between the US and Iran all but assures Washington of military dominance over Iran. Tehran knows this, and the country can hardly want to face an invasion. Plus, the apparent failure of explosives in the two seaborne attacks does not do much for the reputation of the Iranian military. However, both the ramping up of military rhetoric and the spectre of a long-time enemy looming large plays well politically for both the Trump and Rouhani governments.
Considering the target and extent of the attack, oil prices have remained relatively stable. There could be well-founded concerns on the horizon, however, given the less than clear messaging on the damage caused to the Saudi facility and its ability to fulfil supply commitments. We could, in fact, see oil prices rise well above the norm while any other hits in oil-producing countries could tip the balance.
Hence, nothing other than direct talks can offer a prospect whereby Iran may overcome its economic woes and the US can reach a more comprehensive agreement with Iran that includes issues not covered in the JCPOA. Although the current standoff between Iran and the US may deteriorate even further, both parties are acutely aware that ultimately, talks are unavoidable even in the aftermath of any escalation that might entail needless destruction and loss of life.
Whatever the motivation behind the S-400 purchase, Turkey has made its pursuit of a new path very clear: away from past Western allies and into an unknown territory, unburdened by past alliances. What is certain is that US officials misjudged Turkey’s moves throughout this affair as a mere bluff when it appears the country was, from its early days, genuinely committed to the purchase. The result is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of good US-Turkey relations.
As things stand today, any Iranian move in the Strait of Hormuz that can be portrayed as a threat to the “free flow of commerce” (that is, the oil trade) represents the most likely trigger for direct U.S. military action. Yes, Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support for radical Shiite movements throughout the Middle East will be cited as evidence of its leadership’s malevolence, but its true threat will be to American dominance of the oil lanes, a danger Washington will treat as the offense of all offenses to be overcome at any cost.
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.
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.