WASHINGTON — The U.S. and other nations should expect an uptick in confrontations with Iran this summer as Tehran tests the limits of President Trump during an election year and demonstrates frustration with tightening economic sanctions, one analyst projects
“It will be another summer of escalation,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies (FDD), said during a Tuesday interview with TMN. He said the Iranian leadership, as much as can be predicted, has to decide if an election year Trump will act in a more restraining manner than during the past two years.
“That part is unclear to me,” Taleblu said. “This is where the U.S. and Iran are willing to play a game of chicken.”
By comparison, in 2017 Iran was risk-averse in order to learn about the new U.S president, something no longer the case, he said.
What is not unclear to Taleblu is that the U.S. declared a maximum pressure economic campaign against Iran has succeeded in crippling Iran’s economy and dented some of its ability to swagger in the region.
“It was a strategy of high-risk high reward,” he said, regarding the U.S. effort.
The FDD identifies itself as a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Its political leanings have been described variously as nonpartisan, hawkish and neoconservative. Founded after the September 11 attacks, it has been identified by various media as part of the Israel lobby in the U.S.
Friday was the two-year mark of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a 159-page agreement with five annexes reached by Iran and the P5+1 nations — China France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the European Union, on July 14, 2015, regarding Tehran’s nuclear work.
The JCPOA deal was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted on July 20, 2015. Its elements include limiting Iran’s nuclear activities and allowing inspectors into the country in exchange for lifting economic sanctions previously passed by the United Nations. The specific commitments from Iran included reducing their uranium stockpile by 98% and drastically lowering the number of centrifuges installed at nuclear two facilities.
Taleblu said that last Friday’s mark, as well as the upcoming July anniversary dates, are times when Iran could be more confrontational as a means to pressure European nations to resist Washington’s bid to bring them into new sanctions against Tehran.
He said Monday’s maneuvers by the Iranian navy, which ended in a friendly fire incident that killed at least 19 Iranian sailors, are an example of that. “The drills are highly symbolic, that they will not be deterred,” Ben Taleblu said.
The friendly fire occurrence, however, undercuts what Iran was trying to achieve, he said. It shows their navy “lacks capability and lacks competency.”
One of the looming questions regarding Iran and JCPOA is whether the U.S. — from its seat on the UN Security Council — would try and implement a provision to snapback all provisions of previous Security Council resolutions should it deem Iran to be in ‘significant non-performance’ of its JCPOA commitments.
Many have argued that the U.S. cannot exercise that option since it withdrew from JCPOA. Ben Tabebu disagrees, saying any member of the Security Council can seek to implement a snapback.
Tabelu said the ideal scenario would be in another member of the Security Council, ideally a European member, to request the snapback. France and the United Kingdom, two European nations, are permanent members of the Security Council. Other European nations currently on the Security Council are Belgium, Estonia, and Germany.
“It (JCPOA) is living on borrowed time,” Tabelu said.
The dynamics of the past two years, where international business communities — including Asia business — complied with U.S. sanctions even while political communities did not, was the break with the past that made the Trump administration’s effort a success to date, he said.
“It created the impression that Iran is not a good place to do business..not worth it,” he said.
Tabelu said Iran had succeeded in the past with a strategy of patience, dividing Europe and America in order to win concessions or a pass on its violations and regional adventurism.
“They thought they could do it again. They thought their policies can overcome U.S. market forces. That strategy has collapsed,” he said.
What to watch for now: growing nuclear violations; regional actions through its proxies and arms transfers, an escalation in the Persian Gulf, cyberattacks, and missile testing and missile transfers, he said.
“They will start doing more of these five things,” Tabelu said.