The high stakes in US-Iran manoeuvres

Iran miscalculated its chances of success when it turned Iraq, Syria and Lebanon into one integrated workshop that threatened Israel’s security.
Saturday 31/08/2019
A combination of photo shows US President Donald Trump (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rohani. (AFP)
A combination of photo shows US President Donald Trump (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rohani. (AFP)

All that upbeat commotion during the G7 summit in France about Iran does not really matter. What is worth monitoring, though, is the language of fire that the entire international community has used through Israeli tools to strike Iran’s interests in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

US Vice-President Mike Pence spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, expressing the United States’ full support for Israel’s right to defend its security. So did US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who conveyed a warning to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that Israel might go very far in its war against Lebanon if the escalation is not stopped.

While the American moves represent predictable behaviour in support of Israel, the silence of major world capitals, especially those whose leaders met in France, about the wave of Israeli firepower that targeted Iranian military positions or ones allied to Tehran from Iraq to the Mediterranean, demonstrates the complicity of the international system, including China and Russia, to tame the Iranian momentum and impose on it unprecedented controls.

With the blessings of the international community, Israel is engaged in shaking the various corners and foundations of the strategic corridor that Iran has sought to build from Tehran to Beirut.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s enthusiasm for French efforts for a diplomatic breakthrough at the G7 summit suggests Iran has understood the recent fire messages and realised that any military response would bring it broader and fiercer fire that would not be contested by any of its alleged world allies.

That Zarif was very active in France, supported in his efforts by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, despite Zarif’s critics in Tehran and to the point of agreeing to some meeting with US President Donald Trump, means that the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accepted to swallow the poison just as his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, did to stop the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

When one examines the effects of the time factor on the rival contenders in this affair, it becomes obvious that Iran is suffering under devastating economic sanctions whose effects Tehran is striving hard to hide. Iran also seems to be losing the battle of the Strait of Hormuz and even fell back to an amateurish level by expressing its concern about the threats to the security of international shipping in the Gulf waters and volunteering to be part of a regional system to protect the security of the region.

Tehran was eyeing with great concern the advance of international fleets, led by the United States of course, towards the region, and realising that the trend was growing every day while projects for alternative international alliances fall by the wayside.

Examining the time factor also reveals that the reluctance on both sides to resolve the crisis between Washington and Tehran allows Israel to expand its military options to destroy what Iran has been building for decades.

The issue is not the destruction of Iranian military interests in the region but that the Israeli military campaign might cause a shift in positions, especially in Baghdad, towards distancing Iraq from Tehran.  This includes daring to openly call for “defending Iraq’s interests” by keeping a clear distance from Tehran’s agenda and resenting its interference and influence within Iraqi territory, for example.

In contrast, Trump does not seem to be in a rush. That he agrees to a meeting with Rohani or postpones the matter until “the right conditions” are ripe is a luxury Tehran does not have.

The US president is fighting a battle to renew his term at the White House next year. The Iranian question is not central to his election campaign. The bulk of his electoral bloc is not concerned with the crisis with Iran and may not know where it is on the world map. Any developments in the crisis with Iran will not affect the outcome of the presidential elections.

Ironically, the Iranian question is not a central campaign issue for all candidates. Israel’s sudden military campaign might be an attempt to rein in the flexibility that some capitals have been showing towards Tehran, while at the same time it is being conducted in accordance with the international balance of power in relation to the Iranian file.

Iran’s famous corridor towards the Mediterranean has become a strategic threat to Israel’s security. This was not the case when the Arabs had raised the issue of the dangers of the projected corridor when Jordanian King Abdullah II in 2004 called attention to Iran’s “Shia crescent” project or when former US President Barack Obama rushed to impose his nuclear deal with Iran on the world in 2015.

Obviously, the one that brought Iran’s dream of the famous corridor crashing is Iran itself, which miscalculated its chances of success when it turned Iraq, Syria and Lebanon into one integrated workshop that threatened Israel’s security. Tehran wanted to maximise its share in the international scene by increasing its potential danger to Israel but it has lost its bet.

If Tehran fails to come up with a strategic response to the change in Israel’s strategy, it will lose its “corridor” forever since it will be dropped from the agenda of any possible negotiations. Perhaps Trump’s “right conditions” means that Iran needs to lose some other negotiating cards.