Iran's showdown strategy is mired in self-delusion
We have American plans and Iranian plans. Clearly, no one in Washington wants a direct military confrontation with Tehran. This does not necessarily mean that the US war on Iran will stop.
This war is economic before anything else, especially when the US administration knows that what Iran wants is a limited military confrontation, after which it could declare that it scored another victory over the “Great Satan.”
Iran is trying to duplicate Hezbollah’s performance in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. At the end of its war with Israel, Hezbollah agreed to every letter in UN Security Council Resolution 1701, then proudly declared its “holy victory” over Israel.
The party’s real victory was over Lebanon and the Lebanese as it covered up its involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Iran wants to repeat the summer 2006 war experience but on a larger scale.
Unfortunately for Iran, there is no one in Washington willing to fall into the trap. There are, however, quite a few willing to pressure Iran where it hurts most -- the economy. The effects of US sanctions are increasing day by day and they are showing results in a country where more than half the population lives below the poverty line.
From Washington's perspective, the economy remains the beginning and the end. Everything else is details, including the Iraq card that Iran is clutching tighter than ever. This domination is evidenced by the attack on the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad and the subsequent disregard for pursuing the perpetrators.
It seems that Iraqis' resistance to Iranian hegemony has not yet yielded fruit, especially after it turned out that statements by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on integrating Popular Mobilisation Forces militias into the regular Iraqi Army do not mean the elimination of the militias.
US plans are quite different from Iranian designs. Iran had done everything to provoke an American response to no avail. US President Donald Trump backed out of pulling the trigger after Iran downed a US drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
We don’t know whether that aircraft was in Iranian airspace but we know that the downed drone was one of the most advanced aircraft in the field of espionage, with a price tag of about $120 million, not including the cost of the development programme for the drones, which would hike up the price to about $180 million.
The downing of this super drone was a slap to the US administration. It proves that Iran has advanced surface-to-air missiles and gives an idea about the strength and depth of the relationship between Moscow and Tehran.
In its provocation game with the United States and its allies in the region, Iran resorted to all kinds of weapons. It attacked oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf and launched drone attacks from Iraqi soil against Saudi oil facilities The Houthis did their bit in the service of Tehran. It is becoming obvious that the Houthis in Yemen are no more than a tool in the service of Iran’s expansionist project.
At every provocation, the United States responded with more sanctions against Iran. Perhaps the biggest punishment was Trump tearing up the Iranian nuclear deal. With the nuclear agreement gone, Tehran lost the fig leaf on which it was relying to cover its intentions. The agreement allowed Iran to find the billions of dollars it used to fund its sectarian militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Barack Obama's administration was stupid enough to swallow Tehran’s manoeuvre that was called the nuclear deal.
Iran has decided to ignore restrictions imposed on its nuclear programme by the agreement. So, what would that mean? Even if Iran builds its nuclear bomb, that will not change much at the regional level, except that other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, will seek to possess nuclear weapons.
The issue is not -- and has never been -- the Iranian nuclear programme. The issue has always been Iran’s unacceptable behaviour in the region. This behaviour has brought disasters on Iran itself in addition to threatening the security and stability of every country in the region.
This time, there is an administration in the White House that knows how to hurt Iran. In response to the Iranian attack on oil tankers in the Gulf, an oil tanker transporting Iranian oil to the Syrian regime was seized and detained in Gibraltar.
The US administration is not putting pressure on just Tehran but is also on its tools and agents in the region, including its proxies in Lebanon and in Syria represented by the regime led by Bashar Assad.
One question remains: How far will Iran go in its escalation game with the United States for it to end the sanctions? Will it respond to the capture of the oil tanker at Gibraltar by seizing a British tanker in the Gulf?
Iran is hurting from the sanctions and does not know how to escape them. Yet, the solution is simple. All Iran must do is admit to itself that the world has changed and that betting on Europe to help it out of the sanctions is like betting on a desert mirage. Europe is no longer a major force with political clout. Each European country is a prisoner of its own set of problems, making it unable to be of significant help.
As to China, on which Iran is counting to buy some of its oil, it is rather busy finding a safe way out of its trade war with the United States. Besides, whatever quantity of oil China would be willing to buy from Iran won’t be enough to fix the Iranian economy or even improve it a bit.
All in all, there is a new world with different agendas that Iran is refusing to recognise. This new world is operating on the basis of figures and numbers that Tehran refuses to reconcile with. This language says Iran is no longer able to export but only half of the oil it exported a year ago and perhaps much less.