No choice for Iran but to accept the new rules of the game

Every day, new economic sanctions against Iran see the light.
Sunday 27/05/2018
The Governor of the Central Bank of Iran Valiollah Seif (R) and Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Massoud Karbasiyanat attend a parliament session in Tehran. (AFP)
Tightened noose. The Governor of the Central Bank of Iran Valiollah Seif (R) and Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Massoud Karbasiyanat attend a parliament session in Tehran. (AFP)

In its poker game with the Trump administration, Iran is trying to play its ace: Europe. Poor Iran, however, has very little room for manoeuvring in this tight game. If it comes down to choosing between Iran and the United States, Europe will side with Washington.

So the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump claimed was the worst agreement ever. Washington, however, did not close the door on negotiations for a new deal free of the weaknesses of the 2015 one.

Unlike the United States, Europe is all for maintaining the current deal as the basis for new negotiations aimed at amending the agreement to reach additional goals besides stopping Iran’s nuclear programme. The first goal is related to Iran’s behaviour at the regional level where Iran-backed sectarian militias are undermining the peace in many Arab countries. The second goal relates to the Iran-made ballistic missiles being launched at Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

Nobody in their right mind would accept Iran’s behaviour in the region. Even Russia, Iran’s ally in Syria, does not accept it. It is obvious that Russia is irked by Iran’s shenanigans in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a guest of honour at the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow. As both leaders enjoyed the parade, Israeli warplanes were bombing Iranian targets in Syria in retaliation for missiles launched on the occupied Golan Heights.

As if that was not humiliation enough to Iran, Russia also decided to scrap the S-300 missile deal with Syria.

How efficient these missiles could have been against Israel’s very sophisticated warplanes we will not have a chance to find out. More important, is Syria capable of settling the bill for the S-300 missile system? The Russians must have feared that the confrontation with Israel might reveal the backwardness of Russian weapons in comparison to the US-made weapons of the Israeli military.

When the French oil giant Total withdraws from a project in Iran or when a major Danish shipping company stops its activities in Iran, it can only mean that Europe takes American warnings seriously.

As always, the problem is that Iran refuses to accept that its expansionist project is hopeless and that its current state resembles that of the ex-Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev was succeeded for a brief time by Yuri Andropov and then Konstantin Chernenko. The Soviet leadership was ageing and by the time it decided to inject young blood by placing Mikhail Gorbachev at the helm, it was too late.

There are many indications that Iran’s strategy is rather old. That strategy was good enough for the Obama era. The Obama administration reduced the Middle East’s problems to Iran’s nuclear programme and set out to correct that with the nuclear deal. Even during the George W. Bush administration, Iran was smart enough to jockey for the lion’s share of the political spoils of the Iraq war.

Today, however, there is a new sheriff in town and the rules of the game have changed. America has changed and the Arab world has changed. A new Saudi Arabia is taking the lead in reining in Iran’s expansionism in the Arab world and the Gulf region. Operation Decisive Storm — the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen — was just the beginning of the end of Iran’s project in Yemen.

In the past, Iran resorted to patient endurance in the implementation of its expansionist project. It turns out the United States can also play that game.

Every day, new economic sanctions against Iran see the light, targeting Iranian officials and institutions and even Iranian proxies. The latest batch, for example, named Hezbollah officials. It was clear that the United States and the Gulf countries were behind these sanctions. In fact, there is in the Gulf a shared awareness of the Iranian threat and a common determination to do something about it.

In the final analysis, one wonders whether the Iranian regime can assess its real size and that of Iran. True, Iran is heir to the venerable and prestigious Persian civilisation but any reasonable person can see that Iran cannot play the role of a major regional power. Iran had better take care of its population before anything else.

Iran seems to be counting on Europe to take its side but Iran will not be willing or able to satisfy Europe’s demands for a new nuclear deal. The Arab world adamantly refuses to be a simple bystander in its own region. It would be in Iran’s interests, therefore, to quickly adapt to the new rules of the game imposed by the Trump administration.