Playing with fire
Iran is “playing with fire”. These are not my words but those of US President Donald Trump. He has warned the mullahs against continuing their expansionist schemes and advised them to realise the difference between him and “kind” former president Barack Obama.
Now that another cold war of words is alight between Washington and Tehran following Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, I do not see any strategic objectives behind the test except probing the intentions of the new US administration and taunting it.
I am sure that Iran did what it did after carefully examining North Korea’s experience in dealing with the United States. Iran has improved on North Korea’s strategy and used its own significant heritage in carpet-selling techniques and strategies to its advantage in negotiations with the West.
Thus, Iran was able to strike an advantageous nuclear deal and repatriate its frozen assets. It also succeeded in luring Eastern businesses by dangling deals worth billions of dollars in civil aviation and other domains.
Iran’s behaviour is a calculated provocation towards the Trump administration. Its aim is to trick the White House into revealing its intentions and thus select the guiding thread in dealing with them.
This strategy is not a defensive one, as it might seem, but an offensive one. Iran has chosen to start its provocation strategy before the new administration at the White House can find the time to beef up the Iranian file and come up with alternatives.
The mullahs have extensive experience in the art of negotiating, dodging and stalling. They took the initiative and reduced the United States to a reactive role. They know quite well that, for the moment, the US administration can only condemn and talk big. It is still tender-footed and is kept busy defending its ban on immigrants and its wall project along the US-Mexican border.
Observers say that the mullahs in Tehran are going to be irked by the new American sanctions against certain Iranian individuals and businesses. They certainly will, but only on the outside as part of the show. On the inside, the sanctions are part of the provocation plan. The sanctions will also irk other international players keen on doing profitable business with Iran.
This is not the first time we have heard the phrase “playing with fire” used in US political discourse concerning Iran. Former US presidents and senior officials have used these exact words and other similar expressions on several previous occasions. So, the mullahs are used to them and will not back down. In fact, they might go one step further and take the game one level up.
It does not have to be through a second ballistic missile test, it could be through securing gains in Syria or elsewhere. Iran is very good at the keep-them-on-the-edge-of-their-seats game and is not shy about using the strategy of bringing the world to the brink of disaster; then either it suddenly backs down or its opponents do.
During the coming stages of the game, the countries of the Arabian Gulf ought not limit themselves to the role of spectators in this strategic game. Years of being spectators robbed them of any initiative. We should not enjoy the current game for long and must start fixing our paths ourselves regardless of who wins this cold war, or even a potential “hot” war, between Iran and the United States.
The interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are, in theory, dependent on US-Iranian relations but I believe it is unwise to simply await an American initiative to curtail Iran’s expansionist policies. We risk being surprised by agreements detrimental to our relations with the United States, our main strategic partner.
I believe we ought to move according to our interests inside the GCC. We need to clearly outline to the Trump administration our specific wishes on the regional level and redraw our strategic partnership with America based on a network of mutual interests impervious to Iran’s meddling.
The United States’ strategic interests change all the time but so do ours and those of the mullahs on the opposite shores of the Arabian Gulf. So we need to think of alternatives and innovative solutions in our relations with our American partner.
We need to take into consideration all potential trends in the domains of energy, Sino-American relations, America’s isolationist orientation, Iran’s expansionist ambitions and potential roles of other regional powers such as Turkey, India, Pakistan and Egypt, which are liable to affect security in the Gulf countries.
We must also not disregard Israel’s own strategies and plans in the region. Ignoring them will not make them disappear nor will it help our own plans and strategies, regardless of what we think of them.