Thursday’s agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations is attracting its fair share of backlash in the Middle East. Predictably, Iran is not too thrilled with the deal. On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech in which he called the move an act of betrayal by the UAE. “They [the UAE] better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act,” he said. The remarks caused the UAE government to summon the Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi. The UAE foreign ministry called Rouhani’s speech “unacceptable and inflammatory and had serious implications for security and stability in the Gulf region”. Iran was also reminded of its obligation to protect the UAE diplomatic mission in Tehran. Considering Iran’s history of encouraging protests in front of the embassies and missions of its neighbors in Tehran when their policies go against Iranian interests, the move was smart.
Iran has had a difficult August. The Israel-UAE deal is only the latest heartburn for the regime. Tehran was already dealing with an uncertain future for Hezbollah in Lebanon following the Beirut explosion, a still unsolved string of fires and explosions at energy and nuclear sites inside of Iran, the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, and the prospect of deeper economic sanctions looming in the future. After a US resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran was defeated at the UN on Friday President Trump has vowed there will be snapback sanctions. The exact mechanism for bringing the snapback into play is being contested. The European Union claims since the US unilaterally removed itself from the JCPOA it does not have the power to bring about snapback sanctions. Washington claims otherwise. Either way, the Trump administration does have the power to levy even stricter sanctions on Iran, and pressure friendly nations to do the same.
Iran will be on the radar for the next couple of weeks at least so I suggest keeping an eye on news coming out of the Persian Gulf region.
This week in New York, the chief diplomats of the United States, and Iran are entering the UN General Assembly with two specific mission goals, and guidelines regarding how to best achieve them. What transpires in Manhattan this week will almost assuredly affect the national interests of Iran, and the US. In the case of the former, the same holds true with regards to its economic wellbeing, and overall security.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s mission is to convince world leaders to pressure the United States into loosening the economic sanction noose it has fastened around Iran’s neck. Zarif has been dangling the possibility of talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump taking place on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week in exchange for a loosening of the sanctions. Washington has shown no interest in this approach, and its not likely that Zarif will find too many sympathetic world leaders who possess the clout, or willingness to persuade the US to go easier on Iran.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes into the General Assembly looking to lay the foundation for a diplomatic outcome to the crisis. Contrary to the opinions expressed by countless left-leaning journalists, politicians and talking heads, the United States does not want to begin a war with Iran. SecState, and the rest of the Trump administration’s national security team have left no stone unturned while searching for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Regrettably, none have been found. Despite its claims otherwise, Tehran has demonstrated no sincere desire to resolve the current issues through diplomatic means. The Iranian government only wants to return the US-Iran relationship to what it was previous to President Trump’s inauguration and that is not going to happen.
So, as the week begins and the drama starts to unfold in Manhattan, it will be useful to keep in mind that if there is no diplomatic breakthrough by Friday, the Trump administration will begrudgingly admit that diplomacy has failed. From that point on, the US focus will shift towards non-diplomatic means to contain Iran. And by non-diplomatic means, I’m referring to the application of military power, of course. 😊
Interaction between US and Iranian government officials will be closely watched at the UN General Assembly in New York City this week. Over the weekend, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even indicated President Trump might be open to meet with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the UN. Iran was already expected to be a major topic of discussion during this session of the General Assembly, but this past weekend’s terrorist attack on a military parade in Ahvaz reinforces expectations, and fears of a potential blow-up between US and Iranian government officials, and possibly even national leaders this week. Following the attack on Saturday morning, Rouhani wasted little time in laying the blame for it at the feet of unnamed US ally in the region. Before leaving for New York, Rouhani stated, “All of those small mercenary countries that we see in this region are backed by America. It is Americans who instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes.”
Trump is expected to address the General Assembly on Tuesday, and chair a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday. The main topic of Wednesday’s meeting will be non-proliferation, and weapons of mass destruction. Iran is expected to be a major focus of Trump’s comments, and will also likely be mentioned in Tuesday’s address.
*Author’s Note: Apologies for this update being short. There will be further discussion about Iran, as well as the UN General Assembly as the week progresses.*
Since US economic sanctions were reimposed on Iran early this month, Iran’s government and military leadership has responded with salvos of defiant, aggressive warnings, promises, and predictions. The most recent Iranian saber-rattling has focused on the Strait of Hormuz. First it was President Hassan Rouhani stating that if Iran’s oil exports are threatened by US sanctions, the Middle East’s other exports will be threatened too. This was interpreted to be a thinly veiled threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. Now it is the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards navy making assurances that Iran has control of the strait, and the Persian Gulf. General Alireza Tangsiri’s comments have raised some eyebrows around the world, and prompted a response from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. SecState responded with a tweet on Monday night which clarified the US position and left little room for interpretation: “The Islamic Republic of Iran does not control the Strait of Hormuz. The Strait is an international waterway. The United States will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways.”
The strategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz cannot be overemphasized. Saber-rattling, or a subtle reminder of Iran’s willingness to use military power in the area is often enough to give global oil markets a panic attack. Iran’s military is not capable enough to permanently close the strait. It can disrupt commercial traffic for a period of time, however. As Pompeo said, the United States is committed to ensuring the safe flow of commerce in international waterways. If Iran sparks a crisis in the straits, a strong US response will come almost immediately.