The past few weeks have been a challenging period for Iran, both at home and abroad. The regime is facing a variety of obstacles and growing opposition to its policies, actions, and to its rule. This is not the first time that Iranian leaders have faced this sort of situation, however, the present geopolitical climate does not favor Iran. Unless Tehran moves swiftly and favorably on at least one front, the trend will not change.
Iran’s leadership is pinning its hopes on salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, believing that this will help reverse its fortunes of late. The future of the deal is very much up in the air at the moment. In spite of the European Union striving to keep the current deal alive, there’s no guarantee that anything substantial will stem from the effort. The US withdrawal from the deal has complicated matters for both Iran and the EU. Tehran has said it will live up to the terms of the nuclear deal if the EU is able to counteract US sanctions. A prime concern for Iran is that sanctions will have an adverse effect on its oil industry, and subsequently, on its economy as a whole.
With the US giving consideration to imposing new sanctions on Iran, a number of European companies are thinking hard about pulling back from Iran. This has led to claims by Iranian government officials over the weekend that the EU is clearly not doing enough to keep the nuclear deal alive. Next Friday, a meeting will be held in Vienna between representatives from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia to discuss the future of the deal after the US withdrawal. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, his nation will also be taking part in Friday’s talks.
Time is working against Iran at the moment. On Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to lay out a potential US plan to force Iran back to the negotiating table. The plan will address not only Iran’s nuclear program, but its activity in other areas such as involvement in Syria, Yemen, and its escalating proxy war with Israel. If a US plan comes to fruition and gains traction, Iran’s options will narrow, forcing the regime to contend with the rising amount of international pressure in a less cooperative fashion.
Gaza exploded in violence, and blood today when a protest by Palestinians turned into a mass attempt by thousands of people to cross the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas, and rifle fire in an effort to prevent the Palestinians from entering Israel. Monday’s clashes and casualties have made it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 Gaza war. The death toll stands at 58 and is expected to rise, with over 1300 men, women, and children injured to one degree or another.
Israel defended its actions, claiming it opened fire to maintain control of its border, and to prevent Hamas from using the protest as a distraction to filter operatives across the border and launch attacks on the Israeli side. Israel, of course, has the right to defend its borders from outside aggression. Hamas is responsible for launching dozens of attacks against Israel throughout the years. The Islamist militant organization controls governance in Gaza, and has a major influence over the Palestinian authority. Hamas is also backed in large part by Iran, making the true motivation behind today’s protest suspect, given what has been happening between Iran and Israel in recent weeks.
Monday’s protest in Gaza was the latest in a series of demonstrations over the last seven weeks to protest Israel’s economic blockade against Gaza. Meanwhile, on the West Bank thousands of protesters came out to demonstrate against today’s formal opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem has caused a wave of anger from Palestinians, and many Arabs in the region.
Israel responded promptly to the Iranian rocket attacks against Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights with a series of counterstrikes that targeted the Iranian infrastructure inside of Syria. In what was Israel’s largest air operation in Syria since the Yom Kippur War, air and missile strikes were launched against a large number of Iranian targets in Syria. An IDF spokesman claimed 70 military targets were hit including Syrian air defense units after they fired on Israeli fighters.
The Iranian attack on Israeli forces in the Golan was likely launched as a response to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian bases in Syria over the last month. Israel claimed those actions were taken to stave off the growing Iranian military entrenchment there. The Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack in Douma and the resulting Western military response pushed the growing Israel-Iran confrontation into the shadows for a short time. Now the world is again paying close attention.
Russia, France, and Germany have called on Tehran and Tel Aviv to exercise restraint and caution. The United States condemned the Iranian rocket attack and laid the blame on Iran’s shoulders.
The events in Middle East over the past twenty-four hours have demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that Israel and Iran are approaching the brink of full-scale war. There is still time for both nations to take a step back and restore an uneasy peace. However, even they do, Israel and Iran will probably end up embroiled in a major conflict sooner or later.
President Trump announced earlier this afternoon that the United States intends to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. The move has been widely anticipated at home and abroad. Trump’s opposition to the plan is well known, and he is not the only current or former US politician who believes the Obama administration’s approval of the plan was a mistake. The president spent an inordinate amount of time listening to the arguments and opinions of the plan’s supporters and opponents before rendering his decision.
Trump views the 2015 deal as greatly favoring Iran. It places insubstantial limits on Iranian nuclear activity, and opens the door for Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapons program once key sections of the deal lapse. The deal also lifted the most stringent economic sanctions that had been previously imposed on Iran. Now that the US is withdrawing from the deal, some, or all of those sanctions can be imposed on Tehran again.
International reaction to Trump’s announcement came almost instantly and included no real surprises. Israel, predictably, is elated. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have released statements voicing their regret on the US decision. Iran is livid, which hardly comes as a shock. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised broadcast shortly after the US announcement, stated that he’s instructing Iran’s foreign minister to begin negotiations with the nations remaining in the deal. He also said the time remaining to negotiate is limited and Iran could begin “enriching uranium more than before.”
With the deadline for a decision on the future of the Iran nuclear deal approaching, supporters and detractors of the agreement have been showcasing positions over the past week in an effort to influence President Trump’s final decision on whether or not the deal will be scrapped. It is no secret that Trump has long viewed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as deeply flawed and overly advantageous to Tehran.
Last week the subject broached during French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Washington. Macron, an ardent supporter of the deal, as well as Europe’s role in crafting it, has been pushing hard to rescue the nuclear deal. Macron, along with the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, are convinced that the agreement is the best instrument to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Macron spoke with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhan and urged him to enter negotiations on the deal, but Rouhan declared it to be non-negotiable.
Israel, a major opponent to the deal, has been pressuring the United States to scrap the deal entirely. Yesterday’s presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a tad light on facts though it did serve to highlight Israel’s position with regards to JCPOA, as well as its fervent belief that Iran is still conducting nuclear research in violation of the deal. Netanyahu, and other members of the Israeli government have been conducting behind the scenes discussion with their US counterparts. Although the final decision on the fate of the nuclear deal will be made by President Trump, Israel is working hard to influence that decision to its favor, especially as tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran have spiked in recent months.
The nuclear deal is only one part of the growing conflict between Iran and Syria. Iran’s increasing involvement in Syria is another. Tehran’s actions in Syria have brought on a heightened Israeli military response over the past two months. The latest example of this was a Sunday airstrike against an Iranian target near the city of Hama in Syria. Concern is growing in Washington about the growing conflict between Iran and Israel.
Trump’s final decision on the future of JCPOA, no matter what it may be, will undoubtedly have a far-reaching effect across the globe.