On Monday, America will impose additional sanctions on Tehran. If this does not lead the concessions from the ayatollahs, Washington may advance to the use of weapons.
John Bolton, Donald Trump's national security advisor, has been in Jerusalem since Sunday. He is discussing the possibility of a preemptive attack on Iran's nuclear installations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel has been considering such a scenario for at least 10 years, but, so far, the United States has held back for fear of Iran's response.
Last week, however, Tehran announced it would no longer respect the quota for enriched uranium laid down in the 2015 nuclear agreement, from which America withdrew in 2018. If the ayatollahs’ regime decides to radically increase the amount of this fuel, Israel might consider it an existential threat and take action.
At the same time, Brian Hook, the U.S. president's envoy to the Middle East, flew to Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain.
The Saudis, in particular, share Israel's concerns about the consequences of Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons and could also decide to launch a preemptive attack.
Given this situation, Trump has found himself between a rock and a hard place. The hawks in his administration, headed by John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had convinced him to strike. Yet, one of the president's key election promises was the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. “The war with Iran could therefore weigh heavily on the chances of Trump's reelection," says Nadim Shehadi, director of the Lebanon-American University in New York.*
For now, the American leader prefers to use more secure means of putting pressure on Iran. Admittedly, on Thursday, as The New York Times first revealed and then the White House itself confirmed, the president ordered a limited attack on selected Iranian military targets in retaliation for the taking down of an unmanned American drone worth $110 million by Iranians the day before. Washington claims that at the time of the attack, the machine was above Persian Gulf international waters, while Tehran maintains that it entered Iranian airspace. However, the attack was officially cancelled 10 minutes before launch when Trump found out that it could kill at least 150 people. At the same time, however, the Americans attacked the information systems of the missile installations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, one of the two pillars of Iran’s armed forces. Such attacks on Iranian information systems are expected to happen again.
On Sunday, it was not yet exactly clear what the intensification of economic sanctions against Iran would mean. Until now, the United States has tried to completely halt Iranian oil exports and to cut the country off from the international financial system. The strategy is effective, because U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business, not only with Iran, but also with countries that have business contacts with Tehran. This means, in fact, that most of the world is taking part in isolating Iranians.
The effects are serious. Due to the collapse of the Iranian currency, the prices of basic food products and medicines jumped by 40% to 60%. According to the International Monetary Fund, the country's economy will contract this year by about 5%; the result being that, except for Sudan, Iran’s economy will be the worst in the world. Americans hope that the Iranian population’s growing dissatisfaction will force Iran to renegotiate the nuclear agreement.
But it doesn't look like that will happen. A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Pompeo presented 12 conditions the United States is imposing in order to finalize the agreement. In addition to halting the nuclear program, Washington is demanding, among other things, that Iran suspend the construction of ballistic missiles and withdraw its paramilitary troops from Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. This asks Iran to abandon its policy of expansion into the region, a policy it has pursued for 40 years.
"We will not surrender under America's pressure," the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, announced.
The International Atomic Energy Agency points out that Iran has not broken the 2015 agreement thus far, and has not resumed its nuclear arms program. But Germany, France and the United Kingdom, which defend the agreement, have not managed to activate a barter mechanism that would allow them to maintain economic cooperation with Iran.
This is pushing Iran to respond more and more powerfully to American pressure. In May and June, Tehran's support for paramilitary units was almost certainly behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iranians are also increasingly carrying out cyberattacks against targets in the United States, including refineries, flight control centers and state administrations.
The Risk Is Rising
The risk that an incident or provocation will eventually lead to an open clash between Iran and the United States is growing, David Butter, an expert on the Middle East from London's Chatham House, told Rzeczpospolita.
Two of Trump's predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, held back from attacking Iran. The risk of such an operation is very serious. Natanz, and other centers where Tehran developed its nuclear program, are underground mountain bunkers protected by a missile defense system. As the shooting down of an American drone last week showed, Iran has greatly improved its air attack potential. In addition, Iranians also have the capacity to deploy paramilitary troops to strike at America targets and American allies throughout the entire Middle East.
* Editor’s Note: This quotation, although accurately translated, could not be independently verified.
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