Strategic retreat the better choice for Iran

IRNA/Global Times – On April 8, US President Donald Trump declared that his country would formally name the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) of Iran as a foreign terrorist organization.

In response, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council declared the US as a state sponsor of terrorism and the US Central Command as a terrorist group.

The US move aims to deter Iran on the pretext of terrorism. At the Arab Islamic American Summit held in Saudi Arabia in May 2017, Trump called on mostly Sunni Muslim countries to strengthen the counter-terrorism alliance.

Some analysts say Trump’s decision on IRGC was a gift to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the April 9 general elections in the country, which is an arch foe of Iran. I do not believe the two events are connected. Trump has done a great favor to Netanyahu by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Golan Heights occupied by Syria as Israeli territory. Voters in Israel had probably already made up their mind before Trump’s latest salvo at Iran.

The Trump administration’s foreign policy on Iran is different from that of his predecessor Barack Obama. The Obama administration’s policy toward Iran verged on wary engagement. It was meant to avoid escalation of hostilities with Tehran. The Iran nuclear deal of 2015 was signed with the aim of avoiding any such hostility.

However, Trump withdrew from the Obama-era pact in May 2018 since he believes the deal was a ‘disaster’ and ‘one-sided.’ After the withdrawal, Trump said he was willing to talk to Iran to make a ‘real deal.’

The trend at that time was to address the Iran nuclear issue by political means. However, going by the official statements of Iran, now an enraged Tehran under US sanctions will not talk with Washington any more. US-Iran relations are sliding fast. The Iran nuclear issue cannot be tackled in a political way.

A number of Arab countries, as well as Israel, stand with the US. Iran is isolated in the Middle East. IRGC’s Quds Force’s support to the Houthis, an anti-government force in Yemen, and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon could not be tolerated by the US and its allies in the Middle East. Arab nations and Israel have lauded the US’ move on IRGC.

Antagonism between Iran and Arab states and Israel will now exacerbate.

The US’ next step will be to slap further sanctions on Iran. Washington’s waiver to eight nations, which allows them to import oil from Iran, will expire on May 2. By then, except for Iraq, which gained another 90-day waiver by the US on March 20, no country would be able to import oil from Iran.

US sanctions will put increasing pressure on Iran. Iran would not choose to strike back at the US, especially militarily, but will threaten Washington.

With little prospect of a thaw between Washington and Tehran in the future, tensions are likely to rise. A better choice for Iran to deal with the situation is a strategic retreat in Yemen and Syria.

When the US’ waiver on oil imports for eight countries expires in early May, Iran’s economy will be greatly affected. Tehran’s strategy is to outlast Trump’s presidency until 2020 and then hope that he loses the elections, but the US president will not give Iran so much time.

In recent years, Iran’s strong presence in Yemen and Syria has triggered panic in the Arab world and Israel.