US senators plan to impose new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program, accusing it of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions and funding terrorism in the middle east.
Trump has said during his election campaign that Iran’s nuclear deal as “disastrous” and said it would be his “number one priority” to dismantle it.
These threats became clearer after Trump’s inauguration, as he signed an executive order temporarily barring thousands from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Iran, from obtaining visas to travel to the United States.
The tension was raised again in issues related to Iran’s ballistic program, as he said that “Iran is playing with fire” and announced that “we’re officially putting Iran on notice.”
In addition, Trump declared applying sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and those providing support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.
New sanctions planned
“I think it is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly in terms of what they’ve done outside the nuclear program,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Munich Security Conference.
Graham said he and other Republicans would introduce measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions.
“Iran is a bad actor in the greatest sense of the word when it comes to the region. To Iran, I say, if you want us to treat you differently then stop building missiles, test-firing them in defiance of U.N. resolution and writing ‘Death to Israel’ on the missile. That’s a mixed message,” Graham said.
James Jones, a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and President Barack Obama’s first national security adviser, said that he remained convinced that sanctions had persuaded Iran to negotiate the 2015 landmark deal with six world powers to curb its nuclear program.
“The sanctions did work. Iran would never have come to the negotiating table without sanctions,” Jones said. “This is a new form of response that if properly utilized can change behavior and get people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do.”
Senator Christopher Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there was nothing preventing Congress from imposing sanctions beyond those that were lifted as a result of the 2016 nuclear agreement with Iran.
Murphy, a Democrat, said had backed the nuclear deal in the explicit understanding that it would not prevent Congress from taking actions against Iran outside the nuclear issue.
“There’s going to be a conversation about what the proportional response is,” Murphy said, referring to Iran’s missile test. “But I don’t necessarily think there’s going to be partisan division over whether or not we have the ability as a Congress to speak on issues outside of the nuclear agreement.”
Murphy said the United States needed to decide whether it wanted to take a broader role in the regional conflict.
“We have to make a decision whether we are going to get involved in the emerging proxy war in a bigger way than we are today, between Iran and Saudi,” he said.
Israel and Saudi Arabia aligned together against Iran
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, on Sunday described Iran as the main sponsor of global “terrorism” and a destabilizing force in the Middle East.
“Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,” he told delegates at the conference.
“It’s determined to upend the order in the Middle East … [and] until and unless Iran changes its behavior, it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this.”
Al-Jubeir said Iran was propping up the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, funding the Houthi movement in Yemen and fomenting violence across the region.
The international community needed to set clear “red lines” to halt Iran’s actions, Jubeir said, calling for banking, travel and trade restrictions aimed at changing Iran’s behavior.
He sidestepped a question about Israel’s call for concerted action with Sunni Arab states amid growing speculation that the two countries could normalize relations and join forces to oppose Tehran, much as Turkey has done.
The six Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, accuse Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran denies the accusations.
For his part, Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister, said Iran’s ultimate objective was to undermine Saudi Arabia and called for a dialogue between Israel and Arab countries to defeat “radical” elements in the region.
“The real division is not Jews, Muslims … but moderate people versus radical people,” he told the Munich conference delegates on Sunday.
Threats never work with Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the recent US bans imposed on Iran, the first by the US government since President Trump took office on January 20, and said sanctions would never work with Iran
“Everybody [in] the past who has tested Iran knows we don’t respond well to threats. We respond well to mutual respect and mutual interests,” the Iranian foreign minister added.
He noted that all efforts by the Obama administration to use economic sanctions to curtail Iran’s peaceful nuclear program eventually failed.
“The reason Obama came to the negotiating table was because sanctions did not work,” Zarif said.
“Iran with the backing of the wise participation and support of the great Iranian nation, will respond proportionately and reciprocally to any move that targets the interests of the Iranian people,” Zarif said in a statement.
Zarif also said that the nuclear deal will stay in place, despite noises to the contrary from members of US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Zarif added that there was an international consensus not to let the agreement — which took two years to negotiate — unravel.
“I believe everybody, including experts in the United States, knows this was the best deal possible for all concerned, not just Iran but the US too,” he said.
“It was a triumph of diplomacy over coercion because coercion doesn’t work anymore.”
The long-awaited chance
Iran is likely to calibrate its responses based on how the U.S. acts.
Tougher U.S. sanctions could convince Tehran to start reinterpreting the terms of the nuclear deal, said Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst in Tehran.
“The Iranians will reciprocate,” he said. “The more the Americans disregard the agreement … the more the Iranians will find new ways of interpreting the text that do not work to the benefit of the United States.”
Ali-Akbar Velayati, the foreign adviser of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, predicted this week that “the US will be the final loser”.
“It is not for the first time that a naive person from the US poses threats to Iran,” he told state media.
“Our missile drills are a show of our might,” added Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami. “We are living in a world of wolves – wolves such as the arrogant government of America. In this world of wolves, should we remain unarmed and they do whatever damn things they want? No way! This will never happen!”
More direct action could include an uptick in harassment of U.S. warships by Revolutionary Guard speedboats in the Gulf, or new cyberattacks like one that crippled the network of Saudi Arabia’s state oil company in 2012.
Iran also could boost support for regional allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or the Houthis in Yemen.
In addition, this war can be the political victory that the hardliners have sought since te nuclear deal
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei regularly criticizes the United States and the deal, saying it should not be trusted and it wasn’t doing its part of the deal.
Khamenei has already promised to “set fire” to the nuclear deal if the West violates it. and has repeatedly complained it has not received benefits promised.
Trump’s war on Iran would just prove him right and will strengthen his hold on the Iranians’ minds, who will just see the west as the devil their leader always spoke about.