With the Return of Sanctions, the U.S. Must Be Prepared for the Iranian Response

As of yesterday, the U.S. has re-imposed in their entirety the economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic that were in force on the eve of the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran has previously responded to intense sanctions by ratcheting up its enrichment of uranium, as if to prove that it would not be cowed; in other instances it has attacked American forces in the Middle East or Israeli targets in Europe. But the current situation is different: Iran has so far responded to the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal by insisting that it will continue to abide by its terms, in the hope that Europe will continue to want to trade with it. If it now publicly resumes its nuclear activities, Europe will likely cease to provide cover. The situation, writes Michael Eisenstadt, puts the ayatollahs in a bind Washington ought to take advantage of:

Iran’s response to the U.S. withdrawal from the [nuclear deal] will largely depend . . . on how deeply renewed U.S. sanctions bite. If Iran is able to muddle through—because it sells enough oil, repatriates sufficient funds from foreign customers, benefits from higher oil prices, or some combination of these—it may continue to observe the deal’s limits and try to wait President Trump out, hoping for a different U.S. president in January 2021. Meanwhile, it may push back against U.S. efforts by largely symbolic means—in order to avoid a military confrontation with the United States, while lashing out however it can against U.S. allies, partners, and perceived proxies.

This is not necessarily a bad place for the U.S. government to be, with the Iranian leadership contained by the deal’s limits and rigorous sanctions. . . . .

Should sanctions cut deeply and exacerbate ongoing domestic unrest, Iran will face a choice: agree to a new round of negotiations with the United States in which it offers concessions in return for sanctions relief, or undertake various destabilizing activities—violating the nuclear deal’s limits, intensifying proxy attacks on U.S. allies, or even conducting proxy operations against U.S. interests and personnel—so that it can re-engage Washington from a position of strength. If hardliners in Tehran win the day, destabilization efforts could even include waging a low-level, open-ended struggle to oust the United States from the region. . . . Preserving the credibility of U.S. deterrence will therefore be key to avoiding escalation.

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More about: Iran, Iran sanctions, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics