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

Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank