Iran Can’t Win a War against the U.S., but It Can Win in Negotiations

As tightening American sanctions take an ever-greater toll on the Islamic Republic’s economy, its leaders are beginning to consider a diplomatic way out—even as they continue to employ military options. Ray Takeyh writes:

For now, the Islamic Republic has settled on a policy of calibrated terrorism. This has been one of the more ingenious innovations of the theocratic state, which engages in acts of terror where its complicity is clear but difficult to prove. It is unlikely that the Revolutionary Guards’ creaky speedboats will confront the U.S. armada in the Persian Gulf any more than they will directly attack U.S. troops in the region. But Iran will gradually escalate pressure by relying on its many proxies to target U.S. [allies], particularly the Saudis. Oil installations, diplomatic compounds, and trade routes are likely to be menaced by Iran’s Arab agents.

This will not be a systematic campaign of terrorism but a selective use of violence over a prolonged period. This policy is not without its risks, but it does have the advantage of putting pressure on the United States without risking retaliation. . . .

The subtle debate in Tehran today revolves around whether it is time to take up President Trump’s offer of talks. [President Hassan] Rouhani and his cagey foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have long been intrigued by the possibility of negotiating with Trump. The two led the Iran talks with the Europeans in 2005, as well as the more consequential negotiations in 2015 that yielded a nuclear accord that satisfied Tehran’s needs. The lesson that they have drawn from those experiences is that Iran seldom loses at diplomacy. . . .

Iran cannot win a war against the United States, but it is confident it can outwit Washington at the negotiating table. The most persistent question in Iran today is not about war but whether it is time to entrap the Americans in another lengthy diplomatic process.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Hassan Rouhani, Iran, Iran sanctions, U.S. Foreign policy

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy