The elimination of al-Quds commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (EIRC), Kasem Suleimani and the deputy head of the Iraqi Shiite militia, Hashd al-Shaabi, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, does not lead to a full-scale war between the Islamic Republic of Iraq. Although the elimination of K. Suleimani dealt an irreparable blow to the geopolitical influence of Tehran in the Middle East region.
An IRI missile strike at two US bases in Iraq, where US forces and an international coalition are stationed, is merely an Iranian response to K. Suleimani’s death. It is obvious that Tehran’s deliberate power move cannot harm the global interests of the United States in the Middle East region. US servicemen were not injured during the Iranian strike on Ein al-Assad air base in the Republic of Iraq, as stated by the US Defense Department. The Iranian response is only aimed at maintaining the seriously shaky image of the ruling regime in Tehran — both within the IRI and in the Islamic world as a whole.
The fact is that Tehran realistically and soberly assess the deployment of forces and assets and realize that a direct armed conflict with the US in the Middle East region will change the regime. In other words, at this stage, it is important for official Tehran to maintain its current geopolitical status quo in the Middle East region (including Iraq, Syrian Arab Republic / SAR / and Lebanon) and focus on addressing the most acute socio-economic problems in the IRI growing dissatisfaction with Iranians. It should be borne in mind that official Tehran is able to use only 10% of its foreign exchange reserves due to international sanctions. According to the IMF, their volume is $ 86 billion, which is 20% below the level of 2013, when the real GDP of IRI fell by 2019% in 9,5. Therefore, we can assume that the IRI will cause a financial crisis this year.
IRI and US military strategy
Tehran’s military strategy is to avoid a direct confrontation with the United States. In turn, official Washington has taken a tough anti-Iranian stance, reinforcing it by deploying an additional military contingent in the Middle East region. However, the irreconcilable position of the Presidential Administration of Donald Trump does not lead to a full-scale US-Iranian military clash. Even after the Iranian response. If the United States were actually preparing for a military operation against the IRI, then official Washington would have transferred more military equipment and troops to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), Iraq, Islam Afghanistan (IRA) and the Gulf. Only bringing the United States into the US military base in the Middle East region of up to 120 troops will testify to the intent of official Washington to resolve the Iranian issue (using a land component) by military means.
The following factors hinder the escalation of US-Iranian escalation and the negotiation, including the preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPA), with all the ensuing consequences:
— First, the D. Trump administration adheres to the «maximum pressure» policy on the IRI by all means available, except the military. Military pressure on the IRI is exerted by Israel in the SAR, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. US seeks to dismantle Iran’s economy and eliminate Tehran’s trade and economic ties with EU;
— Second, official Tehran is expanding its enriched uranium reserves and developing new ways to circumvent US sanctions. Against this background, further escalation by the US leads to the refusal of official Tehran to hold direct negotiations with official Washington, which increases the likelihood of escalation in relations between the IRI and the US in the midst of the election campaign of D. Trump;
Third, Israel’s possible involvement in the US-created anti-Iran coalition in the Persian Gulf also leads to an escalation of the conflict with the IRI, as official Tehran views the factor as an open threat to national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
However, at present, the authority of the SIR IRI and the Shiite proxies created by K. Suleimani has been seriously shaken in the SAR. The president of the SAR, Bashar al-Assad, and the general ruling regime in Damascus, as well as the Kremlin, are not happy with the pressure of official Tehran. They objectively want greater autonomy for the Syrian authorities in decision-making. Officials in Moscow and the Syrian authorities no longer welcome the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Shiite proxy forces to use the SAR as a staging ground for the threat against Israel.
Rocket bombs by the Israeli Air Force cause great damage to official Damascus. Most importantly, this kind of hybrid war of Shiite proxy forces against Israel does not meet the geopolitical interests of official Moscow in the Middle East region.
These factors will prompt the IRI and US officials to ease escalation of tensions in US-Iranian relations to seek mediators for dialogue.
The future of SVPD
Tehran official has taken additional steps to abandon the «nuclear deal», having previously pumped gaseous uranium into more modern uranium enrichment centrifuges. It can be assumed that the Iranian side is able to achieve a level of enrichment close to 90% required for weapons uranium.
Tehran official previously promised that it would waive part of its «nuclear deal» commitments every 60 days until European powers find a way to offset the economic damage from US sanctions imposed by the Presidential Administration under his policy » maximum pressure ”on official Tehran.
SVPD, as the name implies, is not a treaty, but a plan of action. The parties did not sign or ratify the legally binding agreement. Even UNSCR 2231, which includes the text of the CFSP, only «calls on all participating countries» to support the agreed plan. This wording, as well as the absence of references to Article 41 of the UN Charter, means that the parties to the agreement are not obliged to fulfill their obligations in accordance with international law. Consequently, the probable actions of the United States and its allies in the near future cannot be considered a violation of the SVPD.
However, Tehran has repeatedly stated that it will remain committed to all its SVPD commitments and will not initiate a waiver of the agreement. But official Tehran has promised to provide an adequate US response, which will include a qualitative and quantitative restoration of the uranium enrichment program to its previous level against the backdrop of evasion by official Washington under this agreement. In particular, on April 8, 2018, the head of the IRI Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, warned that official Tehran would only need four days to increase uranium enrichment to 20% at the Ford plant. In turn, on April 9, 2018, IRI President Hassan Rouhani stated that Iran’s nuclear industry is not dependent on the further fate of the CFSP. According to Rouhani, neither further fate of the agreement reached on the Iranian nuclear issue, nor Europe’s support for the agreement, nor any other circumstances will affect Iranian nuclear technologies. In other words, maintaining the SVPD prevents the Iranian side from implementing the above steps.
The position of official Tehran is as follows: The US must return to meeting its obligations under the SVPD. At the same time, official Tehran is ready to return to its obligations under the CFSP if agreements with the EU are implemented. US Secretary of State M. Pompeo has said that D. Trump is open to meeting with IRI President Hassan Rouhani «without preconditions.» However, official Tehran believes that no talks with official Washington are possible until US sanctions are lifted. In other words, an IRI meeting with the 5 + 1 Group is only possible after lifting US sanctions.
It should be noted that the United States in principle expects official Tehran to violate the non-proliferation regime and undermine cooperation with the IAEA in order to obtain a formal excuse for the post-election victory of D. Trump in the 2020 presidential election. In order to win the upcoming presidential election in the US in 2020, the incumbent US president needs to be a peacekeeper in the eyes of American society — a leader who has «resolved» Afghan and North Korean issues.
However, official Tehran still adheres to the international legal norms that exist in the area of non-proliferation of WMD. The Iranian ballistic missile program will not be discussed with the West. Official Tehran also excludes any negotiation of its right to enrich uranium and its independent nuclear fuel cycle.
The political and economic system of the IRI has in some ways adapted to the conditions of US sanctions. Today, it can be stated that, on the one hand, the impact of US sanctions has not yet reached its limit, but the IRI economy is not showing a way out of stagnation. IRI is in isolation, and the standard of living of the country’s population continues to decline. After the US withdraws from the nuclear deal and the resumption of sanctions against the IRI, the loss of official Tehran amounted to more than $ 50 billion.
Official Tehran wants to export at least 700 barrels per day of Iranian oil (ideally up to 1,5 million barrels per day) if the West wants to agree with the Iranian side to maintain the 2015 nuclear deal. At the same time, the official Tehran excludes the possibility of revising the SVPD. However, the US will not lift sanctions on the IRI without achieving a change in the foreign policy of official Tehran.
1. Official Washington will continue to implement measures aimed at stifling Iran economically. The main efforts will be directed to buyers of Iranian energy resources and other goods to force them to refuse to cooperate with IRI. In particular, the US is now forcing Latin American countries to suspend food supplies to Iran.
The United States will move to a military operation against the IRI only if official Washington is convinced that there will be no large-scale harsh response from official Tehran to US military steps.
2.The US Operation Guard is an element of the US hybrid war against the IRI, as well as a demonstration of force to exert psychological pressure on official Tehran and keep the Iranian side in isolation. In addition, this official Washington operation will address the issue of legalizing US military presence in the Gulf region.
The US-Iranian military-political confrontation in the Persian Gulf has a hidden purpose: the US desire to withdraw the Persian Gulf from economically accessible regions; neutralization of North-South ITC and selected logistics areas of the Chinese New Silk Road project.
Joint tripartite naval exercises of the Navy of the IRI, the PRC and the Russian Federation in the northern Indian Ocean should be highlighted. The tripartite maneuvers of the IRI, the PRC and the Russian Federation should neutralize the US Operation Guard. Against this background, the official Tehran began to take a firmer stance on the United States. In addition, the escalation of the US-Iranian conflict in the Gulf has allowed Moscow to revive the Russian concept of collective security in the Gulf region.
3.Official Tehran will not commit any violations that could lead to hostilities against the IRI, but full compliance with the SVPD by the Iranian side is excluded. For now, this means an increase in low-enriched uranium reserves. But this decision has no real impact on the IRI nuclear program until official Tehran enriches uranium above 20%, eliminates IAEA inspectors and re-launches all nuclear facilities closed under the agreement.
On January 05, 2020, Tehran announced that it would remove the uranium enrichment restrictions set by the agreement, but would continue to cooperate with the IAEA. In his turn, IRI Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Arakchi said that IRI is ready to return to full implementation of the nuclear agreement. A. Arakchi did not specify on what conditions official Tehran is ready to do so. It is obvious that the Iranian side is seeking dialogue with the West.
4.Official Tehran, amid escalating US-Iran relations in Iraq, will try to formulate a new policy on Baghdad. Iraq is considered the strategic partner of the IRI, necessary for the security of official Tehran. That is why official Tehran seeks to push the United States out of Iraq. But it is unlikely that official Washington will leave Iraqi territory. At least US troops will retain their positions in Iraqi Kurdistan.
5.The US-Iran confrontation leads to an increase in the cost of insurance for ships and their cargoes. The Gulf oil market is also threatened by the fact that Asian countries such as the PRC, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are looking for alternatives as they fear a supply disruption in the event of a military conflict and the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.
Rauf Rajabov, orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan