The United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA) can be viewed as a declaration of “economic war” on Iran. In other words, US President Donald Trump has taken Iran’s economy hostage to make sure that the West gets the concessions JCPOA failed to deliver.
At the beginning, the nuclear negotiations raised hopes of ending all challenges facing Iran and the West. Barack Obama started the nuclear negotiations with the hope of “changing Iran’s behavior.”
Iran’s nuclear program was not the West’s only concern regarding the Islamic Republic’s behavior. Iran’s regional ambitions and its missile program were two of the other major sticking points in dealing with Iran.
Iran's limited notion of "flexibility"
When Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finally agreed to show “heroic flexibility” and start negotiating with the West, he said that his flexibility was meant to “get rid of the evil” of economic pressures caused by a catalogue of international sanctions.
A few years onward, Iranian officials still say the country’s economic situation is “serious.”
However, if the sanctions worked for Obama and led to Khamenei’s “heroic flexibility,” how can it also work for Trump and bring about the same result.
Besides economic pressure, Obama’s success in bringing Khamenei’s men to the negotiating table was based on two other factors: Obama’s ability to create an international consensus, and assuring Khamenei that the US is not following a regime change policy.
Both of these factors are absent in Trump’s new campaign against Iran. He has already alienated the United States’ closest allies, the UK, France and Germany. He has also annoyed them by his decisions about UNESCO and the Paris treaty about climate change. He has even threatened to leave NATO. A measure that would leave Europe alone against Russia’s threats.
Where do the Europeans stand?
Although Europeans are not happy about Iran’s behavior, they disagree with the US withdrawal from the JCPOA.
It is not clear how far Europe can resist against Trump’s pressures, although it is clear that there is a disagreement between the two sides of the Atlantic over how to deal with Tehran.
As regards with the second factor, Trump has never explicitly supported the idea of regime change in Iran, but the combination of his aides and advisers with individuals such as his national Security Adviser John Bolton who has called for regime change in Tehran, puts Tehran in an uncomfortable position.
Nevertheless, it is clear that in his latest address he made a distinction between the people and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
On the other hand, unlike the situation during the Obama administration, trump is not enjoying the support of Moscow and Beijing on sanctions against Tehran. The situation inevitably pushes Iran towards the East.
However, there is no guarantee that the current diplomatic line-up would remain the same. In the end the EU-3 can once again stand next to the US.
The Syrian Quagmire
The war in Syria devours Iran’s financial and human resources. It can even turn into a battlefront where Iran and Israel are at loggerheads.
Israel has reportedly attacked Iranian bases in Syria on multiple occasions and Iran has sent a drone into the Israeli airspace and has responded to Israeli strikes by firing 20 rockets at Israeli positions in Golan heights, although Tehran has not taken responsibility for the rocket attack.
Repetition of such military exchanges can bring the EU-3 closer to Trump in support of Israel. Meanwhile, thanks to its close ties with Israel, Russia is not likely to support Iran against Israel. A wider war in a dire economic situation could change Iran’s diplomatic position altogether.
The Syrian quagmire has the potential to drag Iran into a war with Israel, and tempt the EU troika to withdraw from JCPOA.