Has Iran read the Gulf message which the Kuwaiti foreign minister carried well? What did Iran read into the American stance following Michael Flynn’s resignation? How did it read the Russian stance from the Astana conference? And most importantly how did it read the Israeli stance? Did it read it based on Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to maintain some of the points of the nuclear agreement which delays the rise of a nuclear Iranian state? Or did it read it through Israel’s oint of view of restraining Iran in terms of its support of Hamas and Hezbollah?
Let’s remember that the Iranian public rhetoric is only a part of Iranian policy and it does not reflect its real stance. Iran escalates this rhetoric, which is a negotiating tool, to satisfy the revolutionary audience, as it calls it. It uses it to negotiate but it does not signify the magnitude of concessions which Iran may make to maintain its regime and interests if it’s prepared to sit in negotiations, and it’s now in a situation where it’s forced to negotiate with Russia, America and Gulf countries.
But Iran read the Gulf message as weakness and responded by saying Gulf countries, and not Iran, “must seize this opportunity which may not be repeated”. Iran did not understand that the message was delivered according to the insistence of Gulf countries, which believe it’s necessary to give Iran a new chance to come to its senses and thus prevent an Iranian-American clash – the possibilities of which increase by the day - and this is not in the interest of the region as a whole.
Misreading the situation
Iran only sees developments from its own viewpoint and thinks that because it has the upper hand in the affairs Gulf countries wish to resolve, it has a strong negotiating position that weakens the Gulf stance. All Iran needs is to gain more time by neutralizing the Gulf stance via a series of long negotiating sessions, which it can use to alter reality as much as it can. Iran also views the different Gulf positions as a chance to divide its unity and shake its coherence. “Gulf countries and not Iran must seize the opportunity which may be their last” was the summary of the response Iranian President Hassan Rowhani carried to Muscat and Kuwait. This is the height of political blindness.
Iranian dailies considered Flynn’s resignation as a godly vendetta in their favor. This is a short-sighted analysis as the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation have nothing to do with the new American stance towards Iran but it’s related to American-Russian ties which none of the American parties dare be negligent aboutSawsan Al Shaer
And just like Iran misread the Gulf stance, it also failed to understand the American stance. Because when it heard the news that Michael Flynn, American President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, resigned, it cheered. It cheered especially at the fact that Flynn had officially warned Iran not to play with fire and not to test the new American president’s decisiveness. Iranian dailies considered Flynn’s resignation as a godly vendetta in their favor. This is a short-sighted analysis as the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation have nothing to do with the new American stance towards Iran but it’s related to American-Russian ties which none of the American parties dare be negligent about.
Iran, which was happy when Flynn was sacked, did not notice an entire team heading like a bulldozer towards it. This team will be strict towards Iran not out of love or hatred of Arab countries. It will adopt this approach based on its strategic and important interests as a majority of Republicans and the American military think they were threatened due to Barack Obama’s disastrous policy in the region. They believe the latter policy escalated terrorism and jeopardized international security and they agree that Iran has a major role in this escalation. And it’s now this category’s turn to put things back to normal.
Faces change but what about the stance?
When learning David Petraeus was one of the strongest candidates to replace Flynn, we must recall that Petraeus said the funds of the Iranian nuclear agreement were being used to fund the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. If we take into consideration that the American administration is looking into submitting a draft to categorize this Iranian official military institution as a terrorist organization, then we are before an unprecedented development in this American-Iranian confrontation.
Even with Flynn’s departure, US Secretary of Justice James Mattis is still there and he’s a staunch critic of the nuclear agreement and of Obama’s policy towards Iran. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo is known for his hostile stance against Iran and the nuclear deal and he once said on Twitter that he looked “forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
Pompeo won 66 votes in the Senate when Trump nominated him for his post. The nominee for this post only needs 50 percent + 1 of the votes to be confirmed.
Therefore, Iran is before a majority of American legislators and cabinet members who almost completely agree on being strict in its approach to Iran’s behavior in the region. This is the correct reading of the American stance which Iran must see.
What’s more important than that is to understand that if Israel favors keeping the nuclear agreement, it supports tightening sanctions on Iran to limit its support of organizations which it believes threaten its security.
If we put into consideration the Russians’ nervousness of Iran’s obstruction of the Astana meeting, and its insistence that Hezbollah does not exit Syria, then Iran is before an international consensus that agrees on the necessity to confront it. Therefore, this is a conviction that’s no longer limited to Gulf countries. Mechanisms may differ but they agree on the goal. This was the Gulf message which Iran did not read well.
This article first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat on Feb. 21, 2017.
Sawsan Al Shaer is a Bahraini writer and journalist. She tweets under the handle @sawsanalshaer