Washington’s sanctions and Tehran’s empty threats

Salman al-Dosary
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After much shouting and howling, many empty threats and 17 days since the first batch of re-imposed US sanctions took effect on Iran …. nothing has changed. The surprise that the Iranians spoke at length about did not happen. Iran accepted the sanctions. US national security adviser John Bolton said earlier this week that the sanctions were more effective that expected and they have left their mark on the country’s economy and public opinion.

The Iranian regime lashed out and made its threats, but, sooner than expected, accepted the sanctions. It backed down from escalatory rhetoric that reached such an extent as to threaten to block oil shipments from the Arab Gulf. This would have led to a military confrontation, which the regime is incapable of waging.

Iran and sanctions from gold to carpets

Iran’s supreme leader eased the heated rhetoric in his latest speech, but delivered a clear message that the most his country can do to retaliate to the sanctions is refuse to hold negotiations. This revealed that all previous comments on the issue were misleading statements. He asserted that “there will be no war. This is in sum what the Iranian people should know.”

The American administration’s strategy focused and is still focused on economic pressure instead of military measures. It did not threaten to wage a war, so where did all the Iranian regime’s threats come from? The truth revealed Iran’s early succumbing to the sanctions and acknowledgment that its escalatory rhetoric was aimed at garnering as much European sympathy as possible and to divert attention from the mounting pressure its economy is coming under.

Two weeks after the sanctions took effect, Iran is suffering from the withdrawal of major energy, automaker and shipping companies from its market. So far, Total, Peugeot, Maersk and several major international banks, such as Germany’s Deutsche Bank, have stopped doing business in Iran. Multi-national banks and companies will ultimately do what best serves their interests, not what their governments demand.

The second batch of sanctions takes effect on November 4. They demand that companies doing business with Iran reduce their oil purchases from it or risk forfeiting doing business in the US.

The new phase will be very complicated for the Iranian economy and its repercussions will be felt by the suffering Iranian people. The currency has already lost half of its value in only four months. Deposits in Iranian banks have dropped to half of what they were in April. What will the situation be like when the next round of sanctions are imposed?

It is true that the Iranian regime has eased its rhetoric because its means do not allow it to carry out its threats. There are, however, other reasons that have forced it to back down from its war of words. It is no secret to the regime that the Iranian people have been growing increasingly frustrated by the impact Iran’s foreign wars are having on their daily lives. Continuing with the heated rhetoric will only increase the internal pressure against the government, especially since the living conditions have become stifling.

In the end, the Iranian warning to block oil shipments from the region were yet another in a series of threats that have never been implemented. In fact, the regime quickly yielded to the sanctions without a single reaction taking place. It made many empty threats and then surrendered to the sanctions, counting on a change in the American administration in 2020. Perhaps then, it will be able to negotiate a new nuclear deal. In the meantime, it will be hard for the Iranian economy to withstand at least three years of strict sanctions.

This article was first published here.


Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets @SalmanAldosary.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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