When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the war of words between Washington and Tehran will be replaced by sanctions against the Iranian regime. Tehran will find itself in a familiar position at a strategic crossroads in its ties with the United States and world.
The regime’s responses to the sanctions have proven ineffective as the American strategy begins its implementation phase. Iran’s options to ease its major economic crisis have also been dwindling.
The first phase of US sanctions will target Iranian trade dealings in the auto market, which is a vital sector for the country’s economy. Other sanctions will also bar Tehran from purchasing or acquiring US dollars. The second phase of the sanctions will take effect in November. They will target Iran’s crude oil, which makes up a two-thirds of its exports.
Should these sanctions be imposed, then Iran’s economy will no doubt be left in tatters. Prices in the country had already gone up before the sanctions were re-imposed. The rial also dropped to record lows and more western companies have announced that they will quit doing business with Iran.
Despite these record sanctions and escalation of rhetoric by Iranian officials, a war between Tehran and Washington does not necessarily seem imminent.
Trump’s administration is only focusing on economic pressure, not military measures. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had stated on July 22 when declaring the sanctions that American military force was not the way to halt Iran’s reckless behavior.
The American sanctions will therefore, likely leave the decision-makers in Iran in the same predicament whereby they will not be able to retaliate in kind to the US pressure. They will instead have to rein in their temper to prevent Europe from following the American lead and side against them.
In most of the times that Tehran opted for the hostile course, it soon went back on it, preferring not to expose the stability of its regime to any danger. The Iranian regime knows full well that any military provocation may spark the ire of Donald Trump’s American administration and make it retaliate in kind. No one is therefore expecting the Iranians to make direct and immediate retaliations to the American pressure.
This, however, will not prevent them from turning to their militias and pawns in the region, their only known strong point and source of indirect confrontation.
Ties between the US and Iran have reached much lower points in the past 39 years. At each low point, the Iranians have used the room that was given to them, away from all threats that they are good at making. For example, in the past, they used to arrest one or two American citizens per year. However, the last time Tehran made such an arrest was in August 2016.
Moreover, Iran has not made a medium-range rocket test since July 2017. It also has not harassed American naval vessels in the Arab Gulf since August last year.
The economic sanctions are indeed capable of exhausting the regime or perhaps even breaking it. The regime will only fulfill its military threats under one condition: When it feels that its collapse is near.
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