Tehran remains defiant in the face of increasing economic and political pressures from the U.S. and its allies. Iranian leaders have refused to curb the country’s missile program, or comply with the 12 conditions set by the U.S. in May 2018 for renegotiating a new nuclear deal that could lead to the easing of sanctions.
Tehran has also spent the political capital and sympathy it had received from EU member states after the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
The Guardian Council’s refusal to ratify the remaining two components of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations — namely the Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) law, and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, better known as the Palermo bill — has all but killed the INSTEX (Instrument to Support Trade Exchanges), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up by France, Germany, and the UK to facilitate non-dollar trades with the Islamic Republic. As a result, the FATF is not about to remove Iran from its blacklisted countries anytime soon.
During a meeting with the Friday Prayers leaders on July 16, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the country would continue to scale back its commitments to the JCPOA.
The EU has warned Iran against abandoning its JCPOA commitments. Israel has also said it would take military action against Iran if the country were to develop nuclear weapons. China and Russia either do not want to or cannot help Iran out of this crisis.
The U.S. imposed new sets of sanctions on Iran on June 24, targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The sanctions have also restricted the movement of Iranian diplomats and their families living in the U.S.
On July 17, 50 members of the U.S. congress petitioned the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to cancel a series of sanctions waivers that have permitted Iran to continue its nuclear research, Washington Free Beacon, a conservative political journalism website reported.
“These waivers legitimize Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure and sustain projects established by the JCPOA. In keeping with the administration’s statements that the disastrous Iran nuclear deal must be terminated, the State Department should end these waivers,” the petition said. “In the last two months alone, Iran has stockpiled more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium and has increased enrichment above 3.67 percent. It is now threatening to take further nuclear measures.”
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated further after the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shut down a U.S. RQ-4A Hawk military drone near the strait of Hormoz on June 19.
The IRGC also began harassing oil tankers moving through the Strait of Hormoz after the U.S. ended sanctions waivers in May of this year for the eight countries which had continued importing Iranian crude oil, namely China, India, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Greece, South Korea, and Japan.
Meanwhile, the British Royal Navy seized an Iranian supertanker, Grace 1, in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of the E.U. sanctions. Mr. Khamenei described the detention of the tanker as “an act of piracy by the UK that will not go unanswered.”
Iran made good on its threat on July 19 when IRGC forces seized a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormoz, triggering a diplomatic row between Tehran and London.
Only hours before the seizure of the Stena Impero, Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, briefed a group of 100 diplomats in Washington about the Trump administration’s initiative for maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz.
“The goal of Operation Sentinel is to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (BAM) and the Gulf of Oman,” Mr. Hook said. “This maritime security framework will enable nations to provide an escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance.”
A day earlier on July 18, the U.S. forces had force down an Iranian drone that had flown too close to one of its navy ships. Iran has, however, denied the report.
Some European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have tried to ease the tensions by speaking to U.S. and Iranian officials.
“So far, only the news outlets have speculated about the French President’s visit to Iran. There has not been an official announcement by the Foreign Ministry about this,” the former Iranian Ambassador to the UK, Nosratollah Tajik said in an interview with ILNA (Iranian Labor News Agency) on July 17. “The world will not form a good impression of us if a few intermediaries who visit Iran were to fail in their missions. Therefore, we must do our utmost to make the trip successful if it happens. The trip will not benefit us unless we are clear about our objectives and know how we plan to manage the situation.”
Mr. Tajik, who is a political contributor to the Iranian press and broadcast media, was accused of being a fixer for an illegal arms deal in the U.K. more than a decade ago. He faced years in a U.S. prison, but won his court battle against extradition and eventually returned to Iran in December 2012.
“U.S. allies in the region which consider themselves to be our rivals believe they have an unprecedented opportunity to further their goals in the region,” Tajik said. “We must be more strategic from now on. We turn every situation into a security issue and look for a military solution. Trump’s policies and actions have made it next to impossible for us to engage in a regional dialogue with the view of reaching a broader base.”
Meanwhile, Tehran continues to support Shia militia groups in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It has also escalated its threats against Israel and the interests of the U.S., the U.K., Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the region.
Akbar Torkan, a senior advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and the former Defense Minister in the cabinet of the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, however, believes the U.S. does not want to go to war with Iran.
“Trump will lose the 2020 presidential elections if he starts a war with Iran,” Mr. Torkan said in an interview with the daily Arman earlier this month. “Also, it is highly unlikely that a sinister plot by a third party can push Iran and the U.S. into a war given that the leaders of both countries know the situation. The Supreme Leader has said that there will be no war. Americans have also shown that they do not want to get dragged into an unwanted war. Therefore, our armed forces are too experienced to fall victim to any sinister plot. Both sides are smart in that respect.”
Torkan is indirectly referring to forces that are fanning the flames of war despite the repeated assurances by the leaders of Iran and the U.S. that they are not seeking armed conflict. Torkan, however, does not identify these domestic and foreign elements who are trying to lure Iran and the U.S. into a war.
It is abundantly clear that the reason for the increasing presence of foreign military forces in the Persian Gulf is the repeated threats by Mr. Khamenei.
“Shipping companies are hiring unarmed security guards for voyages through the Middle East Gulf as an extra safeguard after a wave of attacks in the region, security companies involved said,” Reuters news agency reported on July 16.
“The U.S. plans to deploy five-hundred troops to the Prince Sultan Air Base, in a desert area east of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, according to U.S. two defense officials,” CNN reported Jul 18.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]