by Claude Salhani –
Iran has threatened to resume its nuclear programme and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has continued to provoke the US Navy in the Arabian Gulf, putting into question an international accord formulated under the Obama administration,
US President Donald Trump has accused the Iranians of violating the spirit of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement between Tehran and world powers regarding Iran’s nuclear programme.
Following pointed Twitter exchanges between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who threatened the well-being of the US territory of Guam and possibly Hawaii after Trump warned of “fire and fury,” there is potential for a new nuclear-oriented conflict.
This time the fight is with Iran. This crisis has the potential of developing into a far more serious dispute than the one with North Korea. The reason is quite simple.
Apart from the heavily policed demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, there is no possibility of US forces coming into contact with the North Koreans. In the Gulf, however, the Iranians seem intent on provoking the Americans into an international conflict.
As in all aspects of foreign policy, there are two schools of thought on Iran and its nuclear capabilities. Actually, better make that three diverse schools of thought.
First, there are the optimists who believe they can talk the Iranians out of any given situation if they are given enough time. Then there are the pessimists who believe that the only way Iran will give up its weapons is if the West flexes some muscle.
The third group — the realists — understands why the West fears a nuclear-armed Iran and why the Iranians are so intent on obtaining nuclear weapons.
To understand the reasons that propel Iran to pursue its nuclear dreams, examine two major events that will shape Iran’s foreign policy for years to come.
The first is the eight-year war between Iran and its neighbour Iraq, during which about 1 million people were killed. Iran came close to capitulation at one point during the war and suffered severe punishment from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the form of chemical weapons deployed on the front lines.
It was at that point that the ayatollahs vowed never to allow the country to fall into such a vulnerable position again. The key to that problem, the Iranian leadership decided, was to be found in nuclear weapons.
The second event was the US invasion of Iraq. Tehran concluded that it may well be vulnerable to an American invasion and determined that the only sure deterrence was in acquiring nuclear weapons.
The US Navy has accused the Iranians of flying drones dangerously close to one of its aircraft carriers in the Gulf, while the IRGC defended its right to carry out air patrol missions in the area.
The US Naval Forces Central Command said that an Iranian drone had come within 300 metres of a US Navy aircraft carrier while it was in international waters in the Gulf conducting flight operations. A spokesman for the US 5th Fleet said the Iranian drone “conducted an unsafe and unprofessional approach” as it passed by the USS Nimitz without navigation lights late August 13.
The IRGC said in a statement published on Tasnim News Agency that “it carries out air patrol missions in Iran’s air defence identification zone every day and in accordance with current regulations.”
“The Revolutionary Guards drones are equipped with standard navigation systems and are controlled professionally,” it added.
The IRGC accused the United States, which claims Iran has instigated about a dozen such incidents, of not having “capable identification and reconnaissance systems.”
With Trump’s John Wayne-like outlook on some foreign policy issues, continued provocations by the Iranians may prove to be a costly way to conduct business.