Recent Developments in US – Iran ties

Spearhead Analysis – 16.04.2019

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Recently, the US has designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp as terrorist organization. The IRGC which is a branch of the Iranian militray will now be juxtaposed alongside groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS- in the US. The move is aimed to substantiate the US allegation that Iran is a state sponsor of Terror. As an immediate retaliatory response, the Supreme Council of Iranian National Security blacklisted the US Central Command CENTCOM. The Iranian Parliament also rushed to pass legislation designating the U.S. military as a terrorist entity. The recent moves are said to have axed any chances for the resuscitation of the nuclear deal by the US administration. It is also assessed that this hardline policy against Iran is likely to create political jolts within Iran, create hurdles for future US administrations in taking any shifts from the current line and impact regional security.

The immediate retaliatory move by Iran is said to be Iran’s measure of trying to minimize the psychological impact of the U.S. decision on the Iranian public. The Iranian government and the public exhibited unity in the wake of the US led designation. However, some speculate that Iran may yet need to carve out a long term, effective diplomatic counter move to absorb the shock of US actions- as for now it may solely be relying on the hopes of a lenient US administration post 2020 elections. Sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran carry global implications despite their unilateral nature, as banks and governments all over the world would more or less be required to observe them.

According to Ilan Goldenberg, Middle East security director at the Center for a New American Security- the recent move by the US has shattered all trust between the US and Iran , and that the US could have called for separate negotiations on ballistic missiles and regional security. Sanctions against the Guard are likely to complicate any attempt by a future president to try to return the United States to the Iran deal.

The most prominent concerns regarding these recent developments revolve around the various adverse impacts it could have on the overall regional security.

It is assessed that an enhanced confrontation with Iran is likely to endanger US personnel and operations in the region. Richard Nephew, a former director for Iran at the National Security Council who served as a member of the team who negotiated the 2015 deal, said President Donald Trump’s decision to designate the Guard as terrorists would most likely make American operations in the region much more complicated. He further added that “The agreement was working, it was containing Iran’s nuclear program and we had total international support and unity around this issue, with the nuclear deal axed, that mechanism for the U.S. to address Iran’s behavior is no longer available.”

It is assessed that the recent developments by the US are likely to flare up covert fighting under the garb of sectarian conflicts across the Middle East especially in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and even as far as Afghanistan- plunging the entire region in a state of instability and complicating any reconstruction efforts. There are also fears that the enhanced friction between US and Iran may complicate maritime security along strait of Hormuz, Bab el-Mandeb strait and Gulf of Oman. It is said that even if Iran doesn’t instigate such a situation, contact between the U.S. and Iranian militaries is nearly unavoidable.

The Middle East arena is already shaky with uncertain alliances and clashing interests, according to James Dorsey “Suspicion that US intent is to force a regime change in Tehran rather than forcing Iran to curb its ballistic missile programme and support for militias in Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen was heightened this week when Trump designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. Through this, some US allies are seeking to ensure a US-Iran war or to, at a minimum, trap them in a permanent state of enmity. The designation is likely to embolden advocates in Washington, Saudi Arabia and Israel of a more aggressive covert war against Iran that would seek to stoke unrest among the Islamic Republic’s ethnic minorities, including the Balochs, Kurds and Iranians of Arab descent.”

It is also yet to be seen how the European allies, Russia, China and Turkey would react to these recent developments. The uncertainties around the recent developments were manifested when reports of Egypt pulling out of the Saudi led Islamic force surfaced.

The current trends are likely to enhance regional unrest, stoke sectarian conflicts, complicate reconstruction efforts across the war torn regions- including Afghanistan and are likely to enhance the risks of over militray confrontations.