Iran Should Be Dealt With In A Different Way

By Manish Rai:

The United States new President Donald Trump decision to quickly slap new sanctions on Iran after it conducted a ballistic missile test clearly signals the hard turn the new administration intends to take with Tehran. Neutralizing the Iranian threat in the Middle East has been an American aim since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Arabs and Israelis alike will cheer Trump’s current hard line on Iran. But Iran is among the toughest foreign policy challenges the United States has faced and President Trump should be careful to avoid ill-planned early actions against Iran which may turn out to be blunders. The Trump administration is totally mistaken if it believes that a ratcheting up of pressure, coupled with closer policy alignment with Israel and Saudi Arabia, will force an Iranian retreat in the region. The Islamic Republic is too deeply entrenched in the region’s conflict zones and it will be nearly impossible to impose on it any quick retreat. By all credible accounts, Iran can firmly stand its ground even if it risks a major crisis in US-Iranian relations. Iran is a hardened adversary, despite its political isolation it is very much required to eradicate the Islamic State from the region. So rather than being isolated Iran should be engaged.

The U.S. and other world powers took years to find a common ground with Iran, which prevented the country from acquiring nuclear weapons in return for the removal of international sanctions. The deal, which was called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) allowed Iran to mend ties with European countries, boost its oil production and trade with other countries, thereby minimising the pain its people had suffered due to economic sanctions. This resulted in empowering the hands of Iranian moderates who want the integration of Iran with Western economies. This progress stands threatened by President Trump’s current hostility towards Iran. Recent sanctions could strengthen hard-liners in the Iranian regime who are seeking to escalate tensions with the United States. There is a certain equation between the US and Iran. If Iran provokes and the US does not react, Iran’s deterrent power goes up because it learns it can do these provocations with no consequences. Surely Iran has conducted provocative activities like carrying out additional missile tests, stepping up its military presence in Syria and trying to provide “game-changing weapons” to Hezbollah.

All this should not be ignored by the United States but it should not be dealt in the way the Trump administration is now doing. All the current measures which have been taken are counterproductive. There is an urgent need to develop some new options to deter and contain Iranian activities of concern. Some of the measures which can work in the current situation are the following.

Diplomatic engagement: The White House and State Department should look for opportunities to expand bilateral contacts, and to identify areas for cooperation. Beginning with work in multilateral settings on global and transnational problems may be more productive than an early focus on regional or bilateral issues, which will remain fraught for all parties.

2015 talks

Heavy US military presence: Heavy military presence in the region will be an essential part of the US strategy, even if deployment numbers and other quantitative metrics vary over time. The larger message to Iran, will be that the United States has vital interests in the region, an enduring commitment to regional stability, and an interest in preventing interstate conflict and intrastate destabilization.

Negotiations on ballistic missiles program: The strategy will need to delineate what aspects of Iran’s long-term commitment to developing this capability are unacceptable. Iran is unlikely to entirely roll back this program, which derives from its vulnerability to Iraqi missiles in the Iran-Iraq war. But the United States may be able to define some parameters to reduce the risks of miscalculation by Iran or its neighbours, while urging Iran to reduce the size and scope of the program, and make clear its conventional weapons only mission.

No country in the Middle East has Iran’s combination of geographic size, strategic location, and large and educated population. Iran has been the most effective country at leveraging the ongoing disorder across the Middle East to expand its regional influence. Tehran has done this by providing substantial political, military and financial backing to allies and proxies in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Iran now stands at the apex of an arc of influence stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, from the borders of NATO to the borders of Israel and along the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It commands the loyalties of tens of thousands in allied militias and proxy armies. They have been joined by thousands of members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s most prestigious military wing, who have acquired meaningful battlefield experience in the process. So it is in nobodies interest to press Iran to behave more militantly; rather it should be engaged at various levels to encourage the Islamic republic to play a constructive role to strengthen stability in the region.

Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle-East and Af-Pak regions and Editor of the geo-political news agency Views Around. He can be reached at

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