Iran Challenges US Sanctions Policy
Peter KORZUN | 15.08.2017 | WORLD / Middle East | BUSINESS

Iran Challenges US Sanctions Policy

On August 13, Iranian lawmakers gave initial approval to a legislation, which approves more than half a billion dollars in funding for the country's missile program and foreign operations of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in response to US sanctions.

The bill contains 16 measures that Tehran will take to counteract US hostile acts. According to it, the Iranian administration is obliged to monitor the US government’s anti-Iran measures and counteract them accordingly. The legislation allocates about $260 million each to Iran's ballistic-missile program and the Quds Force, the external branch of the IRGC that is said to be active in Syria and Iraq.

The bill now heads to an oversight committee called the Guardian Council, which is expected to approve it. Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister and senior nuclear negotiator on hand for the vote, said that President Hassan Rouhani's government would support the bill.

The move comes in retaliation to new US sanctions on Iran over its ballistic-missile program and missile tests. Iranian leaders maintain that the ballistic missile program does not violate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran deal. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that the parliament’s vote is just the first step, adding that if Washington proceeds with its anti-Iran policies, the law will take effect.

President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out from the Iran deal. The JCPOA endorsed by Resolution 2231 is not legally binding. Washington can withdraw any time it wishes. President Trump could unilaterally decide to remove the presidential waivers that have implemented most of the US unilateral sanctions relief. The president could also trigger the snapback procedure stipulated in Resolution 2231 in order to re-apply the now removed UN Security Council sanctions. 

But there is another side of the coin. The Iran nuclear deal is multilateral. It cannot be undone unilaterally. Five other world powers will not join in. With additional US sanctions in place, Iran could get much of what it needs elsewhere. Defying other global powers will make Washington the odd man out while the rest of the world would continue to trade with Iran. It should not be forgotten that American companies also want to make profits as they eye Iran’s market.

There is more to it. The more hostile the US is toward Iran, the stronger become the positions of fundamentalists in Iranian politics.

The administration is piling up pressure on Tehran, despite the fact that it told Congress in July that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal. On July 27, Iran launched its satellite-bearing rocket but insisted it did not violate the nuclear deal. Western nations, however, condemned the launch as a threatening and provocative step. Strictly speaking, it was a violation of the Iran deal’s spirit but not the letter.

On August 3, US President Trump signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act – the legislation that levies new restrictive measures against Russia, Iran (non-nuclear sanctions over the ballistic missile program and human rights) and North Korea.

Title I of the bill, entitled the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, imposes new designations and adds several reporting requirements. For example, the bill requires the administration to submit—and update every two years—a «strategy for deterring conventional and asymmetric Iranian activities and threats that directly threaten the United States and key allies in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond». The bill also requires the president to sanction individuals facilitating Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.

Pressure can provoke Iran into dropping out of the nuclear deal to pave the way for continuation of the much feared nuclear program. The IAEA inspector teams will not monitor Iran’s facilities anymore.

Meanwhile, the administration is pushing Congress for the authority to build new «temporary» facilities in Iraq and Syria. Its policy statement says the armed forces are hamstrung by legal restrictions on the ability to expand military infrastructure in Syria and Iraq. The Trump administration wants the existing authorities that only cover the «repair and renovation» of facilities extended to also encompass «temporary intermediate staging facilities, ammunition supply points, and assembly areas that have adequate force protection».

President Trump granted US commanders the authority to order attacks in countries with American military presence on January 29 - shortly after taking office. It greatly increases the risk of a conflict provoked by an incident. With tensions running so high, a spark may start a big fire. A military action may be imminent.

There are three possible major scenarios for the military campaign: 

- preventive (one-two weeks) to knock out military and then nuclear targets;

- intermediate (4-6 weeks) to go farther, including the elimination of civil control and all industrial assets; 

- full scale air-land battle with part of territory captured.

In any scenario the initial phase of the attack will be targeted at Iranian military assets, such as ballistic missile sites, anti-access/area denial assets, air defense systems, navy bases and warships in the Persian Gulf and the most important headquarters. With the potential to resist reduced to insignificance, the US Air Force will switch to striking nuclear sites.

The US will start the operation with sea-based cruise missiles and airstrikes delivered by at least two aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to knock out key military infrastructure. Then it will focus on weapon systems and concentration of forces. The air campaign will be supported by intensive drones activities and raids conducted by special operations forces (SOF). As hostilities start, world oil prices will go up.

The American military would use Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) or deep penetration munitions to knock out nuclear infrastructure elements hardened or hidden in the earth. To carry out this mission, the US will have to use B-2 bombers flying out of Diego Garcia, carrying 30,000-pound GBU-57 MOPs capable of penetrating rock and reinforced concrete to knock out enemy bunker, tunnel and other deep-under-earth installations.

MOPs are not stand-off weapons. US aircraft will have to penetrate Iranian airspace to deliver them to vulnerable targets for Iranian air defenses, especially Russian S-300 air defense systems recently delivered to Iran after international sanctions were lifted.

Iran probably has smaller nuclear sites and missile production facilities that are not known. They could be used as the building-blocks of a reconstructed nuclear and ballistic missile programs. So, the United States would significantly set the programs back but not do away with them. A bombing campaign could merely push the problem a few years back. There is no guarantee the programs will be dead without boots on the ground.

Ground forces will be needed to control the Hormuz Strait shores and exercise control over border areas to prevent Iranian troops from coming to Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are also needed to get hold of Khuzestan Province – Iran’s oil producing region populated mainly by Shia Arabs, not Persians. The province borders the northern part of the Gulf and the southern edge of the Iraqi border.

Khuzestan is the economic heart of Iran, which is separated from the rest of the country by the Zagros Mountains – the largest mountain range in Iran. It can be isolated from the rest of Iran, with American forces establishing control of heights and maintaining supremacy in the air. It’s much easier to seize this province than the whole Iran, leaving the country without oil revenues and fuel for military hardware. The province was the prime target of Iraqi forces invading Iran in 1980.

If hostilities start, it would be logical to expect that Iranian Kurdistan will seize the opportunity and try to gain independence. It’s hard to imagine Iraqi Kurds – the US allies – not doing anything about it. Kurds could play the role of ground forces seizing and controlling terrain in the areas adjacent to the Iraqi border. In Afghanistan, Tajik formations also played the role of land forces when US army invaded the country to fight the Taliban in 2001. If US diplomacy is successful, the Persian Gulf monarchies and Egypt will join the battle.

Iran can strike US military in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Its agents and allies may commit acts of terrorism. Tehran has many small military speedboats, midget submarines and anti-ship missiles to target the US Navy forces in the region.

A sustained campaign of pinprick harassment by Iran may turn the conflict into a sustained entanglement. A war of attrition would make the campaign unpopular in the USA.

Finally, the Iranian Navy will try to disrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, to cause shockwaves through the global economy. Iran controls all big islands in the Gulf. Its Navy possesses significant mine laying and anti-ship capability. Mine warfare should feature prominently in this effort. Mines could be laid covertly by submarines. It will do its best to hinder US sea operations by making it engaged in prolonged mine countermeasure operations under the threat coming from Iranian missiles.

Roughly a fifth of the world’s internationally traded oil passes through the strait. An oil prices’ hike would have devastating consequences for the world economy.

An US attack could convince some governments that only a nuclear potential could deter America. It will end the nuclear nonproliferation regime and provoke a wave of proliferation. The risk of a nuclear conflict would increase.

An attack without adoption of UN Security Council resolution will be a flagrant violation of international law as specified by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which Iran (unlike Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea) is a signatory. Iran abides by the provisions of the treaty.

An intervention will spark a wider scale conflagration that could spread across the Middle East region with Iran’s Shia supporters in Arab countries springing into action. The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group will most certainly seize the opportunity to strengthen its positions.

If the US topples the Iranian government, it will become involved in a nation-building effort. It has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost will be great. Washington will need other important actors to join in peacebuilding after the guns are silent.

Harsh statements using bellicose rhetoric, exchange of punitive measures and demonstrations of resolve create fertile ground for a conflict. Diplomatic means for a peaceful solution of the crisis over the Iran’s ballistic missile program are far from being exhausted, including international efforts. Moscow is well positioned to act as a mediator.

But a successful military operation could win flag-rally popular support to make President Trump’s approval ratings go up again. Striking Iran will also send a message to North Korea. The United States is sliding into a conflict with a nation that poses no threat to the continental USA. An incident may ignite a big war. Vietnam is a good example. There is still time to ease tensions and he worst from happening.

Tags: Iran