Iran has launched preparations to boost its uranium enriching capacity. The decision is the result of the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JPCOA). Tehran has begun work on infrastructure to build advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility. It also plans to secure nuclear fuel for the Bushehr power plant. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was informed of its plans to increase the enrichment within the limits of the 2015 deal with world powers.
This is a signal that Iran will not comply with the JPCOA if it collapses. Tehran wants European banks to take the risk and safeguard trade. Oil sales must be guaranteed and the losses resulting from US sanctions must be compensated by Brussels. The demand for new negotiations on ballistic missile program and regional policy must be abandoned as these issues are not related to the JPCOA.
The EU is trying to preserve the agreement but it’s hard to see how private companies could be convinced to deal with Tehran running the risk of American punitive measures. Peugeot, Total, Italy’s Danieli have already halted or are preparing to halt their ties with Iran.
Actually, the chances that Europeans would be able to protect their companies dealing with Iran from the effects of US sanctions are slim at best. If so, Iran has no reason to comply with the deal anymore. Why should it? It was not Iran who tore it up. If it’s not working, then why should Tehran observe its part of it? True, formally the agreement is still effective. Iran said the enrichment will be within the agreed limits but the US and Israel are likely to say it is not. Washington and Jerusalem will raise hue and cry over the announced enrichment to describe it as a breach of the JPCOA, whether the limits stipulated in the deal are exceeded or not. They will cite “intelligence sources” or invent something to justify their claims, no matter what the UN watchdog says.
The trouble is that the US decision to pull out from the deal was not an element of a well-defined policy, there was no plan B. The hope to have the JCPOA renegotiated was a pipe dream from the start. An agreement is an agreement. Iran complied with it. Other controversial issues, such as ballistic missiles, could have been subjects for separate talks. If not, it’s still preferable to have the JPCOA in effect to make sure there will be no nuclear warheads installed on delivery means. But Washington chose the language of ultimatums to spoil it all.
In April, President Trump warned Iran of “big problems” if it resumes the nuclear program. Iranian Bavar-373 air defense systems have already been deployed to protect the related infrastructure. In late May, Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said Israel is the first country in the world to carry out an operational mission with the F-35 stealth fighter, which flew over Beirut undetected. In March, two Israeli F-35s were reported to fly over Iranian air space unnoticed. This was a clear warning to Iran that the resumption of nuclear program would be responded to with force.
In 2012, Israel was ready to strike but was held back by the US. With President’s Trump’s tough stance on Iran, it may be different this time. On the contrary, the US may find the idea to use force against Iran too tempting before the June 12 summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore.
Actually, a war between Israel and Iran is already waged as Israeli aviation regularly strikes what it says Iran’s forces in Syria. The recent success of pro-Iranian Hezbollah in Lebanon brings an armed conflict even closer. The unsettled maritime dispute over the natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean makes it almost inevitable as the profits to be received by Lebanese government will inevitably enrich Hezbollah. The Hamas attacks in Gaza are also viewed by Israel as a conflict ignited by Iran. It strikes the eye that Israel has changed its tone demanding complete withdrawal of Iran from Syria not just keeping away from the Golan Heights.
There are unconfirmed reports that the US military is building an outpost in Sinjar mountains of Ninawa province to secure Syria-Iraq border and prevent Iran from establishing a land corridor linking Iran’s western border to the Mediterranean. If the reports are true, the US is evidently preparing for a military operation. It will not have NATO by its side. America and Israel are on their own. They may be supported directly or indirectly by some Sunni Arab nations.
For instance, Saudi Arabia’s threat to use force against Qatar is another sigh of preparing a multinational war against Iran. The deal to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems is used as a pretext though it’s hard to see how these defensive weapon systems could pose a threat to the kingdom. Riyadh is in talks with Moscow on purchasing the systems, why can’t Doha do the same? The real reason is probably the refusal of Qatar to break ties with Iran.
There are very disturbing signs that a war waged by Israel, the US, and probably its Persian Gulf allies is close at hand. The tensions could be eased if diplomacy were given a chance but the US unilateral withdrawal from the JPCOA appears to turn such scenario into a very remote possibility.