Dangerous escalation after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal

The protracted war in Syria has entered a new and dangerous phase after the United States withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, greeted hours later with the heaviest Israeli airstrike in decades

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the JCPoA Iran nuclear agreement -Photo: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
English 16/05/2018 15:30 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 11:30
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The protracted war in Syria—actually a regional conflict since its beginning in 2011—has entered a new and dangerous phase after the United States withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, greeted hours later with the heaviest Israeli airstrike in decades against Iranian and Syrian targets in the beleaguered Arab country.

Despite the last-ditch effort made by France and Germany, two of the most important Washington allies, the Trump administration closed ranks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf monarchies, which have been key sponsors of the fundamentalist rebels loyal to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya in a move that sent the “wrong message” to the North Korean regime, according to American, European, and Israeli former high-level officials and pundits.

Signed in 2015 by Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany, after years of difficult negotiations—, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) was considered a success for multilateral diplomacy and the struggle to curb nuclear proliferation.

Under its terms, approved and strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran stopped producing 20% enriched uranium and gave up the majority of its stockpile in return for most sanctions on it being lifted.

As Aaron Stein, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East stressed in the website War on the Rocks, Iran “made a political decision to forego work on nuclear weapons and agreed to extraordinary and unprecedented inspections to verify the non-diversion of fissile material for military use.”

Moreover, the IAEA says that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPoA, denying recent allegations from Netanyahu, who has never publicly admitted the nuclear capabilities of Israel—estimated by the Federation of American Scientists at 200 warheads—and has refused to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

In 2007, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate found that Tehran stopped all nuclear weapons research five years before. The same conclusion was reported again to the White House in 2011.

Wide array of sanctions

Last week, the U.S. Treasury said that Washington would reimpose a wide array of Iran-related sanctions after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods, including sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil sector and transactions with its central bank, ignoring the joint statement issued by Britain, Germany, and France which urged the United States to “ensure that the structures of the JCPoA can remain intact.”

After meeting at the European Union summit in Brussels, the leaders of the three countries also urged the U.S. to “avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal.”

However, these countries, China and Russia could also suffer penalties under renewed U.S. sanctions, removing incentives to continue to do business with Iran.

The Treasury said licenses for Boeing Co. and Airbus Group to sell 180 passenger jets to Iran will be revoked, causing a loss of USD$39 billion to both firms.

In Germany, this unilateral position has triggered harsh criticism, reinforced by a tweet sent by the U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, calling on German companies in Tehran to “wind down operations immediately”, while Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, declared: “It seems that screaming, shouting, insulting and bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times.”

For now, Iran is still committed to the JCPoA. “If we achieve the deal’s goals in cooperation with other members of the deal, it will remain in place”, President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech. But he warned that Tehran was ready to resume its curbed nuclear activities “at the industrial level without any limit.”

Little information has emerged about the May 11 Israeli airstrike against 50 weapons storage, logistic sites and intelligence centers used by elite Iranian forces in Syria.

Five Syrian air-defense batteries were also bombed killing at least 23 people after a rocket barrage was launched on Israeli positions at the Golan Heights by the Iranians, according to Israel’s Ministry of Defense.

However, Arab sources said that the Syrian army fired the rockets in reaction to the Israeli attack.

The Golan Heights are under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six-Days War.

Just weeks ago, Netanyahu was on the brink of a judicial process due to anti-corruption investigations and now the Parliament has passed a law giving him authority to go to war without Cabinet approval, in a moment when even Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister, recognize that the Iranians “have kept the letter of the agreement quite systematically” and John Brennan, former CIA director, says that the White House “simultaneously lied about the nuclear deal and gave North Korea more reason to keep its nukes.”

In the quest for regional hegemony, there is an ostensible realignment of forces behind the U.S.-Israel-Saudi Arabia new coalition that leaves Iran surrounded by Pentagon bases in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, fighting the international Islamist movement in Syria, Tehran has found new friends in Russia and China, not to mention its old “axis of resistance” alliance with the Hezbollah party in Lebanon.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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