US president Donald Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the era of President Donald J. Trump, no statement or even action can surprise. Not even a declaration of war on Twitter. The newly installed, hyper US president came near to doing it against Iran, or so it seems at first glance.
On Wednesday, his national security adviser, Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn, declared in his first press conference that the administration is “officially putting Iran on notice.”
He responded to questions regarding the news that Iran had tested a long-distance missile with a range of 3,500- 4,000 kilometers, capable of reaching Europe, as well as to an attack on a Saudi warship by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
By testing missiles Iran is not breaching the nuclear deal it signed with the six world powers in July 2015. But it may have been in violation of UN Security Council decisions.
Resolution 2231 from 2015 “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
Iran’s counter argument is that since it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, its missile program is not and can’t be related to its nuclear program.
Though preparations for tests of long-distance missiles in general and ballistic in particular take a long time, and therefore began weeks before the US presidential election, it is interpreted also as an attempt to challenge and test the Trump presidency reaction.
Meanwhile, German intelligence reported that Iran also tested a 2,000-km.-range ballistic missile.
Pushing the envelope and conducting a “threshold policy” is a typical Iranian policy ploy, used numerous times against the world powers during the nuclear negotiations.
The big questions are what are the Trump administration’s options and what does it intend to do. First of all, what does it means to put a country on an “official notice.” Flynn did not elaborate, leaving his words enigmatic.
Senior US officials later added another layer of vagueness by saying that there are a large number of options available to the administration, hinting “that we’re going to take appropriate action.”
Before the nuclear deal the mantra repeatedly used by the administration of president Barack Obama and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu was that “all options are on the table,” referring to a military attack against the Islamic Republic. But it seems that these threatening words have been exhausted.
In order to inject credibility to its threats and to be taken seriously by Tehran, the Trump administration will need to be more creative in its wording and more important in its actions.
It is not a secret that Trump and his team dislike the nuclear agreement they inherited from the Obama administration.
In contrast to the estimates of the US and Israeli intelligence communities – “It’s not a bad deal” – the Trump team, like Netanyahu, views it as a disaster. But their hands are tied. The deal is not a bilateral US-Iranian one.
It’s a multilateral agreement approved by the UN Security Council and supported by the entire international community.
The US could unilaterally pull out of the agreement but the other signatory members – Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany would most likely still honor it. If the US pulls out it will jeopardize its already strained relations with China and put Washington on a collision course with Moscow. Such a step would make Trump’s attempts to reach a new world order with President Vladimir Putin much more difficult. By the way, Russia says that Iran didn’t violate any agreement by conducting the ballistic missile test.
The options and punitive measures left for President Trump are really limited. If the US administration accepts that military action is out of question, it could impose a new set of sanctions on Iran. Such measures would undoubtedly irritate Iran and judging from its past behavior, national pride would force it to react and reciprocate, thus escalating the tensions between the two countries.
It may well be that this is what Washington is seeking.