Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a television address in Tehran, Iran, October 13, 2017. .
(photo credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS)
For now, Iran can be expected to adopt a waitand- see approach without significant reaction to US President Donald Trump’s decertification of the 2015 nuclear agreement and his speech outlining an aggressive new posture against the regime in Tehran.
“At this stage, the Iranians have no interest in initiating anything by themselves,” said Yoel Guzansky, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies. “They have an interest in showing that the Americans are the ones causing the problems, that the US is moving away from the agreement and that they are the well-behaved children fulfilling it.”
Raz Zimmt, also an analyst at INSS, said: “The Iranians know that what is important is what actually happens, not the speech itself. They will be watching what happens in the US regarding the agreement. We are just at the beginning of the process. It can end with the withdrawal of the US from the agreement or, more likely, without something substantial. In that case, the Iranians don’t have to do anything because they have the Europeans on their side.”
Neither scholar believes Iran will agree to reopen the agreement itself.
“In the atmosphere that has been created, there is no chance [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani can do such a thing and there is no reason he will do it because no one besides the Americans is demanding it.”
However, with sufficient pressure on Tehran, Guzansky said it might be possible “to reach side agreements with Iran possibly on missiles and regional topics.”
For this, he said, “you would need to unite the international community around you and Trump has not done this.”
Zimmt, however, ruled out Iran being amenable to such side agreements.
In fact, he said, on the issue of missiles, Trump’s posture will likely drive the Iranians to be even more determined than before to pursue their ballistic missile program, which Trump declared is “so totally important” to stop.
“It’s not just that they won’t give up on it, it’s that the current circumstances are of escalation,” said Zimmt. “From the Iranians’ viewpoint, this requires them to strengthen their missile program, which they view as a factor deterring American aggression. The moment the American military threat increases, it’s not a time they would be ready to stop.
In some instances they may try to lower the profile, but with the threat increasing from their standpoint, I don’t see them taking their foot off the gas pedal.”
Zimmt is also not sanguine about a major change in Iran’s regional strategy of expanding its influence resulting from Trump’s posture. His assumption is that the US does not want to take steps that would amount to a declaration of war on Iran.
“That leaves us with economic and pinpoint means that don’t have the ability to significantly alter Iran’s policy.
It won’t change the Iranian worldview.
I don’t see an overall change in behavior although there could be some degree of limiting,” he said.
“What is viewed by us rightfully as Iranian provocations are, in their view, vital interests: their missile program; their involvement in Syria; the help to Hezbollah, they don’t see this as aggression or something illegitimate so there is no reason they would give up on it,” he continued.
Zimmt noted that two months ago there were reports Rouhani was interested in weakening the influence of the Revolutionary Guards, but now with Trump targeting them for further sanctions and putting them at the center of his denunciation of the Iranian regime, this has become impossible.
“Rouhani now has to stand behind the guards whether he likes it or not,” he said.
Zimmt indicated that Trump’s speech contained positive elements such as his declaration that Iran would never be allowed to attain nuclear weapons, but he stressed that “the path the Americans are going on is wrong. They shouldn’t think even for a moment of leaving the agreement. The main effort should be to invest in the next stage, to the time when the restrictions are going to be lifted. For this stage, the US needs understanding with its partners in the world. Taking unilateral action leads to American isolation and endangers the ability to reach an international consensus, which is crucial to the next stages.”
Guzansky said it was too early to pass judgment on Trump’s policy: “There are positive things in what he is doing and there is also danger and brinkmanship. We’ll have to wait and see.”