What comes next between the U.S., IRGC and IAEA? - analysis

The standoff continues with multiple possible new game-changers in play from this past week.

Trump and Khamenei (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / HO / KHAMENEI.IR,MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
Trump and Khamenei
On Monday, the US declared the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be terrorists – after The Wall Street Journal reported the possibile move over the weekend and the IRGC’s combative response Sunday, which signaled the latest non-military battles between the US and Iran.
Coupled with the Reuters report last week that the IAEA finally visited a secret Iranian nuclear site revealed last year by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opening shots of the 2020 US election, the contours of the standoff in the coming months become clear.
As of late March, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made it clear that the Islamic Republic is likely staying in the 2015 nuclear deal until it expires despite US sanctions.
Khamenei focused his late March speech on portraying Iran as having successfully survived US sanctions, encouraging his people to keep the economy strong by internal Iranian efforts, such as increasing production.
He made no real threats against the EU even though England-France-Germany’s much celebrated special purpose vehicle (SPV) to help Tehran circumvent Washington’s sanctions has failed to deliver most of the relief that Khamenei had demanded.
The US has seen that while it has wounded Tehran economically, it is far from getting the Islamic republic to change its behavior.
So, the US wants to increase sanctions to hurt the IRGC more directly to influence Iran’s behavior.
No one has a clue whether this will be successful because “the IRGC” at its broadest definition could impact large portions of the country.
This is because the IRGC is not just a military force, but also controls large segments of the economy.
But simply the suggestion of the idea, however ineffective it might be, was enough to elicit an IRGC threat to start attacking US troops in the Middle East and Asia and to cause new problems in those regions.
How far will Iran go with that threat? Probably not that far. But if it or its militias blow up even a few US army patrols or undercover CIA operatives (which Sunni jihadists succeeded in doing in Jordan in 2009), the tensions in the region could rise.
The question at that point would be if the Trump administration would go out of character and use military force as a response, or whether it might quietly back off some of the harsher sanctions enforcement.
Tehran may also wait to carry out attacks until it sees whether the US makes the new sanctions hurt or whether the announcement will be more for public relations.
In the meantime, all parties will be waiting for the IAEA’s announcement of its findings from its visit last month to the secret Iranian nuclear site highlighted by Netanyahu last year.
The IAEA has taken samples from the site and will likely announce the results of the samples in June.
Expectations are that the IAEA waited so long to review the site that, by the time it came, Iran had likely already “cleaned” the site of any evidence of nuclear activity which would violate the 2015 nuclear deal.
But there have been instances in the past where the Islamic republic’s cleaning crew was not careful enough and left behind traces which inspectors picked up on.
If the IAEA found evidence of a violation, the whole game could change, with the US gaining a huge advantage to get global pressure for Iran to make more concessions on the nuclear issue.
It is more likely that the IAEA will use its delayed inspection to try to close the saga which Israel and the US tried to use to justify ending the 2015 nuclear deal and snapping sanctions back on Tehran.
If so, neither the IRGC move nor the IAEA inspection will radically change the current stalemate between the US and Iran. Currently, Washington has its sanctions, but Tehran refuses to make any concessions toward the Trump administration on nuclear or terrorism issues.
This brings us back to Khamenei’s waiting game. He is hoping to wait out US President Donald Trump and then achieve a better diplomatic and economic position if a new US president is elected.
Not all, but multiple democratic candidates for president have said that they would rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal. Whether they would do so with conditions and what the conditions might be, Khamenei views negotiating then as better than now.
So the standoff continues with multiple possible new game-changers in play from this past week. But the real turning point likely still will not come until the November 2020 election.