Hasan Al-Hasan/Iran deal ignored Gulf concerns..الإتفاق النووي مع إيران تجاهل مخاوف ومصالح دول الخليج العربي/Yossi Mekelberg/Iran and Israel on the brink: What will stop them? إيران وإسرائيل على شفير الهاوية فمن سيوقفهما


Iran deal ignored Gulf concerns
الإتفاق النووي مع إيران تجاهل مخاوف ومصالح دول الخليج العربي
Hasan Al-Hasan/Arab News/May 11/18

When he announced his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump spent more time criticizing it for its failure to address Tehran’s support for terrorism and its destabilizing regional activity, than most of its other defects. For years, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and other regional states made the same point. But under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, their concerns were ignored.
With Trump in office, however, these states have been able to point to a worsened regional situation as evidence that the deal has done more harm than good. Ultimately, his decision strongly suggests that the deal’s most fatal defect was to ignore Iran’s neighbors and their ability to successfully oppose it. But the remedy may be too late.
From the perspective of regional states, the deal has enabled Iran to advance its relentless campaign of regional expansion, out of which more lives have been claimed than through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs together.
But at the time of the deal’s negotiation, the Obama administration defended the omission from discussion of Iran’s destabilizing activities. The administration claimed that this allowed the US and its regional allies to counter Iran more forcefully on its sponsorship of terrorism, independently of any progress on the nuclear file.
The departure of Tillerson and the appointment of Bolton and Pompeo to Trump’s policy inner circle came at an opportune moment.​
But in practice, Obama’s arguments have not held up. To begin with, the deal has not allowed for a more forceful confrontation with Iran on its destabilizing activities in the region. In fact, Obama was widely perceived as softening US policy on Tehran’s support for terrorism, out of fear that forceful action could jeopardize the deal.
In December 2017, Politico revealed that his administration had blocked an investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency into Hezbollah’s global drug trade, in effect shielding an Iran-allied terrorist entity from prosecution. Many in the region also interpreted Obama’s failure to enforce a red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013 as a concession to Tehran to ensure its continued adherence to the negotiations.
The deal has also failed to turn Iran into a responsible state, and appears to have achieved the opposite. It has provided Tehran with a windfall of $10 billion in direct financial assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. This allowed it to ratchet up support for its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Due in part to this support, Syrian President Bashar Assad has practically crushed his opponents, paving the way for an Iranian land bridge that cuts across Iraq and Syria to connect to the Mediterranean. As a result, Iran has managed to expand its military presence in Syria, and is now building military bases and assembling launch sites for ballistic missiles not far from Syria’s border with Israel.
Because of Obama’s policy toward Iran and the nuclear deal, US relations with Gulf states and Israel soured. In 2015, US-Saudi relations reached their nadir when the Kingdom announced military operations in Yemen without so much as a heads up to Washington — a highly unusual move. Obama moved swiftly to mend ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), convening a heads-of-state summit at Camp David later that year.
But the absence of Saudi King Salman and Bahrain’s King Hamad from the summit sent a clear message on the extent of Gulf displeasure. Although the US and GCC states signed the Camp David Accords, which encouraged the latter to mellow their criticism of the Iran deal, some of the American promises, including large-scale military exercises in the Gulf, never materialized.
The Obama administration also sought to mend ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in 2016 signed off on the largest military aid package ever to Israel, worth $38 billion. This succeeded temporarily in dialling down the criticism of the Iran deal.
But with Trump installed as US president, all bets on the deal’s future were suddenly off. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE spotted the opportunity and embarked on a lobbying effort to sway the new administration — including through their ties to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — against keeping the deal.
Moreover, the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (whose stance on Qatar irked Saudi Arabia and the UAE) and the appointment of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo (both of whom have advocated ditching the deal) to Trump’s policy inner circle came at an opportune moment.
And a week prior to Trump’s abandonment of the deal, Israel revealed a trove of intelligence that it claimed proved Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, setting the stage for a US withdrawal. Immediately following Trump’s decision, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain issued statements welcoming it.
But despite its many defects, pulling out of the deal at this stage makes little strategic sense. The US has already squandered its financial leverage over Iran by paying upfront for the deal. And given the lack of support from the deal’s other signatories for Trump’s decision, it may be difficult to implement global sanctions or assemble another international coalition to apply pressure on Iran.
Moreover, if the Europeans fail to offer Iran enough economic incentives to keep it on board, the latter is likely to resume enrichment in a few months, potentially setting off a nuclear arms race with regional competitors such as Saudi Arabia. The decision to scrap the deal may have made sense three or four years ago, but today it is highly uncertain that US withdrawal will lead to a safer, more stable Middle East.
• Hasan Al-Hasan is a Ph.D. researcher at King’s College London and the National University of Singapore, where his work focuses on Indian foreign policy in the Middle East. Previously, he served as a senior analyst at the office of the first deputy prime minister of Bahrain.
© 2018 Syndication Bureau

Iran and Israel on the brink: What will stop them?
إيران وإسرائيل على شفير الهاوية فمن سيوقفهما
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/May 11/18
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the much-anticipated Iranian missile launch on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights took place. Ever since Israel increased its frequency of attacks on military bases in Syria — in particular those manned by Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies — a few weeks ago, the clock counting down to an Iranian retaliation had been ticking.
Israeli security forces braced themselves for an attack, though the place, time and magnitude was unknown. When it eventually happened, 20 rockets were fired by Iran’s Quds Force — a special unit affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — at frontline Israeli posts in the Golan Heights. The rockets were all either intercepted or failed to cross the border between Israel and Syria. This represents a major failure for Iran in its ability to respond to Israel’s military operations against its installations in Syria.
Israel’s instant military response, striking from the air dozens of Iranian targets in Syria, leaves both countries on the brink of open hostilities. It remains to be seen whether they are capable of withdrawing from the brink of war, bearing in mind that Wednesday night was the first time that Iran had directly attacked Israel militarily, and that Israel openly admitted it targeted Iranian forces in its northeastern neighbor. This is a patent escalation that, without diplomatic intervention from the outside, might spiral out of control, especially in the extremely volatile Syrian context.
For the more than seven years since the conflict in Syria broke out, Tel Aviv had maintained a restrained approach toward developments there, limiting its intervention in the hostilities to situations only when it felt threatened. It was a conscientious decision, based on intelligence assessment, that Israel had nothing to gain from such an intervention and, even if it wanted to influence the situation there to serve its interests, it had no capacity to do so. It made a clear decision, which was relayed to its enemies across the border, that it would not tolerate the arming of Hezbollah by Iran with weapons that might endanger it, and it would respond militarily to any firing inside Israel from across the Syrian border. For most of the period since March 2011, the border was relatively calm and Israel could adhere to these red lines.
However, as the war in Syria raged on, the presence of Iranian military personnel in the country consistently increased. Toward the end of last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly asserted: “We will not allow (Iran) to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.” The writing was on the wall for months, as Israel has increasingly become unnerved by the Iranian presence in Syria; the growing military capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, enabled by their patrons in Tehran; and by Iranian support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Israel under Netanyahu is a country with a siege mentality, even without seeing Iran in almost every direction it looks. With it, its sense of strategic claustrophobia multiplied.
It is impossible to separate the confrontation between Iran and Israel in Syria, and potentially in Lebanon, from the broader strategic picture, especially the Iran nuclear deal and US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement earlier this week. In the mind of Israeli strategists, and especially the current Israeli government, Iran is an existential threat that has to be contained. From their perspective, the only way to do so was to abolish the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and, in the longer term, bring regime change to Tehran. Netanyahu has been advocating for this objective for years. For him, Trump’s decision was an exoneration of his long-held position.
Events this week injured Iran economically, military and its pride suffered a major blow, but this could spell danger too, as it still has the military capabilities to respond.
Moreover, from the magnitude of the air force attack on Iranian forces and dozens of Iranian installations — including intelligence and logistics sites around Damascus, munitions warehouses, and observation and military posts — it is clear Israel had prepared for this operation for quite some time and was just waiting for the opportunity to present itself. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserted that the Israeli army had hit “nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria” and that “they must remember that if it rains here (in Israel), it will pour there.”
Lieberman further stated: “I hope that we have finished this chapter and that everyone got the message.” Similarly, Netanyahu, who this week visited Moscow for meetings with President Vladimir Putin, insisted on the right of Israel to take any necessary steps to stop Iran from “attacking the state of Israel as part of their strategy to destroy the state of Israel.” One suspects that Putin gave the green light to Israel’s comprehensive attacks; otherwise it would have been a massive diplomatic insult and embarrassment had this happened behind his back, especially in a place where Russia has vital interests, a substantial military presence and involvement in the conflict.
Support for Israel also came from Washington, underlining Iran’s isolation. However, there must be a call for calm and caution.
Iran’s leaders suffered a double blow this week, with the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and Israel’s military operation in Syria, which exposed its vulnerability. It might be the case that, in recent years, while the focus was on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capability, the international community neglected to notice its pursuit of regional hegemony through more conventional means.
Events this week injured Iran economically, military and its pride suffered a major blow, but this could spell danger too, as it still has the military capabilities to respond. Moreover, it might embolden those more radical voices in the regime over the pragmatic ones, represented by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
The way forward should involve a concerted effort by the international community, including the UN Security Council, aimed at preventing further escalation. In the long run, it is imperative to explore peaceful means to reduce tensions between Iran and the region, otherwise what we witnessed on Thursday could be the prologue to another protracted and bloody conflict in the Middle East — and maybe beyond.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg