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Op-Ed: Iran is testing the US waters

After Tehran tested a new ballistic missile and conducted a large military exercise in the past week, James J. Marlow weighs in on US President Donald Trump’s options: “The Iran deal was a bad deal and should never have been agreed but to dismantle it now could be even worse.”
Archive Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

The Donald Trump administration has imposed new sanctions on Tehran because Iran tested a brand new ballistic missile. The Islamic Republic response to the White House was to further carry out a military exercise, testing Iran-made missile and cyber warfare and radar systems along with command and control centers.

There is no doubt tension has increased between Washington and Tehran since Donald Trump took office last month, but the Iranians are not looking for a major confrontation, they are simply testing the water as this really is the first time the United States has responded for at least a year.

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Since the “historic” P5+1 (China, Russia, the US, France, the UK and Germany) deal was signed in July 2015, Iran has constantly provoked its partners with ballistic missile and military testing. They even write on the side of their missiles, in Hebrew, Farsi and English, “Death to Israel and death to America,” but the international community fails to respond.

Iran translates this into increased leverage and greater power for itself and a decrease in the leverage of power for the United States.

In fact, under the Obama administration, the United States not only played down every provocation and every violation of Tehran, but they appeared to act as their defense lawyer giving press conferences with words like “all is well” when it clearly was not.

Iran even falsely accused the United States of not upholding its end of the nuclear deal - threats that did not appear to be the words of a peaceful nation.

But America’s partners appear to have forgotten Iran is still the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world with major human rights violations and abuses. It has been destabilizing the Middle East for years with their proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In fact, a large number of Iranian troops still operate in Syria fighting alongside the Assad regime.

But now, Tehran is facing a new administration that has already clarified it will adopt a different approach and the Islamic Republic is testing the White House.

So will President Trump go further and tear up the Iran deal as he declared in his campaign?

Bibi will ask the President to increase pressure on Tehran but the remaining P5 powers would not agree to an annulment of the nuclear deal, although the new British Prime Minister understands Israel’s concern.

But Iran has already pocketed $100 to $150 billion from sanctions relief and they would certainly keep every last penny. In addition, Iran would argue it is no longer bound by the terms of the agreement if America pulled out.

Trump’s Defense Secretary, James Mattis, has also hinted that walking away from the agreement would be unwise.

The Iran deal was a bad deal and should never have been agreed but to dismantle it now could be even worse. In addition, anything negative occurrence that would happen from that point on would be attributed to the decision to renounce it, rather than blame the bad deal on the Obama administration and the problematic way he and John Kerry dealt with Iran.

So the US will insist the Islamic Republic adhere to the deal although the loopholes in some parts are extremely ambiguous. For example, suspicious activity at a military facility and whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can enter at any time for an immediate inspection of the facilities has to be clarified.  

The United States must explain in detail to their P5 partners that too many ambiguous provisions remain and the deal needs tightening. So when satellites or other mechanisms detect suspicious behavior down the road, and there will be, Iran will not be able to abuse the ambiguity and reject a search at a specific facility.



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JOL Blogger | James Marlow

James is a former broadcast journalist who worked with CNN, ITN, EuroNews and Reuters. He is now writing for various publications in UK and Israel. In addition, James is a guest news contributor specializing in world affairs, British politics, Israel and the Middle East for many networks including Sky News, France 24, LBC Radio and Al Jazeera.


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