As tensions once again grow between Iran and the US, with both countries unsure if Donald Trump will extend Barack Obama's landmark "nuclear deal" which in January 2016 lifted Iran's sanctions (imposed previously by the same Obama regime) and allowed Iran to export three times as much crude oil as the country did one year ago, Iran has fallen back to the same diplomacy that marked the darker periods of diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.
As a result, earlier this week Iran explicitly warned the Trump administration, that extending U.S. sanctions on Iran for 10 years would breach the Iranian nuclear agreement, with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei warning that Tehran would retaliate if the sanctions are approved. The U.S. House of Representatives re-authorized last week the Iran Sanctions Act, or ISA, for 10 years. The law was first adopted in 1996 to punish investments in Iran's energy industry and deter Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Iran measure will expire at the end of 2016 if it is not renewed. The House bill must still be passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama to become law.
Iran and world powers concluded the nuclear agreement, also known as JCPOA, last year. It imposed curbs on Iran's nuclear program in return for easing sanctions that have badly hurt its economy. "The current U.S. government has breached the nuclear deal in many occasions," Khamenei said, addressing a gathering of members of the Revolutionary Guards, according to his website. "The latest is extension of sanctions for 10 years, that if it happens, would surely be against JCPOA, and the Islamic Republic would definitely react to it."
As a reminder courtesy of Reuters, the U.S. lawmakers passed the bill one week after Republican Donald Trump was elected U.S. president. Republicans in Congress unanimously opposed the agreement, along with about two dozen Democrats, and Trump has also criticized it.
So what can Iran do to retaliate against the US? The simplest thing is what many of the other nations in the region have already done: continue their ongoing political, economic and military pivot toward Russia. And sure enough, according to Reuters, earlier today Iran's Defense Minister said that the country plans to purchase Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter planes to modernise its air force. More troubling to the US, the Iranian minister also threatened that Tehran might again allow Russia to use an Iranian air base for its operations in Syria.
Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan delivers a speech as he attends the 5th Moscow Conference on International Security
"The purchase of this fighter is on the agenda of the Defence Ministry," Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan told reporters, according to the Tasneem news agency, without saying how many planes Iran is negotiating to buy. "However, any purchase of the military planes from Russia should include receiving technology and joint investment, he underlined, saying Russia accepted it in the negotiations," Tasneem reported. The gambit is clear: should the US revert to a regime of sanctions with Iran, Tehran will immediate pledge allegiance to Putin, extending a new "axis" in the middle east that begins in Moscow and stretches to Syria, and in recent weeks, Turkey, Egypt and now Iran.
There was more.
As the semi-official Tasnim news agency also reported on Saturday, Iran’s chief of staff of the armed forces said that Tehran may be interested in setting up naval bases in both Syria and Yemen. The report by Tasnim, close to military, quoted Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri as saying, “Maybe, at some point we will need bases on the shores of Yemen and Syria.”
He said “Having naval bases in remote distances is not less than nuclear power. It is ten times more important and creates deterrence.”
Gen. Bagheri added that setting up naval platforms off the shores of those countries requires “infrastructures there first.” He said Iran is also able to set up permanent platforms for military purposes in the Persian Gulf and roving ones in other places.
As cited by AP, Bagheri did not elaborate but said “When two thirds of the world’s population lives near shores and the world economy depends on the sea, we have to take measures. Though there is a need for the time for these (steps).”
Unlike the previous "threat" that Iran may purchase Russian military equipment. this is the first time that an Iranian military official has spoken of setting up naval bases in another country in the region.
No Middle Eastern country is known to have a formal naval base in another Mideast country, perhaps because alliances in the region tend to be painfully fickle and countries that until recently were allies quickly become foes. More from AP:
Iran regularly sends its warships to the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy. It also conducts occasional naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Iran’s warships regularly visit seaports of friendly countries, including a recent visit to the South African port of Durban.
Iran’s Supreme Leader have repeatedly supported increasing the power of the country’s navy, last year describing the sea as the scene of “powerful confrontation with enemies”. saying the future of power is based on powerful presence in the seas. The country has dozens of warships and light and Kilo-class submarines. It has hundreds of speed boats too, four of which harassed a U.S. warship earlier this year.
Iran is currently helping the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Syrian government in their fights against the extremist Islamic State group.
The good news for Obama is that the outgoing president is no longer relevant: it will be Trump's task to difuse the situation, which is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, the President-elect is hoping to restore relations with the Kremlin; on the other he is planning to burn the biggest bridge with Iran, one which will unelash a new era of Russian-Iranian cooperation, and an aggressive Iranian military expansion in the region, one which may bring Israel back out of geopolitical hibernation. Ultimately it will be up to Trump's Secretary of State - whether Romney or Giuliani - to figure out a solution to this dilemma without risking further national interest losses in either Eastern Europe or the Middle East.