Iran Defiant in Face of U.S. Sanctions

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

November 11, 2018

The re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran earlier this week has sparked a lively debate in the region. Observers are debating the rationale for their reintroduction, whether the sanctions were deserved, and what the final endgame for the United States is. Some have cautioned that Iran’s mismanagement of its economy in the last few years is much to blame for the country’s declining economic performance as the U.S. sanctions. Still, few believe that Iran will change course, with Iranian commentators leading the charge that the U.S. may yet regret reneging on its nuclear deal with Iran.

The Gulf News editorial staff was one of the first to opine on the day that the sanctions took effect, and to suggest that Iran is likely to suffer under the new measures: “Iran enters a challenging new phase in its economic activity and international relations, with the imposition of a series of tough sanctions on the regime for its failure to fully satisfy Washington and its allies over the intentions of its nuclear programme…. Iranian parliamentarians too have been calling for change in Iran’s economy. Now, with the reimposition of sanctions, those same parliamentarians will know who to blame — their political leadership and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who have actively flouted international law and funded Tehran’s forces of sedition and terror across this region and beyond.”

In a recent editorial, the Khaleej Times picks up on a similar theme, noting that the targeted sanctions will have an impact on Iran’s “meddling in the region,” in particular on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps: “Its shrinking economy will be further undermined as the US reimposes sanctions targeting its oil sales, and sectors like energy, shipping, banking and insurance. The controversial secondary sanctions – provisions that force companies in other countries to comply with US sanction policies – will strike a more serious blow with the rial already touching rock bottom…. Even as Tehran’s aggressive approach remains a major source of instability in the region, Trump’s strategy has made it clear to Iran and its proxies that meddling in the region will not be tolerated. And a shrinking economy means choking the funding of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for conducting Iran’s operations abroad. Reining in Tehran’s aggressiveness is therefore a necessity for maintaining stability in the region.”

Meanwhile, The National is quick to point out that while the sanctions will put pressure on the Iranian economy, “Iran’s economic woes came before sanctions…. Iranians will wake up to a darker world today – but they have only their regime to blame…. The Iranian economy was already struggling, with the rial’s value plummeting 70 per cent in the past year, but the latest sanctions on oil, finance and banking will hit hardest. And neglected for years by their rulers, ordinary Iranians are already feeling the pinch…. The regime will seek to exculpate itself by blaming the economic hardships its people are already experiencing on the sanctions but remaining defiant under these new restrictions will prove difficult. True to form, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has already chided foreign media for ‘filling people’s minds with false propaganda’.”

The question now becomes what Iran will do to overcome the sanctions. Three different observers have provided three different answers to this query, with Asharq Alawsat’s Ghassan Charbel suggesting that one option for the Iranians may be to dig in their heels until the current storm passes: “Iranian authorities have little choice. It is clear that they are trying to lure a stronger or clearer European position. Nothing suggests that Europe can play an exceptional role in this context. The ‘financial mechanism’ that has been discussed will not work before months, and its results may be limited…. Iran is betting on time. It may be betting on its ability to wait for the end of Trump’s term. It is also counting on European voices that believe that sanctions are affecting the people, and not this type of regime… and that the reformist movement in Iran will be the first victim of any new sanctions that the regime will consider as a blockade on the country and not against it.”

Salman Al-Dossary provides an alternative view, painting a far more pessimistic view of an Iran that may become increasingly isolated and unable to shape its own future: “Despite this rhetoric, Iran not once, stayed true to its threats. It did not dare shut Hormuz. The end result was the same: The sanctions were impozed and Tehran was left powerless…. The regime will, as usual, resort to its sectarian militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. We will see some of its sleeper cells in the region wake up, but it will not be bold enough to make a direct provocation, because the strength of the regime lies in its indirect confrontation. At any rate, the new sanctions will compound Iran’s isolation and reveal day after day that the regime is incapable of responding to them.”

The third view comes from within Iran, where Mojtaba Barghandan writing for the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, casts the United States as the isolated party, abandoned by its major allies: “Coming to the nature of U.S. multilateralism if we can only say that President Trump and his team ordains preconditions for Iran and the world to follow the U.S. policies. This is particularly preposterous as it contradicts the international diplomatic norms and undermines diplomacy and multilateralism. Thus, it is no surprise that the decision unilaterally adopted by the U.S. administration have either been ignored or received negatively by the international community, including its allies around the world, with the exception of a handful of U.S. client states in the region.”

Finally, Tehran Times’s Syed Zafar Mehdi considers the sanctions to be bluster associated with the mid-term elections, even though he offers no suggestions on how Iran intends to deal with them, besides appealing to Iranian unity: “The reaction from Iran has been remarkably measured and restrained. Iranians have dismissed what they believe is the customary bluster from the U.S. President who is not taken seriously even by his own people. The fact that the sanctions have been timed a day before the mid-term elections in the U.S. explains how it is a political maneuver to garner votes. But the move is most likely to backfire and Trump will understand that later this week. His evil plots would be defeated by his own people before Iran does. Iranians took to Twitter to warn the U.S. President not to threaten the Islamic Republic as such hollow bluster was not going to intimidate the proud and brave Iranians.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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