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The dramatic, unpredictable decision of US President Donald Trump to pull out of the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action'(JCPOA), better known as the Iran Nuclear deal, has thrown the region into a tail spin. The European countries who were participants of the Treaty cried foul and contemned the breach of trust by the United States. The region is once again in a turmoil. The recent Israeli barrage against 50 Iranian targets in Syria in response to an alleged Iranian rocket attack on the Golan Heights came less than two days after Trump’s decision to take a U- turn regarding the Iran Nuclear Treaty. The US pullout from the JCPOA has given regional tensions a huge shot in the arm. It may escalate into a major regional war in the near future. The most likely scenario would be a multi-pronged conflict limited to the Syrian theatre with possible spillovers to Lebanon.
Strategy Behind JCPOA & Emerging Political Scenario.
The Obama regime’s logic in negotiating the JCPOA was not to normalise US ties with Iran, but to manage the most perceived threat: Tehran’s nuclear weapon programme. The JCPOA separates the nuclear issue from non- nuclear disputes such as Iran’s missile programme and its financial and military support for the Lebanese militia- Hezbollah.
In the last two decades Iran has consolidated its foot hold in the West Asia. The disastrous 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the armed Rebellion in 2011 against Assad’s rule in Syria, and the rise of Daesh( the deadly ISIS) in 2014, provided Iran with a golden opportunity to greatly expand its foot print across the region. Iran decisively intervened in these armed conflicts by providing military might to Shi’a militias and deploying its own military units. The Moscow-Tehran alliance supported by Russian air power finally broke the back of ISIS and aided Assad in effectively winning the civil war.
Tremors After US Pull Out From JCPOA
The political and strategic gains usurped by Iran in the region has set alarm bells in the US, Israel and Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, which are Sunni dominated Islam nations. It has set the stage for a renewed attempt by the US to reverse Iranian gains. But rather than patiently adopting diplomatic measures with backing from America’s European allies, Trump has chosen a confronting action by walking out of the JCPOA, without any provocation from Iran., giving Iran all the excuses to resume its earlier suspended nuclear programme. Even if Iran somehow stays within the JCPOA parameters, the abandonment of engagement leaves Washington with only two policy choices to curb Tehran’s regional influence- militarised containment by force or a full- blown war aimed at regime change.
Both options are risky and can turn ugly and counter- productive. Militarised containment could see periodic spikes in direct clashes with Iran in Syria. It could even escalate to US and Israeli air strikes on nuclear and military targets in Iran. The war effort may spill over to Lebanon too, since Hizbollah is in the Israel’s crosshairs. Russia could be a game spoiler for US since Russia has substantial military presence in the region and has stakes in Syrian and Iranian political governance.
However European countries can act as a brake to accelerating tensions over Iran. Though France and Germany have opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA they will struggle to resist the coming slew of US sanctions directed against European corporations that trade with Tehran. These so called secondary sanctions are likely to be defied by China and Russia, pushing Tehran closer to Moscow and Beijing.
As a great Power in the region, India has certain serious responsibilities. With the fast emerging situations India can be in a tight spot. It values its growing relations with the Gulf Arab Countries and Israel. The Indian economy may face many hurdles when it comes to secondary sanctions. Major Indian Corporations and financial institutions are deeply tied to US market. Moreover, New Delhi has made its strategic partnership with Washington the cornerstone of its foreign policy in order to aid India’s global rise. It’s worth remembering that last time the US brandished a series of sanctions, India fell in line and drastically reduced Iranian oil imports. The situations may repeat. The emerging conflicting zone may create some bad nightmares to the policy makers of India since both the sides lack any clear-cut strategy to de-escalate the volatile situation.
It’s heartening to note that some sense prevailed among European Union countries. On May 1918, EU’s Energy Chief Miguel Arias Canete, reassured Tehran that EU bloc remain committed to the nuclear deal and further conveyed that the 28 nation EU, once the biggest importer of Iranian oil, hoped to strengthen trade with Iran.
Iranian Nuclear Chief Ali Akbar Salehi responded by stating that it would be disastrous if EU efforts fail to preserve the 2025 nuclear treaty in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of most western economic sanctions.
A collapse of the accord could tip the balance of power in Iran in favour of President Hassan Rouhani’s hard-line rivals, who have fiercely criticised the President’s failure to deliver greater economic properity.