Will Washington face Tehran after the Missile Test?
In its first experiment since Donald Trump's inauguration as president of the United States, Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile on January 29th, 2017. Washington emphasized that it will not turn a blind eye to the Iranian test, which it considers "absolutely unacceptable", and in violation of the nuclear deal, pointing out that the Iranian missile was sufficient to carry nuclear warheads on it.
In response, Tehran demanded that the US administration not search for a "pretext" to provoke new tensions with it, confirmed that its ballistic missile program isn't a subject to the nuclear deal, and isn't covered by Security Council resolution (2231), because Iranian missiles "aren't designed to carry nuclear warheads", and "Iran will never use it's locally manufactured missiles to attack any other nation".
Disagreement Over Interpretation of the UN Resolution:
The missile test wasn't the first from Iran since the announcement of the nuclear deal; it embarked on its missile tests series in October and November 2015, as well as in January, March, and July of 2016. So the debate here is linked to the interpretation of the nuclear deal itself, and Security Council resolution (2231), which "called upon" Iran not to undertake any activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, for a period of eight years.
Iran stresses that the new missiles, although capable of carrying nuclear warheads, isn't designed for this purpose, and therefore isn't in conflict with the decision that came in the formula of a non-binding "call", unlike the formula of the prior decision (1929). The prior resolution, (1929), stated that "Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities".
With this controversy it wasn't strange that several countries weren't positive about the Iranian missile test. It is true that it confirmed that Iran continues to be an obstacle to peace in the region, but a decisive stand towards it, a call to face Iran, or even to stop working with it on the nuclear agreement and re-impose sanctions on it, did not happen.
For example, the EU had only called upon Iran to refrain from activities which "deepen mistrust", such as ballistic missile tests, according to Nabila Massrali, EU foreign affairs spokeswoman, which noted also that Iran's program for ballistic missiles was not included in the agreement of "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action", so these tests didn't violate it.
Russia also considers the Iranian missile test to be in line with the Security Council resolution about its nuclear program, and also saw demands for a UN emergency session were aimed at "heating up the situation", and using it for "political purposes". Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, stressed that UN resolution (2231) didn't provide for preventing Iran from conducting missile tests, it calls on Iran only not to carry out tests on missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and added that: "the call isn't even in terms of pure logic similar to prevent .. it isn't the same thing".
The Russian diplomat recalled that "International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)" - according to the nuclear agreement reached in July 15th, 2015 - imposed strict control over the entire Iranian nuclear program, including the adoption of comprehensive procedures that allow ensuring the lack of any military nuclear program in Iran, he continued: "this means it can't be any talk of a warhead like that even in theory".
And the French foreign minister, in spite of his calling Iran to allay international concern about its ballistic missiles, but he said during a meeting in Tehran with his counterpart, Javad Zarif, on January 31st, 2017, that there is no need to review the nuclear deal "because it's landmark deal for Iran and for international community". Jean-marc Ayrault expressed his country's concern of the statements in this direction, made by Trump during his election campaign.
Renewed Possibility of American Sanctions Against Iran:
Because of Iran continuing to test ballistic missiles, and the position of other parties, the US Treasury Department imposed fresh sanctions on Iran, on February 3rd, 2017, as a first move by the Trump administration of this type. Sanctions included 25 Iranian and foreign people and entities involved in helping Iran's ballistic missile program, or assisting the "Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’" elite "Quds Force" in supporting groups that the United States considers "terrorist", such as "Hezbollah".
On the other hand, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, considered US sanctions a "provocative" step, and violation of the nuclear deal, indicating that "Iran will not be affected by such threats". The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced its intention to impose sanctions against American companies and businessmen, according to the "reciprocity principle".
Is the Military Option "Entirely" Gone in Confronting Iran?:
With the decision of the US administration to impose new sanctions on Iran, the question that arises is whether the military option disappeared in dealing with Iran, putting in mind the words of US President Donald Trump, in tweeter, that "Iran is playing with fire- they don't appreciate how "kind" President Obama was to them", stressing that he wouldn't be like him, and all options are on table, including military strike, especially after Iranian recent missile test.
In light of this, some felt that the probabilities of military confrontation with Iran still exist, especially after the "Iranian Revolutionary Guards" announcement of new military exercises on February 4th, 2017, included firing missiles, used with various types of radars and homemade missile systems with different capacities. One day before these exercises, the US military had sent a naval destroyer off Yemen, near the Strait of "Bab el-Mandeb", to protect the waterways from the "Houthi" group backed by Iran, as Washington said.
The White House also had issued a statement on its website about Trump's future policy, and stressed in it that the new administration intends to develop a "sophisticated" missile defense system in anticipation of attacks by Iran or North Korea.
As well there is a bill in the US House of Representatives, submitted by Elsie Hustandz, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on January 3rd, 2017, which would in part "allow US armed to use forces in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons", and authorizes the US president to use armed forces in guiding "pre-emptive strike" against Iran. This bill was introduced through congressional work, with a list of other demands to impose sanctions on Iran because of its ballistic missile program expansion.
But despite the above, difficulties still exist in front of Washington to confront Iran militarily, because:
- US Congress hasn't yet made any decision on the draft resolution about the mandate of the US president to direct "pre-emptive military strike" against Iran; most people believe that there is a very weak chance of the resolution passing in both houses of Congress, House and Senate. As the Trump administration hadn't made any "official" statements about its plans to use force against Tehran, and Trump didn't demand "officially" after taking office to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran, despite his harsh criticism to the agreement during his election campaign.
- The Iranian government also announced on its side, that it wouldn't use force against any party except in the case of self-defense, according to a tweet of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in his response to the US President who took a hard-line stance toward Iran, especially after launch medium-range ballistic missile. Zarif considered the point of Washington talking about the military option was advertising.
- It is true that Trump, during his campaign, condemned the nuclear deal, and in some cases didn't differentiate between it and the ballistic missile program, but there seems to be little appetite within the US administration to terminate the agreement now, and we can refer here to the statement of US Defense Secretary, James Mattis –who was known will because his previous stances very hawkish about Iran - in Congress, said he had hoped the agreement could prevent Iranian nuclear activities for a longer period than stipulated, but the world is safer now with this agreement. Although Trump has been aware of this change in Matis' attitude, but he didn't alter his choice, and asked Congress to approve his appointment as defense secretary.
- If Washington decided to cancel the nuclear deal and enter into a direct confrontation with Iran, there will be of course important implications, not only affecting the credibility of United States, which already endorsed the agreement at the international level in the past, but Washington will also bear the costs of tensions with Iran, which will rise to billions of dollars of American taxpayer money; also the United States will be forced to take on intense security precautions. And the most important in the issue of cost, Washington will have to raise its presence over Iranian territory itself, as it will be forced to intensify naval patrols in Gulf and Indian Ocean.