Iran in a Tough Spot as US Cranks Up Diplomatic Pressure

This year hasn’t really been a great year for anyone, but for Tehran it has been extraordinarily bad. Beginning with the assassination of top General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the powerful revolutionary guards, followed by an initial surge in coronavirus cases and then the second wave, the Islamic Republic is under pressure from all sides — geopolitical, economic, health — with an aggressive Washington trying to force it into submission. 

Iran’s Nightmare Scenario: Arab States Allying with Israel

It was in this context the latest agreement known as the Abraham Accord arrived, normalizing diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Unsurprisingly, it was brokered by the US. Of late, Abu Dhabi and other Gulf capitals have become increasingly inclined to partner up with the Jewish state as a means of containing Iran’s regional influence. 

The Abraham Accord was just the beginning. Reports began emerging in the media of other countries in the region soon normalizing relations with Israel. To lobby for that cause, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on his Middle East tour from Aug 23 to 27, beginning with Jerusalem where in a presser with Netanyahu, Iran was referenced for its “malicious influence”. 

“This is the alliance of the moderates against the radicals, against the – those who use violence and aggression to further their aims against those who believe that we can offer a better people – a better future for our people through cooperation,” the Israeli Prime Minister said of his latest partnership, while taking a clear dig at Iran. 

Pompeo’s Alliance-Building Efforts

In addition to meeting his Emirati counterpart, Pompeo also held discussions with leaders of Sudan, Bahrain and Oman to further rally his cause. Confronting Iran was at the crux of the talks, as the Sunni majority countries in the region feel insecure about Iran’s growing sphere of influence. At the same time, the Trump administration kept the pressure up on the Islamic Republic by trying to trigger snapback sanctions against Tehran, even though the US has already pulled out of the JCPOA. 

While Iran had kept calm as far as the reshaping of regional alliances was concerned, the threat of sanctions did rile it up. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote a 29-page letter to the UN Secretary General, affirming his country’s position that the US has no right to trigger the mechanism given that it withdrew from the nuclear deal. 

“US justifications for its self-abrogated right to the “reapplication of the provisions of terminated resolutions” on Iran have no credibility or legitimacy, and need to be rejected by the Council,” the document read. 

The Current Situation

Washington’s obsession is in trying to corner Tehran could have serious consequences with respect to the country’s nuclear weapons program, as it has previously hinted at enriching uranium. But for now, the United Nations has rejected the US bid and Iran has also been fairly cooperative. In fact, just on August 26, it agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to two sites suspected of carrying out illicit work in the past. 

For now, even the US efforts regarding fresh diplomatic alliances in the region seem to be unsuccessful as Bahrain emphasized its commitment to the Arab Peace of Initiative of 2002 and refused to recognize Israel until there is a solution for Palestinian statehood.

Sudan too excused itself from any such deal with Israel, saying the issue is beyond the mandate of the current transitional government. How permanent their stances are going to be is anyone’s guess since Washington wouldn’t want to throw away the momentum it has already gained.

Until then, Iran hangs on, dodging bullets shot its way while exercising as much restraint as possible.