Threatening Iran is meaningless with sanction relief in play

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Three days after the Iranian drone attack on the Israel-managed Mercer Street ship off the coast of Oman, and a day after the US and UK publicly named Iran as the culprit in the bombing that killed a British and a Romanian national, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talked tough.

“Iran should face up to the consequences of what they’ve done,” Johnson said. “This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping. A UK national died.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken came out with a statement the night before that was strongly-worded – for him – saying the bombing “follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior.”

“We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments…on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming,” he warned.

This raises the questions of what those “consequences” or a “forthcoming” and “appropriate response” will actually be.

A few hours after Johnson spoke, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki poured water on the chance that there would be serious implications, saying during a White House press briefing that “as it relates to our own engagement in nuclear talks…our view is that every single challenge and threat we face from Iran would be made more pronounced and dangerous by an unconstrained nuclear program.”

“So, put another way, constraining Iran’s nuclear program by returning to the JCPOA will put us in a better position to address these other problems,” Psaki said.

In other words, Iran’s assault on a commercial ship will not deter the Biden administration from its mission to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

“Constraining Iran’s nuclear program,” as Psaki put it, sounds good on its own – though Israel has long pointed out the JCPOA’s many weaknesses and loopholes – but she conveniently left out the fact that in order to get Iran to agree to those limitations, the US has offered to lift all sanctions, as US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley has attested. Plus, the US has not been enforcing many of the sanctions in place since Biden entered office in January.

And that, apparently, has not changed for the US after the Mercer Street attack. In fact, we’ve seen Iran try to kidnap a US citizen on American soil, increase uranium enrichment to 60%, develop uranium metal and block International Atomic Energy Agency access to nuclear sites in recent weeks with impunity and no repercussions as far as the sanctions relief offer is concerned.

Psaki seems to be saying that Iran could pile on “every single challenge and threat” – more terrorist attacks, more civilians killed, more proxy warfare, more progress on its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA, more Americans, Brits and other Western hostages held in the notorious Evin prison – and the Biden administration will still look to lift sanctions and still view reviving the deal as the best option.

Plus, the EU responded to a citizen of one of its member states, Romania, being killed in an Iranian drone attack by sending its coordinator in the nuclear talks and Deputy Secretary-General of its foreign ministry Enrique Mora to this week’s swearing in of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi – who is under US sanctions for human rights violations. Mora reportedly hopes to engage the regime and convince it to return to JCPOA talks while in Tehran.

Beyond that, the EU’s statement about the attack did not mention Iran once, but criticized those who pointed to the culprit.

“We take note in this regard the assessments conducted by the US, UK and Israel. Such actions, against safety and freedom of navigation in the region, are unacceptable,” the statement reads, before pivoting to warn against a response: “Parties concerned should avoid any action that would be detrimental to regional peace and security.”

There have been reports in foreign Arabic media that the US and UK green-lit an Israeli retaliation. While the reports come from questionable sources, they draw a logical conclusion from the known information. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel will “send a message to Iran in our own way,” and has touted his coordination with Israel’s allies in recent days. A look at the last year, in which Iran has attacked five Israel-linked ships, according to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, indicates that Israeli retaliation is likely.

That response could be an attack on an Iranian military vessel, like the Saviz intelligence base at sea to which Israel attached a mine in April, or a cyberattack, like two in one day that same month, which took out the electricity at the Natanz reactor and made centrifuges spin out of control. While Israel didn’t openly take credit for the cyber-attack, Mossad sources told journalists they were behind it and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said soon after that Israel’s “operations…are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy.”

Several British tabloids – The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Mirror – reported on Monday that the UK is weighing plans to retaliate, either militarily, with special forces reportedly arriving in the Gulf on Tuesday to investigate the bombing, or in a cyberattack, which two of the three said was most likely. The Sun and The Daily Mail quoted a senior defense source making a remark that echoed Kohavi’s from April: “Nobody will see [the cyberattack] here, but they will be left in no doubt you cannot kill a Brit unchecked.”

If Israel or the UK respond as reported, Iran will pay some price for its attack, but it’s unlikely to be high enough to change its behavior when the US and the EU are simultaneously gunning to lift sanctions, meaning to eliminate its primary leverage on the regime.

For Iran to “face up to the consequences of what they’ve done,” as Johnson put it, in an effective way, those imposing the repercussions cannot continue to talk out of both sides of their mouths. The mixed messages of talking tough while offering sanctions relief allow Iran to continue its malign behavior and rush to a nuclear weapon with impunity.

Source » jpost

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