US vs Iran

Muna Al-Fuzai

Washington has tightened its economic sanctions on Iran, but the question people are wondering about is whether US sanctions on Iran is an escalation towards a destructive war in the region or just a political maneuver and strategy of maximum pressure. And what is the future of the Gulf region under this tension?

I think the situation does not allow anyone to make an accurate prediction of what will happen in the coming days. Many analysts do not seem to be able to predict a specific scenario for the future, except for a lot of warnings on the seriousness of the situation to Iran and the region.

Some countries expressed concern over US sanctions on Iranian oil exports, saying they would ignore the sanctions, including India and China. The US administration reinstated and expanded US sanctions and ordered countries around the world to stop buying Iranian oil. But not all countries accepted the call. The Chinese foreign ministry condemned the tightening of US sanctions on Iran. China for example, is the main buyer of Iranian oil, followed by India, South Korea and Turkey.

But, it is clear to the observer that the Europeans feel helpless towards the US administration’s current policy because they have no influence on President Donald Trump and their inability to compensate Iran’s economy for possible damage to US sanctions. Tehran has indicated its intention to resume uranium enrichment activities if its European partners fail to find a solution to allow it to overcome the economic consequences of sanctions imposed by Washington.

US threats to prevent Iran from exporting its oil, followed by the movement of a number of naval vessels in the direction of the Gulf to respond to Iran’s announcement to retreat from the implementation of some of its obligations in the nuclear agreement in 2015 led many to wonder what are the risks that threaten the countries of the region here as a result of this escalation?

I do not think that the impact of the US sanctions will be on Iran alone, but on other countries too, especially in the Middle East. Many Gulf States, including Kuwait, a strategic ally of the United States, have strong and old economic and political ties with Iran, but how can they be affected by the current escalating crisis between Tehran and Washington? I think maintaining balanced relations with the two sides is not going to be easy for Gulf states.

Because of the intention of the United States to lower Iranian oil exports to zero, Tehran has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying that if it cannot export its oil abroad, none of the countries of the region will export oil through the Hormuz. The American military moving a number of its naval vessels to the Gulf will not be frightening for a country like Iran, because it will not give in to these pressures and will not be the only one to be affected by the complexity of the landscape in the region.

Iran is producing 1.3 million barrels of oil per day according to its commitments to OPEC. I wonder if the Gulf countries will be able to compensate for this shortage. Also, I do not think the Gulf states have a desire to enter into a new challenge in the region. Right now, the region is in a difficult condition with the continuation of the war in Yemen and its repercussions.

I expect a major crisis in the oil market that threatens oil supply, which is a high price to pay, so the situation needs a quick solution to stop the tension in the region between the two countries, because both scenarios – whether Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz or America succeeding in “zero” exports of Iranian oil – will not benefit anyone.

I think that the positions of the surrounding countries will vary between those who will try to create a balanced attitude to maintain relations with US and Iran and those who see Iran as a dangerous enemy to their interests and welcome US pressure. I expect that this will be hard for countries with economic or political interests with Iran, such as Turkey and Iraq, with a lower percentage of risk for a country such as Qatar, which recently headed towards Iran after the Gulf crisis. Kuwait, as usual, will maintain its diplomatic policy and will try to maintain a balanced relationship to avoid possible damage if it takes a clear hostile stand against any party. Let’s not forget that the United States and Iran are Iraq’s main political and economic partners.

On the other hand, Iran still has power in the region and is ready to defend its oil-based economic interests. Because nearly a year after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal, the sanctions do not seem to have changed the Iranian influence in the region. Iran may ease dependence on oil and promote self-sufficiency to create an economic model that can continue even under external pressures. Yet, consumers around the world may be more likely to see a change in oil prices in the coming months.

Until now, most experts see the possibility of a war as not possible and consider the situation as a temporary tension that can be calmed, because closing the Strait of Hormuz will allow the United States to take the matter as a pretext for war, and this will harm everyone. So I see that what the United States is doing is a policy of maximum pressure.

Now there is an urgent need to remedy the tense situation to avoid further escalation in the region, because keeping up with US sanctions is difficult for the countries in the region and European intervention is required to calm the tension, because the potential damages will be at the expense of Washington’s allies and interests in the world.

By Muna Al-Fuzai