Iran in face of new challenges
Iran enters the zone of internal political turbulence, caused by the rapid devaluation of the national currency. The Iranian rial plunged to a record low against the US dollar after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the subsequent new US sanctions.
Last week, protests have broken out in Iranian cities. They were mostly of a social nature, but it would be wrong to underestimate their political component. As it was during the mass protests that swept the country in late 2017, when more than 20 people were killed in the clashes, in recent days some protesters also shout slogans against Iran's military campaign in Syria. The domestic political situation has also aggravated on July 1, when protest over a water shortage in the Iranian city of Khorramshahr culminated in tough clashes between citizens and the police. According to Al Arabiya, the situation escalated on Saturday evening, when protesters began throwing stones at the police, which used tear gas. At the same time, demonstrators, according to some reports, shouted anti-government slogans. It was reported that at least four demonstrators were shot.
Hassan Rouhani's team has been in a very difficult situation - on the one hand, the government must urgently seek a way out of a difficult economic situation. On the other hand, it is necessary to explain to common citizens why the deal with the West, on which so many hopes of improving the well-being of the country's population rested, failed, and European business never came to the country. The situation is complicated by the fact that there are no external prerequisites for stabilizing the Iranian economy at the moment. In mid-July at the latest, the deadline for the ultimatum, presented to the European Union by Iran, will expire. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Arakchi said on May 14 that the Europeans have between 45 and 60 days to give the necessary guarantees to safeguard Iranian interests and compensate the damages caused by the U.S. If the EU countries fail to meet Iran's demands within the specified period, Tehran will have to take "forced decisions".
The chances that Europe will agree on such an ultimatum are small. Most likely, multibillion investments from the European Union, that Iran expected, will not flow into the country, as long as President Donald Trump and his team pursue a policy of "maximum economic pressure" on Tehran. The US president demanded all foreign countries to stop importing oil from Iran by this November. Anyone who does not do it will face sanctions, according to a senior official of the State Department.
In late May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced "the strongest sanctions in history against Ira." Middle East expert at the Hudson Institute Michael Doran believes that these threats will have a "tangible effect." "Europeans, major companies will have to make a choice between the US and Iran - and in terms of business, the solution is quite simple," the expert notes. French Total has already reported that it would not be in a position to continue the South Pars gas development project unless it was granted a specific project waiver by the Trump administration. If the permit is not received, which is very likely, the share of the French company in the amount of 50.1% can be bought by the Chinese CNPC. Germany's Wintershall, as well as major oil carriers and insurance companies, also distanced themselves from doing business in Iran. At the same time, Washington has focused on excluding Iran from the international banking system SWIFT.
The expert of the German Association of Foreign Policy (DGAP), Josef Braml, points out that after the disruption of the Iran nuclear deal, the US can resort to further steps against Iran, and not just economic. If Trump and his security advisers come to the conclusion that Iran is engaged in the creation of atomic bombs, they will respond quickly and conduct preemptive strikes against Iran. Unlike the Asian region and the situation with North Korea, where the US realizes the high risks for its allies and the American soldiers stationed in the region, in the case of the Middle East, Trump and his cabinet are not afraid of a military clash. On the contrary, such a collision may be in demand, since US air strikes can only increase instability in a distant from the United States region. This scenario fits very well into the geopolitical concept of Trump's government, and represents the first global competition battle against such rivals as the EU and China within the framework of the planned trade war. In particular, the expert believes that in this case Europe would face both a problem of sanctions and new flows of refugees.
According to Braml, the war would also prevent China from reaping dividends from Western sanctions aimed at third countries, in this case - at Iran. Political instability in this geostrategically important region will also complicate China's access to raw materials necessary for its further economic growth.
Today, Iran has faced several challenges simultaneously. Against the backdrop of the growing economic pressure from the US, the country is also confronted with attempts to destabilize the domestic political situation. It is not excluded that it happens with the active assistance of special services of foreign states. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the level of social discontent in Iran is objectively high at the moment, and all the opponents of the Iranian authorities should do is to find a way to turn a social protest into political one. If export of Iranian oil decreases from November, this negative trend will only increase. At the same time, Israel's military pressure against Iranian forces in Syria has increased in recent months. Coupled with the negative attitude of many ordinary Iranians towards the Syrian campaign, it poses an issue for Tehran to review its further military-political strategy in Syria, which is fraught with weakening geopolitical influence in the region. Finally, the severance of the nuclear agreement with the US and, possibly, the EU, as well as protests in the country, will inevitably reduce the influence of conditional reformers led by President Hassan Rouhani, in Iran and strengthen the position of the conservatives. Against this background, one can not exclude the possibility of aggravation of internal political contradictions between the two camps. The Iranian leadership's ability to cope with these challenges largely depends on whether it will be able to get the Iranian society behind it in these difficult for the state times.