Trump imposes new sanctions, but he must prepare for Iran’s next test – Washington Examiner
New U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will fuel tensions with the Islamic Republic. While good strategy, the sanctions nearly guarantee that Iran will act soon to test President Trump’s resolve.
Announced on Monday, the sanctions target Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps financial activities and Khamenei’s funding of the inner sanctum. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added that new sanctions later this week will target Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Still, it is the personal nature of the sanctions on Khamenei that will unleash the hard-liners’ greatest wrath. To the hard-liners, Khamenei isn’t just Iran’s top leader, he is the literal incarnation of the Islamic Republic’s ordained mission: the “miracle of God” (the translation of “Ayatollah” from Arabic) and service of Allah’s moral will on Earth. These sanctions will thus be construed as an American attack on the regime’s existence.
For that reason and in furtherance of the effort to weaken the existing U.S. sanctions regime, we can expect the hard-liners to lash out in short order. They will want to test whether Trump might reduce that pressure if confronted with the prospect of a military showdown.
We should expect the next Iranian action to be more aggressive than last week’s downing of a U.S. drone. After all, the hard-liners are under immense pressure to make something happen. Iran’s economy is imploding, and with it the primary means of exporting the revolution abroad. The hard-liners control nearly half of Iran’s economy, and they thus have every personal and professional motive to get rid of U.S. sanctions. Not tomorrow, not a week from now, but right now. The centrality of Iranian hard-liner patronage networks to the regime’s stability cannot be discounted here. In turn, the hard-liners’ always brewing penchant for aggression is now overflowing.
Trump must recognize this threat.
The president did not lose credibility by avoiding a military response to the drone incident, but he must clarify that any casualty-resulting attack on Americans, to include kidnapping and action by identified Iranian proxies, will result in military retaliation outsize to the harm inflicted. Rightly, few U.S. government officials want a conflict with Iran. But deterrence must be enforced without hesitation. This is crucial to keeping the the Guard and Iran’s intelligence service in their box.
Trump should also take greater control over his Iran policy.
The inclusion of Javad Zarif in the next batch of U.S. sanctions, for example, indicates the influence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is determined to blur the lines between the hard-liners and President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif’s more-moderate faction in Tehran. But that blurring makes it harder to reach a diplomatic compromise. It also strengthens the hard-liners in their effort to unify Iranians around a more aggressive policy towards the U.S. and our allies.
Trump’s responsibility, then, is to match deterrent resolve to open diplomacy.