US President Donald Trump is considering a tougher strategy against Iran prepared by US top officials including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Darius Shahtahmasebi, a political analyst on Iranian affairs, author and lawyer, has not excluded that Washington has a regime change option on the table.
The new plan sounds like a set of "provocative measures" against Iran, Shahtahmasebi told Radio Sputnik, referring to "interceptions of Iranian arms" allegedly going into Yemen and more "aggressive" US Navy responses to potential confrontations with armed vessels of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
"Those are some of the measures you may look at, but I also know that the US has basically set up a CIA office to implement regime change in Iran," Shahtahmasebi emphasized.
The political analyst called attention to the fact that the US has a long record of targeting "militarily weak countries" that "don't have significant backers."
However, while Libya fell prey to Washington's geopolitical ambitions, Russia's intervention in Syria curtailed "the US's ability to target Syria and Iran directly," according to the analyst.
The assertive US foreign policy in Iran is nothing new, he said pointing out that Iran has been in Washington's crossfires for decades.
"The only difference under Trump is that he is so much more open about it," Shahtahmasebi said.
As for Trump's stepping up of anti-Iranian sanctions, implemented to bring Tehran's missile program to a halt, this strategy has already proven ineffective, the political analyst remarked, wondering if Washington's efforts are actually aimed at creating "an Islamic version of North Korea" in the region.
In mid-August the Iranian Parliament voted for bolstering its missile program by increasing its funding from $300 million to $520 million. The decision came as a response to Trump signing the expanded package of sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea into law on August 2.
Given Iran's rich natural reserves, and the international support it currently enjoys, it is unlikely that the new strategy proposed by top US officials will work, the political analyst believes.
"Iran is also working closely with Turkey and strengthening its ties with Russia and might end up joining the so-called Shanghai bloc," Shahtahmasebi stressed, citing Tehran's bid to enter the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) jointly led by Moscow and Beijing.
It was reported in June 2017 that Russia and China back Iran's full membership in the Eurasian security bloc.
"So the US could continue this demonization strategy and expand its proxy army… but it probably has to face the facts that Iran is emerging as a significant player in the region and it is actually developing some close friendships with some other important players," the political analyst underscored.
According to Shahtahmasebi, the US and its allies, which "strongly [oppose] the expansion of Iran's influence" in the region should actually blame themselves: The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 resulted in the toppling of the "most anti-Iranian regime" — the government of Saddam Hussein — and replaced it with the Shia-dominated government in the country.
Likewise, efforts to oust the Syrian government, as part of a plan to diminish Tehran's influence in the region, have proven futile, the analyst stressed, adding that Iran has only scored new political points with the Syrians due to its support to Damascus.
"If the US wants to counter Iran it should, honestly, look for different strategies because so far Iran has been emerging as the victor," Shahtahmasebi told Radio Sputnik.
According to the report, the new strategy envisages increasing pressure on Tehran's ballistic program and tackling Iran's "malign activities" in Syria and Iraq and Yemen. The draft also urges tougher economic restrictions be imposed on Iran in case it violates the 2015 nuclear agreement struck by Tehran and the P5+1 group of countries, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The draft strategy proposes that UN Navy forces "could react more forcefully" if "harassed" by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' armed speed boats: US commanders are now permitted to open fire at Iranian vessels in case they believe that the latter pose a threat to the lives of US crews.
Over the last few months US Navy forces have repeatedly come under heavy criticism from Tehran for "provocations" in the Persian Gulf. On September 10, the Iranian Navy reported that an Iranian missile boat sent a warning signal to a US Navy ship that closed in on a fishing boat in the region.
On July 29, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement that a day earlier US aircraft carrier Nimitz and an accompanying warship approached Iranian military vessels firing warning flares. A week earlier the USS Thunderbolt patrol ship fired several warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ship in the Gulf. The incidents were just a few in a series of episodes when US and Iranian maritime forces have come dangerously near conflict.
The Iranian-US relationship has been strained for decades. The US involvement in Iran's domestic affairs started with a CIA-orchestrated coup d'etat in Tehran in 1953. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 marked the separation between Tehran and Washington and was followed by a series of restrictions Washington has imposed on the country since 1979. The Iranian nuclear deal concluded under Barack Obama eased US sanctions against Iran, which was reconsidered under the Trump administration.
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