19:01 GMT25 September 2020
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    Earlier this month, the US was all set to carry out punitive strikes on Iran in response to the downing of an American reconnaissance drone by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), but Trump called the operation off at the last minute. Sputnik has discussed the matter and other regional developments with two Israeli security experts.

    Iran’s downing of the RQ-4A Global Hawk drone was preceded by alleged sabotage attacks by the Islamic Republic on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman this month, four similar attacks in May, and Tehran ordering Houthi militants in Yemen to launch missiles at Saudi Arabia, according to Riyadh and Washington.

    Tehran Running Out of ‘Economic Oxygen’

    In an interview with Sputnik, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Major Amichai Chikli opined that this aggression shows Tehran is “under severe pressure” and is desperately trying to "gain leverage" over the US.

    “In the absence of a diplomatic way out, the Iranians are trying to create pressure and leverage by increasing the aggression and violence of the Revolutionary Guards against American and international interests in the Gulf.”

    Continuing, Major Chikli, who holds an MA in Diplomacy and Security Studies from Tel Aviv University, said that world powers “interested in weakening and toppling the evil regime of the Khomeinist dictatorship need to take advantage of the escalation that Iran is initiating to create a legitimate basis and to prepare the ground for dramatic moves that will lead to the end of this dark chapter in the history of Iran and the Middle East.”

    Meanwhile, Eran Lerman, a former colonel in the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, echoed Chikli’s assessment, telling Sputnik that Iran is acting increasingly aggressive and reckless as the US’ economic sanctions, re-imposed by President Donald Trump in November 2018 following his decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, hit home.

    Blaming several regional escalations on Iran, including rocket attacks from Gaza and the targeting of the US Embassy in Baghdad in May, Dr Lerman said these attacks “clearly reflect a realisation at the highest level in Tehran that they do not have enough economic oxygen to survive quietly until Trump is gone. As the sanctions squeeze, they do not have two years until January 2021 let alone six.”

    Furthermore, Dr Lerman, who currently serves as vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) and was the deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Israeli prime minister’s office, said that Tehran plans to continue to attack US interests in the region in a bid to “corner” Trump.

    Israel & Saudi Arabia Willing to Act Alone

    Throughout his tenure as US president, Trump has been quite a mercurial leader, and his last-minute change of heart on whether or not to attack Iran is likely to have disappointed some Israelis, as they were keen to see decisive action taken against their regional nemesis.

    However, Dr Lerman said Trump did the right thing on this occasion, adding that political and economic pressure can force Tehran back to the negotiating table.

    “Trump is an impetuous and unpredictable person and often shows signs of responding to the last voice he hears. The administration is divided. But in this case, he did the right thing. His instinct was not to be drawn into a violent confrontation, and he instead chose to tighten sanctions. It is this pressure, not war, that can bring the regime back to the table.”

    Moreover, the former IDF intelligence colonel noted that Trump has tried to fulfil most of his campaign promises, and he believes the US president will deliver on not allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. 

    Major Chikli, in turn, said “Trump’s restraint has now increased legitimacy for a much more significant blow in response to the next provocation”, which he said would be a “supreme test” for Trump and the whole region, warning that other regional powers may be forced to act alone:

    “Another blink will be interpreted in the Middle East as an Iranian victory and it may have serious consequences. In such a case, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other forces in the region will have no choice but to act on their own.”

    Dr Lerman also stressed Israel would act alone if required, especially if “Iran accelerates its dash” to developing a nuclear weapon which it may use against Israel.

    However, he noted that an all-out war is unlikely. Instead, Israel is likely to “go after its key nuclear facilities”, defend against incoming missiles, and perhaps launch a “massive” surprise assault on Hezbollah forces in Lebanon to pre-empt a possible attack ordered by Tehran. 

    Obama Made ‘Every Possible Mistake’ With Iran

    Israel was one of the few countries in the world that supported Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

    The deal, clinched in July 2015 under the Obama administration, saw the Islamic Republic agree to a series of restrictions and checks on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

    When asked how the situation may develop, Major Chikli noted that it’s difficult to predict Trump’s next move, but said it is clear that having “an astute Republican administration that understands the nature of the Iranian regime and its objectives presents a window of opportunity that the anti-Iranian coalition must not miss.”

    The IDF major went on to say that the Obama administration “made every possible mistake with Iran”, hitting out at its role in the signing of the JCPOA which put Iran back on the “path to economic prosperity” and its failure to capitalise on the wave of Green Movement protests in 2009.

    Describing Obama’s tenure in office as “eight lost years”, Major Chikli applauded Trump’s hardline stance against Iran and said the current administration is “working adamantly to weaken Tehran”, but warned sanctions are unlikely to be enough.

    “It is hard to believe that the important economic measures will suffice. A head-on confrontation with Iran can be postponed time and time again, but in the end, Saudi Arabia, Israel or the United States will be forced to also lead significant military moves.”

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik’s position.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump, Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Israel, Iran
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