Iran's Regional Clout as U.S. Sanctions Resume: Analysts React

(Bloomberg) -- Days before the U.S. renewed sanctions on Iran, Tehran’s militant Lebanese Hezbollah proxy published photos of a squadron of its drones. “The message of the resistance is carved in the memory of time and engraved in stone,” the report on Hezbollah’s al-Ahed News website read.

The Trump administration is wagering that an economically clobbered Iran will lose its clout in the region, where it is involved in the wars in Syria and Yemen, and backs groups that hold sway in Lebanon and Iraq. The show of force from Hezbollah is clearly telegraphing: That’s no safe bet. Analysts comment below on what might be in store.

  • Sami Nader, head of the Levant Institute for Strategic Studies in Beirut: Hezbollah’s display of drones first used in its 2006 war with Israel is meant to show that Iran has options to undermine the interests of the U.S. and its allies, including the Israelis.
    “It’s Iran saying, ‘We’re not making empty threats, and this is one of the weapons we can use.”
  • Fouad Izadi, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Tehran and a critic of the 2015 nuclear deal: Iran’s influence in the region will only expand amid “hostilities” from the U.S. and allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.
    “If you’re an Iranian official and you see these hostile activities then you have to come up with plans to confront this new pressure. Your toolbox gives you some options and one of them is Iran’s regional influence and power.”
  • Jarrett Blanc, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and previously the deputy lead coordinator and U.S. State Department coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation: Even with renewed sanctions Iran will be able to sustain its proxies.
    Tehran’s influence has been expanding since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, under pressure from even tougher punitive measures, and “it’s fanciful to believe that doing this again and with less support from our allies and partners you’re going to have a radically different effect.”
  • Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa research at Eurasia Group: The sanctions will deter Iran’s ability to engage in the region as it has done in recent years.
    “The Iran containment strategy has compromised Iran on a long-term basis, not only Iranian stability, not only the regime, not only the economy, but the entire narrative of Iran becoming stronger regionally has taken a hit. The Iranians will be preoccupied with dealing with crisis after crisis.”
  • Kamran Bokhari, senior fellow with the Center for Global Policy in Washington: Iran needs to negotiate with the U.S. if it wants to maintain regional influence and halt the deterioration of its economy and the angry protests that has spawned.
    In the 1980s, Iran-backed groups operating in Lebanon took U.S. and Western hostages, and blew up U.S. embassies and Marine headquarters. Unless the Iranians have “decided to commit geopolitical suicide,” that’s not an option now, especially at a time when Tehran is saying it’s the Sunni jihadists who are the terrorists.
  • Jane’s Intelligence Review by IHS Markit: Iran is highly unlikely to try to close the Strait of Hormuz, a risk further mitigated by Tehran’s desire not to alienate China. Iran would only be likely to directly threaten shipping in the passage if conservatives see an existential threat to the regime, possibly driven by economic or anti-government protests, or the perception that the U.S. is actively seeking to topple it.
    “If conflict occurs, Jane’s assesses that Iran has the military capabilities to credibly threaten the substantial volumes of shipping in the Strait.”

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