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Tuesday, May 9, 2017
MEMRI: Iran Tests The Trump Administration

MEMRI May 8, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No.1314
Iran Tests The Trump Administration
By: Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon*
https://www.memri.org/reports/iran-tests-trump-administration



Introduction

After its 100 days of restraint and hiatus in its anti-U.S. threats and
incitement following U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration,[1] the
Iranian regime has begun to cautiously change its direction.

Iranian spokesmen from the ideological camp are taking a more aggressive
tone towards the U.S., and have also resumed criticizing the government of
Iranian President Hassan Rohani and the decision makers in the regime who
have been deterred by the displays of American anger that even led to the
cancellation of a long-range missile test.[2] Furthermore, the verbal
Iranian attacks on the U.S. have been in the name of the entire resistance
axis Iraq, Syria, Hizbullah, Yemen with an emphasis on Iran's mission,
with which Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is charged:
spreading (Shi'ite) Islamic rule worldwide.[3]

Iran is also continuing its provocations against American vessels in the
Gulf. Although these provocations are significantly fewer in number than
during the Obama era only seven so far their continuation indicates an
attempt to test the reaction of the Trump administration.

On May 8, 2017, Iran announced its intention to launch two communications
satellites in the near future.[4] If the launch takes place, Iran will be
using long-range missiles, regarding which it was "put on notice" by the
Trump administration in early February 2017 and following this warning
Iran cancelled a planned long-range missile launch.[5]

Why The Change?

The Iranian regime is testing President Trump because of the signs that
Trump's positions do not line up with his statements against the JCPOA and
against Iran's activity to destabilize the region. For example:

The JCPOA From Criticism To Endorsement

1.In April 2017, the Trump administration sent Congress a letter confirming
that Iran was meeting the demands of the JCPOA.[6] With this action, the
administration legitimized the conditions set out in the Obama era that
allow for no real inspection of Iran's military nuclear development. The
Trump administration could have postponed the confirmation that Iran is
abiding by the JCPOA,[7] or could have exposed the flawed terms of
inspection set out by the Obama administration that were aimed at shielding
Iran from serious and intrusive inspection but chose not to, and instead
gave these terms credence.[8] The Iranian side even warned the Trump
administration not to dare to reveal these agreements and the administration
heeded the warning. [9]



2.Furthermore, in April 2017, the U.S. joined the G-7, which states that it
supports the JCPOA: "We support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA) as an important contribution to the non-proliferation regime."[10]
That is, the Trump administration has moved from criticizing the JCPOA to
endorsing it.



3.It should be noted that the U.S. also joined decisions of the joint
committee of the JCPOA in April 2017 aimed at giving Iran additional
incentives in the framework of civilian nuclear cooperation with it.[11]


Iranian Activity To Destabilize The Region Trump Administration:
Statements Against, Actions For

In Congress, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson harshly warned against
Iranian regime activity in the region,[12] but the warning was contradicted
by the following Trump administration actions:

1.At the end of his statements against Iran's activity, Tillerson announced
that the administration had launched an interagency review of its Iran
policy. This review appeared to be unnecessary in light of the resolute
statements that Tillerson had just made, and of other statements by the
Trump administration regarding Iran's activity in the region. What this
announcement means in practical terms is that Senate legislation against
Iran will be pushed off until after the conclusion of the review, because
the Senate will not continue legislating while a White House review on the
same issue is underway.[13]



2.U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced during his April visit to
Saudi Arabia that the solution to the internal conflict in Yemen lies with
the UN: "Our goal is for that crisis down there [in Yemen] that ongoing
fight to be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to
resolve this politically as soon as possible... It has gone on for a long
time."[14] It should be noted that turning to the UN in this matter serves
Iran's interests and is also characteristic of President Obama's approach.



3.The Trump administration has supported the Russia-Turkey agreement, the
De-Escalation Zones Plan, and by so doing recognized Iran's role as a
guarantor of the plan, legitimizing the continued presence of Iranian forces
in Syria. Later, the U.S. State Department made an announcement that was
internally contradictory, that included both actual support for the
agreement and expression of reservations about it. The U.S. is not party to
the agreement, it said, but "[w]e appreciate the efforts of Turkey and the
Russian Federation to pursue this agreement and have encouraged the Syrian
opposition to participate actively in the discussions despite the difficult
conditions on the ground." However, it added: "We continue to have concerns
about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called
'guarantor.' Iran's activities in Syria have only contributed to the
violence, not stopped it, and Iran's unquestioning support for the Assad
regime has perpetuated the misery of ordinary Syrians."[15]



4.In a briefing of journalist Laura Rozen, known to be a supporter of the
Obama administration and its Iran policy, a White House official clarified
that "Iran supports Hezbollah and sends weapons to support the Houthi
rebels. The Trump administration will demonstrate its dissatisfaction with
Iran's behavior in the region with actions." Yet he added: "If Iran wants to
talk about it, Islamic Republic officials can pick up the phone and call
us."[16]


Assessment

If to date the Iranian regime has assessed that the Trump administration's
Iran strategy differentiates between the JCPOA against which it has
decided not to act and Iran's activity in the region against which it
has promised to take measures it is now clear that even the latter
involves words only at this time that are contradicted by and even surpassed
by deeds, such as in the matter of its endorsement of the JCPOA. Also in the
matter of the Russian plan it has shifted to supporting it, which means that
it has legitimized Iran's activity in Syria contrary to all the statements
it made previously.

Nevertheless, the Iranian regime is not certain that these are shows of
Trump's and the U.S.'s weakness and submission, because the administration
responded strongly with a focused bombing raid to the Assad regime's use
of chemical weapons. Therefore, they consider that Trump may be marking out
his red lines i.e. he will react to the use of weapons of mass destruction
or long-range missiles, but in other areas, such as Iran's spread through
the region by use of its proxies, the administration will, despite its
statements, refrain from taking action and in such cases is even open to
Iran "pick[ing] up the phone."

Iran realizes that this approach by the Trump administration is likely to
shift after the completion of the interagency review announced by Tillerson
and also if Iran continues its direct provocations against the U.S.
military. Therefore, it should be assumed that in the short term, Iran will
continue testing, by various means including violent provocation, to see
whether the gap between the Trump administration's statements and its actual
acts will contract or expand.

One way in which the Iranian regime is testing Trump is the announcement by
the Iran-sponsored Shi'ite Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi militias in Iraq that they
will move towards Mosul a move opposed by the U.S. According to Iraqi
sources, the U.S. has warned that if Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi do indeed move
towards Mosul, it will bomb them from the air. Hashd Al-Sha'bi forces did
set out towards Mosul on April 24, 2017, but turned back after receiving
messages from Iraqi elements that the Americans were "serious in their
threats."[17]


*Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran
Project.




[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1305, Facing Trump Administration,
Iran Shows Fear And Military Self-Restraint, Halts Provocations, Threats,
And Incitement While Boosting Morale At Home And Delegating The Bulk Of
Conflict To Its Proxies, March 20, 2017.


[2] Kayhan (Iran), April 23, 2017. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC
missile division, said on March 9, 2017: "We have a non-military satellite
launching missile and are taking it to the warehouse because of an angry
American tone?!... How long will we be blackmailed and how long will we
compromise? If we do not change our strategy and continue to act according
to the instructions of some of the [Iranian] officials who are stuck in the
quagmire, our situation will get worse every day." Tasnim (Iran), March 9,
2017.


[3] See forthcoming MEMRI report on this issue.


[4] ISNA (Iran), May 8, 2017.


[5] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1305, Facing Trump Administration,
Iran Shows Fear And Military Self-Restraint, Halts Provocations, Threats,
And Incitement While Boosting Morale At Home And Delegating The Bulk Of
Conflict To Its Proxies, March 20, 2017;


[6] State.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/04/270315.htm, April 18, 2017.


[7] See, for example, article by former U.S. Ambassador to the UN and former
undersecretary of State for arms control and international security affairs
John Bolton, Washington Times, April 26, 2017.


[8] State.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/04/270315.htm.


[9] On February 12, 2017, Iranian Majlis Foreign Policy and National
Security Committee chairman Alaa Al-Adin Boroujerdi warned of the
possibility that Trump would reveal Iran's secret documents in the JCPOA:
"If Trump wants to publish the secret documents between Iran and the
International Atomic Energy Agency, this will constitute a violation of the
IAEA's promise that it undertakes not to give any country, including the
U.S., Iran's secret and nuclear documents."
Borojerdi.ir/main/index.php?Page=definition &UID=346771.


[10]
Delegations/russia/24674/g7-foreign-ministers-meeting-italy-10-11-april-2017,
April 13, 2017.


[11]
Eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/25069/25%20April%202017%20meeting%20of%20the%20JCPOA%20Joint%20Commission


[12] State.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/04/270315.htm, April 18, 2017.


[13] This is a familiar and well-known tactic. When an administration seeks
to block a legislative initiative in the parliamentary body, it announces an
initiative of its own on the same topic. In this instance, Tillerson's
announcement included no information about when the review would be
completed.


[14] Stars and Stripes, April 18, 2017.


[15] State.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/05/270647.htm, May 4, 2017.


[16] Almonitor.com, May 4, 2017.


[17] Alquds.co.uk, April 27, 2017.



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Materials may only be cited with proper attribution.

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