Expect the US to impose more sanctions on both Iran and Turkey.
On Iran, these could include a snapback of international sanctions after Britain, France and Germany – the three European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal – accused Tehran of developing missiles in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. They have also been impatient with the regime over its aggressive behaviour in the Middle East, including the targeting of oil tankers and Saudi Aramco facilities, and its attempts to suppress the protests in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Even Russia, one of Iran’s allies, has started backing away from its perception that the regime is key to preventing Lebanon from sliding into further instability, due to Iran’s role in suppressing protests in Iraq while completely disregarding its sovereignty. It has also become clear that the problems in Lebanon could affect its interests in neighbouring Syria. While this is not a complete reversal of its position relative to Iran, this is an important adjustment on Russia’s part, which coincides with the sharp European response to Iran’s policies.
Meanwhile, the Americans and the Europeans are just as concerned about Turkey’s schemes as they are regarding those of Iran. The main bone of contention has been Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft system, a deal that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stuck with despite condemnation from allies within the Nato umbrella. However, there are other issues that have left the alliance exasperated, including Turkey’s expansion into Syria and the operation against the Kurds there.
Mr Erdogan’s friendship with Donald Trump, the US president, has sometimes saved Turkey from punishment but soon, the former will find himself having feelings of resentment if and when the latter does nothing to stop tough sanctions the US Congress intends to impose on Ankara. Indeed, Mr Trump is no mood to battle Congress for the sake of Mr Erdogan. The US president wants to avoid a showdown with the legislature over foreign policy matters, be it over Iran or Turkey, but is concerned that Tehran could target US bases and troops in Iraq or Syria, because then he would have to take military action – and not just rely on punitive measures.
Ahead of last week’s Nato summit in London, tensions had escalated within the transatlantic alliance after Emmanuel Macron, the French president, made controversial statements declaring Nato to be in the throes of “brain death” and called for a review of its strategy and a resumption of dialogue with Russia. Mr Macron also dismissed talk of an agreement with Turkey regarding the definition of terrorism and accused Ankara of working with ISIS-linked fighters. Mr Erdogan protested and even threatened to send Syrian refugees currently housed in Turkey into Europe. Mr Trump also lashed out at Mr Macron, calling his remarks about Nato disrespectful and despicable.
Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan, meanwhile, had friendly exchanges during the summit – in stark contrast to leaked footage showing the leaders of France, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands making jokes about Mr Trump, which prompted the US president to call Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, “two-faced”. However, Mr Trump’s personal relationship with Mr Erdogan helped convince the Turkish leader to back down on his threat to veto Nato defence plans if the alliance did not designate Kurdish fighters in Syria – sworn enemies of Mr Erdogan – as terrorists.
The Europeans are no doubt angered by Mr Erdogan’s arrogance vis-a-vis Nato – as well as the presence of Russian weapons systems in the backyard of an alliance that was created by the West as a bulwark against the erstwhile Soviet Union. Worst of all is the Turkish president’s brazen exploitation of the refugee issue, which he openly uses as a sharp instrument against the so-called allies in Nato.
Pushed against the wall by Turkish and Iranian policies, however, the Europeans are now fighting back.
The complaint lodged by Britain, France and Germany against Iran at the UN is important because this could pave the way for the re-imposition of international sanctions on Tehran – which could either prompt the regime to readjust its hawkish policy or further escalate tensions in the region. For his part, Mr Trump has even warned Iran of a strong US response if it crosses the undeclared red lines, which presumably include attacks on US bases in the region and the deployment of ballistic missiles in Iraq.
His remarks come on the back of worrying developments in the Middle East this week.
US officials have revealed that Iran is seeking to build a ballistic missile arsenal in Iraq and published pictures that appear to show Iran moving missiles into Syria amid talk of “retaliatory” attacks. John Rood, the US under secretary of defence for policy, expressed concern about a looming Iranian attack without providing any details, while US intelligence officials warned of Iranian threats to US forces in the region. There are reports of Iranian incursions into the Hasakah province in Syria, not far from where US allied forces are situated, with 7,500 fighters having been recruited by the regime in the country’s north-east and south.
Iran, meanwhile, is besieging itself as it scrambles to contain uprisings at home and elsewhere in the region, with Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, bragging publicly about his interventions in Iraq.
According to reports, however, other powers are ready to push back.
Raghida Dergham is the founder and executive chairwoman of the Beirut Institute