Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Tehran’s show of force

After the glow of last summer, clouds are gathering again in Western perceptions of Iran following a series of provocative missile tests, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

Iran’s advanced ballistic missile programme is only for defence purposes, the country claims, but several countries have doubts over Iran’s real agenda.

They point out that Iran’s insistence on publicising its missile tests is provocative, increasing sensitivity in the international community and in neighbouring countries. Especially, the launching of nuclear-capable missiles with Hebrew writing on them saying, “Israel has to be wiped off the map.” The missiles have a 2,000-kilometre range and would be capable, therefore, of striking Israel.

It is claimed that one of the reasons for the Iranian attitude is related to internal matters, such as the competition between hardliners and the moderate government of Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president. Iran throwing stones on the implementation of the nuclear accord, signed last July, may be another reason.

These doubts have aroused fears among the international community, which was in a positive mood after the nuclear deal and looking to prospects of better economical and political ties. Provocations could prevent investors from entering Iran’s market, which is what hardliners inside the country are wishing for.

Last week, Hassan Rouhani’s important trip to Austria was cancelled on the eve of his departure due to security reasons, according to officials, who described potential demonstrations scheduled to take place against Rouhani’s visit by the Iranian opposition movement Mujahedin Khalq in Vienna as key. The Austrian government refused to ban the demonstrators.

However, such gatherings against Iranian officials in Europe, or during the annual meeting of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, are normally held without cancellations of trips by Iranian presidents. Some informed diplomats said that President Rouhani was under pressure by European partners over Iran’s frequent ballistic missile exercises.

To avoid a risky encounter with the Europeans, as well as facing the Western media, it was said that Rouhani decided to cancel the trip and use the demonstrators as an excuse.

In a letter, the US, British, French, German, the Spanish ambassadors to the UN, along with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, wrote that the missiles used in recent launches were “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons”. Furthermore, questions have been raised on what the Security Council should do to formulate “appropriate responses” to Tehran’s failure to comply with its obligations.

Spain has been assigned the task of coordinating Security Council discussions on Resolution 2231.

Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern over the missile test, but referred the case to the Security Council to examine whether the Resolution 2231 has been violated or not. China and Russia are still supporting Iran, and it’s very unlikely that action will be taken in the Security Council. However, it is possible a committee will review the case and warn Iran over its apparent provocations.

In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered two public speeches in the past few days defending Iran’s right to develop its military defence capabilities. The supreme leader questioned and criticised the way the nuclear deal has been implemented and sanctions lifted.

Is Iran’s missile programme being used as a tool to pressure the West to speed up its alleviation of sanctions? It was known from the beginning that lifting the sanctions would take time. An impatient supreme leader might be fuelling tensions between Iran and neighbouring in the hope of persuading the West to implement the nuclear deal fully.

As a very new development, Saudi Arabia said that it would keep its oil production at current levels if Iran doesn’t increase its outputs. The comments immediately led to a drop in oil prices, again now under $40 per barrel, because Iran wants its pre-sanctions production quota back, while tensions between Iran and Saudi increase on a daily basis.

On Tuesday, 5 April, The Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia had taken steps to slow Iran’s efforts at increasing its oil exports. For example, Saudi Arabia bans vessels transporting Iranian crude oil from entering its waters, according to traders and shipbrokers talking to the Times. Indeed, Iran’s neighbours do not see any benefit in the Iran deal and feel ignored. Therefore, impeding its implementation is the logical response, to show their anger and disappointment. The problem is ascertaining how far they can go before Iran responds not with words but with fire.

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