US-Iran Confrontation & Regional Stability By Tariq Niaz Bhatti

FRESH US sanctions against Iran are due on Nov 04 as part of its withdrawal package from JCPOA or Iran nuclear deal. It clearly indicates Washington’s toughening stance towards Iran. US sanctions have created its own sets of political and economic problems but Iran has its won way of responding to the crisis as was done in the past. However, Washington pressure on the regime stands. How Tehran is going to respond or react to this bullying will determine the future regional economic and political stability in the entire ME.
Iran faces three powerful enemies in the ME region i.e. US, Israel and KSA challenging its desires of dominating the region. Iranian support to the Hezbollah in Lebanon, similar organisation in Bahrain, proxies in Syria and Houthis in Yemen are part of its efforts to expand its economic political and military reach in the entire region. Tehran nuclear and missile proliferation is another source of concern for its powerful enemies which prompted Trump Administration to withdraw from the JCPOA this year. Iran’s internal problems are no less serious. Its minorities like Sunni Baloch in southeastern Sistan and Balochistan province, Kurds in northwestern provinces of West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan and Ahwazi Arabs in southwestern Khuzestan province have shown their discontent with Tehran by participating in anti govt protests. These areas are witnessing the growing influence of ISIS and other regime resisting groups. Growing number of terror attack in mainland Iran in the past two years vindicates the assertion.
US has created independent and autonomous structures on the eastern banks of Euphrates in Syria in the form of organisation like Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and the democratic Union Party (PYD) in its fight against ISIS. Tehran’s persecution of Arabs in its Khuzestan province has led to emergence of several political and liberation movements among these prominent are “The Arab National Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz” and “The Arab Front for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz. Recently the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, a rebel outfit recently got registered with the US Justice Department, is trying hard to prove its credentials to the US authorities as the most reliable ally and can prove effective fighters in the mountainous regions of Iran-Iraq border. These developments are taking place in the wake of Trump Administration hard stance against Iran and any insurgency in Iran’s border regions can prove dangerous to its internal stability in near future.
Iranian currency has lost approximately 75% of its value since the beginning of this year. Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei while addressing the Basij Militia on October 4 said his country is facing sensitive time and economic problems because of the pressure from US sanctions. He further said that his country must deliver a slap to Washington by defeating those sanctions. The above response stems from the political culture of Iranian ruling elite which seemingly is based on three non-negotiable premises i.e. religious legitimacy, Shi’ism and military and police state. Iran hosted regional security dialogue in Tehran on September 26 as a mechanism to fight terrorism and improve regional trade with a broader view to confront US pressure and maintain regional balance of power in its favor. National Security Advisors of Afghanistan, China, Iran, India and Russia attended the dialogue. Termed as Iran Look East 2.0 Approach, it reflects Iran’s regional multilateralism sans Pakistan which is not a good omen for Pakistan-Iran bilateral trade and counter terrorism efforts. At present Pakistan-Iran bilateral trade is at its lowest ebb and Iran’s new approach dashes all hopes of any future improvements in other fields as well. Under the circumstances it seems that Iran is gearing up to confront the US and is likely to continue with its policies in the region.
With a view to undoing negative impact of the US sanctions Iran is likely to embark on hide and seek game in selling its oil. Iranian regime is highly dependent on oil sales as 50% of its budget comes from external oil sales and more than 30% is collected from fee and taxes in which oil plays a major role. Iran need to sell 2.5 million barrels per day of oil which under the forthcoming sanctions will be a very difficult proposition. In anticipation of the fear of reduced oil supplies the prices of crude are already trouncing $ 80 a barrel. It is feared that it may touch $140 a barrel as was in 2008 which will surely have global implications. Dwindling oil sales will create serious economic and political problems for Tehran and may reduce its military capacities and weaken it internally. Pakistan faces a serious economic situation due to its own financial problems where it has to seek IMF programme to meet budgetary deficit. US-Iran confrontation will complicate matters as expected price hike in fuel prices will play havoc to its foreign exchange reserve. The evolving situation calls for a fully thought out strategy and contingency planning to meet the crisis in making.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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