An analysis by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) finds that the Trump administration’s tough stance toward Iran is already having an effect.
Analyses of the very complex Middle Eastern chessboard abound, and assessments by knowledgeable people not infrequently contradict each other. What makes MEMRI’s investigations especially interesting, though, is that they’re based on very close observation of Middle Eastern countries themselves, including both their media and their actions (or inactions) on the ground.
The three authors of the analysis in question include Yigal Carmon, president of MEMRI and a former counterterrorism adviser to two Israeli prime ministers. These authors write that since the Trump administration took office, Tehran has come to feel “that it is besieged and under an emerging existential threat, in light of the crystallization of a comprehensive U.S.-Russia-Arab (including Israel) front against [it].”
Iran, MEMRI says, has been showing “considerable military restraint and a halt to long-range missile tests”—the latter in response to the administration’s warning to Iran, after its failed missile launch on January 29, that it had been “put on notice.”
The MEMRI report gives satellite imagery showing that, by February 5, Iran had already deactivated its Semnan missile-launch site. It also gives quotes from Iranian media in which defense officials complain bitterly about having to suspend missile launches because of American threats.
MEMRI also points to other big changes: “a halt to provocations against U.S. Navy vessels” and “a halt to public threats to burn and sink U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf.”
There has been, in fact, “a near-total moratorium on hostile anti-U.S. statements: The slogan ‘death to America’ has disappeared almost entirely from the official discourse of regime spokesmen, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, as have public burnings of the American flag.”
According to this evidence, then, Iran is scared—and it’s good news to Israel and the moderate Arab states that Iran has been trying to bully and threaten whether directly or through proxies.
Probably MEMRI’s most contentious claim in the report is that Russia, too—along with the U.S., Arab states, and Israel—is part of the “comprehensive front” taking shape against Iran. A previous report by MEMRI developed that claim in greater depth. Recent events in Syria may also indicate that it holds water.
At a stepped-up pace since Friday—possibly unprecedented so far—Israeli planes have reportedly been hitting Hizballah and Syrian targets in Syria.
Israel does not regard the militarily weak Assad regime as a significant adversary in itself. The aim has been to stop weapons deliveries—facilitated by Syria—to Hizballah, deliveries that emanate from Iran.
Iran is purportedly Russia’s ally, and when, after the first Israeli airstrike on Friday, Russia summoned the Israeli ambassador for a meeting, some claimed President Putin—until then notably lenient about Israeli strikes on his allies or purported allies in Syria—was finally warning that he’d had enough.
Since then, though, the strikes have reportedly (here and here) continued—without any known complaints or warnings issuing from Moscow.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in fact, explicitly denies that Putin is looking to stop Israeli military activity in Syria.
Meaning that, while Putin has his own perceived interests in Syria, smoothing a path for Iranian aggression increasingly does not appear to be one of them.
As another Israeli analysts puts it,
The Trump administration is not even 100 days old, but the Middle East is already feeling the change. The United States is once again taking an active role in the region, and more importantly, Washington is once again standing by the allies and friends it had abandoned. It is now abundantly clear that America can differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys in the region, and that it plans to act for the former and against the latter.
If MEMRI is right, then renewed American involvement is already swaying an actor like Putin away from Iran and toward the camp that seeks a stable, livable Middle East. If Iran is being weakened, intimidated, and pushed into a corner, it can hardly be an attractive ally to any but its most loyal and dependent proxies.
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