New US sanctions on Iran were implemented on 5 November, with the aim of stopping the Islamic Republic from raising resources to spend on regional conflicts or on support for groups on the terrorism list of the US State Department, including the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Exactly 39 years ago, the US and Iran broke off diplomatic ties. Since then, the region has changed a lot, as has Iran. Its population of 35 million in 1979 has jumped to almost 81 million today.
Young Iranians are not as revolutionary as their parents, even if their rulers have remained fiery and steeped in the atmosphere of 1979 when students climbed the walls of the US Embassy in Tehran and changed the nature of the country’s revolution forever.
The core issue between the US and Iran is miscommunication and each having different expectations of the other.
The sanctions on Iran, which allow eight countries having exemptions to import Iranian oil on a temporary basis, do not allow for oil to be paid for in cash.
According to the US, this money should be kept in an escrow account and can only be used to buy food and medicines.
The plan is similar to the oil for food plan in Iraq after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the United Nations imposed a heavy embargo.
The sanctions ruined Iraq, which is still suffering from the consequences. The new sanctions against Iran may have a similar effect, being designed to punish the regime but in fact causing suffering to ordinary Iranians.
Iran is a leading power in the region, and it has major influence in both the Middle East and Central Asia. Isolating Iran in the way US President Donald Trump wants and punishing the regime for its behaviour may be hard to achieve as a result.
The Islamic Republic is not North Korea, and it is not likely to change its behaviour as a result of sanctions as it can still sell oil on the black market, something the regime has done in the past and during the previous sanctions regime.
The Iranian leadership’s expectations from talks with the US are less than during the period of former US president Barack Obama, though most of the current US demands are concentrated on changing Iran’s behaviour in the region, a halt to its testing missiles, and stopping the financing of militias.
These issues are highlighted in the 12 demands made of Iran by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. There is no word about the Iran nuclear programme.
Even the four sites associated with Iran’s nuclear facilities are exempted from the sanctions, which according to Pompeo have to remain open in order to carry out external inspections.
The major goal of curbing Iran’s nuclear programme was achieved during the Obama administration, and it was dismantled thanks to the friendly approach of the US.
Now is the time for the US to curb another major threat, which is Iran’s threat to Israel.
Since the Islamic Republic has never recognised Israel and has not changed its behaviour in the region despite the nuclear deal, security for Israel and normalisation with its neighbours is a priority for Trump who wants to settle this matter once and for all by cutting off financial resources for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards without this leading to a military confrontation with Iran.
Economic pressure has turned many Iranians against the regime, though it is not clear if extra pressure would lead to its overthrow.
Yet, Trump’s aim is clear: the regime has to stop threatening Israel, and if it does not do so it will have to face its own angry people who are more and more convinced that the regime is corrupt and cannot manage the nation.
It should not be long before the Iranian regime decides on its path forwards and the Iranian people decide their views on the matter.
Trump, however, is unlikely to change direction. Israel is his administration’s priority, and he wants to put an end to anti-Israeli sentiments in the region, which he thinks are largely stoked by Iran.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Return of sanctions on Iran