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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran is now more powerful than ever

ISNA - Iranian Students' News Agency

Mon / 6 February 2017 / 16:28

Tehran (ISNA) - President Trump's tough talk on Iran is winning him friends in the Arab world, but it also carries a significant risk of conflict with a U.S. rival that is now more powerful than at any point since the creation of the Islamic republic nearly 40 years ago, Washington Post reported.

With its warning last week that Iran is "on notice," the Trump administration signaled a sharp departure from the policies of President Barack Obama, whose focus on pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran eclipsed historic U.S. concerns about Iranian expansionism and heralded a rare period of detente between Washington and Tehran.

Many in the region are now predicting a return to the tensions of the George W. Bush era, when U.S. and Iranian operatives fought a shadow war in Iraq, Sunni-Shiite tensions soared across the region and America's ally Israel fought a brutal war with Iran's ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Except that now the United States will be facing down a far stronger Iran, one that has taken advantage of the past six years of turmoil in the Arab world to steadily expand its reach and military capabilities.

"In order to confront Iran or push back more fiercely against it, you may find you're in a conflict far more far-reaching and more destructive to the global economy than many of our allies or American public are willing to bear," said Nicholas Heras of the Center for a New American Security.

Iran's alleged quest to produce a nuclear weapon – which Tehran has always denied – has been curbed by the nuclear accord signed in 2015. But in the meantime it has developed missiles capable of hitting U.S. bases and allies across the Middle East and built a network of alliances that have turned it into the most powerful regional player.

Iran now stands at the apex of an arc of influence stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, from the borders of NATO to the borders of Israel and along the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

For the first time in its history, the Institute for the Study of War noted in a report last week, Iran has developed the capacity to project conventional military force for hundreds of miles beyond its borders. "This capability, which very few states in the world have, will fundamentally alter the strategic calculus and balance of power within the Middle East," the institute said.

Exactly what the Trump administration intends to do about a state of affairs that has already become deeply entrenched is unclear, however. So pervasive is Iran's presence across the region that it is hard to see how any U.S. administration could easily roll it back without destabilizing allies, endangering Americans, undermining the war against the Islamic State and upsetting the new regional balance that emerged during the Obama administration's retreat, analysts say.

The Trump administration has given no indication that it intends to abrogate the nuclear accord. Rather, U.S. officials say, the goal is to contain activities that lie outside the scope of the accord, such as the ballistic missile program and what one official called the "destabilizing activities" of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies.

The US Treasury imposed sanctions Friday against people and companies alleged to be involved in Iran's test-launch of a ballistic missile last week.Otherwise, the Trump administration has given little indication of what it has in mind, except to make clear that it intends to be different from Obama.

"Iran is playing with fire – they don't appreciate how 'kind' President Obama was to them. Not me!" Trump wrote in a tweet Friday.

Iran has offered a relatively muted response to the challenge, with Iran's foreign minister tweeting that Iran is "unmoved" by the threats emanating from Washington. "We'll never initiate war," he said.

Iran may well conclude that it is not in its interests to engage in confrontation with a new U.S. administration already earning a reputation for unpredictability, analysts say.

But those familiar with Iran's behavior in the region have said that they do not believe it will readily surrender its gains.

"Any pushing back, the Iranians won't take it lying down," predicted Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite Iraqi parliamentarian who has, for many years, worked to bridge the divide between Iran and America in Iraq.

"Iraq, Iran and the United States are an extremely finely balanced equation, and Trump shouldn't come and bash," he said.

US should consider Iran's influence in Syria. Iran and Russia together have fought to ensure the survival of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and they are now pursuing a peace settlement in alliance with Turkey that excludes a role for the United States. America has been left with few friends and little leverage, apart from the Kurds in the northeast of the country.

Trump's promises to curb Iranian influence are at odds with his stated desire to pursue closer cooperation with Russia in Syria and also to support Assad, because Iran is allied with both Assad and Russia, said Mustafa Alani, a director at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

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