DUBAI: Tehran’s proxies have stepped up their activities on the battlefields of the Middle East in recent weeks. In Iraq, Syria and Yemen, forces loyal to the Iranian regime have been busy stepping up attacks against US and Saudi targets.
One of the sparks of this escalation could be the second anniversary of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general that sparked much of the chaos that still ravages the region. But some analysts believe the main reason is the Iran-US nuclear talks that have resumed in Vienna.
As the talks progress, albeit laboriously, Iranian officials are increasingly optimistic, believing they are on the verge of salvaging a deal that would ease crippling US sanctions against its financial institutions and political bodies. .
A knowledgeable source told Arab News that the nuts and bolts of a new deal between Washington and Tehran are now mostly in place.
One remaining obstacle is Iran’s demand that the next US president not withdraw from any new deal. It is not yet clear whether the United States could honor such a commitment. In 2018, US President Donald Trump scorned and abandoned the “one-sided deal”. Iran has responded by ceasing cooperation with international inspectors who monitor its nuclear infrastructure and stepping up its enrichment efforts.
Current President Joe Biden has spent much of his first foreign policy term on restoring the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. It has earned stigma from regional allies as its officials persist in talks with Iranian hardliners.
Entifadh Qanbar, a former Iraqi spokesman, said: “The Iranians like to bend the guns in negotiations. Robert Malley appears to be bent on appeasing the Iranians and, sadly, has the upper hand in the Biden administration when it comes to negotiations. The Biden administration is faring weak, especially in light of the chaos in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal. “
Dr Ras Zimmt, expert on Iran at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said: “Looking at the recent attacks on Syria and Iraq, one of the main reasons for this happened, I think, is the second anniversary of the murder. scored by Qassem Soleimani. He said this suspended negotiations on the Iranian side.
Washington’s response to attacks on US forces falls far short of Trump’s reaction as Iranian-backed rioters approached the US embassy in Baghdad two years ago when he sanctioned the assassination by Soleimani.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death during a ceremony in a large prayer hall in Tehran. The president has vowed revenge on Donald Trump, calling him the main “aggressor and murderer”.
The Iranian general and his ally Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in the drone strike in January 2020, were masters of the art of wielding powerful proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and also to bomb the United States in concessions with rocket fire of low intensity – but with high political impact.
On Wednesday, a pro-Iranian armed militia called Gassem Al-Jabarayn claimed responsibility for the drone and rocket attacks in Iraq, which left no casualties. The group posted online that it pledged to maintain its attacks until there was a full US withdrawal from Iraq. The group is said to be a cover for one of Iran’s main proxies, whose influence in Iraq remains extensive as the central government continues to struggle to assert control.
Analysts in the region say the frequency of attacks in Iraq and Syria tends to increase each time an important political decision draws near. Few such decisions have had more consequences than re-engaging with Iran – an actor that the GCC and the rest of the Middle East are wary of.
Doing so could be the biggest bet of Biden’s presidency, potentially destabilizing basic security agreements with key US allies, who remain opposed to such a move without strict restrictions to prevent even covert nuclear weapons-building efforts. .
However, other commentators have played down the impact of the attacks on the Vienna talks.
Mohanad Hage Ali, director of communications and member of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said: “These attacks are directed to serve an internal (Iranian) objective and have little military significance given the absence of serious casualties. They are more useful in justifying the absence of retaliation for major attacks against Iranian forces and their militias.
“I see them as ineffective in pushing for a change in Vienna in relation to the real progress of Iran’s nuclear program. “
Rasha Al-Aqeedi, an Iraqi activist and ideology researcher, said: “The recent attacks are unlikely to result in any concessions given their marginal impact on US personnel and facilities.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby blamed the combined attacks on hostility to Washington’s continued presence in Iraq and the anniversary of Soleimani’s death.
Whether rocket fire improves Iran’s hand is open to contention. However, even the perception that Iran aims to create of being able to bombard itself in a better negotiating position acts as a boost to the country’s negotiators, who have long touted the virtues of “strategic patience” in the face of crisis. vagaries of US policy.
As the latest round of talks resumed, the United States’ special envoy to Iran was in Saudi Arabia this week for talks with senior officials. The Gulf countries remain skeptical about Iran, although they embarked on a series of regional intelligence talks last year.
At the heart of Saudi concerns, Iran has refused to use the Vienna talks to discuss its ballistic missile program or its interventions in a region still reeling from decades of war and insurgency – largely led by Iran.
“If the United States does not maintain a firm hand, the region will sink further,” said a senior Iraqi official, “Now is not the time for the weak of heart. “