By Benny Avni
As the Iranian regime reels under the strain of renewed sanctions, the Trump administration is already preparing the next phase.
We see too little of it in our press, but Iranians are increasingly taking to the streets and the clerics’ hold on power is weakening.
And it’s about to get worse for the regime. A new round of US sanctions, announced in advance, kicked in Monday. It restricts currency transfers and bans trade in gold, silver, aluminum, steel and other metals.
Most of the new sanctions have already been factored in, changing the way the world does business in Iran. European politicians, who’ve sanctified President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, are calling on companies to stay put and do business in Iran, as the seven-party Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action dictates.
But business is business.
After the nuke deal was signed, France’s Renault was eager to position itself for the day all sanctions would be removed, cutting deals to dominate Iran’s car market. Anticipating Monday’s sanctions, however, Renault announced an end to all its Iran businesses in July — even though it sells no cars in America.
Meanwhile, under US pressure, Germany’s central bank last week announced new limits on foreign access to cash, blocking a desperate attempt by cash-strapped Tehran to withdraw 300 million euros ($375 million) from a Hamburg-based Iranian-controlled bank.
European politicians, still bitter over the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal and reimpose sanctions, like to issue defiant press releases. But the American squeeze is working. “We know Iran is increasing activities throughout Europe, and so we must be vigilant,” US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told me Monday.
Buckle up. The next sanctions phase, due in November, will hit Iran’s only viable source of income: oil.
Iran’s oil exports are expected to be halved. Saudis, Russians and Americans will seek to fill the void, making sure Iran, not global consumers, feels the pain.
So you’d think (and the regime had hoped) Iranians would blame America. Instead, striking truck and taxi drivers, workers in faraway dusty towns, environmentalists, women, bazaar salesmen — all blame the regime.
With good reason. Obama’s generous JCPOA-related gifts to the regime, more than $100 billion in cash, never trickled down to the people. The money was spent on regional wars, propping up global terror organizations and lining the pockets of regime bigwigs.
The Iranian people no longer buy the “Great Satan” trope. “Even the bazaaris [who strongly supported the regime] know that impediment to normal life is not international, but domestic,” says Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran watcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
And as protests swell, “many of the enforcers, those who joined the Basij and Revolutionary Guards because it was their only employment option, may also defect and join the uprising,” says the Israeli Farsi broadcaster Menashe Amir. “After all, they’re Iranian too.”
The Western press largely ignores or belittles such tectonic shifts, but the Trump administration doesn’t.
Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Iranian-Americans in California, expressing support for the protesters. In a Sunday tweet, he backed “the Iranian people’s right to protest against the regime’s corruption & oppression without fear of reprisal.”
Trump’s strategy — turning to the Iranian people — is a major departure from Obama’s coddling of the clerics. Without declaring it outright, Washington has been encouraging regime change, or at least trying to force an end to the regime’s pursuit of nukes, missiles and Mideast aggression.
Sure, regime change could be chaotic, lengthy and bloody. It could lead to an even more repressive, dictatorial and cruel leadership than the current one. Then again, it may liberate the Iranian people and, more likely, end Tehran’s pursuit of the most dangerous arms and the spread of global violence and terrorism.
“Yes, it’s hard to get worse than the Islamic Republic, but the Mideast is full of surprises,” cautions Ben Taleblu. Yet, he adds, a new regime, “popular and representative, will benefit the Iranian people, the Mideast and the international community.”
The potential risks are dwarfed by ample rewards, so by all means, tighten the screws. On to the next Iran sanctions phase.
This article was first published by nypost