Trump's Pressure on Iran Working Better Than Expected, Says Israeli Intel

Tehran had hoped for high profits from deals with Europe and U.S. companies - but now the regime faces abandonment by them - and the economic woes have started to create pressures on Tehran

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference after his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018
\ JONATHAN ERNST/ REUTERS

The decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull his country out of the Iran nuclear deal has already wreaked widespread economic damage to Iranians. According to intelligence assessments presented to Israeli leaders, the chain reaction of the American decision last month has been more severe than originally forecast.

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Trump announced his decision last month, threatening at the same time to reinstate harsh sanctions against the Iranian oil industry and foreign firms that trade with it. These steps are supposed to go into full effect at the beginning of November. Some American companies, among them airplane manufacturer Boeing and General Electric, which signed contracts to supply equipment to Iran’s outdated oil industry, are already preparing to halt their investments in the country.

It was reported this week that sports equipment maker Nike canceled at the last minute a delivery of soccer cleats to the Iranian national squad, which is participating in the World Cup starting Friday in Russia. In Europe, British Petroleum announced that it would end its investment partnership with the Iranian oil company in deep-sea drilling off the Scottish coast.

Netanyahu and Macron meet for talks on Iran, 2018.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/Reuters

Ministers from Great Britain, France, Germany and the European Union sent a letter at the beginning of June to Trump administration cabinet members, in which they asked the United States to exempt energy, aviation and health companies from the secondary American sanctions – which target European companies trading with Iran. European giant Airbus signed contracts worth $1 billion with Iran after the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. Another large European company liable to be hurt by the sanctions is French energy company Total.

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According to Israeli intelligence, Iran had hoped to reap sizeable profits from deals with European and American companies during the coming period. However, now the Tehran regime faces abandonment by companies that already signed contracts, in addition to the negotiations with other companies, because of the American move. Thus, internal pressure on the regime, in the form of frequent demonstrations by the opposition in cities across the country, is also coming into play. Most of the demonstrations focus on the cost of living.

Iran's supreme leader, June 2018.
AP

Israeli intelligence officials have the impression that the double economic pressure, domestically and from abroad, is accelerating the division at the top of the regime between the conservative camp and the more moderate one. Part of the dispute involves the question of Iranian foreign aid to terrorist and guerilla organizations across the Middle East. According to various assessments, Tehran disburses nearly $1 billion annually to these clients, including Hezbollah, Shi’ite militias fighting on its behalf for the Assad regime in Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen and two Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The moderate camp supports cutting these expenditures. Some protesters in Iran have made vocal calls or waved signs condemning the use of government funds for these purposes at the expense of the Iranian people.

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Still, despite the combination of developments worrying the Iranian regime, Israeli intelligence officials do not rush to conclude that the regime’s stability is under threat. Iran’s leadership has already coped well with previous waves of protest, including early this year.

In the wake of America’s departure from the nuclear agreement, Iran announced last week that it would renew the process of increasing its uranium enrichment capability. However, these moves are still being taken within the limits set in the Vienna agreement and do not constitute a violation of it. It looks mainly like a declarative action aimed at the European nations signed onto the agreement, and not as a prelude to an Iranian withdrawal from it.