June 29, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1322

At This Stage, The Trump Administration Consents To Iran's Regional Expansion, Exchanges Messages Seeking An Understanding With Iran; Qatar Crisis, Escalation Of Conflict Between Iran And Its Axis And Saudi-Sunni Camp Are Outcome Of U.S.'s Incoherent Dual Policy

June 29, 2017 | By A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon*
Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, The Gulf | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1322


Recently, there have been significant developments in the conflict/rivalry between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni axis that it established, and on the other hand Iran and the resistance axis. These developments concern not only the forces in the region but also the U.S. and Russia. Both these camps are vying for support from the U.S., which at this stage is striving for understandings and negotiations with Iran and, according to Iranian sources, is already conducting secret contacts with it; this is happening as the U.S. is, for now, coming to terms with Iran's expansion in the region. These developments are impacting the reshaping of the Middle East as well as the power relations among the leading elements within it. The current Qatar crisis is a new manifestation of the generational geo-political Sunni-Shi'ite Saudi-Iranian struggle, and is the outcome of the policy of a U.S. administration in which two political camps are discernible. One is that of President Trump and his close advisors, who support Saudi Arabia and the Sunni axis, and the other is that of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who are showing sympathy for Qatar and acting to preserve the pro-Iran status quo of the Obama era.

This paper will review these developments and their ramifications:

Recent Developments In The Saudi Arabia-Iran Power Struggle

Since President Donald Trump took office, there have been several main developments:

  • A Saudi initiative to form a bloc of Sunni states against Iran, under Saudi leadership, at the May 20-21 Riyadh summit, along with an unsuccessful attempt to enlist the U.S. for this move. This followed the years of the Obama administration's support for Iran and attempts to force Saudi Arabia into "balanced relations" with Shi'ite Iran, and to accept Iran's regional expansion as part of that country's "exporting" of its Islamic revolution.

  • An Iranian diplomatic counter-move aimed at negotiating with the U.S. for the lifting of the remaining sanctions (concerning terrorism and human rights violations). It should be noted that it appears, from statements by Iranian officials, that secret negotiations are already underway between the Trump administration and Iran (see details below). There are also other indications of this. For example:

    • On February 28, 2017, Majlis National Security Committee member Javad Karimi Qadousi revealed that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with four requests: that the U.S. administration not act to cancel the JCPOA; that the "U.S. State Department appoint a special representative for JCPOA affairs" and that former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry be named to this post because he had good and clear relations with the Iranian negotiating team; that a secret bilateral channel of Iran-U.S. communications be opened; and that a secret meeting be held in Istanbul.[1]

    • Mahmoud Nabavian, a former Majlis member from the ideological camp who was secretary of the special committee for examining the JCPOA and a member of the election headquarters of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, who ran against President Hassan Rohani in the May 2017 presidential election, revealed on May 29, 2017 that the U.S. had made the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) and holding banking relations with Iran conditional upon handing over Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani and many other generals to the U.S., and that Foreign Minister Zarif had even committed to doing so in his contacts with the Americans.[2] 

      Nabavian's leak of this information is supported by the fact that several Iranian officials have recently expressed the view that the U.S. must back down from its demands relating to the IRGC. For example, the regime mouthpiece Kayhan newspaper explained in its June 28, 2017 editorial that "the West wants to send a message to the government and the people of Iran that 'if you want to benefit from a relationship with the world and not encounter new threats, you must distance yourselves from the IRGC.' The previous week, on June 20, 2017, it threatened that if the U.S. acted to have the  IRGC designated a terrorist organization, and harmed its IRGC's economic capabilities with sanctions, the region would not be secure for either the U.S. or its allies: "The [June 18, 2017] IRCG missile attack [in Syria] sends an explicit message to America and its allies in Europe and the region that if the region is not safe for Iranian economic and commercial activity [i.e. by means of the IRGC], there will be no reason and no logic that the region should be safe for the clear enemies of Iran – the Westerners, the Arabs, and the Hebrews – and it is clear that this price of insecurity must be forced also on Iran's enemies."[3] 

      Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai, a former IRGC commander, clarified that America is facing a "demand that it agree to the IRGC's defending the honor of the Iranian people, and [therefore] it is not possible to level sanctions against it. It is not worthwhile for [the Americans] to choose it [as a target] in order to show its strength against it because the result will lead [the U.S.] to regret [doing so]."[4] At the same time, Iranian officials stressed the IRGC's role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) as an additional reason why the U.S. must back down from its intentions against it.

    • Asked on May 29, 2017 about Tillerson's conversation with Zarif, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi replied: "There is still no plan and decision on this, but you need to pay attention to the fact that diplomacy is very broad and that anything can happen one of these days."[5]  
    • On June 25, 2017, Kayhan explained to the Rohani government that "the message of the IRGC missiles has been clearly received [by the West and therefore] there is no need for them [i.e. the Rohani government] to sit at the negotiating table [with the Americans] in fear and for them to worry about the lifting of the tension. The hope is that from now on they will rely on the might of the [Iranian] armed forces and will come to every negotiating table with increased strength."[6]

  • The early June 2017 joint Saudi-Gulf Arab move (together with the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) and other Sunni countries to isolate Qatar. For why the Qatar crisis happened when it did, see below.

  • A double Iranian military move, on land and with missiles, in the Syria and Iraq arenas:

    The land move – called a "strategic move" by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and directed by Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani – mobilized Iran-controlled Shi'ite militias in Iraq and Syria to the Iraq-Syria border, creating territorial continuity under Iranian control stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. This came at the same time as the Americans were pushed to the Al-Tanaf region, where they are essentially surrounded. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1320, Resistance Axis Forces Directly Threaten U.S.: We Are On The Brink Of War On Syria-Iraq Border; The U.S. Will Pay Dearly If It Acts Against Us In Syria, June 14, 2017.

    The missile move – the firing of six medium-range missiles at ISIS targets in Syria – was, according to Iranian officials, directed against the U.S. (and called a "slap in the face" to it), and was presented as a strategic message to the Trump administration,[7] the day after the U.S. Senate passed additional sanctions on Iran due to its missile program. This message should be understood as military pressure, in the framework of the secret U.S-Iran negotiations and in response to the U.S.'s intention to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization – a major issue in the negotiations.

    To this double military move, Iran added explicit threats of harm to American interests and to Europe: On June 25, 2017, Kayhan wrote that the Americans "have understood that if they make a mistake, even the smallest, all the interests of America worldwide will be harmed, and Tel Aviv and Haifa will be flattened to the ground... The Americans must know, and they surely do know, that this 'slap' is only a small part of the might of the Iranian nation. The Americans know very well... [that] the Sejil and Shahab missiles can carry two tons of explosives and have a range of 2,000 to 5,000 km... Not only can they cover all the occupied Palestinian lands, but also parts of regions in Europe... [The internal elements in Iran] should already have fully realized that it is Iran that can threaten all the interests of America and Europe worldwide merely by firing a few missiles."

    On June 19, 2017, Iranian Army deputy chief of staff Mohammad Reza Pourdestan also referred to Iran's threatening missile capability, saying: "The world must know that our finger is on the trigger and our foot is ready to march in order to protect our targets and our values – protection that already is not limited to Iran's geographic borders. Every place that there is a threat is our arena of operation."[8]

    It should be emphasized that this situation, in which Iran and the U.S. are close to conflict, was not created by a U.S. policy aimed at preventing Iran from expanding in the region. Although the position of U.S. forces on the ground does partially obstruct this expansion, this was not intentional on the part of the U.S.; it is Iran that has created this situation, with a strategic move to establish a land corridor, as noted above.

Why Did The Qatar Crisis Happen When It Did?

It should be clarified that the Saudi initiatives – the creation of a Sunni anti-Iran camp and isolating Qatar – have been presented as aimed primarily at fighting terrorism, not as against Iran's expansion in the region. However, the concluding statement of the Riyadh summit devoted a special section, Section 3, to Iran. It stated:

"The leaders of the countries absolutely reject the Iranian regime's operations that are undermining the security and stability of the region and of the world, and condemn the Iranian regime's ongoing support for terrorism and extremism. Likewise, the leaders rejected the hostile positions of the Iranian regime and its ongoing interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the region, in gross violation of international law and of the [principles] of good neighborly relations and stressed their commitment to oppose this activity by Iran. The leaders undertake to step up their efforts to safeguard the security of the region and of the world, and to determinedly tackle the destructive activity of Iran, within their countries and by means of joint coordination. The leaders stressed the danger inherent in Iran's ballistic missile program and its ongoing violation of the [1961] Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."[9]

Likewise, the Sunni camp presented Qatar with a list of demands, including that it "curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with U.S. and international sanctions will be permitted."[10]

It should be noted that even before the Riyadh summit, Saudi Defense Minister Muhammad bin Salman told the Al-Thamna and MBC TV networks in an extensive May 1, 2017 interview that it was not possible to arrive at understandings with Iran because the Iranian regime is based on an ideology aimed at controlling the entire Muslim world and spreading Twelver Shi'a across it. With Russia, Syria, and Yemen, he said, it is possible to reach understandings based on interests, but this was not the case with Iran as long as this remains its ideology. There is, he said, nothing in common with such a regime, whose extremist leaders have advanced the Iranian policy of expansion. It ends now, he said, adding that "we were hurt once but will not be hurt again. We know that we are the main target of the Iranian regime, which seeks to reach Mecca, the Muslim direction of prayer. We will not wait for the battle to happen within Saudi Arabia; we will act so that this battle will take place within Iran instead."[11]

At a May 6, 2017 meeting with a journalist in France, Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel Al-Jubeir said that the Saudi decision to sever relations with Qatar came because Qatar had not met its obligations under the agreements it signed with Saudi Arabia several years previously, under which it was to refrain from supporting terrorist groups, from inciting against other countries, from supporting hostile media outlets, and from harming the stability of the countries of the region. He said that the decision had been reached after several cumulative incidents, not for a particular position or action. He added that Qatar supports hostile and inciting media outlets, and that the countries that are boycotting Qatar do not aim to cause harm to it or its citizens but that Qatar must choose "whether to take our side or the other side." He added: "It has gone too far. Qatar needs to stop funding organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood." He went on to say[12] that the damage caused to Qatar as a result of the steps taken against it was sufficient to persuade it to change its policy: "These are very significant decisions that will have a high price, and we believe that the Qataris do not want to bear this price." Regarding Iran, he said that it is the world's No. 1 supporter of terrorism, interferes in its neighbors' affairs, and supports extremist organizations, and also hosts on its soil leaders of Al-Qaeda and other terror organizations. He noted that in the past 37 years the Iranian regime had attacked more than 12 embassies of other countries, and that Iran was the No. 1 manufacturer of explosives that had led to the deaths of thousands of people. The incidents for which it is responsible, he said, constitute a grave danger for the region and its security, and Iran bears the responsibility for incidents in the region and their results. Iran, he added, is assassinating diplomats and violating international law. He stressed that it must be punished for its interference in the affairs of the countries of the region and for its support for extremist and terrorist organizations.

The emphasis on the issue of terrorism has created confusion in the West, since Qatar is not considered a terror-sponsoring state nor a state that belongs to the Iranian resistance axis. But that is not the reality.

Indeed, Qatar was not part of the Iranian resistance axis. It has cultivated for itself a strong independent status, both as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and also in the Arab and Muslim world and in the West, thanks to its funds and its television channel, Al-Jazeera. But with its years-long subversive activity against various Arab regimes, both monarchical and secular, including support for the Arab Spring revolutions, it has actually positioned itself as supporting the resistance axis, even without belonging to it. Thus, it has also constituted a hard nucleus of resistance to Saudi efforts to consolidate a Sunni front against Iran.

Following the Riyadh summit, Qatar went even further in its open opposition to the Saudi policy. This position enabled Saudi Arabia to openly and totally clash with it – in a confrontation that might have been prepared in advance, after the previous conflict, in 2014, ended in compromise.[13]

The U.S.'s Ongoing Disregard Of Qatar's Activity To Radicalize The Muslim World And Encourage Terrorism

The Saudi-Sunni move against Qatar exposed, primarily, the U.S., which had for years ignored Qatar's subversive anti-U.S. activity. MEMRI has been monitoring Qatar's activity for years via its state television channel, Al-Jazeera, and has accumulated a great deal of information exposing Qatar's activity for radicalizing the Arab and Muslim world, and its support for a wide range of terrorist organizations in the region and in the West. This information will be presented in a separate paper.

By way of example, we will mention here a television program broadcast on July 10, 2001, two months before 9/11, of praise and encouragement for Osama bin Laden, including his anti-U.S. activity, and openly inciting the Arab world to leverage bin Laden's activity against the U.S. and the West. As will be recalled, it was Qatar's Al-Jazeera that was the platform for bin Laden's messages and speeches to the Muslim world (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 319, Terror in America (30) Retrospective: A bin Laden Special on Al-Jazeera Two Months Before September 11, December 24, 2001; see also original program in Arabic, Bin Laden, the Arab Despair, and the American Fear, July 10, 2001).

An Al-Jazeera correspondent, Tayseer 'Alouni, a dual Spanish-Syrian citizen, was even, in 2004, sentenced to seven years in prison in Spain for serving as a money courier for Al-Qaeda. He covered the war in Afghanistan from 2001 onwards, interviewing bin Laden in October 2001. 'Alouni was sent to prison in 2005 but from 2006 served his sentence in house arrest because of poor health; he was released early in 2012 and returned to Qatar (see, for example, MEMRI TV Clip No. 869, Al-Qaeda's Internet News Broadcast Expresses Solidarity with Al-Jazeera Reporter Tayseer 'Alouni Who Was Sentenced to Seven Years in Jail by a "Crusader Infidel Spanish Court", September 28, 2005, and Alouni's interview with the commander of the Al-Qaeda splinter group Jabhat Al-Nusra, MEMRI TV Clip No 4089, In Wide-Ranging Interview, Jabhat Al-Nusra Commander Al-Joulani Discusses Jihad in Syria, Declares: Our Conflict with ISIS Has Been Resolved, January 1, 2014).

Another example is the birthday party thrown by Al-Jazeera for Lebanese Hizbullah terrorist Samir Al-Quntar, following his release from an Israeli prison. Al-Quntar had murdered members of a family, including a little girl, in Nahariya, Israel in 1979. The party included a giant cake, a band, and fireworks (see MEMRI TV Clip No. 1818, Al-Jazeera TV Throws A Birthday Party For Released Lebanese Terrorist Samir Al-Quntar , July 18, 2008).

Likewise, Qatar supported, via Al-Jazeera and via its policy, the Taliban's activity, as well as the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood, giving one of the latter's leaders, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a prime-time show on Al-Jazeera known throughout the entire Arab world – Shari'a and Life. It also supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in its subversive activity after Gen. El-Sisi became president.

Al-Jazeera's anti-U.S. broadcasts after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 should also be recalled; it continued with these for years.

The successive American administrations' years of ignoring Qatar's activity via Al-Jazeera to radicalize the entire Arab and Muslim world were ostensibly because Qatar provides the U.S. with the Udeid Air Force Base, where CENTCOM is situated, at no cost. The administrations and Congress never realized, and still today do not realize, that Qatar needed, and still needs, a U.S. military presence within it, for protection against its neighbors, more than the U.S. needs Qatar. The U.S. never even demanded that Qatar cease its anti-U.S. policy or stop its fomenting of Islamism throughout the Arab and Muslim world via Al-Jazeera, and allowed it to continue having it both ways: maintaining a U.S. airbase on its soil while enthusiastically inciting against the U.S. in the region.

The U.S.'s ignoring of Qatar as a state encouraging radicalization and terrorism continues to this day, as is manifested in Secretary of State Tillerson's persistent stance in defense of Qatar – for example U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert's June 20 announcement siding with Qatar and casting doubt on Saudi Arabia's motives, and Tillerson's June 25 statements noting that some of the Sunni camp's demands of Qatar would be "very difficult for Qatar to meet," as if he were a Qatari spokesman.[14]

This situation, in which two conflicting political approaches in the American administration vis-à-vis the current crisis, reinforces Iran and its resistance axis, and causes a lack of confidence in the U.S. in the Saudi-Sunni camp.

Over the years, Qatar has succeeded in creating for itself a powerful political position, by means of a campaign of purchases and investments in Europe and the U.S., including assets that impact public opinion such as a famous soccer team, and has even tried to maximize Al-Jazeera's influence by establishing a sister channel in English. In this way, it has managed to recruit international elements to its defense, and has in fact brought about a situation in which the victims of its radicalization and of its support for terrorism – the U.S. and Europe – are the first to rush to its defense. Since Saudi Arabia and the Sunni camp remain without European and American support – because the hundreds of billions of dollars in sales of American weapons cannot be considered support for Saudi Arabia, but support for the U.S. economy, which was the aim of President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, not any expression of support for Saudi policy vis-à-vis Iran – Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Sunni camp are forced to act alone, much as Trump told them in his speech in Riyadh:

"This groundbreaking new center represents a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combating radicalization, and I want to express our gratitude to King Salman for this strong demonstration of leadership... America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children. It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.

"A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH... Muslim nations must be willing to take on the burden, if we are going to defeat terrorism and send its wicked ideology into oblivion.

"The first task in this joint effort is for your nations to deny all territory to the foot soldiers of evil. Every country in the region has an absolute duty to ensure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil..."[15]

Developments In Iran-U.S. Relations

Even in May 2017, on the eve of the Iranian presidential election, the Iranians could discern that the actual positions of the U.S. administration towards them did not match its anti-Iran statements. For example, during April 2017, the administration supported the JCPOA in the concluding statement of the G7 talks in Italy, delayed Senate legislation against Iran, and more (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1314, Iran Tests The Trump Administration, May 8, 2017).

It should be noted that in contrast to the widespread perception in U.S. Republican circles that although the Trump administration had come to terms with the existence of the JCPOA it would focus its efforts against Iran's regional expansion, the truth is that the administration has capitulated, for now, in this matter as well. It has also surrendered to the May 2017 Russia-Iran demand to involve Iranian forces in Syria as "guarantors" in the Russian plan to create four De-Escalation Zones in Syria, constituting legitimization of Iran's expansion (see Iran Tests The Trump Administration).

Recently, U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the coalition, said from Baghdad that the U.S. has "absolutely no problem" with the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Russia fighting extremists in the desert region of eastern Syria. This statement means that the U.S. has come to terms with and legitimized Iran's military expansion in Syria.[16]

Also with regard to the Yemen issue, the U.S. has clarified, via Secretary of Defense James Mattis during his April 2017 visit to Saudi Arabia, that the dispute in Yemen must be resolved in the U.N. – which is the Iranian position on this issue.[17]

These signs encouraged the Iranian regime to announce during the month of May, and particularly after the Riyadh summit, its willingness to launch negotiations with the Trump administration.[18] President Rohani said, in a May 12, 2017 television debate in advance of his reelection: "I declare that I am willing to remove, in a good way and powerfully, in addition to the nuclear sanctions that we removed during the four [years of my presidency], also the rest of the sanctions, and that we will restore the honor of the Iranian people and the interests of Iran."[19]  

On May 21, as the Riyadh summit was underway, Foreign Minister Zarif noted, in an interview with the London daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Iran's willingness to negotiate with the U.S., provided that it worked against Saudi Arabia. He said: "Iran is completely willing to cooperate with the regional and extra-regional powers [i.e. the U.S.] in the matter of fighting terrorism and extremism and restoring peace and quiet in Syria."[20]  

On May 22, President Rohani told a press conference marking his election victory: "With regard to the rest of the sanctions, if the Iranian nation demands it, and if we arrive at a national consensus in all the regime apparatuses, and if the Leader [Ali Khamenei] will take it upon himself to guide this matter, we will all follow the leader and carry it out. This is hard work but doable."[21]

On May 30, 2017, Foreign Minister Zarif reiterated, in an interview with Iran Diplomacy, that Iran was willing to negotiate with the U.S.: "There is always the possibility that via diplomacy, the rest of these sanctions will be removed. This involves negotiating on the rest of the issues [between the U.S. and Iran]. In 2015, the Leader said that the nuclear issue was the touchstone for us, in order to establish whether America, the opposite side, is willing  to negotiate seriously, to arrive at a result, and to carry out the results of the talks. In effect, the Americans did not make a good impression. But with diplomacy there is always the possibility that we will be able to remove the sanctions, and if Iran wants this, it can be done while preserving Iran's honor, interests, and principles."[22]

On June 4, the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that he was authorizing negotiating with the U.S., referring to it as a "challenge," and saying that it needed to be conducted wisely and from a position of strength. This was aimed at dealing with the consolidation of the Saudi-Sunni-American axis in Riyadh. He said: "In all the experiences of the Iranian nation, it has internalized the fact that it is not really possible to trust the Americans... I criticize all those who speak in the name of reason and say that the challenge [i.e. negotiations] with the powers involves a price. The challenge does indeed have a price, but compromise too has a heavy price. The Saudis have taken an initiative and paid hundreds of billions of dollars of their people's money to actualize America's desires and goals. This is the price of compromise with the Great Satan. If someone goes into the challenge [i.e. negotiations with the U.S.] with self-confidence and revolutionary logic, the price [of negotiating] will be much lower than the path of compromise [with the U.S., as Saudi Arabia did]."[23]

The following day, June 5, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain announced that they were severing relations with Qatar. The main catalyst for this Saudi-Gulf move to isolate Qatar at that particular time was the U.S.'s dual policy vis-à-vis Iran. This U.S. position was clearly exposed at the Riyadh summit – a summit which the Saudis attempted to use as anti-Iran leverage, with the support of the U.S. Indeed, even during the Saudi attempt to form a Saudi-U.S. alliance against Iran, Secretary of State Tillerson clarified, in a press briefing, with his Saudi counterpart at his side, that the U.S. is not ruling out picking up the phone to Iran in the future. In light of this situation, the Saudis took the initiative and formed the Sunni-Arab nucleus for acting against Qatar. That is, Saudi Arabia acted not because it had obtained American support for this move, but on the contrary – because despite President Trump's visit, it realized that it had no firm American support and therefore attempted, by the move of isolating Qatar, to force both the U.S. and the entire Sunni Muslim world to take a stand in the conflict against Iran and against the resistance axis. 

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, at a June 12, 2017 address at an Iftar with the heads of the regime apparatuses and regime officials, reiterated his guidelines for the Iranian government regarding how to conduct the negotiations with the U.S. In the address, he also set the limits on the negotiations: There would be no talks about Iran's expansion in the region, but only about lifting the sanctions regarding terrorism and human rights in Iran:

"Foreigners must not be allowed to force the national interests on us...  A clear distance from the foreign enemy and his elements within Iran should be defined... We must not trust the enemy... We could have not trusted the enemy [in the nuclear negotiations], but in some of the parts where we compromised, for example in order not to give the Americans a pretext, the pretext itself remained and we also were harmed. Great caution should be taken in dealing with the foreigners. We must not speak in a tone that sounds as if we trust the enemy, because this will have a bad effect both within Iran and on the foreigners... When a brazen enemy stands facing you, he is calculating any compromise on your part as helplessness, and becomes even more brazen...

"It is natural that America hates the IRGC and the Qods Forces, because it wants to eliminate the elements of Iran's strength. Therefore, it sets conditions that the IRGC will not exist, that the Basij will not interfere, [and that Iran must] do this and do that in regional issues. In contrast to the enemy, the officials in Iran must strengthen the elements of its might and honor, including the armed forces, the IRGC, and the Basij...

"There are things that cannot in any way be resolved with America, because the problem of America is not our nuclear energy or our human rights. Its problem is the principle of the Islamic Revolution... The plundering superpowers do not want to relinquish [their ability to control] Iran, but Iran will not allow them to do this [i.e. to control it]... [The issues of human rights, terrorism, and instability] are all pretexts for America against Iran... Therefore, there must be no compromise with America. 

"There must be no ambiguous statements, so that they do not take advantage of them. Clear positions must be presented. America must know that Iran will not relinquish its hostility against the evil [apparently a reference to the U.S. demand to end the calls of 'Death to America'] and its defense of Palestine [that is, to stop its anti-Israel activity] and to try to actualize the rights of its nation."[24]


Although the Qatar crisis has created the impression of an internal Saudi-Qatari crisis in the Sunni camp, this is a misapprehension, because the conflict in the entire Sunni camp concerns Iran and its resistance axis.

Iran has created, in its statements about its wishes in the negotiations, a strategic deception vis-à-vis the U.S., allowing the U.S. to believe that it will be able to achieve its objectives via negotiations and diplomacy. In this way, Iran is causing the U.S. administration to hesitate in deciding how to react to Iran's expansion in the region.

The U.S.-Iran dialogue will continue via both diplomatic messages and military moves aimed at reinforcing these messages. The American bombing in Syria or Iran's firing of missiles should not be understood as if the U.S. and Iran are seeking a military confrontation. On the contrary: Both sides are using these military moves as a means to apply pressure, as part of a larger move of bilateral negotiations.

Iran has pushed the U.S. into a difficult dilemma: whether to become entangled in a war against Iran and against the resistance axis that is backed by Russia, or to continue negotiating with Iran, while coming to terms with the JCPOA and as Iran continues its violent expansion across the Middle East. As clarified on June 14, 2017 by Khamenei's top advisor Yahyah Rahim Safavi, "if America wants to start a war against Iran, all its military bases in the region will become insecure, and Iran can cover a distance of up to 2,000 km from its borders with its missiles."[25] It should be clarified that at this stage, the U.S. is also not prepared militarily for a fight on the ground with Russia-backed Iranian forces. There have been reports about expected U.S. reinforcements and intensive espionage operations in Syria, but U.S. policy itself has not yet become clear.

It can be assumed that in this conflict, the more determined side (Iran) will achieve its objectives and defeat the side that is less interested in the conflict (the U.S.). This is also as the U.S.'s allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, know that they cannot trust it, because the U.S. is apparently turned towards reaching understandings with Iran, and not towards clashing with it.

At this stage, the American administration is not willing to pay the price of changing the situation that it inherited from the previous administration, and it prefers to disregard not only Qatar's role in encouraging Islamist radicalization and terrorism, but also the situation in Syria and Yemen, the fact that Iraq is an Iranian proxy, and Iran's establishing itself as a global nuclear and missile power.  

In this reality, in which the U.S. prefers not to confront Iran, which is supported by Russia, Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Sunni world and Israel will have to bear the burden of confronting the Shi'ite-Iranian challenge in the region on their own. The Qatar crisis is a cautious first step by the Saudi-Sunni camp in its activity against Iran and the resistance axis, and it requires all the elements, headed by the U.S., to reveal whether or not they are committed to the Sunni anti-Iran camp. In such a situation, further rapprochement can be expected between Saudi Arabia/the Sunni camp and Israel.


* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Studies Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] YJC, Iran, February 28, 2017.

[2] ISNA (Iran), May 29, 2017; (Iran), May 29, 2017.

[3] Kayhan (Iran), June 20, 2017.

[4] Tasnim (Iran), June 19, 2017.

[5] ISNA (Iran), May 29, 2017.

[6] Kayhan (Iran), June 25, 2017. 

[7] On June 18, 2017, a few hours before the missiles were launched, Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai tweeted: "Mr. Trump, we respond to a smile with a smile and to a slap in the face with a slap in the face. Beware." Fars, Iran, June 19, 2017. The same day, Iranian Armed Forces deputy commander Ja'fari noted the U.S. Senate's sanctions on the IRGC and Iran's missile program and warned, a few hours prior to the launch of the missiles, that if the U.S. did not change its behavior, Iran would force it to do so. Tasnim, Iran, June 18, 2017.

[8] Tasnim, Iran, June 19, 2017.

[9] Al-Hayat (London), May 21, 2017.

[10] AP, June 23, 2017.

[11] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 2, 2017.

[12] Al-Arabiya (Saudi Arabia), June 6, 2017.

[13] It should be noted that this is not the first time that there has been severe tension between Qatar and the GCC states on the matter of Qatar's foreign policy on the issue of attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. In March 2014, after over six months of dispute with Saudi Arabia, the UA, and Bahrain, the latter three announced that they were recalling their ambassadors from Qatar in protest against Qatar's failure to meet its obligations towards the countries (see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis NO. 1075, Threatens To Break Up Gulf Cooperation Council, March 14, 2014). The relations among the countries were restored some six months later, apparently after Qatar promised to act according to the GCC states' policies. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1075, Unprecedented Tension Between Qatar And Saudi Arabia/UAE/Bahrain Threatens To Break Up Gulf Cooperation Council, March 14, 2014.

[14] See, for example, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert's June 20, 2017 statements on the matter: "...Now that it’s been more than two weeks since the embargo started, we are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the public, nor to the Qataris, the details about the claims that they are making toward Qatar. The more that time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At this point, we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries? The Secretary is determined to remain engaged as we monitor the situation. He has been delivering the same message to other diplomats overseas." See also Tillerson's June 25, 2017 statements: "Qatar has begun its careful review and consideration of a series of requests presented by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE... While some of the elements will be very difficult for Qatar to meet, there are significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution."

[15], May 21, 2017.

[16], June 23, 2017.

[17] Mattis said on April 18, 2017: "We will work with our allies, with our partners to try to get it to the U.N.-brokered negotiating table." Reuters, April 18, 2017.

[18] It should be clarified that President Rohani and the pragmatic camp serve the Iranian revolutionary regime, by representing it before the U.S. and by supporting its policy of exporting the revolution to the region, and is not an opposition camp against the regime as many in the West think. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis NO. 1317, Iran's Presidential Election And The Trump Administration's Emerging Shift Towards The Iranian Regime, June 2, 2017. Regarding the Iranian regime's double defrauding, that is, of both the Iranian people and the American administration/the West, it should be noted further that the JCPOA was achieved thanks to the Rohani camp, which serves the regime, not the people. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1306, Iran Will Not Cancel The JCPOA – Because It Grants Iran Nuclear State Status And Is A Western Guarantee For The Regime's Survival, April 6, 2017.

[19] (Iran), May 12, 2017.

[20] Fars (Iran), May 21, 2017.

[21] (Iran), May 22, 2015.

[22], May 30, 2017.

[23] (Iran), June 4, 2017.

[24] (Iran), June 12, 2017.

[25] Fars (Iran), June 14, 2017.

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