The Islamic Republic's nuclear program is no longer a saga restricted, as it was in the past, to Iran and the world powers known as the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Germany.

The P5+1 powers still play an important role, of course, but new players have stepped in that cannot be overlooked. Indeed, the geopolitical environment has changed since the 2015 nuclear pact, as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman recently observed.

When it was signed, Israel was the only country to consider Iran's nuclear power a grave threat to its existence. Today, in contrast, Arab states and particularly the Persian Gulf monarchies are also alarmed at the prospect of an Islamic Republic armed with nuclear and ballistic weapons. And while Russia verbally supports the regime, it too is effectively concerned, and not just behind closed doors.

A united front?

Israel's defense minister, Benny Gantz, recently confirmed press revelations of past weeks on attempts to forge a military alliance with several Arab states. He said while visiting army units near Gaza that Israel had begun extensive efforts to forge this alliance with states of the Persian Gulf and beyond.

None were named, but one guesses that the countries in question may be the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and beyond the Gulf, will likely include Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. Gantz said talks included all states for which Iran had become a priority.

While Russia verbally supports the regime, it too is effectively concerned.

He also revealed that Israel has updated its plans to strike Iranian nuclear installations. In Syria, Israel has already struck positions manned by Iran-backed militias or the Revolutionary Guards more than 500 times since early 2020. It is reportedly preparing for a major confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Israeli reports suggest will entail hitting some 3,000 targets a day there.

Comments by Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabriel Ashkenazi suggest there may be an unwritten accord between Israel and the Biden administration along two broad axes: collaborating to ensure the Islamic Republic will not have a nuclear arsenal and consulting before any actions against Iran. Ashkenazi has spoken of a small, working group including top Israeli and U.S. officials, though its members were not immediately clear.

Mixed messages

While Israel and regional states are, at the very least, clear on their policy toward the Iranian regime, Washington and its western allies have been conspicuously vague.

Wendy Sherman told senators at her nomination hearing that conditions had changed since 2015, and something more enduring than the nuclear pact was required. In the meantime, however, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken keeps talking about a return to past commitments by the U.S. and Iran. And in a recent speech on U.S. foreign policy priorities, he talked about China, Russia and the environment, but made no mention of the Islamic Republic and its nuclear dossier at all.

Feb. 22 protest in Berlin demanding the EU's policy on Iran be revised — Photo: Fabian Sommer/dpa/ZUMA

The United States seems reluctant to give a decisive or crushing response to Iranian strikes and provocations in Iraq and Syria. Echoing official Iranian media, it has even downplayed the number of victims from its strike on the Kata'ib Hizballah militia in the Syrian district of Abu Kamal.

In the meantime, prior to a meeting of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the EU3 board members and the U.S. had threatened to issue a resolution to chide the Iranian regime for impeding the work of IAEA inspectors on its territory. That would have paved the way for taking Iran's dossier back to the UN Security Council.

Policy contradictions toward the Islamic Republic are far from exceptional.

And yet, no such resolution was put to the vote in spite of 30 out 35 board members expressing support for it. What could have happened at the last minute to scupper the move? One European diplomat told Kayhan London that the Iranian government had taken a step back by suspending the production of uranium metal at a plant in Isfahan.

Anything will do for the West it seems!

Not even the Islamic Republic's 18-month refusal to inform the IAEA on the modified isotope samples found on three sites it had kept secret was enough to push through a resolution. Indeed, U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price confirmed that the U.S. was pleased the Europeans withdrew the resolution.

Double standards

Policy contradictions toward the Islamic Republic are far from exceptional. Days ago, the Biden administration placed sanctions on Houthi naval and air commanders in Yemen, a week after it had lifted sanctions from the most important Houthi group backed by the Islamic Republic, the Ansarullah. There are reports of Ansarullah emissaries talking to members of the State Department in the Omani capital, Muscat.

The Islamic Republic is also prone to weathercock tendencies. Days ago, one of the country's reputed conservatives, journalist Morteza Nabavi, suggested the country may vote to join the international money-laundering outfit it has so far rejected. But 170 legislators including Mojtaba Zolnur, head of the parliamentary Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said they still opposed the pact, as it would block its remaining recourses in sidestepping UN sanctions.

Iran was meant to vote on the matter by the end of March, but has postponed debates on it to late April.

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