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New Attempted Strike on Saudi Arabia Keeps Focus on Iran’s Regional Missile Threat

Based on the Saudi and American reactions to the previous incidents, the newest attempted strike will presumably be attributed in part to Iran, on the basis of its alleged smuggling of missile components into Yemen by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iran-backed Lebanese paramilitary Hezbollah. These allegations were made concrete last week, when Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, gave a presentation at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, in Washington, D.C. Her speech was delivered in front of missile components that had been recovered from the previous attacks, and it showcased the evidence of Iranian design that was borne by that equipment.

Naturally, Iranian officials were quick to disregard the content of Haley’s presentation. Although little effort was made to contradict the evidence, the Iranian government issued a statement on the same day as the presentation, describing Haley’s remarks as “baseless allegations”. The effort to undermine the presentation and its effects has apparently continued on a daily basis since then.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the Iranian Foreign Ministry had summoned the Swiss envoy to Tehran in order to lodge a protest against the American campaign for coordinated Western policies in opposition to Iranian missile activities. The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, which developed soon after the Iranian Revolution. Consequently, consular affairs between the two countries are handled through the Swiss embassy.

The AP notes that this diplomatic protest used the phrase “uncalculated and baseless” to describe the allegations that Haley had presented as being based on “undeniable” evidence. The report adds that Iran is now demanding that the missile parts be turned over so Iran can subject them to its own investigation. The items used in Haley’s presentation were on loan from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Arab powers who are at the heart of the escalating tensions between Iran and its regional adversaries.

The Yemeni Civil War is a flash point in those tensions, in view of contributions to the war effort from both sides. Although the Iranians deny that their own involvement extends beyond political and spiritual support for the Houthi rebels, there is little international dispute about the transfer of Iranian weapons and other forms of assistance. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is at the head of an Arab coalition that is carrying out a bombing campaign aimed at pushing Iranian influence back out of the Arabian Peninsula.

In the first months after Donald Trump took office as the American president, the efforts to confront Iran in the region primarily consisted only of actions by this Arab coalition and by Israel, each with from the United States. But Haley’s presentation represents an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to develop a broader global consensus about the danger that is still posed by Iranian missile activities and regional belligerence, nearly two years after the implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement.

There are growing signs that this public relations campaign is paying dividends in the form of cooperation or expressions of concern from European powers that had previously been eager to explore new trade relations with Iran and to preserve the nuclear deal at practically any cost. This can be seen both in statements from those countries’ own officials and in the responses from Iranian officials, urging Europeans to defy the US.

Even in dealing with traditional American partners, Iranian rhetoric is often couched in terms of anti-Americanism and a desire to undermine the perceived hegemony of the US and its closest allies. As World Net Daily pointed out on Sunday, a recent column in an Iranian newspaper that is considered close to the office of the supreme leader stated that Iran sees itself as the future head of a new world order to be built on the “ruins of the Western world order.”

As if to encourage potential European partners to turn away from the existing balance of power, Ali Akbar Velayati addressed the French government via Iranian media on Sunday, as reported by The Iranian. Velayati, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying, “To sustain its international credibility, France should not blindly follow the Americans … The French president is now acting as Trump’s lapdog.”

This commentary came in the midst of an ongoing shift in tone from the French government, which was among the first countries to pursue new trade with Iran after the implementation of the nuclear agreement, but which is now leading the way in calling for European action to constrain Iran’s ballistic missile activities.

The issue of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles was not addressed in the text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, but the United Nations Security Council resolution that accompanied the deal’s implementation called upon Iran to avoid any work on such weapons. Nonetheless, more than a dozen ballistic missile tests have since been carried out by the Iranians, to say nothing of the Yemeni launches for which Iran seems to be partly to blame.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Washington on Monday, where he reiterated that France shares the US government’s concerns about these issues, even if the two countries do not see eye-to-eye on the future of the JCPOA or the broader approach to Iran policy.

Le Drian did not limit his commentary to the ballistic missile issue, for which he said that enhanced pressure including the possibility of new economic sanctions would be appropriate. He also acknowledged the larger danger posed by Iran’s expansionism, as it effects Yemen and other countries in the region.

“Iran’s hegemonic temptations in the region is a matter of urgency because it’s within the framework of getting peace in Iraq and Syria that we will stop this process,” the foreign minister said, as quoted by Reuters.

On Monday, the White House unveiled a new National Security Strategy, which identifies Iran as a leading contributor to instability and insecurity in the Middle East. The document can be expected to further contribute to American efforts at securing European buy-in for policies aimed at pushing back against this and related threats. The effects of these efforts will help to determine where the US stands early in 2018, when the president is required to make a decision on American participation in the Iran nuclear deal.

Also early in 2018, Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster will unveil a National Military Strategy, which can be expected to provide more detail on how American objectives will be pursued in specific areas such as Iran and Yemen.