The United States piled new sanctions on Iran’s already crippled economy Friday and defended the killing of a top Iranian leader, saying he had been planning an “imminent” attack on US embassies. Critics, however, believe that Trump is escalating tensions with Iran due to an ulterior, mala-fide motive.
The sanctions, announced at the White House, marked the latest salvo in a US-Iranian confrontation that risked sliding into war a week ago with the deadly US drone attack on general Qasem Soleimani, by some measures the second most influential person in Iran.
In response, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops, without causing casualties.
While President Donald Trump said he would not respond further militarily, Washington is intent on maintaining pressure.
Qasem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests and those attacks were imminent
The sanctions mean “we will cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.
The measures targeting Iran’s steel industry and eight state officials came on top of massive sanctions already aimed at bringing the country’s economy to its knees.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that sanctions so far “have deprived the regime of billions in revenue.”
“Oil revenues (are) down by 80 percent and Iran cannot access roughly 90 percent of its foreign policy reserves,” he said. “As long as Iran’s outlaw ways continue we will continue to impose sanctions.”
Among the senior Iranian officials targeted in the new measures were Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, the Iranian armed forces deputy chief of staff and Gholamreza Soleimani, the head of the Basij militia, a volunteer force loyal to the regime.
Seventeen Iranian metals producers and mining companies were listed.
The sanctions also included a network of three entities that are based in China and the Seychelles as well as a vessel “involved in the purchase, sale, and transfer of Iranian metals products,” the Treasury said in a statement.
Possible Reasons behind the timing and nature of Trump’s Anti-Iran actions
Economic experts have pointed out that the timing of President Trump ‘pulling the trigger’ on General Soleimani and escalating tensions with Iran is very closely intertwined with the economics of the time.
Due to recent developments and advances in energy sector the US, for the first time in 80 years, became a net exporter of oil in September, 2019. Therefore, any act of aggression against Iran and the surely subsequent shocks in the oil would cause no serious harm to the macroeconomic conditions of the US.
The impeachment proceeding against President Trump have been picking up pace in the US. He was impeached by the Lower House of Congress but for decision to be effective, it needs to pass in both Houses, lower and upper.
Therefore, critics have opined that in order to affect the upcoming Senate impeachment proceedings, Trump has been attempting to create his image of a ‘wartime commander’. He created a rift with Iran by taking out its heroic commander the ensuing circumstances turned out to be exactly as he wanted.
Moreover, there is a general consensus among political academia in the US that the American public almost always re-elects its war-time Presidents. An interesting point to note is that the US Presidential Elections are right around the corner.
Imminent’ threat questioned
Critics are questioning Trump’s justification of ‘pre-empting an imminent threat’ by killing General Qassem Soleimaini and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis .
The administration has pushed back against accusations that Trump acted recklessly, insisting that longtime US foe Soleimani was on the brink of launching an attack and had to be stopped.
“We don’t know exactly which day it would’ve been executed but it was very clear. Qasem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests and those attacks were imminent,” Pompeo said.
Soon after Trump came into office he withdrew from an international accord meant to give Iran the ability to develop civilian nuclear power while under supervision
He said the US had “specific information” on threatened attacks “against American facilities, including American embassies, military bases.”
However, the administration has given several versions of the “imminent” threat, leaving skeptics unsatisfied.
On Thursday, Trump said that Soleimani had been planning to blow up the US embassy in Baghdad. However, officials have not subsequently referred to that scenario.
The United States has been at loggerheads with Iran, a fierce regional rival of US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, for decades.
Soon after Trump came into office he withdrew from an international accord meant to give Iran the ability to develop civilian nuclear power while under supervision. Trump claimed that Tehran was cheating and trying to obtain a nuclear weapon.
At a reelection campaign rally in Ohio on Thursday, Trump referred to Soleimani as “the world’s top terrorist.”
“He was a bloodthirsty terror and he’s no longer a terror. He’s dead.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk