No one knows how Tehran will respond to the sanctions being imposed on it this week. Throughout the Middle East coverage of the event is more muted than one would expect, perhaps because adversaries are concerned about gloating too much while friends are afraid to giving the US too much credit.
On Monday, sanctions will hit 700 Iranian entities, according to reports. The US sanctions are opposed by many countries and the European Union, which has said it regrets the imposition of sanctions, many of which were lifted as part of the 2015 Iran deal. But reactions in the Middle East are more complex. Saudi Arabia and its allies tend to support the US and oppose Iran’s actions in the region. A review of the region’s responses shows that the public response to the sanctions has been modest.
In the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Washington, The National notes that Abu Dhabi will increase oil production after discovering new large reserves. That should settle oil markets that are concerned about US sanctions targeting Iranian oil. The US had previously indicated in August it wanted Iran oil exports to go down to “zero.” But the UAE announcement says production will increase to five million barrels per day by 2030, which is a long time in the future.
Clearly, the announcement was timed to coincide with the sanctions, but the articles about it don’t mention them. Instead, another article looks at the US granting waivers to “eight buyers” of Iranian crude. Who they are is not clear. The UAE is one of the top importers of Iranian oil alongside China, India, South Korea, Turkey and Italy, the article notes.
Kuwait’s Al-Jarida newspaper also carried the five million-barrel increase story, and had a more interesting story about Iran’s Guardian Council refusing to accept a law that would have tamped down on terrorist financing. Tehran passed the law to align itself with UN guidelines. Apparently this would help Iran’s banking links “with the world,” an important necessity for Tehran as sanctions kick in. But the council, “controlled by conservatives,” said the law is contrary to “Islamic legislation and the constitution.”
Qatar’s Al-Jazeera ran several articles critical of the sanctions. It highlights protests in Tehran calling for “death to America,” part of a series of events to commemorate its 1979 Islamic Revolution. In addition, it published an article about Iran’s Ayatollah Khameinei condemning the US for its 40 years of struggle against Iran. Qatar and its media are involved in a major confrontation with Saudi Arabia, and the two nations have made Qatar more sympathetic to Iran over the last year, clearly reflected in the narrative pushed from Doha.
In Saudi Arabia, Al-Arabiya TV doesn’t highlight the sanctions, but does have an article about how Tehran rejected the law against terrorist financing. In English the site also contains almost nothing about the sanctions, except an article about Iran’s rally marking the 1979 revolution and its associated hostage-taking.
In Jordan, the Al-Ghad newspaper has nothing on the sanctions, and in Egypt’s Al-Ahram, the main story is mourning the victims of an attack on Coptic pilgrims. However, one article notes that the US has called on Iran to “use its intelligence and return to the negotiating table.”
Turkey, which opposes Iran’s policies in Syria but has grown closer to Russia and Iran over the last year, has pro-government media that has covered the sanctions briefly. These include basic facts about what is being sanctioned. Daily Sabah claimed that Israel’s prime minister is “overjoyed” by the sanctions. The newspaper also reports that Iran Air is looking to buy jets from non-US companies. Iran’s regime, whose official slogan is “Death to America,” has purchased US commercial jets in the past.
On the op-ed pages, Turkish writers are deeply interested in the sanctions. Sadik Unay at Daily Sabah thinks the sanctions might end the US dollar’s world dominance. Another article claims that while Tehran has sent its militias across the region to “fuel chaos,” the US is working with an “Arab-Israeli bloc” against Tehran. Of particular interest, Hurriyet says that Turkey is one of the eight countries exempt from the sanctions on oil. Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said that Turkey would continue to import Iranian oil. South Korea, India and Japan are on the list as well.
The general sense across the region tends to be a “wait and see” attitude on the sanctions. Iran and the pro-Iranian nexus that includes Hezbollah and the Syrian regime sees the US action as punitive and harming average Iranians. But those who oppose Iran’s increasing role in the region tend to sympathize with the US sanctions.
However, there are concerns about where Iran might seek to spread instability or strike at the US and its allies in response. In Iraq, for instance, the government has rejected US comments about Iranian-backed militias, called the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are part of the Iraqi paramilitary units. Iraq will find itself on the frontline of Iranian sanctions and it is possible that Tehran could seek to pressure the US in Iraq, leveraging calls by some Iraqi parliamentarians for US forces to leave.