The world gets more and more complicated.
America Decides Not to Honour a Treaty
America has decided not to honour its obligations under the treaty with Iran and to reimpose sanctions. The Americans say that this is because it is "a lousy treaty". There is no suggestion that any other party has failed to honour the treaty, so this means that the USA is the country that has broken with its commitment. This is certainly crossing a line. The world has been accustomed to the US keeping to its commitments and if it can no longer be trusted to do so, then the consequences could be extensive. In many ways the US has been the guarantor of stability in international relations since WWII. If that changes, much that we take as read may become doubtful.
Is it Military or is it Money?
Why have they done so? This is disputed. Officially the Americans say it is a bad deal that is not working, in the sense that it is not stopping Iran from supporting forces that are fighting against those that America supports. That may be "not working" from an American perspective, but it betrays that the US purpose has more to do with the current Middle East conflict than simply preventing Iran from building nuclear bombs.
However, this may not be the - or the only - reason. Reintroducing sanctions has considerable economic consequences, and not just inside the US. We are hearing the term "extraterritoriality" used, meaning that European countries, especially France, are seeing this as the US trying to curtail European economic activity. Basically, the EU does not think the treaty is a bad one and is happy to do business with Iran. The US imposing sanctions may mean it also imposing sanctions on French and other European firms that do business with Iran. President Macron has described this as unacceptable and an attack on European sovereignty.
How Will Europe Respond?
The appearance of the term "European sovereignty" is a new and significant development. A great deal hinges on how the EU responds to what is happening and this response will not come quickly. First they will try to negotiate the problem away. This might or might niot work.
I have been predicting for some time that a split between the EU and the US is inevitable eventually. I don't think we are quite there yet, but this is certainly a notable step in that direction.
A Good Week for Russia
All this must also be sweet music in Moscow. Any split in the Western alliance is good for Russia since the alliance is essentially an anti-Russian project. The increasing anxiety about an emerging trade war is also pushing up the price of oil which puts money in the Kremlin's coffers and gives President Putin more scope. In the past week we have actually heard Prime Minister May and President Putin issuing more or less parallel criticisms of the USA. This is rather unprecedented. Again, insofar as Western trade is cut off, Iran will turn to China for trade and Russia for weapons.
There may also be knock on effects for Brexit. Britain is a bit caught in the middle. If it wants French agreement to an advantageous trade deal it may have to support Macron against Trump but if it wants a good trade deal with the US after it leaves the EU it may have to do the opposite. The more that the EU and the US are at loggerheads the more difficult it will be for Britain to get the kind of deal it wants with either of them. If the EU produces some way of protecting its interests against the US, will Britain be obliged to follow suit? If it does, it may lose what it hopes for from the US. If it doesn't, then trade relations with the EU may suffer. Put simply, the further apart the EU and the US become the bigger the hole for the UK to fall into. And this all in the week when the Brexit campaign has got fined for electoral fraud.
In the Miuddle East Itself
Then, all this worsens relations between Iran and Israel. There are four significant powers in the Middle East - Turkey, Israel, Saudi and Iran. You might add Egypt, which is in close alliance with Saudi at the moment. The US support of the Kurds in Syria has already alienated Turkey. This has enabled Russia to form a tacit grouping with Iran, Turkey, and Syria, thus establishing itself more than formerly in the region.
Rujssian strategy has been essentially to play it cool and keep adding small gains. This has so far proved to be a successful strategy. They have not shot down any American or Israeli aircraft and not taken the matter very far when Russian soldiers occasionally get killed. When they and the Syrians have defeated US backed rebels they have generally allowed them to leave in buses taking their small arms with them. In this way they have notched up considerable territorial gains.
The Iranians have helped the Syrians in all this. If there were to be a major confrontation or full war between Iran and Israel this softly softly strategy would come undone. This is however not that likely. Israel's attack on Iranian infrastructure within Syria does look like a provocative over-reaction to the Golan incident in which the Israelis say there was no damage and no casualties, but it is unlikely to provoke a major response from Iran directly. The Russian strategy of patiently letting the Western allies wear themselves out is likely to prevail.
The Big Picture
Panning back and trying to get the bigger picture is quite difficult. The US is in a fix. It's world police role is costing it too much, but it can't climb down without losses on several fronts. The resulting tensions are stretching the Western alliance. It has probably already lost Turkey. How far will US-EU tensions go? It remains to be seen.It must be galling to the US that Europe enjoys a higher standard of living while America pays for the international security that makes it possible, but what can they do? Before too long, we shall probably see Europe rearm. It has the money and the technology, but why bother when the US is still footing the bill?
While NATO "allies" squabble, Russia collects small gains and gradually adds them to its pile and China build islands and prepares to step into any gaps that open up. I think it is quite reflective of their overall strategies that China builds aircraft carriers while Russia builds submarines.