Tensions have skyrocketed in the Middle East, as the US has deployed a carrier group and bombers to the Persian gulf in the wake of “credible and specific threats” made by the Islamic Republic against American forces in the Middle East. These new developments are largely related to the rapidly unravelling Iran nuclear deal – Iran has now publicly threatened to increase Uranium enrichment after President Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian copper, aluminium, and iron.
The United States is not likely to issue an official declaration of war against the Islamic Republic, or launch an invasion of Iran. Such a move would be utterly suicidal and foolish – Iran has one of the strongest militaries on Earth, and Iranian troops have been hardened by fighting in Syria and Iraq. Iran’s mountainous terrain and 80 million strong population would make offensive movements difficult, and any attempted military occupation of Iran would end horribly.
However, strikes on Iran are certainly possible. A nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing – such a move would likely lead to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt all attempting to build nuclear weapons, raising the threat of nuclear war exponentially. If Iran gains nuclear weapons, it will represent one of the greatest foreign policy failures in American history, and thus, it must be America’s utmost priority to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. The Iranian nuclear deal likely would have done this – however, given that the United States has withdrawn from the Iranian nuclear deal, this option is off the table. If Iran makes serious moves towards building atomic bombs, US strikes on Uranium enrichment facilities would soon follow.
Reportedly, President Trump does not want a war – but the saber-rattling on behalf of the Trump administration (most notably, John Bolton) – and the nature of Iran’s proxy groups create a very dangerous situation. If an Iranian-aligned militia in Iraq were to carry out an attack against American forces, for example, it could quickly lead to escalation and conflict. Iranian-aligned militants are active across the Middle East – for example, Iranian-backed Houthis launched drone strikes against a Saudi oil pipeline, leading Saudi Arabia to bomb Sanaa in retaliation. It isn’t difficult to imagine incidents in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or the Persian gulf spiralling out of control – leading to conflict between the Saudis/Americans and the Iranians.
The United States must pressure Iran – a regime that has continually demonstrated hostility towards America and her allies, and a regime (along with the other side of the coin in Riyadh) responsible for much of the chaos and bloodshed across the Middle East. Simultaneously, the end goal must be negotiation – not war. The US did this for the first half of the 2010s, eventually leading to the JCPOA – which Trump tore up. If Trump wants the Iranians to come back to the negotiating table and sign a harsher deal, he needs to apply more pressure – but with more pressure, comes more risk.
Trump’s strategy will likely attempt to walk a thin line between simple diplomatic/military pressure and outright hostile action. If he succeeds in doing this, he may succeed in getting a harsher anti-Iranian deal than the one signed in 2015 – one which would put to bed any threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. But, if Trump goes too far, he could trigger a war which will set the Middle East on fire. America must proceed with both power and caution in order to extract the best possible outcome from the current situation.