Elevated US-Iran tensions still have room for maneuver

China Military Online
Huang Panyue
2019-06-24 17:48:58

On the morning of June 21, the US President Donald Trump twittered that he called off a strike on Iran in a military retaliation to the downing of a US drone, claiming that he was “not in a hurry” on the Iran issue. The US military was ready to carry out retaliatory strike on three different sites on the evening of June 20, but when he was told that the operation might kill 150 people, he called it off 10 minutes before the strike, believing it was “non-equivalent” with Iran’s shooting down of the American drone.

According to analysts, the possible military confrontation between the US and Iran would not be ruled out due to Trump’s temporary “pause button” on the use of force to address the issue.

Tensions between the US and Iran escalated increasingly after the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Patrick Michael Shanahan, Acting Secretary of Defense, announced on June 17 that the US military would send another 1,000 troops to the Middle East to deal with the local “threats”.

while Iran has threatened to lift restrictions on uranium enrichment stocks in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as Iranian nuclear deal. Such announcements have triggered great concern among the international community that the Iranian nuclear deal will exist in name only, and the US and Iran are on the brink of war.

If the US takes revenge on the shooting down of the drone, it will bring more unstable factors to the Middle East situation.

Although the US-Iran tensions keep fierce, there is still room for maneuver between the two sides.

For Iran, lifting restrictions on uranium enrichment stocks is a two-fold action: on one hand, to respond to the US’ ever-growing military pressure; on the other hand, intend to exert pressure on signatories of the Iranian nuclear deal, including Germany and French, to urge them to counteract the pressure from the US against Iran.

Iran is fully aware of the limitations of its own economic structure and the lack of military power. It would be unwise to embark on a comprehensive confrontation with the US. Therefore, after the US withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal a year ago, Iran has been trying to fulfill the deal as much as possible.

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced to suspend the implementation of certain terms of the Iranian nuclear deal, he clearly emphasized that it does not mean that Iran will withdraw from the nuclear deal, and Iran is expecting to negotiate its rights and interests in the deal with other signatories within a certain period of time.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, the US has grasped greater initiative and must be delighted its maximum pressure has made Iranians crack. Iran’s mention of breaking the nuclear deal intends to seek the involvement of other signatories of the deal, to ease the “maximum pressure” from the US.

Undoubtedly, its announcement to lift restrictions on uranium enrichment stocks will have an immediate impact on European countries including Germany and France. European countries cannot turn a blind eye to the breakdown of the Iranian nuclear deal both in terms of their own national influence and of their own security and economic interests.

While reassuring Iran, they will inevitably urge the US to ease the current situation. In return, the US can hardly ignore the opinions of its traditional allies, so that Iran may achieve the goal of relatively reducing its own pressure. Since the tanker attack incident, Germany and France publicly stated that the so-called “evidence” promulgated by the US is not enough to prove that the incident was launched by Iran, in order to “exhort” the US to not exert military pressure on Iran.

The US is not particularly keen on launching a military strike against Iran. Since the Trump Administration took office, the US’ aspiration for military intervention into foreign countries has also significantly reduced.

It is not willing to rush to the front line in many regional affairs, for example, being reluctant to send ground forces to directly get involved in the situation in Syria; or considering giving up the rapid overthrow of the Maduro’s government right after the failure of previous pressure exertion in Venezuela.

If it is to deal with a big power in Middle East like Iran by force, the US will pay far more than ever before. Although the US has increased its troops to the Middle East twice, current deployment of additional troops is far from enough to start a war.

Therefore, some analysts believed that the increase of US troops is more like an integral part of its “maximum pressure” on Iran, rather than an actual step to prepare for war.

Conflict and confrontation cannot solve the issue; instead, dialogue and negotiation are likely to bring the best possible outcome. To ensure the complete and effective implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal is not only a requirement of the UN Security Council Resolution, but also a realistic and effective way to ease the current tension.

Given current situation, the US and Iran should work together to resolve the crisis through diplomatic channels, rather than resorting to force.

(The article was published in Chinese on the PLA Daily on June 23, 2019)


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