A Dangerous Loop in The Arab (Persian) Gulf
The downing of a U.S drone by Iran on June 20th and the restrained US response reflects a dangerous loop in the Arab Gul1. f which significantly increases the likelihood of an US – Iranian military confrontation.
The Iranians current policy vis-à-vis the crisis in the Gulf is guided by three assumptions:
1.The U.S does not want a war with Iran
2. Iran will have to go back to negotiating table
3. Iran wants to monetize the crisis in the Gulf to strengthen their negotiating hand
Guided by these assumptions, the Mullah regime has an incentive to continue its calculated provocations:
1.It sends a message to the Iranian people that the regime is stable and powerful despite the sanctions;
2.Continuing the cycle of attacks without risking a military confrontation with the US enables the regime to enhance its posture as a determined, powerful force that successfully confronts the leading superpower in the world, and further its image as a hegemonic regional power;
3. The instability that Iran creates in the Gulf through the launching attacks on diversified targets increases the price of oil which holds a twofold benefit for the Mullah regime – it will increase the Mullah regime’s oil revenues, and demonstrate that ignoring Iran’s needs and interests could harm the global economy.
The U.S and Iran are caught in a dangerous loop which makes armed confrontation all but inevitable.
President Trump and senior officials of his administrations have – more than once – sent out very strong messages warning Iran. As Iran is likely to continue – and perhaps increase its provocations, continued US restraint compromises the US deterrence position and emboldens Iran and Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Palestine (IJIP) in the Gaza Strip, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, the Houthis in Yemen, etc. which increases the threats to major United States allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and furthermore weakens the U.S. position vis a vis Russia in the Syrian arena. With the planned upcoming meeting of the US, Russia and Israel scheduled to take place this week which will focus on each sides interest in Syria, the US should take their posture into consideration.
In my article – Escalation in the Arab (Persian) Gulf: Observations, Evaluation, Prediction (May 20th) I forecast that Iran would continue to push the envelope and carry out more attacks – perhaps to the point that they will perpetrate “one attack too many.” The downing of the US drone came very close to “one too many.” And with every Iranian provocation – the next ballistic missile launched on Saudi Arabia by the Houthis; the next rocket launched by Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias targeting U.S. military and civilian presence in Iraq; the next attack carried out by the IRG on an oil tanker, etc. – the likelihood for more severe outcomes compared to previous ones heightens (for example: mass casualties, the death of US personnel or civilians, severe environmental damage, etc.) as do the odds for the end of US restraint.
It is important to address those who argue that the escalation in the Arab (Persian) Gulf is the outcome of the US Sanctions on Iran. That is an upside-down reading of the reality. The severe situation in the Gulf is the outcome of Iran’s aggressive and violent regional policy which significantly increased and escalated after the signing of the JCPOA agreement in July 2015.
On June 24th, Ghasan Charbel, The Chief Editor of the leading Saudi affiliated newspaper – Al-Sharq al-Awsat, wrote an article entitled “The General of Economic Sanctions.” In this article he says that President Trump views economic sanctions – not military muscle – as the preferable method to achieve the United States goals vis a vis Iran. He continues on to say that indeed the IRG is more afraid of the crippling US economic sanctions, and less concerned about US military damage to its missile arsenal or radar systems. Though he doesn’t say it specifically, he is probably alluding to unconfirmed reports about a US Cyber-attack on June 20th (following the downing of the drone) that allegedly targeted IRG missile launching and guidance systems.
Mr. Charbel’s accurate analysis sums up the dangerous U.S. – Iranian loop. The U.S restraint that followed Iran’s shooting down of the drone on June 20th is not – and will not, be reciprocated by Iran. Quite the opposite.
On June 23rd the Iranian-backed Houthi militia launched an attack targeting Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport in southwest Saudi Arabia – 1 person was killed and 25 were injured.
Iran will likely continue and escalate its provocations – and with that increases likelihood of “one attack too many.
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