Donald Trump “engaged in a stupid, unnecessary, incredibly dangerous bluff and the Iranians have called him on it”, the deputy director of the foreign policy programme at the Brookings Institution said on September 19.
Making it clear that she was “not advocating war” in response to the September 14 pre-dawn drone and cruise missile attacks that took out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capacity, Suzanne Maloney, a self-described “Iran junkie” at the public policy think tank, added: “Tehran has called his bluff, but they haven’t yet achieved what they want and need—mitigation of economic pressure. So they have every incentive to continue escalating.”
Maloney also responded to a comment on Twitter that Tehran “may” perceive US inaction in response to the strikes “as weakness” by tweeting: “Not may, will. US inaction *will* be perceived as weakness. It already is by @khamenei_ir [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]”.
Since May 2018, the US president has been attempting to throttle Iran’s economy, gradually increasing the pressure with the introduction of more and more sanctions, unprecedented in their scope. In May this year, the US even announced it would no longer tolerate any countries buying any of Iran’s lifeline oil exports.
The aim of the “maximum pressure” strategy is to force Iran to agree a much tighter and far more wide-ranging accord than the 2015 nuclear deal signed with six major powers, including the US which unilaterally walked out of the agreement prior to the introduction of sanctions. The US wants to force Tehran to accept even more stringent restrictions on its nuclear development programme, curtail its ballistic missile programme and end its support for militias across the Middle East who are variously the adversaries of Israel and Arab allies of Washington—those militias include the Houthis in Yemen whom Iran says struck the Saudi oil facilities, a claim challenged by the Saudis and Americans who insist Iran bears responsibility for the attack.
With Europe failing in the past year to come up with economic and trade assistance that would protect Iran from what it sees as an “economic war” waged by the Trump administration, it appears Iran’s policy of “strategic patience” is over. Analysts see it as now testing the resolve of the US with aggressive actions such as the strike on the Saudis. If the US is not prepared to show its military might in the face of such a provocation, Trump’s Iran strategay may only lead to further embarrassment for the White House. On the other hand, if a military response from the US is forthcoming, Trump could find himself sucked into a wider war across the Middle East that will damage his 2020 re-election prospects.
September 19 saw Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif give an interview to CNN in which he said Iran is all for finding the path to peace, but in the event of a US military retaliation against Iran for the strikes in Saudi Arabia, which Tehran insists it was not even involved in, there will be “all-out war”.
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