by Claude Salhani
The drums of war are beating louder than ever from inside the Washington Beltway to Jerusalem and to the warm waters of the Gulf where a US naval task force was ordered deployed.
The consequences of a military confrontation between the United States and Iran could be disastrous but the main parties seem to be seeking to find a solution to their internal problems through a showdown, regardless of what the long-term implications might be.
US President Donald Trump ordered a US Navy force led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, along with its 90 or so fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, as well as bombers to proceed immediately to the Gulf.
Carriers such as the Abraham Lincoln are typically accompanied by an assortment of Navy ships, from frigates to destroyers and submarines. The carrier alone transports 4,000-5,000 sailors and a contingent of US Marines.
What is particularly worrying are the forces lining up and calling for a confrontation, each with their own agendas.
Leading this grim parade is Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who is as hawkish as they come regarding Iran. Bolton, who served in previous administrations, has long advocated US military action against Iran. He has the president’s ear and has no doubt been counselling him along those lines.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is another avid hawk when it comes to Iran. He prefers to resort to gunboat diplomacy rather than plain old diplomacy.
From Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been just as vociferous in getting the United States to fight Israel’s war. If the United States were to engage Iran militarily it would weaken Tehran, making it far less dangerous for Israel and the Gulf region.
As for the United States, a war at this juncture would serve Trump quite nicely, taking away some of the heat he is getting from the Democrats. In a time of war, it would appear unpatriotic to attack the commander-in-chief.
Upping the ante, Iran is expected to pull back on commitments to freeze its nuclear programme. Here, too, a war with the “Great Satan,” as the ruling mullahs in Iran refer to the United States, would lift some pressure the Tehran government is feeling due to the dismal economic situation in the country.
For Iran, the risks are particularly high. Standing up to the United States is politically fashionable in Iran and among its regional constituencies. Still pushing the escalation to full confrontation might not be something the mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) can manage. In Tehran’s mindset, a confrontation is better than the humiliating decline of the regime’s credibility and chances of survival.
Trump said the US naval buildup in the Gulf is in response to what the United States has termed as “heightened Iranian threats to US troops and facilities.”
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group was ordered to the Gulf ahead of a previous schedule and in advance of Tehran’s expected announcement about pulling back on commitments under the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew a year ago.
Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign,” which could include additional economic sanctions, against Iran could produce unfathomable consequences.
Following the US administration designating IRGC as a terrorist organisation, Tehran did not waste any time responding, in turn, labelling all US military personnel as “terrorists.”
A conflict with Iran would place the nearly 5,200 US troops deployed in Iraq in imminent danger, given the presence of Iranian forces in the country, as well as groups loyal to Iran.
The other powder keg lies with the Lebanese Hezbollah, which could, upon Iranian request, ignite a front along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
Threats against US diplomats and their families in the Middle East are not to be ignored. If the United States and Iran were to reach the point of all-out warfare, Iran would not limit its actions to the sea.
US officials in the region are seeing “an uptick in threat reporting directed at the US Embassy in Iran,” an official told Politico. “It’s more than we’ve seen in a long time and it suggests the de facto moratorium on attacks on US facilities by Iranian-sponsored groups is fraying.”
Do not expect to see a rational reaction from Iran that would appease the situation. The opposite is more likely. The Iranian rulers are for calling the US deployment “yesterday’s news” and “psychological warfare.” The raison d’etre of their regime is, through seemingly irrational reactions, to promote its agendas at home and abroad even if war and destruction could be the price to pay.