Many hawks in Washington are wondering why the United States hasn’t already responded with military force against Iran in the Middle East. The Iranians are increasingly bellicose in Syria and in the Persian Gulf. They’ve seized oil tankers and sabotaged others with mines in international waters. Most importantly, they’ve openly violated the uranium enrichment and storage thresholds in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. Many want to know, what are we waiting for?
President Trump, much to the chagrin of those hawks and many Democrats, has not responded with anything other than his typical Twitter lambasting of the Iranian government. The smarter members of his cabinet have changed the course of impending missile strikes, at least for now.
The president hasn’t fallen into the easy and not-so-smart knee-jerk reaction of launching missile strikes at the Iranians, when it seems like that is exactly what they want — because, in essence, it is exactly what they want.
Iran’s leaders are playing a dangerous game here, but they’ve done their homework and believe they know how any scenario with the U.S. will play out. The Iranian powers don’t have a Congress or central government to answer to. While there may some debate between the hardliners and the more moderates, there is no separation between the political and military there. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps controls not only the military but has a grip on the political and economic arenas as well.
So, what would the end game be in a United States-Iranian conflict? President Trump has already said, the U.S. is not seeking regime change, so a ground war is not only not in the cards but the last thing the Pentagon needs while continuing the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the on-going conflict in Syria.
Trump’s presidential campaign was based on two key points, to improve the economy and no more Middle East wars. So, while the U.S. isn’t seeking regime change, Tehran is. A shooting war with the United States may be painful in the short-term for Tehran, but they have shown they’re more than willing to sacrifice troops as they’ve done in Syria and Lebanon to further long-term goals. Plus, they believe a shooting war with the U.S. would have a disastrous effect on Wall Street, in addition to swinging the upcoming 2020 election away from Donald Trump. That’s why they’re trying to provoke the United States to attack.
Any overt military action by the United States would further strengthen the Islamic Republic’s hold over an increasingly agitated populace. Widespread protests in late 2017 and early 2018 got the attention of the regime. The Sunni minority, who are treated as second-class citizens, would slow their protests and back their nationalist feelings if the conflict came with America.
The Israelis, the archenemy of the Islamic Republic regime, also have an election upcoming in late September. Many in the intelligence circles expect the Iranians to plan something around that time, what many are calling an “October surprise.” It would almost certainly include Hamas and Hezbollah, Iranian proxies who take their orders from Tehran, not locally. They know anything drastic before the election would likely swing that upcoming election back to Benjamin Netanyahu.
While the U.S. tries to counter the Iranian nuclear enrichment program with diplomacy, sending Senator Rand Paul to act as an informal emissary, the Iranians play along and issue the same bellicose statements they’ve always made. They want to keep playing the game, rattling their nuclear sabers in hopes of getting concessions on easing of sanctions against their money. As much as they hate Israel, and several of their hardliners would love to nuke the hated Jews, they know that doing so would seal their own fate — and they’d get nuked in response.
The Iranians have long recognized the nuclear option is the wildcard in the deck. In 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini stopped the Iran nuclear program by calling it a corrupt Western influence that went against the very tenets of Islam. But that changed when Iran suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in the Iran-Iraq war, with some estimates as high as 500,000 killed. Plus, Iranian troops and civilians were hit with chemical weapons.
They offered twice, in 2003 and again 2005, to stop enriching uranium for what was at that time a much smaller nuclear program than today. What they sought in return was the easing of sanctions as well as normalized relations with the European Union. Those overtures were shot down by the Bush administration.
Every time negotiations fail, the Iranians rattle that nuclear saber again. Don’t ever expect them to shut it down. This is their ace in the hole of negotiations. The Iranian regime knows full well what happens when governments agree to shut down their nuclear programs. Regime change occurs quickly. They can look at Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, and of course Saddam Hussein, who started the war with Iran in 1980. When they gave up the nuclear option, they were quickly removed. They see how the North Koreans have been doing the dance for several years as well. However, Kim Jong-Un has at least some nukes.
Iran won’t back down. They’ll continue to act like the big bully on the block, trying to entice Trump to respond with limited military action. Things may get tough for a while but they weathered an eight-year war with Iraq and they know they’ll weather this one, too.
The wildcard in the West is Israel. Israel has stated many times that it won’t stand for a nuclear Iran and won’t wait until the Islamic Republic has a nuclear weapon to see what they’ll do with it. They also know that any attack on Iran itself will unleash thousands of Hamas and Hezbollah missiles from across their borders. A preemptive strike by them is far from the realm of possibility.
So, right now the U.S. and Iran do the same dance, with the Iranians claiming to curtail nuclear enrichment in return for being allowed to sell their oil in Europe, which the EU wants.
If memory serves, it was Indians and Persians who invented chess. They’re playing this dangerous game like masters. The United States shouldn’t take the bait and continue to play this out. Attacking Iran isn’t going to solve any issues between the two. It will only serve to their further aims, not ours.
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