The ugly fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani seems to have halted for the moment. But the forces that pushed the United States and Iran to the brink of all-out war this week are still in place. This isn’t an end, just a short break between acts. But the pullback from the brink of war can also present some opportunities.
Iran opened the door to de-escalation and Trump took it, seemingly prioritizing his base’s concern of another U.S. war in the Middle East over the bluster and bad advice of his secretary of state, among other pro-war advisers.
But this relief must be tempered with caution. We may have taken a step or two back from the brink of war, but we’re still perilously close to the edge. The Iran war hawks, neoconservative ideologues, and pro-Likud activists are not going to stop pressing for provocative measures against Iran. Whether they are in the Trump administration or not, the forces that have been pressing for war with Iran must be confronted now, more than ever. We also need to consider the role of local actors and how that might affect both American and Iranian strategy. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
The current situation in the Persian Gulf is all too similar to Europe in 1914, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). In “Averting the Middle East’s 1914 Moment,” the ICG makes the case that the situation in the Persian Gulf has gotten so complicated and volatile that, as ICG’s Iran Project Director, Ali Vaez. put it, “Just as in Europe in 1914, a single incident has the potential of sparking a military confrontation that could, in turn, engulf the entire region.”
The comparison to 1914 is obviously chilling, but the sheer number of actors connected to the U.S.-Iran standoff and the unmanageable array of potential trigger points in the region make it apt. Tightening U.S. sanctions, as part of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign,” and the response they force from Iran means steadily rising tensions and raises the possibility that at some point, Iran could take a step to which the U.S. or Israel feels it must respond militarily. Read more at LobeLog
The staunchly militaristic Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) has proposed a mutual defense pact between the United States and Israel. JINSA frequently publishes papers and analyses around strategies that it would like to see pursued by the United States, Israel, or both, but this one is a little different. In this case, JINSA has enlisted Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to help them sell the idea in both Israel and the United States.
Graham is a long-time member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and one of the most consistently outspoken hawks in the Senate, especially on the Middle East. His foreign policy voice is influential even when his party is in the minority, and it is particularly impactful now, because of his close relationship with President Donald Trump. Although Graham has had a hot-and-cold relationship with the mercurial president, in recent months he has largely remained in Trump’s good graces by duly fawning over him, and has gained access to Trump’s ear as a result.
Graham is also very connected in Israel, where his staunch support for every Israeli policy and action—the more draconian, the better—has made him many friends in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. All of this comes together to make Graham the perfect salesman for JINSA’s proposed agreement. And Graham seems like a very eager helper. Read more at LobeLog
Boris Johnson now faces a conundrum, as this standoff will represent his first real challenge in foreign affairs and he cannot afford to look weak. But an overly aggressive style that raises tensions is just what his critics have worried Johnson would display as prime minister. The Tory premier’s vulnerability to Washington’s whims is even keener due to his lack of a majority in parliament, a deficit starker than the one that fell Theresa May. Read more at The Battleground.eu
Speaking to an adoring audience at the annual summit of the far-right Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the audience that the Trump administration was determined to continue ratcheting up pressure on Iran.
“The ayatollahs have grievously deprived the Iranian people of that most basic, simple, fundamental right, their right to worship,” Pompeo told the evangelical crowd. “That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, ‘death to Israel’ for four decades now.”
Pompeo went on to tell the crowd that, were it not for the Trump administration’s efforts to strangle the economy, Iran would have greatly bolstered its efforts to destroy Israel, something it has never attempted in all those four decades. Ominously, he added, “You know the stories, but we’ve implemented the strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime, and we are not done.” Read more at LobeLog