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Shadow Of War: What’s Next In The US-Iran Standoff

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as Iran deal, was considered one of the biggest achievements of Obama administration. But the pact also contributed hugely to Trump’s political popularity. One of the very first executive orders that he signed after assuming office was the cancellation of Iran deal. Since that day, tensions between the two have only soared. Now both the countries are at the brink of war as Iranians shot down a US drone on June 20.

The recent escalation began when two tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, near Strait of Hormuz through which almost 20 percent of global oil supplies pass every day. It was not surprising to see US Secretary of State blaming Iran for the attacks, as a video showed a supposedly “Iranian” boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the tanker. Of course the global community refused to accept the accusations due to the ham-fisted nature of the evidence.

Robert Kaplan has defined Iran as Eurasia’s pivot point. The events discussed above very blatantly tell us why. Who to blame? Some would say that Trump started it by applying “maximum pressure” tactics on Iran and unwinding what was a decent deal. Most importantly, Iran was complying with it quite satisfactorily. The rhetoric by Ayatollah Khamenei does not help alleviate the tensions either. As Trump administration continues to aggressively sanction the Iranian regime, Iran’s economy has worsened even further with oil production dropping to a million barrels per day from 2.8 million barrels per day.

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With a population that relishes one of the largest youth bulges in the world, such economic distress can easily result into social chaos (read: revolution).

This is one of the reasons why the Supreme Leader needs to employ strong language combined with the threats stressing Iranian identity and evoking their rich and grand history as the most ancient and first superpower of the world. But such brinkmanship may prove deadly. The chances of a miscalculation are paramount as both Trump and Khamenei are firm on their respective stances. Right after Iran shot down a US army drone over what it claimed to be its air-space (US said it was at international waters), Trump’s reaction, expectedly, was symptomatic of a military response as he tweeted “Iran has made a serious mistake!” Later, during his press conference he abated worries regarding an escalation, saying that he thinks that this was an individual act, not a state-backed one. Reports from New York Times, however, later showed that Trump had ordered a missile strike on Iran and it was called off when the planes were already in the air. Trump said that it would have been “disproportionate” if the strike was carried out, however a cyber-attack was launched on Iran’s weapons system.

To infer that the threat of war has now subsided would be foolish though. Iran has given 27th June deadline after which it will once again start stockpiling Uranium beyond the level (300Kgs) decided in 2015 agreement. This is a dangerous bet.

Iran believes that such a move might force European countries into action which may provide the country with the necessary lifeline – (see for instance Special Purpose Vehicle). But the strategy might go the wrong way too. Even the European countries that have been mildly supportive of Iran, could put their weight behind the US, making matters worse for the Islamic Republic.

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Trump’s whimsical nature and diplomatic immaturity add fuel to fire. If Iranian passion backed by thousands of years of history is insurmountable than US’ unmatched military might is peerless and cannot be taken lightly. A minor miscalculation could prove devastating for the entire region. Both countries should try, again, to settle this in a room with a round-table instead of missiles and bombs. The shadow of war should be kept at bay.

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Osama Rizvi

The writer is a freelance journalist. He is an editor at an European digital magazine and a commodity analyst for various media outlets.

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