Iran escalates provocations as US struggles with response

"Tehran has the luxury of assuming that Washington will not even consider a large-scale invasion of Iranian territory," said Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East Programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
Saturday 21/09/2019
Chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami speaks in a ceremony displaying pieces of the American drone shot down by the Guard in the Strait of Hormuz in June, in Tehran, Iran, September 21. (AFP)
Chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami speaks in a ceremony displaying pieces of the American drone shot down by the Guard in the Strait of Hormuz in June, in Tehran, Iran, September 21. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Washington is struggling to come up with the right answer while Iran raises the stakes in its confrontation with the United States and America’s allies in the Gulf.

The United States and Saudi Arabia had blamed Iran for the devastating attacks that temporarily knocked out a good part of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on September 14. Tehran denied the accusation. The administration of US President Donald Trump hesitated to strike back militarily or to commit itself clearly to retaliation against Iran, although it said all options were on the table.

Trump seems wary of getting into a foreign conflict even more than a year before the 2020 US elections. Wars are “very easy to start,” he said.

US network CBS reported that the drone and missile strikes on the Saudi oil infrastructure had been approved by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei but observers said Iran was certain that Trump would not hit back in a way that would jeopardise the survival of the regime.

“Tehran has the luxury of assuming that Washington will not even consider a large-scale invasion of Iranian territory,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East Programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, wrote on the online foreign policy platform War on Rocks.

“Instead, Iran can safely assume that Washington will debate policy choices hemmed in by political constraints and vacillate between a limited cruise missile strike or more sanctions. In each case, the regime will not be toppled or seriously threatened.”

As a result, Iran feels emboldened.

“He is a not a lion, he is a rabbit,” Ali Bigdeli, a political analyst in Tehran, told the New York Times, in reference to Trump. “This counts as a big boost for Iran.”

Whatever the degree of Iranian involvement, the attack “is a showcase of Iran’s power and influence,” Bigdeli added.

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