Trump errs on side of caution, again, with Iran - analysis

Trump must decide if the next step will cause a real conflict or if the US can carry out precision strikes and then show Iran that there is now a balance.

By
June 21, 2019 11:17
3 minute read.
Trump errs on side of caution, again, with Iran - analysis

US President Donald Trump waves to the media before boarding Air Force One in Maryland on April 27. (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS)

The US reportedly was ready to strike Iran overnight, but called off the attacks. If US President Donald Trump called off the strike at the last minute or postponed it, he erred on the side of caution despite weeks of escalating Iranian actions.

According to The New York Times the strikes were prepared for around seven in the evening in the US which would have been after midnight in the Gulf of Oman. Targets allegedly included air defense radar and missiles. Ships and planes were in position when they were told to stand down. Maybe.

We don’t know what we don’t know about the full picture in Washington last night, but we do know that when the sun rose in the Middle East there was no war between the US and Iran. However it is clear that the latest downing of a valuable, rare and sophisticated US drone by Iran is a game changer. Previously Iran has been accused of sabotaging and mining six ships in the Gulf of Oman. Its allies in Iraq have fired a rocket near the US embassy in Baghdad and are likely behind attacks near US forces in the Balad airbase, Camp Taji, Mosul and near ExxonMobile in Basra over the last week. Also, Iran and its allies have fired at two US Reaper drones and downed one in Yemen.

In short: The ball is not just in the US court, Iran has run up the score and Washington keeps wondering what to do. In May, the US warned Iran of “unrelenting force” if it carried out attacks. Then America said that Iran was “almost certainly” behind the May 12 attacks on oil tankers off the UAE coast. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided a list of Iran’s attacks on June 13 after the second series of oil tankers were targeted. The attacks in Iraq and the drone downing on June 20 appeared designed to test US decision-making.

Trump told the press in quick comments while leaving the White House earlier this week that the US is “prepared” for Iran. “We will see what happens,” he said, indicating there were “a lot of things going on with Iran.” Iran was behind terror for many years. “We will see what happens.” The US and Iran have been engaged in a war of words over whether the drone was in Iranian airspace or not. Similarly, Iran has denied attacking the oil tankers, but the US keeps showing more evidence, from videos and photos, that Iran did it.

The attack on the tankers is even more serious than the drone because it’s a major violation of the law of the seas. The attack on the drone didn’t cause any casualties and Iran can say that the drone was spying on them. But Iran also seems to have tracked the drone from liftoff and employed a sophisticated air defense system called 3rd Khordad. This was to show off Iran’s capabilities.

Trump must decide if the next step will cause a real conflict or if the US can carry out precision strikes and then show Iran that there is now a balance. In other cases where Iranian targets have been struck in Syria, not by the US, Iran has not responded because it tends to understand the nature of the conflict in the region. Not every conflict is a major conventional war. The rules today are proxy wars and plausible deniability and militias and frontlines that are opaque. The challenge for the US is that Iran is trying to test the Americans and their allies, striking at Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, and in Iraq. Trump may have erred on the side of caution for now.


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