Will Iran attack while Trump is in hospital?

For years Iran has been under increasing US sanctions after the US walked away from the Iran Deal in 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s Press TV headlined Saturday’s media coverage with the alarming news that US President Donald Trump had been airlifted to a military hospital for treatment. Iran’s media in general is not deeply focused on Trump’s well-being or the COVID-19 diagnosis.
In general, Iranian regime leaders have also not mentioned Trump’s illness in tweets. Ayatollah Khamenei doesn’t even seem to have tweeted in the last days and neither has Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
This leaves a major question about what Iran’s regime is thinking in this delicate time. Could Iran carry out strikes on US soldiers in Iraq?
Recently, Iranian-backed militias targeted the Kurdistan region where the US has forces. Iran’s allies aimed 122 mm. rockets at the airport. Iranian-backed groups carry out daily attacks in Iraq against US interests and Iran threatens Saudi Arabia from Yemen and Israel from Lebanon.
It also threatens the Gulf, and has sought to send IRGC-backed terrorists to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, according to reports. It may even be trying to get Qatar to fund the Houthis and other programs.
Would Iran think that US deterrence is decreased due to Trump being distracted, or due to the US elections or other reasons? Could it take advantage?
Iran has been under increasing US sanctions since the US walked away from the Iran Deal in 2018. Iran-US tensions grew in May of 2019 when the White House warned of Iranian attacks. The attacks soon followed, on tankers in the Gulf of Oman and drones and missiles on Saudi Arabia. Tensions also increased as Iran shot down a US drone, and then over the summer they grew again as pro-Iranian groups in Iraq began to fire rockets at US forces and mysterious attacks targeted ammunition storage of the Iranian-backed factions linked to the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq.
More was to follow. In August, Iran had its Houthi allies target the Shaybah gas field and then used 25 drones and cruise missiles against Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia. It is believed Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq also used drones against Saudi Arabia in 2019. Meanwhile Hezbollah also stoked tensions with Israel, as it sent killer drone teams to Syria.
At the same time, since the summer of 2018, airstrikes have targeted Iranian positions in Syria. Israel’s former chief of staff said that by January 2019 over 1,000 Iranian targets had been struck. But Iran was increasing its traffic, building a base at Imam Ali near Albukamal and moving assets to T-4 airbase in Syria. It even sent its 3rd Khordad system. It also began to get Hezbollah to increase production of precision guided munitions.
Iran sent boats laden with missiles and drones to the Houthis in Yemen, three of which were intercepted by the US between November 2019 and the spring of 2020. In Iraq Iran ordered its militias to increase the rocket attacks on US forces in October, as protests swept Iraq. By December, the rocket fire by Kataib Hezbollah had killed one US contractor.
The US struck back, Iran’s allies stormed the US embassy and the US killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. In response, Iran fired ballistic missiles at Al-Asad base in Iraq. Three members of the US-led Coalition were killed in a rocket attack on Taji base by pro-Iran groups. The US struck Kataib Hezbollah and other PMU facilities. Then Iran increased attacks again, getting its proxies in Iraq to carry out dozens of attacks, as the US consolidated bases and pulled out of many facilities, reducing forces from 5,2000 to 3,000 by October of this year.
That is where we are now. The US has put Bradley Fighting Vehicles back into Syria and keeps track of Iranian aircraft flying over the US Tanf base in Syria near Jordan. Israel-Hezbollah tensions rose since July when Hezbollah said Israel killed one of its members in Syria. The Houthis continue to use drones against Saudi Arabia. Iran announces new drone, missile and other defense technology everyday.
An arms embargo on Iran is expiring this month. US attempts at “snapback” sanctions have failed. Iran is shipping gas to Venezuela around US sanctions. In Lebanon the US is pushing a border dispute mediation with Israel and Lebanon. Israel recently released video of alleged missile factories in Lebanon. Hezbollah denied they exist.
Iran knows that the US in Iraq is constrained by its official mission against ISIS. It knows that US Central Command has recently done carrier-based airstrikes and has sent air defense to Iraq but that generally the US military is reticent of conflict with Iran. Tehran knows that former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis appeared to oppose the growing tensions, but Iran is less clear on what the current US brass thinks.
Iran has tried to mock Israel but appears reticent to test Jerusalem. That is why Tehran prefers to attack Saudi Arabia because it doesn’t think Riyadh will respond directly.
Iran knows that Trump would likely order a harsh response if US soldiers are killed. But it also knows Trump wants to end the endless wars. That is why it wants to create a carpet for the US to leave Iraq, a carpet underpinned by harassment by rocket fire, but no casualties. It wants the US out of Afghanistan too. It appears to prefer to wait. It thinks time is on its side. It wants to be out from under the arms embargo and get moving on constructing a new world order with Russia, China and Turkey as partners and allies, removing the US from Syria via the Astana process and pressuring the US in Iraq.
Then it can focus on destabilizing the Gulf. It may also seek to move more weapons via Iraq to Syria, to up threats to Israel. It knows Lebanon is bankrupt and in crisis, so it may be reticent to ask Hezbollah to do much at the moment. It knows the Syrian regime is weak as well and wants to continue to consume the regime from within, like a giant regional octopus boa constrictor chimera.
The octopus and boa constrictor may move quickly if they sense weakness in an opponent, like Trump, but they are cognizant of the long-term need to slowly digest their prey.
In that sense Tehran will act thoughtfully before escalation that may test a US administration that appears momentarily leaderless. Iran knows that Trump’s strongest member of his administration, Mike Pompeo, is also the toughest on Iran today. Testing Pompeo would not be wise.