US-Iran brinkmanship: is it still a charade?

asad base

Missiles launched from Iran struck various targets in Iraq Jan. 7—primarily al-Asad air-base west of Baghdad, which hosts US forces. A site near the Kurdish city of Irbil appears to have been a secondary target. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps quickly took credit for the strikes, and the Pentagon said it believed Iran fired with the “intent to kill.” But the facts suggest otherwise. Media reports indicate Tehran gave Baghdad advance warning of the strikes, and the Baghdad regime in turn informed the US, which moved its forces out of harm’s way. In spite of all the predictable misinformation and disinformation that quickly proliferated on the internet, there were apparently no casualties in strikes. (Reuters, CNN, ABC) Anonymous US and European sources even told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranians were thought to have intentionally targeted the attacks to miss US forces.

If Tehran’s objective was to save face while still preventing the crisis from escalating, it appears to have worked. Trump’s tweet as the news broke was not another display of his trademark bellicosity—on the contrary, he sounded uncharacteristically chill: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

And when that statement came at a press conference the next morning, Trump was again waxing mellow: “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.” Flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Trump said nothing about military retaliation, but announced “additional punishing economic sanctions” that will “remain until Iran changes its behavior.”  (NBC, CNN, Al Jazeera)

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani was a reckless and dangerous move in the US-Iran geo-strategic game for control of Iraq and the greater region. But a game, no matter how high-stakes and dangerous, is still in the end a game. Even if it is too late to rebuild the (bloody enough) status quo ante, Washington and Tehran may yet come to some unspoken accommodation. In the endless predictions of an imminent US war with Iran, we have this time come closer than ever before. For the moment, however, both sides appear to have taken at least a tentative step back from the brink of the unthinkable

Map: Wikiwand

  1. US sanctions Iran officials involved in vetting candidates

    The Trump administration Feb. 20 announced sanctions against five Iranian officials it said are responsible for preventing “free and fair” elections.

    The sanctions were announced a day before Iran’s parliamentary elections, which conservative hard-liners are expected to dominate.

    “Tomorrow, the Iranian regime will stage an event euphemistically called elections,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, said at a briefing announcing the sanctions. “Unfortunately for the Iranian people, the real election took place in secret long before any ballots were even cast.”

    The sanctions levied are on two members of Iran’s Guardian Council and three members of the council’s Central Committee for Election Supervision.

    The Guardian Council, a 12-member panel appointed by the supreme leader, is responsible for approving candidates to get on the ballot, a vetting process the US says rigs the elections in favor of those who share Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s ideology. Hook said the council denied more than 7,000 candidates ahead of the parliamentary elections. (The Hill)

  2. Trump vetoes Iran war powers resolution

    President Donald Trump vetoed senate Joint Resolution 68, commonly known as the Iran War Powers resolution, on May 6. The resolution came in response to the assassination of Qassem Soleimani in early January. In a statement released by the White House, Trump called the resolution “insulting” and characterized it as a political attack by Congressional Democrats. The resolution passed the Senate 55-45 and the House 227-186. It is unlikely that Congress will override the veto. (Jurist)

  3. Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump

    Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr announced that Iran has ordered through Interpol the arrests of 36 US political and military officials, including President Trump, who were allegedly involved in the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani in January. Interpol responded in a statement that they “would not consider requests of this nature.” (Jurist)

  4. Sabotage at Iran nuclear facility?

    A fire at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility caused extensive damage July 2. An unknown group calling itself “Cheetahs of the Homeland” claimed responsibility. (NYT, BBC News)

  5. Dispute against Iran over downing of passenger flight

    Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ukraine have collectively initiated dispute settlement proceedings Monday against the Islamic Republic of Iran before the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), alleging the use of weapons against passenger flight PS752. 

    The Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down Jan. 8 2020, just minutes after takeoff from the Tehran airport, killing all the passengers and crew on board. While they initially denied responsibility, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps eventually acknowledged that the flight was downed by its missiles, but the full details remain unknown. (Jurist)