Despite last minute reprieve, US and Iran still on the brink of war
President Donald Trump called off airstrikes last minute against Iran, but the reprieve is likely only temporary from a clash that has brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.
Iran's economy is sputtering under mounting US sanctions that it's called "economic war" and said it will start enriching uranium and increasing its stockpile beyond the limits set by the nuclear treaty, which the Trump administration walked away from a little over a year ago.
Experts largely believe Iran's military and its proxy forces, which Tehran supplies and trains, will continue to seek confrontations against the US and its allies across the region due to the sanctions that are damaging Iran's economy.
"The enemy (Iran) believes it's acting defensively in light of economic strangulation, which it views as an act of war," Brett McGurk, the former special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS, wrote on Twitter. "That doesn't justify its acts but makes deterrence via one-off strikes harder & perhaps counter-productive."
If the enemy believes it’s already under attack and is lashing out (in its view) defensively, then limited strikes absent serious diplomatic initiatives are unlikely to change its mindset. Thus, there is a higher than normal risk of tit-for-tat escalation.— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) June 21, 2019
Last week, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which the US has blamed on Iran. The incident prompted anxiety from the UN and US allies, who've all preached restraint.
Iran has denied striking the tankers, in the face of a US military video showing what appears to be an Iranian patrol boat retrieving an unexploded limpet mine, and claims the downing of the US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone came after warnings it had entered Iranian airspace.
The Iranian attacks aim to raise the political costs of Trump's maximum pressure strategy against Iran, and Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute previously told INSIDER she expected Iran to "up the ante" against the US, even by kidnapping Americans in the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly told Iran that the US will respond with military force if Iran kills any Americans, and so it is unclear how the US would respond to a kidnapping.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.(Photo by Mark Taylor)
With the US taking no action against Iran for the drone attack other than condemnation, and possibly added sanctions, many experts think Iran has little reason to abandon its attacks.
"Unfortunately it sends a dangerous signal to Iran," Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy wrote on Twitter. "US aversion to escalation doesn't deter Tehran from escalating. And they have every incentive to continue until they get what they want: sanctions relief."
An interesting take ⬇️— Suzanne Maloney (@MaloneySuzanne) June 21, 2019
I think it will play well for Trump at home. Unfortunately it sends a dangerous signal to Iran. US aversion to escalation doesn't deter Tehran from escalating. And they have every incentive to continue until they get what they want: sanctions relief. https://t.co/Cax1CGlPXq
"We're not out of the woods yet," Ned Price, former senior director of the National Security Council under President Obama, told INSIDER.
Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the nuclear expert for the National Security Council under the Obama administration, told INSIDER, "Conflict between Iran and US can erupt at any time."
Wolfsthal said he's not aware of any new guidance given to military officials to "de-engage or avoid possible actions that could lead to provocations."
"In fact, I expect drones are flying the same course today," Wolfsthal added.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a diplomatic resolution to hostilities remains elusive.
Trump warned Iran of the impending, and ultimately halted, military strike via Oman on June 20, 2019, Reuters reported. The president also extended yet another offer to hold talks with Tehran.
An Iranian official told Reuters that a decision on whether to speak to the US would be made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has so far rebuffed Trump's proposals to hold talks.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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