Iran tensions: Hitting breaks or here to stay?
Zehra Nur Duz
Neither the US nor Iran have any intention to escalate the conflict between them following a US drone strike last week killing a top Iranian general in Iraq, a Turkish expert said, while another argued that increased tension and military conflict will continue in the medium and long term.
Early on Wednesday, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against the US military and coalition forces in Iraq, retaliating to the assassination of Iran’s Quds Forces commander Qasem Soleimani. This comes after the Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to expel American troops from the country while US President Donald Trump refused to comply, threatening Baghdad with sanctions.
“I do not expect the tension will aggravate further,” said Ahmet Uysal, the head of the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), arguing that the conflict was likely to continue in the “same old way” through proxies and at low intensity.
Tehran seems to have neither the power nor intention to escalate the conflict after its retaliatory missiles struck empty areas surrounding the US deployments earlier this week, with some of the projectiles even lacking explosive warheads, Uysal told Anadolu Agency. Similarly, there have been no serious reactions from the Trump administration, he added, noting there had been no American casualties.
In an apparent dampening of tensions following Iran’s missile strike, US President Donald Trump had told reporters: “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned, and a very good thing for the world.” Trump said the US had sustained no military casualties from the strike, signaling no additional US military action, though he promised additional “punishing” sanctions on Iran while Washington “evaluates options in response to Iranian aggression.”
Uysal stressed that the course of the previous indirect form of conflict would continue between Tehran and Washington. “Iranian proxies might attack the US bases,” he said, citing the possibility of such attacks from Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hashd al Shabi groups in Iraq.
Uysal underlined that, while an expansion of the conflict to other regions was unlikely, “arm-twisting” was set to yet remain. Uysal did not overrule the possibility of a “nearing agreement” before upcoming US elections as sanctions were severely crippling Iran’s economy. Describing Iranian discourse on “cutting the legs of the US in the Middle East” as “imaginary”, Uysal said that the US would not leave the region on the whim of Tehran and that Iran lacked the power to push them out.
“I believe that the US must receive its main response from regional peoples; they cut off our dear General Soleimani’s hand, and the response will be to cut America’s leg off the region,” Iranian President Rouhani had said in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Uysal, however, added that the US could limit Iran’s role in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria.
Noting that the rising tensions had also worried Israel due to the prospects of an attack by Hezbollah or Iran, Uysal predicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is running towards nearing elections, would use his leverage over Trump to make him at least delay any further escalation. Netanyahu had last Wednesday warned of a “resounding blow” against Iran if it attacked Israeli targets as tensions mounted in the region.
“Anyone who attacks us will receive a resounding blow,” Benjamin Netanyahu had said in a conference organized by the Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem-based think-tank. Praising US President Donald Trump and his decision to assassinate top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, Netanyahu said that while he supported the strike, Israel had not been involved in Soleimani’s killing, and should not be dragged into the issue.
Increased tension, military conflict to continue: Another expert argued that, while Trump’s latest remarks following Iran’s rocket attack aimed to reduce tension in the short term, escalation would likely continue in the medium and long term. According to Hakki Uygur, the deputy head of the Center for Iranian Studies in Ankara, Trump’s emphasis on NATO and his announcement of new sanctions indicated a “short breath” from the ongoing escalation between the two countries.
“There is no change in the main strategy of both countries,” Uygur said, adding: “Soon we will face new crises.” On Wednesday, President Trump vaguely said he would ask NATO to “become much more involved in the Middle East process.”
Trump emphasized that the US and Iran should work jointly on “shared priorities,” including the final defeat of the Daesh/ISIS terrorist organization. Underlining that the long-standing tension between the two countries had advanced to a military stage, Uygur said: “Increased tension and military conflict will continue.” Uygur highlighted that, in the coming period, Iran is likely to carry out attacks that bring it directly face to face with the US, rather than its previous calculated, traceless and legal attacks. Stressing that the ongoing conflict within Iraq would likely intensify in the coming period, Uygur said if the US hit 52 targets within Iran as Trump had previously announced, the conflict risked spreading to third countries.