US President Donald Trump could take “reckless” military action against Iran in his final days in office, experts have warned, as tensions between Tehran and Washington ascend before the first anniversary of the assassination Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
The United States has flown B-52 bombers over the Gulf three times in the past month, most recently Wednesday, in what the Trump administration called a deterrent to prevent Iran from retaliating on January 3, Soleimani’s birthday murder during a drone strike in the United States.
But with less than a month in the White House, Trump is under pressure from key allies in the Middle East – namely Israel and Saudi Arabia – to act against Iran, said Danny Postel, deputy director of the Center for International and Area Studies. at Northwestern University.
“Trump is a very injured, very cornered animal in an endgame scenario. He has a few weeks left and we know he is capable of extremely erratic behavior, ”Postel, an Iranian and US foreign policy expert, told Al Jazeera in an interview.
“His most erratic and reckless attacks may yet to come.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday: “New Iraqi intelligence indicates[s] that Israeli agent provocateurs are planning attacks on Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.
Without providing any evidence to back up his claims, Zarif warned Trump to “watch out for the pitfalls.” “All fireworks will turn against you, especially against your same best friends. [best friends forever]He tweeted.
New intelligence from Iraq indicates that Israeli agent provocateurs are planning attacks on Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.
Watch out for a trap, @realDonaldTrump. Any fireworks will backfire, especially against your very BFFs.
– Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 2, 2021
Earlier this week, Iran warned the United States not to escalate the situation as the anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination approaches, Zarif saying on Thursday that “Iraqi intelligence indicates [sic] plot to MANUFACTURE the pretext for war ”.
“Iran is not seeking war but will defend OPEN AND DIRECTLY its people, its security and its vital interests,” Foreign Minister said tweeted. On the same day, Iran condemned Washington’s “military adventurism” in a letter to the UN Security Council.
Iranian officials have pledged “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s assassination at Baghdad International Airport.
However, experts are not convinced Tehran would give the Trump administration a pretext to launch a military confrontation now when US President-elect Joe Biden, who intends to resume diplomatic engagement with Tehran, is expected to take his duties on January 20.
Biden has said he plans to join the Iranian nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a historic agreement signed under the administration of President Barack Obama that saw Iran limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 as part of his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, which also saw Washington impose crippling sanctions on several key Iranian industries.
This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran’s uranium stockpile was 12 times the limit set by the JCPOA in November. Iran too notified Friday, the IAEA planned to enrich the uranium to 20%, a level reached only before the JCPOA.
But supporters of the diplomatic engagement say it’s the only way to ensure Iran complies with international regulations, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his country will revert to the deal if other signatories move on. even.
Last week, a group of 150 Congressmen from the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives urged Biden to revert to the nuclear deal.
“We are united in our support for swiftly taking the necessary diplomatic steps to restore restraint on Iran’s nuclear program and bring Iran and the United States back to compliance. [JCPOA] as a starting point for new negotiations, ”they wrote in a letter of December 24 (PDF).
‘War of choice’
But concerns persist that Trump – who still refuses to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the US election – could take steps to make matters worse with Iran. The president in November asked for military options to strike Iranian nuclear facilities but refused to act, US media reported.
Experts also said in November that murder by a senior Iranian nuclear scientist – an act many observers blamed on Israel, but for which no claim of responsibility was made – was intended to complicate Biden’s plan to restart diplomacy with Iran.
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington, DC think tank, said Trump’s main backers – evangelicals and supporters of Israel, in particular – may be pushing for a confrontation.
As rumors circulate that Trump is planning a presidential race in 2024, the Republican leader may decide to “start a war of choice with Iran to finally kill the JCPOA and strengthen its grip on the GOP.” [Republican Party]Parsi told Al Jazeera in an email.
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future Iran initiative at the Atlantic Council, said on Friday that “the threat of a broader war between the United States and Iran remains as the Trump administration and Israel have recently deployed more assets in the region ”.
“Such a conflict would be a horrific culmination of the failure of the US ‘maximum pressure’ policy,” wrote Slavin, “which saw the United States unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA in 2018 while Iran was in full compliance. “
She added that there was a window for diplomacy ahead of Iran’s presidential elections in June – and that engagement is the only way forward.
“The United States – and Israel – cannot push its way toward Iranian non-proliferation or achieve that goal through cyber attacks. Only diplomacy has proven to be effective in limiting Iran’s nuclear activities. It’s the only reasonable way to move forward, ”Slavin said.
This was echoed by Postel at Northwestern, who said who is in power in the United States and Iran has a critical impact on the prospects for diplomacy. For example, the Iran nuclear deal was made when Obama and Rouhani – both in favor of international engagement – were in power.
Postel said Iranian extremists could be tricked into defeating Rouhani in the country’s next election later this year, making the current moment all the more important.
“I think this is a very critical moment in US-Iranian relations where there might be a chance to take war out of the equation and find a diplomatic solution at least to this fundamental issue of Iran’s nuclear program,” did he declare.
“This is a crucial moment in which we find ourselves in the US-Iranian relations.”