Is US-Iran War really an option after the reimposition of sanctions on Iran? Since the November 5 US sanctions against Iran, there have been no military incidents in the Persian Gulf zone, an area that was considered the epicentre of future US-Iran clashes. The US administration, for now, has amended their plans and avoided any confrontation in the Persian Gulf region.
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The day after Washington tightened anti-Iranian sanctions, it became known that the US Department of Defense rejected the request of the country’s Central Command (CENTCOM) for deploying ‘additional military resource’ in the Persian Gulf.
Military Presence and Re-Looking at Strategy
A request for an increase in military presence was made in connection with the concern that Iran might give a military response to the US’s earlier imposed sanctions. The Pentagon’s decision was also taken against the backdrop of ongoing consultations led by the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis and the Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford with ‘senior commanders around the world.’ According to the US media, the goal of these ‘high-level consultations’ is the optimal allocation of military resources in the next two years.
General Dunford gave precedence to the Gulf zone, in particular, for the medium term, called optimal deployment of troops ‘in accordance with our strategy.’ It is obvious that the key element of the latter is the so-called ‘containment of Iran’ at all the nodal points of mediated military confrontation. These are Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and, of course, the Persian Gulf zone. At the same time, the American commander pointed out the need to assess the real capabilities of the United States.
The Pentagon, in turn, refers to the need to regroup the US military on a global scale, whilst keeping in mind the ‘potential threat’ from China and Russia. And such a redeployment affects the US military presence in the Middle East.
To focus on threats from China and Russia, the US is withdrawing four Patriot missile defence systems from this region which was reported in late September by The Wall Street Journal. According to the information, the withdrawal of complexes from Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain will take place before the end of the year. This decision was made by US Defense Secretary James Mattis as part of the regrouping of forces and equipment in the light of new threats.
‘Deterring Iran’ can be considered a long-term goal within the framework of the US military strategy; falling under both the current and long-term plans of the Pentagon and CENTCOM.
However, the first two higher authorities of the US Armed Forces made it clear to CENTCOM that they did not see the threat of Iran’s military activity in the Gulf against Arab allies, and American interests in the Middle East. According to sources of the same CNN, US military intelligence currently does not fix Iran’s direct preparation for retaliatory measures against toughening of sanctions against it. It is also noted that not a single US intelligence community service involved in the Middle East predicts what the response of Tehran to sanctions would be.
There is a general understanding that the Iranian side will respond in an asymmetrical manner, using all possible military equipment. But the US military intelligence does not have reliable information as to what would be the forms, limits and timing of the deployment of such a response.
This ‘tactical uncertainty’ explains the rush of CENTCOM to strengthen the grouping of troops in its area of responsibility. However, the Pentagon found this unjustifiable. It is possible that one of the main reasons for the US command was non-provocation of Iran for excessive activity in the Gulf. And the fact that the Iranians began to prepare ahead of time for the worst military scenarios for the development of the situation in the region is an indisputable fact.
Iran Watches Keenly
After the US withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal, Tehran made it clear that they can ‘track any activity’ at US bases in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
This was stated on May 24 by the former commander of the ground forces of Iran, now the head of the Center for Strategic Studies under the country’s Armed Forces, Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan.“We know what is at (military) bases in Saudi Arabia and other countries, we know the number of vehicles of (our) enemies in the Persian Gulf, and we have an idea of what they can do,” Pourdastan said.
Iran will never be the first to start a war, but if external threats become serious, the country’s armed forces will begin to neutralize them, no matter where they come from, warned the former commander-in-chief of the Iranian ground forces.
Iranians will not be the first to start a war, but this does not mean that they will not initiate pre-war preparations and demonstrate their capabilities in the Gulf. The principle is very simple: if we are unable to trade in oil, then such trade will become problematic for the producers of ‘black gold’ on the Arabian Peninsula. The military-political leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly warned about such a prospect of blocking shipping in the Gulf.
The Iranian naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz kept the US on its toes, with the US military command in the Middle East calling Tehran a ‘threat’ to Washington. The involvement of about 100 small high-speed combat boats of the Iranian Navy attempted to demonstrate what the 5th US operational fleet expects in the region.
Recall, Iranian President Rouhani, with a working visit to Europe, warned that the entire oil supply system from the Middle East region could be in danger if the United States continues to push its partners to abandon the purchase of Iranian oil.
What kind of retaliatory measures Tehran can take if the American side continues its policy of forcing foreign companies to refuse to import Iranian oil, the President of the Islamic Republic did not clarify. However, Iranian officials had earlier announced the possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz, through which one of the world’s largest routes of ‘black gold’ passes.
The Anxious Commander
The anxiety of the US commander Votel against the “crippling” Iranian economy and its main source of income sanctions then and now is quite understandable. From here comes the CENTCOM request for the concentration of additional forces in the Gulf region, which has so far been rejected by the Pentagon. However, they will definitely return to this issue, in the first months of next year, the naval grouping of the 5th fleet of the US Navy will expand its mission at the Strait of Hormuz.
The United States on November 5th, tightened sanctions against Iranian companies and individuals operating in the oil, banking and transport sectors of the Iranian economy. “The unprecedented pressure on Iran from US’s Treasury Department should clearly demonstrate to the Iranian regime that it will face increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation, until it fundamentally changes its destabilizing behavior (in the Middle East),” the Finance Minister Steven Mnuchin said.
The US Gives Partner Countries Free-Hand
However, the US administration has allowed individual countries to continue to import Iranian oil. According to US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, these US partner countries have significantly reduced oil imports from Iran, but they need extra time to completely nullify the purchases of Iranian energy. China, India, Japan, South Korea, Greece, Italy and Turkey are included in the list of countries for which temporary relief is set (within 180 days) in the matter of refusing to purchase Iranian oil.
Thus, the 180-day relief for the largest buyers of Iranian oil expires at the beginning of May 2019, right to the anniversary of the US withdrawal from a nuclear deal. The White House has warned that six-month relaxation period in the compliance with the sanctions regime will not be extended.
In addition, a signal was sent on the need for gradual reduction by the beneficiary countries of the volume of Iranian oil purchased. Therefore, the strengthening of the US Navy in the Gulf can be used by the Trump administration as a demonstration of their own principled attitude to achieve the final result from the partners in the form of zeroing imports of Iranian oil.
The US Remains Strong in the Middle East
Speaking at the international security conference Manama Dialogue, held annually on October 27 in the capital of Bahrain, the Pentagon chief assured the Arab audience that Russia would never be able to replace America in the Middle East. “The Russian presence in the region cannot oust the long-term, long-lasting and transparent obligations of the United States,” said James Mattis.
Two days later, on October 29, CENTCOM Commander Joseph Votel expressed confidence that the assassination of Khashoggi had no effect on the military cooperation between Washington and Riyadh, which still remains ‘solid and deep.’
The United States cannot let the Gulf Arabs float freely; this is filled with losses in all areas of their close partnership with the allies, from multi-billion dollar military contracts to the impressive investments of dynasties in the Arabian peninsula in the US government and the economy as a whole.
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