Will President Trump respond to Iran?

June 27, 2019
Will President Trump respond to Iran?
Abdulrhman Altrairi

Analysts are surprised over the failure of US President Donald Trump in responding with a military strike to the downing of an American drone by Iran. Perhaps, they are even more surprised when Trump revealed to the press that he had abruptly canceled the attack10 minutes before the launch.

Iran’s claim of it showing wisdom for not downing the aircraft, which was carrying American personnel while accompanying the drone, has triggered talks about how far Trump is serious in providing a military response.

As the analysts point out that if there is a war, it would begin unilaterally with a US decision and not by the decision of Iran, because of the latter’s myriad transgressions in the region including attacks on oil tankers and shooting down of the American drone. Iran fired the missile targeting the drone from the vicinity of its Iraqi embassy in Baghdad. Even after this provocation, Washington has not yet decided to go to war, or even contemplated launching of limited strikes on a number of military installations.

If we want to understand the reason behind this decision of the White House, I think, first we need to realize that President Trump has taken the matter very seriously and we cannot make an evaluation about this simply from his tweets. As for President Trump, he has some priorities, the most important of which is to ensure winning the presidency for a second term, and for this he has to manage tactfully the battle with his adversaries as well as with the Congress. In this context, he would have meticulously calculated the pros and cons of any military action.

This is why Trump made a statement about canceling the military strike after realizing that its casualties would go up to 150 civilian deaths. This shows the humaneness of the president. Perhaps the cyber attack targeting Iranian missile launchers would be more feasible and less expensive.

As a businessman, Trump knows in figures how the Iranian economy is suffering under the weight of sanctions that have been imposed in the oil and petrochemical sectors. Therefore, he instead decided last Monday to impose more economic sanctions. Harming the economy is the best way to make Iran succumb, even if it takes some more time, though Iran’s action warranted a military response.

In this scenario, we may recall what happened after Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M military plane. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not lack the courage and the ability to respond militarily over this issue but instead he opted to punish Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with strict economic sanctions and slapping a ban on imports of Turkish goods as well as on Russian tourism to Turkey. This forced Erdogan within a few months to become submissive and obedient to the dictates of Putin as well as to withdrawing Turkey’s support for the Syrian opposition.

I believe the path taken by Trump is a similar one thus ensuring the necessity of having a big military presence in the region mainly because Iran believes that the military threat is a card in its hands so as to have a better position in the terms of negotiations, especially the extent of its impact on energy prices and the security of maritime navigation.

The friendly overtures made by Trump for talks with Iran and his earlier remarks that the Swiss president can share a phone number to Iranians to call him for negotiations seem to be part of mounting internal pressures on the Iranian regime. The US and Iran do not have an official diplomatic relation and Switzerland serves as the protecting power for the US in the country. These gestures do not indicate Trump’s weakness, but would be useful for him on the domestic front if the Americans are forced to launch a military strike against Iran after exhausting all diplomatic means.

The Iranian leader has often said he would not accept negotiations, and President Rouhani spoke about strategic patience, which means patience with the hope of waiting until Trump leaves the White House, as per the advice of John Kerry, though betting on time is very expensive in the wake of the new economic sanctions.

The impact of sanctions has begun to bite the arms of Iran, especially Hezbollah, while also beginning to have its impact on the domestic front. The weight of the sanctions is sure to get heavier and it will increase with the passing of time, and this will be the real danger to the system.

I think that the Iran statement that it avoided hitting a plane that accompanied the downed drone was in a way apologizing to Washington, because President Trump has taken it seriously. It is also to be noted that Trump has fulfilled his election promises by tearing up the nuclear deal to pieces and re-imposing sanctions. When he said he would strike Syria, he did it a few days later at a time when many thought he would not do it.

— The author is a Saudi political analyst and media Consultant, he can be reached at me@aaltrairi.com and on Twitter @aAltrairi

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