Tension is continuing to mount between Iran and the United States. This week, as the two sides continue lower level talks, Iran has decided to show off its military might with missile exercises around the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. At the same time, the U.S. has positioned more of its naval assets in the area in preparation for a potential military conflict.
The posturing of both sides comes right as biting sanctions took effect against Iran on July 1st that bar any foreign entities from selling or buying fossil fuel-related goods and services, lest they be penalized by the United States. Iran is said to be feeling the crippling effects of these sanctions as the prices for certain baskets of goods are skyrocketing, some by more than 90%.
Iran is again threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, the vital waterway in which much of the world’s oil gets to market. The Iranian parliament has drafted a bill to take such action that so far has received 100 of 290 signatures. In response to this threat, a senior U.S. administration official warned Iran not to, stating that the U.S. would put Iran’s fast boats on “the bottom of the Gulf” if it tried to harass commercial shipping vessels or U.S. assets.
The U.S. delegation is marred with political concerns in trying to establish a peaceful solution. Election year politics are weighing heavily, with the powerful Israel lobby watching the administration’s every move on the issue and the GOP lambasting the president for not being tougher. However, Iran poses an enormous military challenge that the U.S. is in no position to deal with at the moment. Iran knows this, which could explain their audacity in the face of sanctions and trying to call the United States’ bluff. Iran’s hands are also bound, but in a much harder way given its desperate economic situation and withering foreign and domestic support for its revolutionary ideals.
The U.S. is pushing the Iranian regime into a corner, and if it does go down in the end, it will not go without a fight. This has never solely been about Iran’s nuclear program, but more about Iran’s potential for regional dominancy that the West cannot allow if it is to maintain its dominance alongside Israel in the region. Iran also understands this logic, which is why it continues to defy the West regardless of its actions, scrambles to maintain the Assad regime in Syria – a critical ally – and has been doing whatever it can to strengthen other state-to-state relationships.
Once again, both sides are at an impasse, with Israel pushing the U.S. to favor a military response. So far, cooler heads have prevailed, and the Obama administration seems to be listening to its military officials who realize that a violent option would be a huge problem. If these latest talks do not amount to a resolution of some kind, the propensity for disaster will be higher than ever.