The US and Iran Are Playing a Dangerous Game
by Volker Perthes—BERLIN – As the United States and Iran face off in the Persian Gulf, their asymmetric conflict risks spiraling out of control. Unless the rest of the world gets involved, the dangerous game both countries are playing could end in direct confrontation.
The spiral was arguably set in motion in May 2018, when the US announced its withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions. Since then, the US has escalated its sanctions multiple times, as part of a “maximum pressure” strategy that has slashed Iran’s commercial transactions with the rest of the world, gutted oil revenues, spurred currency devaluation, and sent the economy into recession.
Because Iran doesn’t have the capacity to respond in kind to the US, it has had to get creative. For starters, it has put pressure on America’s European allies – including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union as a whole – arguing that they should step in to ensure the benefits that it was supposed to gain under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 agreement is formally known.
At the same time, Iran has reduced its compliance with several of its JCPOA commitments – for example, exceeding agreed limits for nuclear enrichment and resuming research on advanced centrifuges. While US President Donald Trump’s administration seems unable to understand the danger this poses, the EU does.
Moreover, Iran is using asymmetrical warfare in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. In recent months, it has seized multiple foreign oil tankers. It has also downed a US military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz – a vital sea-lane for oil shipments – and seems to be responsible for a series of acts of sabotage on nearby ships. The attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Saudi oil installations have also been attributed to Iran.