Even after facing toughest US sanctions in history and severe economic conditions for many months now, Iran continues to stand tall in front of US economic and military aggression. Certainly, the US based “Iran experts” advising the Trump administration never expected such level of resilience and resistance. On the contrary, what they expected was an Iranian capitulation under “maximum pressure” and a victory for the US For Iran, imposition of sanctions is, as its leaders have expressed many times, an act of war and the Iranian act of downing a US spy drone speaks volumes about Iranian preparation to face a US military aggression. Most certainly, the US policy makers were not expecting such action from the Iranian side; hence, the shocking surprise at the Iranian “counter pressure” tactics. The downing of a spy drone is no small act. Consider this:
The drone that the US military uses has a price tag much higher than its latest F-35 stealth fighters. The drone per unit cost is around $176 million; while an F-35A fighter costs around $89 million. But the price tag is itself not the whole story. A drone is by default designed in a way to be much harder for air defence systems to track and hit. Flying at an altitude of 65,000 feet, the RQ-4 done could only be hit by a highly sophisticated surface-to-air missile. Speaking of Iranian capability, the downing of an ultra-modern drone has left many in Washington scratch their heads. While some got disillusioned, others did war-mongering.
An attack was ordered and later on aborted, if we’re to believe the US president. The act of abortion is not heroic; rather it spotlights the embarrassing situation the US is caught in and practically knows no way out of. The story of ‘attack and abortion’ appears to be no more than a way out of embarrassment that was caused by a high-profile spy mission over Iran going horribly wrong. It is possible that hawks in Washington might have pressed for war; after all, this is what they have always wanted and have never made any attempts at concealing their intentions. But the fact that a US attack did not happen shows the gradually prevailing realisation in Washington that the Iranian case poses far bigger challenge than Afghanistan and Iraq and that an attack on Iran would unleash forces that the US wouldn’t be able to control.
The US allies in the region have received a clear message as well. Iran has disclosed that the US drone took off from the UAE, and there is no doubt that the UAE is very well within the range of Iranian missiles. While Iran hasn’t directly threatened US allies, Hezbollah has and it secretary-general Hasan Nasrallah has been stressing in his speeches, “war on Iran will not remain within that country’s borders, rather it will mean that the entire [Middle East] region will be set ablaze. All of the American forces and interests in the region will be wiped out, and with them the conspirators, first among them Israel and the Saudi ruling family.” Any aggression against Iran would, therefore, mean that all of the UAE infrastructure as well as oil and gas facilities are legitimate targets because the UAE territory is where the US operations are being directed from. It is already time for the UAE to decide its fate.
This is in response to the increasing war-mongering going on in the US According to a report of The Jerusalem Post, “diplomatic sources at the UN headquarters in New York revealed….the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders….the military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program…” The spy-drone was perhaps pitched for that very purpose and that explains why Iran chose to hit this drone and spare another US aircraft that had also violated Iranian air-space.
But according to other reports, “military officials have warned the White House that its maximum-pressure campaign against Iran is motivating threats to United States troops and American interests in the Middle East.” This is apart from the fact that every single European government believes that the potentially explosive situation in the Gulf or the so-called “Iranian threat” is a reaction to the US leaving the Iran nuclear agreement and trying to force Iranian capitulation on other issues that were not part of the agreement ever. Trump would sense that any move against Iran by the US will be a solo act.
What president Trump now needs is an exit from a situation that he is losing control of. The “maximum pressure” has failed in its both objectives: an Iranian capitulation or a popular uprising against the regime. Missile strike on the drone has confirmed Iranian political will, leaving the US president all the reasons to re-think his strategy at a time when he has just kicked off his 2020 election campaign. Surely, he wouldn’t want to see his campaign being consumed entirely by war-mongers.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.