As bilateral relations between the U.S. and Iran continue to deteriorate, DC Insider spoke with Farzin Nadimi, Associate Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, for further insight on the escalating tension.
Operation Sentinel seems to be at a standstill... Why is that? Is the U.S. depending on certain countries to cooperate? e.g. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked South Korea to send troops to the Strait of Hormuz.
“I actually believe that Operation Sentinel is progressing steadily. It might be more U.S.-centric than originally desired but it will eventually serve the limited purpose it was intended for well, and that will be safeguarding the freedom of navigation in and out of the Strait of Hormuz. Britain, as the most important U.S. ally, will take part while other countries will also participate - directly or indirectly. Japan will eventually provide naval assets, to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea of course, but it could still free up U.S. naval vessels for patrolling the riskier waters around the Strait of Hormuz. Countries such as South Korea, Australia, and India will eventually participate in some form or the other, also. But I suspect Iran will want to reassert its commanding role in the Strait of Hormuz from the beginning, also with the purpose of discouraging other countries from participating in the coalition.”
Several reports have insinuated that Abraham Lincoln, along with numerous smaller ships, are currently docked at a U.S. naval base in Bahrain. Is there any truth to this, and if so- would these ships be more on the offense or on the defense?
“That is not correct. The Abraham Lincoln’s carrier strike group is actually operating in the northern Arabian Sea waters opposite Oman, frequently calling at Omani port of Duqm for port visits and replenishment. As the commander of the Lincoln air wing said [this week], the 77 or so aircrafts embarked on the carrier are ready to conduct offensive, as well as defensive, missions on moment’s notice. Their role, however, is more a viable deterrence, hence the decision to keep it out of the Persian Gulf and out of the reach of most Iranian weapons. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the Lincoln strike group is entirely out of harm’s way... Iran still has the means and intentions of attacking Lincoln if a war breaks out.”
Considering all the problems that are arising, how close are we to another war with Iran?
“Under the current circumstances, neither Iran nor the U.S. wants war and both rely on other ways of achieving their objectives. However, a continued U.S. policy of maximum economic pressure against Iran on one hand, and Iran’s inflexible revolutionary ideological principles on the other, means that there is little room for a lasting and comprehensive solution. The risk of war indeed exists, even though the U.S. lacks the political will while Iran lacks the economic resources and social will to get involved in a war. Yet, the IRGC is confident it will be victorious in any conflict with the U.S., and so does Iran’s supreme leader. This overconfidence runs the risk of miscalculation, which somehow reminds me of the Japanese empire right before the Pearl Harbor attack. I believe that the IRGC is miscalculating their ‘invincibility’ and the American vulnerability, and this is worrying. The shooting down of the American Global Hawk drone on June 20 also contributed to this notion. I don’t see the Americans downplaying the possibility of a quick escalation caused by a dramatic Iranian reaction to any aggressive behavior by the maritime security coalition, so both sides will try to manage the escalation.”
In recent weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sending "mixed signals" regarding the possibility of future talks. How will this comment affect bilateral relations between the two respective countries in the long run?
“I am not a political expert, but I don’t think that the relationship between President Trump and President Macron is at its best- on a personal level. Traditionally, France has always pursued an independent foreign policy and will continue to do so... In fact, France might have the best chance of reaching some sort of interim agreement with Iran notwithstanding the U.S. current lack of enthusiasm. I don’t think, though, the current disagreements will affect long-term U.S.-France relations because even the French know that despite their lack of enthusiasm for U.S. policies, to reach a long-standing solution with regard to Iran- Tehran must agree to fundamental changes to its revolutionary principles.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian responded to Trump’s comments by emphasizing that “France speaks for itself on Iran as a sovereign power.” Does this statement entail that France is moving further away from supporting the Trump administration in its choices, especially regarding Iran?
“Not necessarily, but I do believe that France will maintain an independent position with regard to any Gulf security arrangement... That was the case during the 1980s as well.”
With all the backlash that the U.S. has been receiving, is it possible that the U.S. is beginning to regret their decision on withdrawing from the JCPOA last year?
“Not yet... I believe that the Trump administration still believes it made the right decision. That might change, though, if an unchanging situation affects the next presidential election’s outcome.”
According to Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, Israeli involvement in any maritime coalition in the Gulf is a "clear threat" to Iran's national security and the Islamic Republic has a right to confront the threat. Why is Iran so worried at the idea of Israel getting involved?
“I think the idea of an Israeli involvement in the Gulf maritime security coalition is more psychological than real. Even though Israel is very experienced in dealing with asymmetrical naval threats and has developed effective systems, such as unmanned surveillance speedboats, I don’t think that any Israeli involvement will go beyond intelligence sharing or provision of specialized equipment at best. It is more of a psychological measure and a very effective one at that, judging from the Iranian reactions. Iran is worried because once it boasted Iranian forces were on the Israeli borders and now it has to grapple with even the thought of an official Israeli military/security presence on its doorsteps. They can’t even think about it!”
With all said and done, what can we expect from the G7 summit in Biarritz?
“I don’t think we should expect any dramatic breakthrough, especially with the absence of Russia. The summit could solidify U.S.-British relations, but we have to wait and see if Trump and Macron will manage to bring the positions of their respective countries with regard to Iran any closer. Developments in the next couple of weeks will be influential, too.”
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