Towards a break in the escalation between the United States and Iran

Iranian strikes on American bases in Iraq, in response to the assassination of an Iranian general, constitute a calibrated response that avoids an escalation of Donald Trump, judge many experts, while warning that Tehran risks prosecuting retaliation by devious means.
After promising to avenge the death of Qassem Soleimani, the architect of its strategy in the Middle East, Iran fired 22 missiles on Wednesday on bases of the international coalition sheltering American soldiers in Iraq.

But these strikes have killed “no American” and the material damage is “limited,” welcomed US President Donald Trump, whose reaction was eagerly awaited, in a solemn address to the White House.

“Iran seems to be backing down,” he said, surrounded by senior executive officials and senior Pentagon officers, adding that the United States was “ready for peace” with those who wanted it.

Donald Trump has returned to a more political register, far from any military escalation, by announcing new economic sanctions against Iran and by calling on the Europeans to quit the Iranian nuclear deal that he himself denounced in 2018 .

“We are not looking for escalation or war,” was also quick to point out the head of Iranian diplomacy Mohammad Javad Zarif, adding that the “proportionate” reprisals of the night were “over”. The supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, however, considered that this “slap in the face” of the United States was “not sufficient for this affair”.

“Squaring the circle”

In the opinion of several analysts, the Iranian government responded quickly to satisfy its public opinion, while choosing to scale its response to avoid provoking a large-scale confrontation with its historic enemy.

“With these attacks, Tehran has shown its capacity and determination to respond to American attacks, thus saving face, while carefully choosing its targets to avoid making victims and thus provoking a Trump reaction,” analyzes specialist Annalisa Perteghella. from Iran to the Italian Geopolitical Analysis Institute Ispi.

“The Iranians have attempted to square the circle, a very proportionate attack that is not necessarily likely to provoke the response promised by Trump,” says François Heisbourg, expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris.

In the end, Donald Trump even reiterated his proposal for negotiations with Iran on his nuclear program and his influence in the region, even if he continues to pose conditions that are difficult for Tehran to accept.

“This possibility comes back at least virtually”, cautiously notes François Heisbourg. “Given the events of the past few days, it’s not absolutely obvious, but Trump has also shown that he can act brutally. No one can accuse him of acting in a weak position, ”he adds.

“Stab”

In the opinion of a number of analysts, we must nevertheless expect Tehran to continue its destabilization activities in the region via its back-up.

“The Iranian response is fireworks, it gives the illusion of a response, because they have no interest in raising the mayonnaise. What we have to wait for now is the stab behind the curtain that will come later “, abounds Thomas Flichy de La Neuville, associate researcher at Oxford University and professor of geopolitics at the Rennes School of Business .

“Nobody wants a large-scale confrontation, neither Trump for electoral reasons, nor on the Iranian side, because Tehran does not have the means, neither economic nor military. But this type of situation can get out of hand. The risks are very high, ”warns Marc Finaud, former French diplomat and expert at the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

With the strikes, “the Iranians wash their honor, which is a very important factor because of the value of Soleimani. The question is whether this is enough for them, “warns John Raine, geopolitics expert at the British think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), fearing that Tehran is considering” attacks on American interests elsewhere in the region, particularly in countries where Iran has operational levers ”.

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