Iran has responded to Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign with a policy of “maximum resistance”.
Since America withdrew from the nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions, the Islamic Republic has resumed its uranium enrichment program and development of advanced centrifuges in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It has carried out attacks against commercial shipping in the Gulf of Oman and against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. It has shot down one of the United States’ most advanced (and expensive) drone aircraft and threatened all-out war if attacked.
The current situation in the region is dangerous and unsustainable. America’s allies are under pressure to talk to Iran, something they would clearly rather not do. The lack of an American response to Iranian aggression will only embolden the mullahs in Tehran to continue their attacks and reach for more. In fact, Radio Farda reported Ayatollah Khameini recently told a gathering of The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC officers) that although they have been 100% successful, he was not satisfied and called on them to do more to "extend the Islamic Republic's outlook beyond the borders of Iran." The probability of a miscalculation and an uncontrollable escalation of hostilities increases with every day.
History teaches us that Iran’s leaders do not respond to pressure; they respond to lots of pressure. The 1988 tanker war successfully stopped Iranian attacks against international shipping in the Arabian Gulf. After the United States destroyed the Iranian navy and several oil platforms, Iran ended its sabotage of oil tankers. Moreover, Iranian concern that the United States might increase its support of Iraq was a contributing factor to Supreme Leader Khomeini’s decision to “drink from the poisoned cup” and agree to a cease-fire in the war with Saddam Hussein.
Deterrence is defined as threats of military retaliation directed by the leaders of one state to the leaders of another in an attempt to prevent the other state from resorting to the threat to use military force in pursuit of its foreign policy goals. If the United States is serious about protecting its allies and preventing a wider conflict in the region, it needs to adopt a policy of restrained deterrence.
What would such a policy look like?
First, America must clarify what its red lines are. Any attack – including cyber ones – by Iran or its proxies against either U.S. personnel or facilities, international shipping or critical infrastructure (pipelines, refineries, desalination plants, air and seaports) will be met with military response at a time and place of our choosing.
Second, this warning must be conveyed clearly and directly at the highest level to Iran, Russia, China and the Europeans.
Third, and most importantly, the United States must carry through on this warning when – not if – Iran challenges us. Failure to act would be catastrophic for America’s credibility as a superpower and for the security of the region.
Despite its provocations, the Supreme Leader does not want a conflict at a time when he is dealing with enormous fragility at home and a looming leadership transition. The chances of a strike on Iran triggering all-out war are highly unlikely, notwithstanding alarmist concerns to the contrary. Forceful and measured American deterrence is the best way to keep the peace and restore a measure of stability to the region.
For further reading on Khamenei's speech to IRGC officers click here. - Khamenei Tells Guards to Extend Influence In Foreign and Domestic Spheres.
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