There is a little doubt that the recent move by Washington have already started having short term impacts in the Middle East but there are many other aspects which should not be forgotten and they might compensate for those short-term mishaps in the region.
Limited Menu of options for Tehran
Although Iran has started using its options of warfare in the region against US troops it has to be noted that it has a very limited scope of options available presently. It does have the warfare tools but present circumstances are such that Tehran is in no position to use them up to their maximum plausible extent. Washington seems to have taken a clear advantage of the crisis that Iran has been facing after the decision that White House took to revoke the Nuclear Deal with Iran in mid of 2018. Given the fact that Iran is suffering from domestic crisis and its citizens are echoing the democratic values inside the country, for US it could have been no better time to make an attempt to destabilize the Foreign policy aspects of Tehran. Soleimani, as an influential leader in the region, had an ability to easily gameplay the political affairs of other neighbouring countries and thereby increasing a probability of “Iran Friendly” region but after his assassination the vacuum created by him would not be filled sooner. In this context, Iran’s ability to persuade its neighbours in its favour during any possible conflict with US in future has also got a severe blow.
The options which Iran could have used are harming US bases in its nearby borders – which it has already done by blowing US bases in Iraq; using a covert warfare against Washington troops and officials – which yet again has been used when US embassy in Iraq came directly into attack from one of the radical military organisation known to have links with Tehran – the Hezbollah; it could also continue going against the provisions of Nuclear Deal up to an extent but not completely – because of segregation that it might face, in a worst case scenario, from other partners of Trade Deal which are also essentially members of European Union. Simultaneously considering the Syria problem and its own domestic issues, it is highly unlikely that Iran at this moment would like to have an excessive influence of Kremlin beyond a particular limit.
Also given the global slowdown; US Congress’ opinion in the further tussle with Iran; Tehran’s own economic issues; and a regional political instability in Middle East, a full-fledged war is a hypothetical situation which is highly unlikely to take place in near future. So, Tehran, even after having a potential to compete US up to some extent wouldn’t be able to do so in the present global order.
Iran’s Domestic Problems
Presently Iran is stuck into its own domestic problems which revolve around its political and economic spectrum. After the Iranian Revolution of 1980s, the realities have changed when it comes to Iranian politics and its various important components. A complete contrast can easily be observed in the country. In the early years, there was more of a single party system having only Islamic Republican Party and more than half of the representatives belonged to one particular section of the society – the clerics. More profoundly, the electorates or the people weren’t literate enough, the media was not free from the state influence, and overall a much more conservative and non-vocal society was there.
Presently there’s a multi-party system in the country having a much more educated group of electorates which occasionally raises its voice on various issues, there’s no more unlimited censorship on the media and women participation in the parliament has also seen a growth.
Given the economic slowdown in the country after the US imposed the sanctions in 2019 on the countries importing the oil and other natural resources from Tehran and failure of JCPOA in long term to create employment among the youth of the country backed by the changed political reality has created a domestic turmoil in the country. People have come out on the streets and have shown their anger to the decision makers by raising their concerns of unemployment amid the economic backlash that country has been going through. Furthermore, the issues of corruption and shutting down the protesters by present regime have just escalated the turmoil.
In this situation where the regime was going through its domestic crisis, it faced a severe disadvantage of having a lack of public support and thereby giving an optimum chance to Washington to strike on its another stronger branch – the military. Now by striking the military and assassinating Iran’s one of the most prominent military leader since decades, it has left Iran in a situation where it is shaken from both within inside – by internal challenges as well as from outside – by loss of a military leader thereby affecting its influence in the region as well as in the direct warfare.
Middle East without US is Not Possible at the Moment
Thinking of Middle East, presently, without US involvement would be immature. The region has always been high on the political instability having a constant tussle among the regional players. Trump, for his political motivations, might have had announced his will to free the region from US military but the policy makers in the Washington themselves are aware that leaving Middle East in the an era which has marked the chaos of political instability could be a major risk and certainly couldn’t be afforded as it would directly or indirectly lead to the regional tussle as well as hurdle in the global imports and exports of the trade of oil, petroleum, and other natural resources. Given this, Trump has yet again got an excuse to maintain US’s presence in the region as well as countering his political opponents for not fulfilling the election promise which he had made.
The Economy that US would like to Excel
The core benefit that Trump would be getting from this warfare with Iran – which is quite far away from a direct full-fledged war – is the economic boost for US and simultaneous exponential economic loss for Tehran. Since 2018, world has seen a complete flip in an overall picture of Washington’s net import and export of oil and other natural resources. This initially had created a conundrum for the OPEC countries and their respective policies. Now Trump is using it as a covert warfare weapon against Iran in the given circumstances. In September 2019, the US exported 140,000 bpd more total crude oil and petroleum products than it imported; and total exports exceeded imports by 550,000 bpd in October. Also, the expected estimate for the same in 2020 is 13.2 billion bpd.
OPEC countries are mostly from Middle East and the political instability in the region clearly implies the hurdles in the exports of oil, petroleum and shale giving direct benefit in the trade and exports of these resources to the US. Moreover, the already imposed US sanctions on the countries importing the resources from Iran backed by the fact that deadline of May 2020 for exemptions of sanctions to those countries like India which didn’t face sanctions at first place will further reduce Iranian market of export of resources and giving a clear edge to US in near future.
Thus, it would be very much incorrect to perceive the killing of military leader of Iran mainly as a mistake of White House. Trump might have a history of doing blunders but this time he has played cleverly in the region. It would be noteworthy to have a look at future implications and how Iran – after suffering few major blows – finds a way to deal with the situation which presently is not in its favour and in future too is moderately likely to be reinforced on the US side unless a major mistake is committed by Washington.