Some Gulf States like to hide behind the US and Israel and claim that Washington and Tel Aviv can confront the threat to the region posed by Iran. They cite the fact that the US rescued them from Iraqi militarism in the 1990s. However, the truth of the matter is that the US will not fight Iran this time, and the government in Tehran does not actually pose a threat to the region at all. The whole “Iranian threat” theory is false.
Nevertheless, we have not witnessed such tension in the Gulf in years. The mysterious Fujairah incident and the attack on two Saudi oil tankers this week could make matters worse. The US is moving its navy, but that does not mean that war is imminent or that this tension will develop into a direct military confrontation between Tehran and Washington. The US will not wage war on Iran and will not allow any military engagement with it by other forces in the region, because Washington cannot and does not want to fight a war with Iran.
There are a number of reasons for this. For a start, the US has been winding its forces down in the Middle East, not increasing their presence (despite the latest reports that it is “reviewing” plans to send more troops there), ever since the pull-out from Iraq with significant losses. It had a debt of $6.7 trillion at the time of its 2003 invasion and emerged after ten years with the largest debt in history, exceeding $17 trillion. This is in addition to the failure of the American project in Iraq despite years of occupation.
Furthermore, a military confrontation in the Gulf means that oil prices will rise to record levels, beyond the $100 a barrel barrier. This will not be accepted by Washington; President Donald Trump did all he could late last year to ensure a drop in prices. It should be noted here that the US is the largest consumer and the largest importer of oil in the world, which means that war with Iran will have two major bills to pay in military terms and on the economic front.
Iran also possesses an advanced arsenal capable of turning the region upside down. Hence, a direct and open military confrontation with Tehran will affect many other countries in the region. Neither the US nor the countries themselves are likely to accept this.
Finally, the question remains: what does the US want to achieve from this escalation with Iran? The answer is that the Trump administration, which bases its decisions on business rather than politics, most likely wants to blackmail the Arab Gulf States by announcing that the Iranian threat is escalating and America is the only one confronting it. As such, the gains that these countries will receive from increased oil prices will push them towards the US in one way or another. This will allow America to benefit both from the increase and decline in oil prices.
The bottom line is that the US will not and cannot fight a war with Iran because such a war will pose a threat to the world oil market. It may also change the regional map. Moreover, it cannot possible end in big gains for the Americans, whereas keeping their differences at a rhetorical and political level has the potential to provide many benefits for the US. It is unlikely, therefore, that the crisis will develop beyond this.
This article first appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 13 May 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.