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Does the US just want to change Iran's role, or actually go to war?

US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on 13 May 2019 in Washington, DC [Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in Washington, DC on 13 May 2019 [Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

The philosophy that US President Donald Trump lives by is simple: "A businessman does not fight, he makes money." This is how he deals with international affairs.

However, there is another factor that cannot be overlooked when discussing any possibility of war between the US and Iran: the fact that Boris Johnson is now Britain's Prime Minister. Johnson's connection to Trump reminds me of the "Bush-Blair" alliance, so will Britain get involved in another US military adventure in the Gulf? There are many major players in the ring, such as China and Turkey, which may be observers at the moment, but they have relative weight in the course of events.

We must ask if the US and Britain actually need Iran. Before answering this question, though, we must consider the feasibility of the economic sanctions on the government in Tehran. The US is waging a fierce economic war against Iran in order to subjugate it and cause a radical change in its behaviour. In return, Tehran has created what it calls a "resistant economy".

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Trump's efforts to make his sanctions succeed are aimed at damaging the prestige of the Iranian regime in the eyes of its supporters and the Iranian people. The British and Americans know that the Iranian government is at a low point and needs to use propaganda in order to appear to be strong. The sanctions are thus a humiliating and degrading provocation aimed at tempting a Revolutionary Guard Corps officer, for example, or the leaders of Iraqi or Lebanese Shia militias to do something foolish, of any magnitude; in other words, to be the straw that breaks the camel's back and prompt a military response from the West. This is what Trump is waiting for; he wants an Iranian official, or one of Tehran's allies, to make a mistake.

I believe that the US will not be able to break Iran economically in the near future because it continues to export oil, bypassing the US sanctions. Despite US statistics on the Iranian economy to the contrary, those who live in Iran know that they have become experts at finding a way around sanctions. There are many states and individuals around the world willing to smuggle Iranian oil and related products onto international markets in order to make a quick profit.

Beyond the unilateral conflict between the US and Iran, will Britain join the struggle in the Gulf? I believe that both the US and Britain actually need Iran, but not as an enemy. The issue goes beyond Iran to China and its ambitions to reach Europe. The Chinese have confirmed that Iran is a major point in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which includes a "Silk Road Economic Belt, a trans-continental passage that links China with south-east Asia, south Asia, central Asia, Russia and Europe"; the decline of the Iranian currency as a result of the sanctions and the recent flight of foreign investors from Iran is a huge opportunity for Chinese businessmen to strengthen their presence there.

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Furthermore, the US needs Iran to keep Europe perpetually afraid of Sunni Islam and rebellious youth in the Arab countries. The equation is not easy and moving the conflict outside the borders of Europe may be Boris Johnson's philosophy going forward. Keeping the Middle East in a state of constant tension is a strategic goal. Moreover, controlling the waterways and energy resources in Muslim countries requires the citing of historical and ideological hostility to justify a continued military presence.

In addition, while the Arabs are not an important or difficult factor in the equation, the circle is gradually moving towards Turkey, Pakistan and the ambitions of China. Hence, the US only wants to change Iran's role and add more than one variable to the conflict equation, while simultaneously preserving the state, not least because if Iran falls, then Washington will be forced to deal with each of its ideological partners separately, which is something it cannot do, either politically or militarily.

Will China sell out Iran if it is successful in agreeing a trade deal with the US that includes the condition that Beijing stops buying Iranian fuel? That is a question for another day.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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