In the face of rising tension between the United States and Iran, the Trump Administration has approved further military deployment in the Middle East. In Iran, the moderate president Hassan Rouhani has made appeals for unity, while hardliners have increased their inflammatory attacks on the United States.
The United States has recently increased its military presence in the region. A U.S. air force bomber task force arrived at a U.S.-controlled airbase in Qatar on the 9 May, and has subsequently approved the deployment of a warship and a Patriot missile defence system. In a statement regarding the situation, the Pentagon said: “The Department of Defense continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies. Due to operational security, we will not discuss timelines or location of forces. The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend US forces and interests in the region.” The Trump Administration has stated that they cannot rule out a military confrontation with the nation.
The recent actions of the United States are part of a longer record of hostile actions taken against the Iranian regime in recent years. In May 2018, the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal made with Iran, and reimposed sanctions on the country. One of the consequences of this withdrawal is that nations worldwide that do not stop purchasing Iranian crude oil may also become a target of U.S. sanctions. In April this year, the United States listed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the nation’s military, as a terrorist organisation. These latest military actions reinforce the administration’s hostile attitude towards Iran.
While the United States seems to be under the impression that increasing military presence in the region, combined with harsh economic sanctions, will help to contain Iranian hostility, it appears to be having the opposite effect. Last week, thousands of Iranians took to the streets in support of the Iranian government’s decision to reduce limits on its nuclear program. What did they chant? “America should know, sanctions have no effect!” The current political response relies on the moderate government. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for Iran’s political factions to unify in the face of increasing U.S. pressure, rather than allow political tensions to fracture the government at this time. The state news agency IRNA reported on Thursday that Rouhani told activists “The pressures by enemies is a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution… but I do not despair and have great hope for the future and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions provided that we are united.” However, his efforts to unite the country may be undermined by hardliners such as Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad, who have continued to spout inflammatory rhetoric, threatening the United States.
The American deployment of more military personnel and materiel into the region, while being done for ostensibly defensive reasons, is concerning. It appears that economic sanctions are not containing the nation as hoped, and while the current Iranian government is trying to maintain a moderate response, the influence of hardliners should not be underestimated. At present, the Iranian government has claimed that the American military build-up in the region is intended as “psychological warfare”. Hopefully, it remains this way.