During his election campaign in 2016, Donald Trump vehemently criticised the Barack Obama administration for a nuclear deal with Iran in lieu of easing economic sanctions on the country. A week after entering the White House in January 2017, Trump issued an executive order that banned entry of Iranian citizens into the US in the name of protecting the nation from foreign terrorists.
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, the US administration was required to certify every 90 days that Iran was complying with the provisions with regard to nuclear programme. Trump administration issued the certificate in April 2017.
But, Trump was building a context to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran as was clear from his address in the UN in September 2017. In May 2018, Trump announced pulling out of the nuclear deal. Wednesday is the first anniversary of the announcement.
Three days ahead of the anniversary, the US made a surprise announcement to deploy an aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber in the Persian Gulf that separates Iran from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The US attributed the decision to up the ante against Iran to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, which John Bolton, the national security adviser in the Trump administration did not elaborate while briefing the media on Sunday night in Washington, DC.
The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces, said Bolton.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to announce his counter measures on Wednesday, coinciding with the anniversary of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran.
Trump and tension with Iran
Tension between the US and Iran has been escalating since Trump came to power. The deployment of USS Abraham Lincoln followed a series of developments in recent weeks. In April, Trump administration declared the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite force of Iran, a terrorist organisation.
The decision by President Trump came in the view of strong opposition from Pentagon, the defence establishment of the US. The top defence officials of the US warned Trump that the move could lead to retaliation by Iran or Shia groups backed by Iran against the US forces or their allies in the Arab peninsula. But Trump overruled their objection.
Iran responded by declaring the US forces present in West Asia as terrorist organisation. It came as a reminder from the 1970s when Iran was heading towards an Islamic revolution and the Jimmy Carter administration of the US supported the Shah regime in Tehran. Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution, had declared the US as the Great Satan.
Turning the clock back
Following the Islamic Revolution, the US-Iran relation could not become friendly again. In 1988, the two countries engaged in a short military conflict when Ronald Reagan was the US president. Iran achieved limited success as it managed to damage USS Samuel B Roberts, a guided-missile frigate. The US responded by shooting down a commercial flight killing 290 people including many children.
Hostilities between the US and Iran took a backseat during the US-Iraq war of early 1990s before resuming with the US Congress passing fresh sanctions on the country in 1996, when Bill Clinton was the US president. Iran responded by targeting a US military camp in Saudi Arabia, which fearing military escalation pressed for vacating its territory.
Aggression continued between the two sides through the Bush years when the US president theorised axis of evil clubbing Iran, Iraq and North Korea together as enemy nations. A shift in the policy was visible with Barack Obama, who ensured a nuclear deal under which Iran was to desist from military use of atomic power and the US was to ease economic sanctions.
Final build up
Under Trump, economic sanctions have been ratcheting. Iranian economy is under tremendous pressure. Inflation has gone past 40 per cent causing lots of hardship to the people. The Rouhani government, however, is not ready to buckle down under pressure from the US.
Oil exports to select countries have kept Iranian economy afloat. India has been a major oil importer from Iran and thus a big factor in the country’s economic well-being despite sanctions. The US, on the other hand, has been pushing for zero oil export from Iran.
Reports suggest that the recent UN decision to designate Masood Azhar a global terrorist which happened after a lot of to-and-fro between India, the US and China came with a rider from the Trump administration.
Trump wants India to completely stop import of oil from Iran to return the favour for getting designation for Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, who is responsible for a series of terror attacks in India.
The US has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq and around 2,000 soldiers in Syria. Given that Iran has shown a tendency of escalating the military cost for the US, the deployment of a warship in Persian Gulf indicates that Trump might just be ready for yet another American war in the Middle-East.