As things stand today, any Iranian move in the Strait of Hormuz that can be portrayed as a threat to the “free flow of commerce” (that is, the oil trade) represents the most likely trigger for direct U.S. military action. Yes, Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support for radical Shiite movements throughout the Middle East will be cited as evidence of its leadership’s malevolence, but its true threat will be to American dominance of the oil lanes, a danger Washington will treat as the offense of all offenses to be overcome at any cost.
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The question is also whether the evolution of the North Korea crisis suggests that other crises like Iran could evolve similarly even if there are no indications as yet of that potentially being the case and despite the fact that Mr. Trump at one point declared his willingness to meet with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
Although Washington claimed the designation is aimed at confronting the IRGC’s destabilizing activities in the region, many in the US consider it as an unnecessary provocation. Given that the IRGC was already under a huge amount of pressure, including from sanctions, it is hard to see how the FTO designation will curb its regional influence and reach. In other words, the IRGC has successfully furthered Iran’s regional agenda and priorities, and it is expected to continue doing so under the new designation.
But to replace Iran’s exports to Iraq, the US and its allies need to have Iraq’s ruling elites on board, which is highly unlikely given that many of them are backed by Tehran; and provide real alternatives for Iraq’s need for Iran’s electricity and gas, which is also highly unlikely in the next two years at least. Therefore, it seems that the US anti-Iran policy in Iraq is facing a deadlock.
This course of events can lead to further escalation. Iran sees no other choice but to stick to its current options for deterrence. The U.S. wants to deprive Tehran of this capability that can cause trouble for Washington and its regional policy. But the Iranians look at the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA as a betrayal and do not want to repeat the same mistake with regards to their BMP. That’s why some argue that U.S. nuclear deal withdrawal works against its disarmament policy.