Over the past month, tensions have escalated as Iran and the US move closer to military conflict. Here is what you should know about the burgeoning crisis and the reason for the increased animosity between the two nations.
What’s going on between the US and Iran?
Over the past year, the Trump administration has taken steps to compel Iran to negotiate the “Iran Deal.” “This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” the president said last year. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.” In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the agreement and reimposed strict sanctions.
As the effect of the sanctions is being felt in Iran, the Islamic republic has begun to push back in ways that increase the likelihood of provoking a military response from the US.
What is the “Iran Deal”?
From 2013 to 2015, the Obama administration represented a cadre of international partners in reaching an agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. This agreement, frequently referred to as the “Iran deal” or the “Iran nuclear deal,” is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This plan was implemented on January 16, 2016.
According to the stipulations of the JCPOA, as long as Iran remained in compliance with all the requirements, the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union would agree to lift the nuclear-related sanctions placed on that country. (Other sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, missile program, and destabilizing activities in the region remain in place.)
Although the US withdrew from JCPOA last May, the sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and financial sectors didn’t begin taking effect until November 2018, and some exemptions were extended until May 2019.
How have the sanctions affected Iran?
The reimplementation of sanctions has devastated the Iranian economy and driven the country into a recession.
The unemployment rate in the country is 12 percent, and nearly 25 percent of Iran’s youth are out of work. The current inflation rate is at 30.6 percent. (In comparison, the inflation rate of the US has averaged 3.26 percent from 1914 until 2019, reaching an all-time high of 23.70 percent in June 1920.) When the nuclear deal began in 2015, Iran’s currency traded at 32,000 rials to one US dollar; today it is at 148,000 rials to the dollar. The result is that Iran’s 80 million people struggle to buy food, medicine, and other necessities of life.
The US gave countries still buying oil from Iran a six-month exemption from sanctions. That ended on May 2. The lack of oil sales is expected to make Iran’s economic crisis even worse. At the start of 2018, Iran’s crude oil production reached 3.8 million barrels per day. In March, oil exports had dropped to about 2.3 million barrels per day. President Trump has previously declared he intends to “bring Iran’s oil exports to zero and deny the regime its principal source of revenue.”
What sparked the most recent escalation?
Last month the White House formally declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be a terrorist organization. Then, on May 5, National Security Advisor John Bolton issued a statement saying that “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” by Iran had prompted the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf. The purpose, said Bolton, was to send an “unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
Administration sources later said that Iran had loaded missiles onto small boats run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. American officials claim the missiles were intended to target Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
Three days after Bolton’s announcement, Iran threatened that on July 7 they would begin enriching their uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels if European leaders fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal. The Trump administration responded by ordering additional sanctions on Iran’s industrial metals sector and said it will move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.
On May 13, the New York Times reported that the Defense Department had presented a plan to send 120,000 US troops to the Middle East if Iran strikes American forces in the region or speeds up its development of nuclear weapons.
Trump denied the report and claimed it was “fake news.” But he then said to reporters, “Now would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that.”
“Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan for that,” said Trump, “and if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
Due to increasing tensions with Iran, the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency US government employees from Iraq. Four days later, a rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the US embassy. In response, President Trump tweeted, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
Is it possible the US will go to war with Iran?
When asked last week whether the US would go to war with Iran, President Trump replied, “I hope not.”
After a meeting this week with members of Congress, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters, “Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war.”
Sen. Marco Rubio summarized what would trigger a war with Iran. “It’s a very simple equation. If Iran doesn’t attack, there won’t be any problem. If Iran attacks, the president is going to go ‘dracarys’ on them. He’s going to respond.” (In using the term “dracarys,” Rubio was making a reference to the HBO series Game of Thrones. Dracarys was the command the character Daenerys used in the show to tell her dragons to use their fire-breathing ability to melt a city.)
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) sail alongside as the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (ABECSG) and Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (KSGARG) conduct joint operations in the US Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Arabian Sea on May 17, 2019. The ABECSG and KSGARG, with the Twenty-Second Marine Expeditionary Unit, are prepared to respond to contingencies and to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur.