The potential for a confrontation between the United States and Iran may lead to a heightened level of tension in the Middle East. The ongoing geopolitical tension in global politics and Iran’s axis and support for Russia in the Russia-Ukraine war have further worsened US-Iran relations. The intensification of Iranian missile attacks targeting the significant presence of around seventy thousand U.S. military deployments in the Middle East has questioned the stability and peace in the region.
In 2023, Iran has persistently engaged in military provocations, which include the public introduction of a new ballistic missile, the seizure of two tankers in April and May, and an attempted seizure of two further tankers in July. Meanwhile, China helped to facilitate a diplomatic agreement in May 2023, which led to the restoration of formal diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As a consequence, Iran proceeded to reopen its embassy in Riyadh.
In addition, Iran has also endeavored to establish closer relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has conveyed its support for a regional discourse as a means to mitigate its state of isolation. The potential improvement in regional relations raised prospects for a reduction in proxy conflicts, particularly in the case of Yemen. Also, President Joe Biden has purportedly engaged in an informal political agreement aimed at preventing further escalation of conflicts in the Middle East.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has redirected a portion of American attention toward Europe. Moreover, China is persistently pursuing an expansion of its territorial influence in the South China Sea, prompting a heightened response from the United States Navy via the implementation of more frequent patrols in the region. These concerns have solidified the enduring American presence in the Persian Gulf. There has been a significant deployment of Marines, supported by technologically upgraded U.S. fighter planes and vessels, and it is gradually establishing a substantial presence in the Persian Gulf.
Following these developments, there has been a notable increase in the United States military’s deployment and activity in the Middle East region. A Strait of Hormuz patrol was undertaken with the participation of naval commanders from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The deployment of A-10 Thunderbolt II jets to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates took place in March 2023. The Pentagon announced the deployment of F-16 jets and the warship USS Thomas Hudner in the region. The F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter planes were delivered after some time.
Currently, the United States is planning to deploy a Marine expeditionary unit to the area, marking the first instance of such a presence in almost two years. The deployment encompasses a substantial number of Marines and sailors who are stationed aboard two naval vessels, namely the USS Bataan and the USS Carter Hall, the latter being a landing ship. The aforementioned boats embarked from Norfolk, Virginia, on July 10th, as part of a mission characterized by the Pentagon as a reaction to Iran’s recent efforts to jeopardize the unimpeded movement of trade through the Strait of Hormuz and its adjacent seas.
Last week, the Bataan successfully passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea as it started on its journey toward the Middle East. The specific intentions of the expanded U.S. military presence in the area have not been disclosed. However, these deployments have garnered the attention of Iran. Responding to US moves, Iran also demonstrated the Abu Mahdi cruise missile as a means to potentially engage maritime vessels located up to a distance of 1,000 kilometers. Also, the US movement was met with criticism from Iran, which urged that the involvement of regional states is crucial for ensuring the long-term stability of the region since Americans have had intermittent involvement in the area with unrealistic aspirations.
The United States has concluded its military engagements in the area, and its ongoing dispute with Iran over its progressing nuclear program is escalating without any apparent resolutions on the horizon. The deployment of the USS Bataan, equipped with troops and aircraft, to the Gulf region, in conjunction with the inclusion of stealth F-35 fighters and other military aircraft, is occurring in the context of the United States’ strategic shift towards prioritizing its attention on China and Russia. Also, Iran has resumed its activities of capturing ships that attempt to go through the Strait of Hormuz. Approximately 20% of the global oil supply traverses the constricted maritime passage that links the Persian Gulf to the international community.
So, maintaining the accessibility of the Strait of Hormuz for maritime transportation is of utmost importance to the United States, as it aims to prevent any significant escalation in global energy costs. This objective becomes more crucial in light of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which exerts further pressure on global markets. The Gulf Arab states rely on the canal for the transportation of their oil to global markets and express concerns over Iran’s objectives within the broader area. However, the United States is now facing the challenge of disengaging from the Middle East.
Iran’s recent actions have made this situation worse because they have started enriching uranium to 60% at levels or those suitable for weaponization. This development follows the breakdown of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and global powers.
Iran views the action as aligning with a string of aggressive acts and a demonstration of influence toward its neighbors. In the meantime, Iran has persistently strengthened its economic relations with China while concurrently enhancing its military alliances with Russia. Furthermore, this served as a cautionary message to the United States and its allies, highlighting the Islamic Republic’s capability to respond, especially in light of American sanctions leading to the confiscation of vessels transporting Iranian crude oil. The purported presence of Iranian oil on a stranded ship off the coast of Texas has raised concerns about the potential occurrence of another seizure. However, the Pentagon gradually began an increase in naval deployment, resulting in a significant period during which Gulf Arab governments and observers expressed concern about Iran.
However, it should be noted that these deployments may cause potential conflicts, given the absence of open fighting in prior instances when the United States deployed more military personnel in the region. In light of the impasse in diplomatic efforts and Iran’s demonstrated inclination towards heightened assertiveness in maritime affairs, the United States seems to be reverting to a reliance on military might as a means to persuade Tehran to de-escalate tensions.
However, this situation allows for the unresolved problems between the parties to persist and worsen in the international arena. The United States would face notable economic, political, and security consequences if the confrontation with Iran were to deteriorate. In the event of a potential military confrontation between the United States and Iran, it is plausible that Iran may endeavor to impede the passage of maritime traffic via the Strait of Hormuz. This strategic waterway serves as a critical conduit for around 30% of the global oil supply, thereby exerting the potential to induce a worldwide surge in oil prices.
In conclusion, the decline in ties between the United States and Iran occurs within the context of a struggle for regional dominance in the Middle East. However, the aforementioned situation still entails a concealed war between Iran and the United States, which has inherent dangers of misjudgment and inadvertent consequences that may result in an increase in tensions and the outbreak of overt hostilities.