A few days ago, attacks on the US military bases situated in Iraq were carried out. Of course, these were not carried out for the first time. Indeed, several such attacks have up until now been carried out especially after the killing of Qashem Sulaimani, the then chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — a highly powerful branch of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran — by the United States in 2020. But a vital question remains on whether the killing of the former chief of the Iranian elite force and subsequent events including the attacks on the US military bases can lead to escalation between the countries.
It is, of course, undeniable that the US-Iran rivalry is not a sudden reality. In fact, both countries have conflicting relations for a long time. But the relations deteriorated between the countries after the fall of the Shah Dynasty, usually rendered as a close ally of the then USA in the Middle East. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), their rivalry increased. But relations between the countries deteriorated almost continuously since then. Of course, the rivalry between the USA and Iran increased during the last decade; the rivals consider each other to be significant enemy especially in the Middle East at present, though disputes somewhat decreased because of the 2015 historic Iran nuclear deal signed between Iran and six other countries — the five permanent security council member states and Germany.
But the situation took a new turn since the Persian Gulf Crisis (2019-20). As it appears, the recent most gulf crisis — also known as the Iranian-American confrontation — which was the results of the increased military presence of the USA in the Persian Gulf and Iraq, the withdrawal of the USA from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, missile attacks on several oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in 2019 and rising political tensions between the United States and Iran considerably increased the risks of escalation between the countries. Subsequently, the United States imposed new economic sanctions against Iran and designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, while Iran designated the US central command as a terrorist organization. Some later events — especially the killing of the commander of the IRGC — led to the deterioration of the relations between the countries. Afterward, the US military bases in Iraq were attacked by Iran and/or its allies.
On the contrary, both countries had good relations in the past, despite their ups and downs. They had good diplomatic, economic, and other relations. The political relations between the USA and commenced when Nassereddin Shah Qajar — the then shah or king of the Kingdom of Persia — officially sent the latter’s first Chargé d’Affaires to Washington in 1850. The then American Minister Resident at Constantinople negotiated for a treaty of friendship and commerce with Iran that was finalized in 1951. Relations improved since then and diplomatic relations were established when Chargé d’Affaires S.G.W. Benjamin presented his credentials to the Shah of Persia in 1883. Relations between the countries remained mostly cordial until World War II. But the relations started to deteriorate in the 1950s and deteriorated drastically after the Iranian revolution in 1979 that overthrew the Shah regime and the hostage crisis. Diplomatic relations were severed in 1980. Though the relations are now antagonistic, both have trade relations, though the amount is meager.
Of course, the tensions between the rival countries have reduced to a certain extent owing to some steps taken by the running US president. As it appears, the Biden administration has by this time withdrawn a ban on immigration to the USA from Iran. Additionally, this administration is intended to come back to the historic Iran nuclear deal and seems willing to relax some economic sanctions imposed by the previous US administration. Most probably, such developments can facilitate negotiation on some other fronts and increase the chance of further reduction of the tensions between the countries and help improve overall situations in the Middle East especially driven by the long rivalry between them and their respective allied parties at least to some extent.
It is, of course, undeniable that any direct war between the countries may lead to a large-scale war in the entire Arab region with the involvement of allies of both parties. In fact, the USA and Iran have significant allies in the region and any large-scale war between them may lead to the involvement of respective allies. While Israel and Saudi Arabia are rendered as the allied countries to the USA, Syria, some other countries and some non-state actors are considered to be in favor of Iran. If any direct war occurs ever — either by intention or by accident — between the United States and Iran and if their allies get involved, overall impacts are highly likely to be devastating for the entire region to say the least.
Of course, the possible involvement of Russia needs to be specially noted here. In fact, the situations can especially be more devastating if superpowers including Russia get involved with a potential war between the USA-Iran. As it appears, Russia has very good relations with Iran, strengthened its position in the Middle East in recent years and geopolitical rivalry with the United States on many occasions — within and outside of the Middle East. Military attacks on Iran by the United States or its allied countries may bring Russia into war against the USA and its allies in the Middle East, even though the direct war between the USA and Russia remains less likely always because of many reasons including their perception of their complete devastation by each other. Direct war, thus, will not only kill many but also bring about many other negative impacts including economic.
It is, thus, desired that the USA and Iran avert direct war. In this respect, there are many disputed issues, which may lead to the escalation between the countries, that need to be well addressed. Some notable disputed issues include economic sanctions on Iran imposed by the USA, targeted attacks on Iranian high-ups by the USA and/or its allied parties, Iran’s nuclear programs and targeted attacks on the US military bases in Iraq especially by proxy groups allied with Iran. As desired, the USA should relax economic sanctions on Iran whenever possible and come to the Iran nuclear deal, while Iran should make sure that it does not carry out attacks on the military bases of the USA situated in Iraq. Of course, both countries should avoid bringing significant damages to each other through allied parties too.
To reduce every possibility of a direct war between the USA and Iran, there is no doubt that they need to be earnest in their efforts. In fact, their varying efforts to coming to a position so that they can avert war, along with the mitigation of the core disputed issues, are crucial. In addition, other parties including the European Union and the United Kingdom may also help avert military war by helping in the reduction of disputes between the USA and Iran at least to a certain extent. In fact, these parties have opportunities to mitigate major disputed issues between the rival countries based on the Iran nuclear deal.