Understanding the Surge in Tensions with Iran

Over the weekend, the White House announced it was sending an aircraft-carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” related to Iran. These warnings reportedly were Israeli intelligence reports indicating Iran was planning attacks against U.S. personnel and allies in the Middle East.

Press reports differed on the nature of the planned Iranian attacks. There were reports that Iranian officials gave a green light to its terrorist proxies to attack U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria. Other reports said Iran planned to orchestrate drone attacks in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. There also was a report that Iran had moved short-range ballistic missiles by boat in waters off its shores.

There has been speculation that Iran was planning these attacks in retaliation for damage done to the Iranian economy by sanctions the U.S. reimposed after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). These attacks may also have been planned in response to the Trump administration’s recent designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

President Trump’s critics are claiming that a surge in tensions with Iran in response to his withdrawal from the JCPOA prove the U.S. withdrawal from this agreement was a mistake and increased the threat from Iran. But the facts suggest otherwise. Iran is desperately trying to reverse the effects of President Trump’s successful Iran policy, known as the maximum-pressure strategy.

The Trump administration recently toughened its sanctions against Iran. Last month it ended exemptions to oil sanctions. Nuclear sanctions also have been strengthened, including a demand that Iran cease uranium enrichment. Yesterday, the Trump administration extended U.S. sanctions on Iran’s steel, aluminum, copper and iron sectors.
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