GP Insights # 213, 11 January 2020
On 8 January, Iran launched 22 missiles, on two bases in Iraq housing US troops. Foreign minister Javad Zarif said, “Iran had taken proportionate measure in self-defense under Article 52, UN Charter”.
Also during the week, Iran announced lifting all limits to uranium enrichment, ending its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
What is the background?
Head of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qassem Soleimani was assassinated by the US. Earlier, the US military had launched an air raid against Kataib Hezbollah positions, at five sites, three in Iraq and two in Syria which led to the killing of 25 members and wounded many. Ayatollah Khamenei pledged “harsh” revenge to the assassination of Suleiman, escalating US-Iran tensions.
Trump said that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets in retaliation, the US will target 52 sites in Iran, some of these sites are very important to Iranian culture.
During the last year, a series of attacks have been blamed on Iran. In mid-June, Iranian forces shot-down a US military drone. Following this incident, two oil tankers sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore and Qatar to Taiwan were attacked at the Gulf of Oman. The US and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for these attacks.
The oil giant Saudi Aramco was attacked, in mid-September and Houthis rebel in Yemen claimed responsibility. The US accused Iran of the attack by saying, “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply." Iran denied the allegations as meaningless.
In 2019 Trump also designated IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization and has been wary of it spreading its influence in the Middle East.
What does it mean?
The response from Iran appears that it is aimed at diffusing the situation than escalating it. The choice of the targets, the use of missiles and the lack of casualty highlights the nature of the response. The Iranian response seems primary to address the domestic outcry for revenge and gain public trust. The missile attacks are a face saver than a measure of conflict escalation.
With no causality and minimal damage, Iran retaliated in a measured way and played a smart strategy. Iran has been clear in projecting its intensions over the recent US attacks and successfully kept its upper hand in the region, yet preventing further escalation in the Middle East.
Trump has also not exacerbated the situation, despite his threat to target 52 sites inside Iran.