Representational image: iStock
Representational image: iStock

Having an efficacious intelligence agency to rely on is one thing, but deciphering the “intel” it gathers effectively is quite another. Perhaps this is what US President Donald Trump finds so bewildering.

He’s been quick off the blocks, calling the shots rather prematurely, and in doing so setting the Middle East up for even more turmoil. Former US president George W Bush, one of the brains behind the WMD story used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, could probably relate to Trump’s lofty assertions regarding the Gulf region.

As the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential race, Trump didn’t want any new wars in the Middle East, but President Trump seems to have other ideas

As the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential race, Trump didn’t want any new wars in the Middle East, but President Trump seems to have other ideas. The Iranian nuclear deal just doesn’t go down well with the POTUS. He has vowed to scrap it and deny Iran any chance of playing with fissionable material. To Trump’s dismay, however, US officials have already confirmed on multiple occasions that Iran is complying with the nuclear accord.

There have been some ominous signs over the past month that may provide clues as to where the US-Iran relationship is heading.

Consider this: on June 18, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) decided to avenge the terrorist attacks carried out in Tehran earlier in the month. The response was expected. But not many thought it would come so soon. Score settled? Not sure. Message received? Maybe.

It was the first time Daesh has managed to carry out a serious attack inside Iran. Eighteen people died in the atrocity and scores more were injured. The response has been both swift and baffling.

In Operation Laylat al-Qadr, Iran launched mid-range missiles against Daesh in Deir ez-Zour. It is one of the largest cities in Syria and is considered one of the terrorist group’s strongholds in the region. It is interesting to note that this was the first instance of the Iranians resorting to the deployment of such missiles since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). It was significant. Iran seems to be on the rampage. As stated by the IRGC, “The spilling of any pure blood will not go unanswered.”

Hang on, was the Iranian response just out of the blue, or was the IRGC sitting on the sidelines, and then cashed in on Russia decimating the terrorist group with its initial airstrikes?

Well, there’s more to it, though. And, perhaps, the actual incident that led to the Iranian response in Syria. It was likely US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks that triggered the crisis within a crisis. On June 14, he stated that Iran was responsible for the destabilization of the Middle East, and vowed to support and back “those elements inside the Islamic Republic which would bring about peaceful government transition.”

In response, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asserted: “The new White House leaders are like nascent hooligans who scare people by brandishing their knives until somebody punches them in the mouth and puts them in their place.” The Iranians, of course, did send a strong message, didn’t they?

With Russia in the mix as well, things could go haywire in no time. Douglas E Lute, a retired three-star US army general, was quoted in The New York Times as saying: “Anytime we have multiple armed forces working in the same battle space without de-confliction, there is a dangerous risk of things spinning out of control.” He isn’t much off target. But, considering the Trump-Putin bonhomie, and the American president’s cherry-picking demeanor toward Russia, an escalation of hostilities between the US and Iran seems far more likely than a US-Iran-Russia conflict scenario.

One thing is obvious. Both the US and Iran are getting nervous. They’re inching closer to making a disastrous call. Who’ll make the first (inappropriate) move remains to be seen. Considering America’s “heroics” in the Middle East, an intelligence glitch would provide Trump with an excellent precursor.

I hate saying this, but the current situation in the Middle East does cut a sorry figure, and the US-Iran showdown might actually make it worse.

“If only they were to listen to this: sanity doesn’t come with a price tag, guys. Go for it!”

Shazar Shafqat

Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst, and an award-winning essayist. His research focuses on South Asian security environment, Middle East politics and security issues, counterterrorism strategies and military-related affairs. His commentary on the Af-Pak and Middle East security issues regularly features across renowned media outlets including Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor, The Diplomat, Asia Times, World Policy Journal, RealClearDefense, Dawn, The News International,...

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