Even misinterpretations can trigger a US-Iran war at this juncture

While the leaders in both the US and Iran are claiming that they are against war, both countries are inching closer to one. The biggest risk now is of a war by inadvertent escalation, if not by pure intent, by the actors involved — though the latter cannot be ruled out. The US has now evacuated non-emergency staff from the embassy in Iraq and the consulate in Erbil. The New York Times has reported that the US officials are considering the option of sending 120,000 troops to Iran. US President Donald Trump has called it fake news but went on to add that if required, he would “send a hell of a lot more troops than that”.

The US has already deployed an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force to send a message to Iran. This was based on intelligence reports that Iran was planning to target American forces in Iraq and other countries in the region. A specific intelligence that caused an alarm was of photographs of small Iranian boats carrying missiles in the Persian Gulf. And then there have been tankers attacked off the UAE coast, which the US believes could have been an Iranian operation.

The sanctions are now hurting Tehran and it has good reasons to either walk out of the Iranian nuclear deal or hurt American interests. The task of aircraft carrier and the bomber task force is to deter Iran from attempting the latter. It is likely that one country’s defensive move aimed at deterrence can be interpreted as an offensive move by the other. A couple of such misinterpretations can flare up into a war. However, there are many observers who believe that there is a method to this madness. John Bolton, the US national security advisor, has been an advocate of regime change in Iran. The escalation of tensions suits his agenda as he could spin Iranian retaliation to American moves as proof of the regime’s offensive intentions. Mr Trump has so far not shown interest in getting embroiled in another war in the Middle East. But an accident, or Mr. Bolton, or both together, may draw him in.

First Published: May 16, 2019 18:49 IST

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