Risk of war high before US presidential elections
In an interview to tagesthemen, Guido Steinberg, one of Germany's leading experts on terrorism and the Middle East, gave an assessment of the current developments in the US-Iran conflict. According to Steinberg, the growing US military presence does not constitute a threat towards Iran, as there has been a constant fluctuating presence of US aircraft carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. Still, he says there is a serious risk of war, if Iran should follow through its own threats of restarting the enrichment of high-level uranium.
"I do not think that the danger of an uncontrolled confrontation in the Persian Gulf is that serious at the moment. There has always been an American aircraft carrier in the region. Much more dangerous is the decision of the Iranian leadership, which it already outlined last week, to restart the uranium enrichment process to a degree that could possibly be perceived as a threat by the US and Israel after a period of 60 days. If this comes true, I believe an armed confrontation before the US presidential election next year is very likely."
The expert does not believe that the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf could start an escalation spiral, as, even if the perpetrators have been Iranians, the attacks were not aimed at American targets but on Saudi Arabian and UAE cargo ships.
"If this attack was conducted by the Iranians than this has been a smart move, as they decided not to directly target the Americans or provoke American ships. It is in the interest of Iran to prove that it possesses the capability to act against the US sanctions of the recent months but this show of force has been directed against Saudi Arabia and the UAE. To attack the Americans directly on the other hand would have likely triggered an uncontrolled escalation."
Asked if the long-term strategy of Washington was aimed at regime change, Steinberg replied that he believes that the US will maintain maximum pressure on Iran until Tehran either agrees to enter negotiations under Washington's terms or until the regime crumbles under the pressure. Yet, he does not believe that either of the two will come true. He predicts an even tougher line against Iran in order to achieve successes before next year’s presidential elections.
Steinberg is skeptical about the leverage of the Europeans. "In my opinion, the European foreign policy does not really have any significant impact on the Iran issue anymore. It has been influential at times when the Europeans were able to act as mediators and brought the Americans to the negotiating table, which enabled the agreement in the first place. With the current differences between the US and Europe, the Europeans seem relatively powerless. The Iran issue now plays out between Washington, Tehran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Brussels has no role to play anymore."