Tensions Between the United States and Iran


Sungwon Chung ‘22

Recently, the relation between the United States and Iran have become ever more tense, with Iran launching over 20 missiles into US-Iraq joint military bases in Iraq. Since then, there has been a digression on both sides, but it will be a long time until both sides regain trust in their counterpart and rebuild their ties with one another. This is a severe incline in the measures taken by the US and Iraq against each other, overstepping the acceptable “red line.” President Trump has since then shown good leadership by de-escalating the situation, not using military force as a means of retaliation. Prior to the past few months, the countries were already at a tense state, with a very delicate Nuclear Deal having been signed in 2013 between Iran and the Obama Administration. This had been a major leap in making sure Iran would be free of nuclear weapons. However, ever since taking office, President Trump expressed a great amount of disapproval, and the Trump administration itself was more determined to fight against Iran and its extremist backed groups.


The first sign of a more ambitious foreign policy was shown on April 8, 2019, when  President Trump designated the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iran military, as a terrorist organization. There have been many conflicts about the issue then, as it was the first time that the US deemed a section of a foreign country to be a terrorist organization. Although this was something never done before, it was fully justified as the IRGC is more than just an internal military organization, but rather a major political influence that supports extremist groups in the region, such as Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq, and Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. The IRGC also uses violence as a means to subdue political movements, such as the attacks on the people participating in the protest for democracy in December 2009 [1]


The tensions further escalated on April 22, 2019, when the United States fully enforced oil sanctions on Iran, meaning that other countries would no longer be able to buy oil from Iran. Prior to this, countries were able to get waivers for the sanctions and buy Iranian oil. This put more strain on Iran’s economy, as it holds about 10 percent of the global oil reserves, which had made oil one of its top exports. Then, on May 5 of the same year, Iran showed indications that it planned to attack US soldiers stationed in the area through proxy militant groups, leading the Pentagon to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group as well as a bomber task force in the region. US officials have stated that the deployment was for defensive measures only; not a provocation for war or aggression. These defensive measures are completely acceptable, and in fact, not sending soldiers to protect American assets may have resulted in Iran taking the opportunity to attack and potentially damage US military equipment and personnel.


Three days later, the US imposed further sanctions on Iran, this time targeting its metal industries. These further accounted for 10 percent of Iran’s exports, and prompted Iran to state that they would disregard parts of the Iran Nuclear treaty it had signed six years ago; this prompted the president of Iran to state that they would keep heavy water and enriched uranium instead of exporting it, which is what the treaty required. Then, explosives on four US oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which caused a limited but substantial amount of damage. Following this, more US soldiers were deployed in the area. The placing of explosives by Iran was done without any valid purpose, and is completely irrational. Although Iran has denied responsibility, and even called the event “worriesom,” it is likely that they, or militant groups they support, have carried out the sabotage.


On June 2, 2019, Iran attacked US sanctions, calling the measures “economic terrorism,” as it affected the prices of necessary goods for the common people. However, the sanctions themselves did not affect the food or medicine industries, which means that it did not harm the safety of the general Iranian public. Also, the sanctions have been put in order to deter and pressure Iran from building nuclear weapons, and are completely legal and necessary to make sure that the right steps toward a peaceful relationship will take place. However,  two weeks later, Iran shot down a US operated drone, claiming it to have been in its airspace. President Trump initially ordered a military strike against Iran, but later called it off, saying he did not want any lives to be lost. If the airstrike had commenced, the region would have turned much more chaotic, and the possibility of war would have been greatly increased if Iranian soldiers had casualties.


Later the same month, the president imposed yet another round of sanctions on Iran, stating that the sanctions “will deny the supreme leader and the supreme leader’s office and those closely affiliated with him and the office access to key resources and support,” [2]. This action was very much expected, as it was clear that more pressure had to be put on Iran in order to stop them from creating and owning nuclear weapons. Shortly after in September, tensions rose further when Iran began working on highly advanced centrifuges which would allow it to enrich Uranium at a faster pace, violating the treaty yet again. The Trump administration sought for a new Iran Nuclear deal; however, Iran stated that it wanted an end of the sanctions to bring economic relief. In November, Iran announced that it would begin injecting Uranium gas into the centrifuges, which would begin the enrichment process. The commitment they had signed in 2013 was finally almost dissolved.


Later on December 27, a US citizen was killed, with several service members wounded when a rocket struck an Iraqui military base. No one claimed responsibility, but the US retaliated two days later with an airstrike on Hezbollah forces (an Iran backed militant group) which resulted in several killed and dozens more injured, as well as heavy damage to command posts and munitions storages. This was to deter future attacks from occurring, yet in response to the airstrikes, Iranian militias and citizens protested violently outside of the US Embassy on December 31, breaking windows and throwing rocks into the Embassy boundaries. Iraqi forces had not intervened to try to stop the protesters, until the US began deploying tear gas to disperse the crowd. This is not the first time that Iranians have protested outside the US embassy, but every time they do, it brings tensions to an entirely different scale, as US diplomats and officials may be harmed.


Tensions reached a new high when President Trump ordered for Soleimani to be killed, the leader of Iran’s military. The president claimed that Soleimani had orchestrated many attacks on US personnel, and were planning many more. This was also a show of force to send a message to Iran that the US would retaliate with force when necessary. Five days later, Iran launched over twenty missiles into Iraq, hitting facilities which held Iraqi and US personnel. Although there were no deaths, 50 servicemembers have since been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, with symptoms similar to that of a concussion. Thirty-one of them were treated in Iraq, and eighteen were transported to Germany for further evaluation [3]. Then, for the first time, President Trump de-escalated the tensions by stating that he would impose more powerful sanctions, but did not disclose any details. These sanctions will hopefully end the violence and help Iran realize that they have made a huge mistake. This will also hopefully help them change their stance on how they view the United States and bring forth a new Nuclear Arms deal with the country.


[1] https://www.vox.com/2016/5/16/11682458/iran-revolutionary-guards

[2] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-announces-sanctions-iran-including-supreme-leader/story?id=63909407

[3] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/pentagon-now-50-service-members-suffered-brain-injuries/story id=68598126&cid=clicksource_4380645_4_three_posts_card_hed

[4] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/timeline-growing-tensions-us-iran/story?id=63859362