(TMU) — The United States and Iran are currently engaged in a tit-for-tat conflict in which attacks conducted every couple of days injure and kill each other’s nationals, a situation that is not so unusual for the two countries.
However, the U.S. significantly escalated tensions when, on January 2, Iran’s most powerful and well respected military leader, General Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.
On Thursday night, World War III began trending on various social media platforms but it became quickly apparent that many Americans, whether cheering on the murder of Soleimani or not, were largely ignorant to the recent developments leading up to this brazen act of war.
On December 31, Iraqis stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, torching its outer fence in protest against deadly air strikes conducted by the U.S. military which targeted facilities controlled by Kataib Hezbollah in both Iraq and Syria.
— Mohammed Khaluq (@MohammedKhaluq) December 31, 2019
This is the picture to close out the decade pic.twitter.com/RhwSC160R4
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) December 31, 2019
The December 29 strikes carried out by the U.S., which killed 25 people and wounded more than 50, were in response to the death of an American contractor as a result of a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base on December 27. The U.S. claimed that more than 30 rockets were fired in the Friday strike that also injured four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces, but has offered no proof that Iran was responsible.
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) December 29, 2019
In December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly blamed Iranian-backed forces for attacks on bases in Iraq. Pompeo warned Iran that any attacks by the country or their proxies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response” if American citizens or allies were harmed. And U.S. officials have been warning of possible attacks by Iran on U.S. forces since early December.
Meanwhile, Iran, along with both China and Russia, began their first-ever joint naval drills, which took place in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman, December 27 through December 31. China announced the drills on Thursday.
Of the drills, Jonathan Eyal, associate director at the Royal United Services Institute said:
“This is a carefully calculated exercise in which all three participants are winners: Iran gets to claim it is a regional power, Russia demonstrates its role as the key actor in the Middle East, and China can show it is a global naval power. The strategic message is that these are the countries shaping events in the Middle East.”
Tensions between Iran and the United States have been increasing ever since U.S. President Donald Trump formally reneged on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—also known as the Iran nuclear deal—in May of 2018, in what was a scandal in itself after Iran was repeatedly certifiably compliant with the terms of the JCPOA.
Wendy Sherman, a former Obama-era undersecretary for political affairs, blames Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA for destroying the “uneasy balance” that has existed with Iran, eventually resulting in the December 31 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Sherman explained:
“It is President Donald Trump’s failed policy toward Iran that has brought us to this combustible moment.”
While recently tensions have included drone strikes, exploding tankers, and other equally visible and damaging actions, a July 20 article in the Atlantic highlighted something even more significant that American citizens tend to ignore:
“This summer, tankers are exploding, disappearing, or getting seized near the Gulf; drones are getting destroyed in tit-for-tat attacks; and a war of words and tweets is erupting between Donald Trump and Iran’s supreme leader. That’s where all the drama is, but in fact most of America’s punitive actions against Iran are taking place in a world not physical but financial. Sanctions are the key tool the United States uses against what it sees as the Islamic Republic’s provocative behavior—especially for the past three presidential administrations running, and never more so than in this one.”
The use and threat of sanctions on Iran by the U.S government is nothing new and sanctions are often a precursor to war. And through its draconian sanctions regime, the U.S. has already been at war with Iran, killing and harming Iranians.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2018
Following the assassination of Soleimani, Pompeo told reporters on Friday that “the world is a much safer place today.” However, at virtually the same time, the U.S. state department issued a security alert urging U.S. citizens to “depart Iraq immediately.”
#Iraq: Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we urge U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately. Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy. pic.twitter.com/rdRce3Qr4a
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) January 3, 2020
Major U.S. cities are also taking steps to increase security in case of retaliatory attacks by Iran or its allies.
Have spoken with Commissioner Shea + Dep Commissioner Miller about immediate steps NYPD will take to protect key NYC locations from any attempt by Iran or its terrorist allies to retaliate against America. We will have to be vigilant against this threat for a long time to come.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) January 3, 2020
It remains to be seen where things go from here, but it is extremely likely that Iranian officials are currently turning to Russia and China to determine its next move.