US-IRAN TENSIONS DEEPEN
Iran said on Tuesday [25 June] that a decision by the United States to impose “hard-hitting” sanctions on the country’s top leadership, including the Supreme Leader, has permanently closed the path to diplomacy between Tehran and Washington. “Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy (Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif) is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet. But the US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump is open to negotiations and “all that Iran needs to do is walk through that open door”. (Aljazeera)
The drone attack and the immediate aftermath
The implementation of new sanctions against Iran is just the latest step in a series of developments in the shifting power struggle between Washington and Tehran. After months of steadily increasing tensions between the US and Iran – including the shifting of more US troops and warships to the region and an attack on two tankers in the Gulf that the US attributed to Iran and Iran denied – many feared that the tensions were nearing the brink of actual war on Thursday 20 June when Iran shot down a US military surveillance drone that they claimed was in Iranian airspace. The US, however, insisted that the drone was over international waters (the Strait of Hormuz). This was seen to be the first direct incident of the conflict that has thus far been a ‘cold war’. In response, Mr Trump ordered a retaliatory airstrike on three Iranian targets before calling them off.
In the days that followed, there were various developments on multiple fronts.
On Friday 21 June, Iran reported that Mr Trump had warned them via Oman of an imminent US attack but said that he opposed war and wanted talks (Mr Trump later denied that he had done this). Also in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards said that a manned US spy plane (designed to carry a crew of 35) had been nearby where the drone was shot down, but they had decided against targeting it. They also said that US bases in the region, as well as their aircraft carrier in the Gulf, are within range of Iranian missiles, and that the US forces in the region that were once seen as a threat were now viewed as an “opportunity” for Iran. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, called for “nerves of steel” in the situation (referring to all sides involved).
The next day, Iran summoned the top envoy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Tehran in order to condemn the UAE’s allowing the US to use bases there in order to launch drones. On the international front, German chancellor Angela Merkel called for the global community to work towards a political solution to the escalating conflict and said that the situation would be a priority for discussions at the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka. In the US, Mr Trump announced the plans for further sanctions, but still said that the use of military force is “always on the table until we get this solved”. He also, however, said that he would be Iran’s new “best friend” if they agreed to abandon any plans for nuclear weapons. It was also announced that the US had launched cyberattacks against Iran’s missile control systems in the wake of the downing of the drone.
On Sunday, John Bolton issued a warning to Iran, saying that the cancellation of the airstrikes on Thursday should not be misinterpreted as “weakness”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, repeated that the US was willing to negotiate. In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani blamed the US for exacerbating the tensions in the Middle East and said that the “interventionist military presence” of the US was causing the problems in the region. Iran also warned of its intentions to backtrack on compliance with the nuclear deal unless Europe shields its economy from US sanctions.
On Monday, Iran issued a statement saying that the US cyberattacks had been unsuccessful. Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks before travelling to the UAE as part of his attempt to build what he described as a “global coalition” against Iran, “not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe”. On the same day, the US joined the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in calling for “diplomatic solutions” to ease the escalating tensions.
On Tuesday, Iran’s foreign minister said that the nation would never be pursuing a nuclear weapon. Russia, meanwhile, accused the US of being “reckless” with its imposition of new sanctions, and proclaimed its solidarity with Iran. On Wednesday, Mr Rouhani said that Iran “never seeks war” with the US.
US-Iranian relations over the years
For many years, Iran and the US enjoyed a good relationship. The start of the deterioration came in 1953 when the CIA was involved in organising a coup to overthrow Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. This, however, was followed by an era of close allegiance between the Shah (the monarch) and the US, until the 1979 Iranian (Islamic) Revolution and the drawn-out hostage crisis in Tehran with US embassy workers held captive for months. “Death to America” became a common chant in Iran, and the US was nicknamed “the Great Satan”.
In 2002, US president George W. Bush named Iran as part of an “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address, along with Iraq and North Korea – something that infuriated Iran. Relations then thawed somewhat when the ‘moderate’ Mr Rouhani was elected president and began communicating with then-president Barack Obama. In 2015, a landmark nuclear deal was signed between Iran and the US (as well as the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia) in which Iran agreed to scale back their nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.
During his election campaign, Mr Trump repeatedly denounced this agreement as a “bad deal”, and in May 2018, he withdrew the US from the agreement, which angered Iran and set in motion the current events.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
In this situation, where there are so many accusations being thrown back and forth and aggression and restraint being shown on both sides, it is still clear that neither side actually wants war. Driving forces behind the decisions being made are less clear – is it geopolitical power, or oil and the economy, or religious convictions, or a genuine desire to avoid loss of life?
According to analyst Andreas Krieg, a lecturer at the School of Security Studies at Kings College London, the restraint showed by Iran – downing an unmanned drone rather than targeting a manned aircraft – is because the former act “is under the threshold of war”. Based on Iranian rhetoric, loss of American life is not necessarily something that would be a primary concern.
Mr Trump’s explanation for calling back the retaliatory strikes was that 150 lives would be at risk, and this would be a disproportionate response for the shooting down of the drone. Based on this response, it seems that US decision makers are working towards preventing loss of life as much as possible. With the US still positioned as the leading ‘Christian’ nation, Americans present a certain face of Christianity to the unbelieving world, and there is great need for committed peacemakers at this critical time. Pray with us that US leaders will genuinely seek God’s guidance, beyond all other political and economic considerations.
- For extreme wisdom for all decision makers involved in the conflict
- For the Lord to use His people in positions of leadership to work a peaceful and lasting resolution
- For the US Church to be a voice for peace rather than power