While many regional observers watched closely as US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, few paid attention to the details of the memorandum. The fourth section of the memo, in which the US President ordered the federal departments and agencies to reinstate the sanctions imposed on Iran before the nuclear deal, was titled "Preparing for Regional Contingencies.”
“The Secretary of Defense and heads of any other relevant agencies shall prepare to meet, swiftly and decisively, all possible modes of Iranian aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners,” the memo stated.
“The Department of Defense shall ensure that the United States develops and retains the means to stop Iran from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon and related delivery systems,” it added.
Following Trump's instructions to the Department of Defense to prepare for the possibility of a military confrontation between the United States and Iran, US delegations visited allied capitals in the Gulf and the Middle East and held high-level meetings to prepare scenarios for any possible confrontation with the Iranians and to make the necessary arrangements to deal with these different scenarios.
In other words, the US military leadership have made sure that the option of a military confrontation against Iran is available if the US president decides to use it.
Since then, a number of developments have pushed the United States and Iran closer to war than to reaching a diplomatic solution.
On July 16, Trump will meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki Summit, where the US President will offer a series of concessions to Russia, including overlooking Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and the re-admission of Russia to the Group of Eight, G8, of which it was suspended from following the Crimean crisis.
Trump will also confirm the US position in Syria, which goes in line with Russia's control over Syria, provided that Russian control is exclusive and free of any involvement from Iran and its militias.
Trump’s only request will be for Russia to join the United States in Washington's campaign against the Iranian regime, with the aim of destabilizing and possibly toppling it.
Attorney to President Trump and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani told a group of the opposition Iranian movement “The People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran” (PMOI) that he expected the Iranian regime to collapse within a year.
Iran, meanwhile, sought to ease the consequences of the planned return of US economic sanctions. However, before Hassan Rouhani arrived in Europe to begin a tour aimed at convincing leaders to ignore US sanctions, an Iranian diplomat was reported to have attempted to blow up a France-based Iranian opposition group.
This move has angered the Europeans and provided an opportunity for Americans to remind their transatlantic allies that Iran is a "state sponsor of terrorism," with or without a nuclear deal, and that it is in the interest of America and Europe to veto the agreement and engage in a serious and harsh confrontation that would lead to the overthrow of the Iranian regime.
Rouhani may have acknowledged the difficulty of his task when the alleged diplomat was exposed. He therefore threatened the West, warning that if the United States succeeds in achieving its goal of imposing a complete halt on Iran's oil exports, Tehran will not remain silent and will close the waterways through which energy carriers pass through the straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb.
The United States has been waiting for an opportunity of this kind. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been ongoing on since 2001, the US is still opposed to war.
Yet, Iran's attacks on energy carriers, which could raise the prices of oil and other goods to hurt US consumers, make military action against Iran justified in US public opinion.
It also seems that Iran's response to any US military strike will come in the form of an attack by pro-Iranian militias across the region, mainly from Syria towards Israel and from Yemen towards Saudi Arabia, according to Western intelligence estimates.
The Americans also expect the pro-Iranian militias to launch attacks against their troops in Iraq and Syria.
But these militias, which can fight long-term wars of attrition, do not seem to be able to inflict much damage in a short confrontation unless Iran instructs Hezbollah to launch rocket attacks from Lebanon against Israel.
However, a scenario of this kind is ruled out because of the damage Israel would likely do to the entire state of Lebanon in retaliation for any attack the party might launch from Lebanese territories.
Iran's calculations appear to be similar to those of the West. In case of a direct military confrontation, the United States could inflict damage on Iran, including its infrastructure, the headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the government, and the army in an unprecedented manner.
These calculations may have prompted Iranian officials to issue explanations, which were a retreat from Rouhani’s threats to close waterways.
Since the revolution in 1979, the Islamic regime has never faced an American administration with such determination to confront Iran. The Americans have always faced Iran indirectly and have tried to conciliate with them in order to restore the friendship between the two countries from time to time.
But Trump's ruthless antagonism against Iran seems to have prompted Rouhani to adjust his style, causing Iran to be confused on how to deal with the imminent danger. Rouhani's latest plan indicates that Iran will be patient with the expected US sanctions, without military responses, and will wait for the end of Trump's term. Yet, Trump may not wait for the end of his term without imposing a change in Tehran.