President Donald Trump has decided to end the cycle of escalation between the United States and Iran — at least for now.
The morning after tweeting “All is well!” on the heels of Iran’s Tuesday night launch of 15 missiles at two US military targets in Iraq, the president delivered a clear message to Iran that while both countries remain adversaries, there is no reason to kill each other’s citizens.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said during his address from the White House.
This is quite the relief. While Iran’s attack was meant as a retaliation for the US killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, there are signs Tehran designed the strikes as a face-saving measure. Iraq received warning from the Iranians that the missiles were coming, and the US was able to track the projectiles with early-warning systems. There were also no American or Iraqi casualties, a White House official told me, although one of the military bases reportedly sustained extensive damage.
With no one officially reported killed, some in the Trump administration have started to believe that Iran didn’t really want to target US troops and that Tehran just wanted to be able to say it struck back.
A source familiar with the situation told me that the Pentagon was prepared to deal with a larger, deadly strike from Iran, including many more missiles launched, along with drone flights and decoys, headed toward multiple targets.
Iran’s actual strikes, however, were extremely weak, according to experts I spoke to. What’s more, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif signaled last night that the Islamic Republic’s retaliation has “concluded,” at least for the moment.
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
After meeting with his national security team both Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Trump seemingly heard that message loud and clear.
This of course doesn’t mean that the US and Iran are friends or that decades-long tensions between them have gone away. But the cycle of escalation that led both sides to conduct bigger and bigger attacks may be over for the time being.
Iran will likely go back to its normal programming of smaller-scale attacks on US interests in the Middle East, and the US will continue to enforce sanctions that have crushed Iran’s economy. What’s more, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani now says that Tehran’s main goal will be to force the US military out of the region, though it’s unclear exactly how the country plans to do that.
While some may judge this as a “win” for Trump, then, the truth is that it’s too early to tell. But for now, this is all very good news.