In the Middle East, the realist drive for power and influence are always coupled and dominated with security concerns. Iran was a powerful ally of US during the cold war; it has received all sort of assistance—military and economic to counter the influence of Soviet Union in the region. However, the course of relationship changed when Shah Reza Pahlavi was dethroned amid the Iranian Revolution. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 till today the Tehran-Washington ties have been tainted by decades of animosity; hostility and adversity. The return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomenei—shi’ite cleric; the move of the Iranian students taking 52 Americans as hostage; the secret support of US to Iraq in the eight years-Iran-Iraq war; the Iran-Contra scandal; the long lived sanctions and embargoes from US and her allies and most importantly the putative quest to acquire nuclear weapons, all these factors have marred the bilateral relations of US and Iran. In 2002, Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr begins construction with the help of Russian technicians, prompting strong objections from the US.
The relationship has turned its hues from strategic rivals to strategic allies with the finalization and implementation of a multilateral—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as the European Union are all part of nuclear deal—Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Though, the tide has turned again with the rigid posture and hard-line stance of US president—Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s administration has backed out of the deal, even though its allies and the chief international nuclear inspection agency have verified that Iran is in full compliance with it. Moreover, the Trump administration has vowed to stick with its pressure campaign against Iran, affirming its strategy to change Tehran’s behavior by gutting its oil revenue and isolating the country globally. France, Germany and the UK have been under relentless US and Gulf pressure to tear up the deal, or at least add supplementary treaties, covering the Iranian ballistic missile programme; US has even ready to wage a war against Iran. In a reactionary statement a top Iranian general recently claimed the United States would pay a “heavy cost” for an attack on the regime, due to Tehran’s strong deterrent capabilities. “War against Iran will have nothing for the US but heavy costs and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s deterrent power can inflict heavy damage on the US,”
Iranian leaders have recently threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of the world’s oil supply passes as it travels from the Persian Gulf. The regime has also conducted naval exercises in the waterway as a show of force while Washington prepared to re-impose sanctions on Tehran.
In order to understand the bellicose between the two rivals it is important to shed light on the following perspectives of international relations—Realism and Neo-realism. Realism contains different aspects of theories which revolve around the human nature—accompanied with self-centeredness, a dominating competitive nature and lust of power. International politics is competitive and conflict based closely intertwined with economy and hegemony. In international relations a nation state always sought to pursue its national interest, for such pursuits it always rely on anarchy, such anarchy is based on rationalism, and to follow such rationalism a nation state constantly attempts to gain as much power as possible. The more power a nation state has the more hegemonic it becomes. In the case of both US and Iran, US has continuously attempted and infect has earned the status of a superpower and Iran has always pursued its interest to become a regional power. Neo-realism based similarly on human nature but it focuses basically on behaviorism of states and their circumstances. The anarchic structure always provides a pretext to the states to acquire more power for their survival. The safeguard of national sovereignty and national integrity drives the states to pursue strategic tactics. Preservation of power rather than increasing it is the main goal of a state. Here the Shi’ite theocratic state is profound example which in order to maintain and sustain its deterrent mechanism has pursued nuclear programme.
Concerning the future prognosis the threat if turn into reality—US attack on Iran would not only brought turmoil for the entire Middle Easter region but it would also disturb the geo-political realities of Asia where China and Russia are blooming economic giants. This looming war would sabotage the oil politics especially would negatively affect the European countries. Furthermore, this would be regarded as the foolish pursuit of US after burning trillions of dollars of tax payers in the Iraq and Afghan wars—with the ploy of weapons of mass destruction and war on terror. Additionally, Iran is no Iraq and Afghanistan; Iran’s regular Army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would fight; the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS), Iran’s espionage service, is among the most competent in the world; Iranian-backed Hezbollah is more capable of conducting terrorist attacks, Hezbollah is an international network that is able to conduct large-scale attacks against the United States and its allies and Iran’s cyber capabilities are impressive and growing. An attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is likely to prompt a sustained cyber-attack.
The Trump administration must chart a pragmatic course with Iran that instantaneously attempts to improve U.S.-Iran relations, alleviate security concerns, and reassure U.S. allies in the region. US should provide symbolic concessions—such as, allowing Iran to enrich its own uranium as long as it remains below weapons grade—would beget a new understanding.