Insider news & Analysis in Iran
How Trump's Messages Were Understood by Iran's Mullahs

Dr Salem Al Ketbi

Since tensions have been exacerbated by repeated mullahs’ violations and attacks on oil tankers or the American drone, US President Donald Trump has stated on several occasions that he did not want a war with Iran.

But in recent hours, this statement has been accompanied by a direct and explicit warning. Trump said a war with Iran would cause “obliteration like you’ve never seen before,” adding that he has no desire for conflict. We are not talking about an air strike or a missile attack limited by the United States, but about an all-out war.

President Trump sees any military strike against the mullahs as leading to a broader military conflict. But one thing is for sure in the current controversy, the United States and, in particular, the American army want American military techniques to be brought back to its full prestige. The mullahs have claimed to have successfully targeted one of their icons, ever since the US Global Hawk drone was shot down last weekend.

US military generals have been more determined to strike Iran. President Trump, for his part, still wants to bet on the possibility of the mullahs sitting at the negotiating table. Trump may be the only one in his administration who supports the idea of negotiations. Meanwhile, his key assistants, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel, are in favour of a retaliatory attack.

Ironically, President Trump’s decision to postpone the limited military strike was only welcomed by his Democratic opponents, who perceived it as an act of self-restraint. U.S. House Speaker and Congressional Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was satisfied that Trump had given up launching strikes, which would have provoked the Iranians. “A strike of that amount of collateral damage would be very provocative, and I’m glad the president did not take that,” Pelosi said.

But the problem is that President Trump has so far refused to believe that he is talking to an adventurous and politically insane regime. Iran has ignored all the messages Trump has conveyed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other international and regional mediators.

Most recently, Tehran reportedly received a warning message from Trump through Oman about an imminent American attack. Iin his message, Trump voiced his opposition to the war and his desire to have discussions on a number of subjects.

The problem is also that President Trump risks loosing the trust of regional allies in the US ability to counter the Iranian threat. It would seem that the interests and security of its allies are not among the White House’s priorities. Losing such confidence would impact the future of US defence industries and alliances between the Gulf countries and the major powers in the future.

So far, the mullahs’ regime has behaved quite differently from other rogue regimes. Its arrogance and recklessness have far surpassed that of North Korea, which has stopped escalating at some point and turned to diplomatic channels. By contrast, the Iranian regime remains uncompromising, rejecting all mediation efforts. It still believes that attitude will lead President Trump to react to the conditions of this miserable regime, especially lifting US sanctions before any negotiations.

What also distinguishes the mullahs from the North Korean regime in terms of sanctions is that the mullahs’ establishment do not care at all about the interests of their people. Their main source of motivation is the future of the regime’s leaders. They are fully aware that the Iranian people will get rid of them as soon as the powerful elements of the regime and the strong hand of the Revolutionary Guard, which governs the Iranians with iron and fire, are weakened.

Another key difference is that the mullahs’ regime tends to flex muscles, even at the expense of regional security and stability. The US drone crash provided the regime with a valuable opportunity to hype IRGC’s ability to knock out the latest US technology without fear of consequences or retaliation for its actions.

Salem Al Ketbi is an Emirati political analyst, researcher and opinion writer. Member of @ChathamHouse and @londonpressclub.

 

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