It is not yet clear which direction the stand-off between the US and its allies on one hand, and Iran on the other, is headed in.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump gave perhaps his most explicit admission yet that his administration is not looking to get bogged down in a military confrontation with Tehran.
Asked by reporters whether he sees such an eventuality as inevitable, Mr Trump replied, "I hope not," adding that, "we don't seek a war, nor do they." Moreover, the New York Times reported on Thursday that Mr Trump had sternly told his acting Defence Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not wish to escalate hostilities with Iran.
Yet, while many analysts have come to the conclusion that Mr Trump — who campaigned in 2016 on a platform of ending the US' forever wars — is averse to any such conflict, there are concerns about the possible malign influence of a second set of actors within the administration who might be trying to force their own hardline narrative on the president. This group — so the conventional wisdom goes — consists of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and in particular, National Security Advisor John Bolton. Mr Bolton is widely known as a long-time enthusiast for regime change in Tehran, and once advocated for attacking the country in a 2015 op-ed entitled, "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran."
For their part, the Iranians have continued to assert that they do not wish to usher in any military exchange with the US. Echoing a similar sentiment to Mr Trump, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate arbiter on the country's foreign policy decisions, said this week that "there won't be any war, the Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance," adding that "we don't seek a war, and they [the US] don't either."
Yet, concerns persist that officials like Mr Bolton, who appear to remain confidant that the US can deal a number of serious military blows to Iran, coupled with the advocacy for action by Washington's Gulf State allies, may push President Trump toward the path of war.
Sputnik spoke to Iranian political scientists and commentator, Mohammad Marandi to discuss the dynamics at play and possible regional outcome of any war between the two arch-enemies.
Sputnik: Is the feeling in Iran that some in the US are underestimating Iran's resolve and capabilities? Are Iranians taking the US' threatening military posture seriously?
MM: I think the feeling in Iran is that the US, at least parts of the US political establishment underestimates Iran's resolve and capabilities. People like Bolton and Pompeo definitely underestimate Iran. Trump also probably also thinks that he can get concessions from Iran through these extremist policies that are currently being pursued. But they are playing a very dangerous game because if there is any military conflict without a doubt Iran will strike back very hard. The damage that Iran can do to the United States and its allies is enormous, simply because all of the global economy depends on the oil and gas of the Persian Gulf region and if there is conflict, then that oil and gas will no longer be there. It's not just simply closing the Strait of Hormuz but more importantly oil and gas assets owned by counties that are aligned to the US or where the US has bases to use against Iran, all of those oil and gas assets will be destroyed and they are very accessible, easily accessible, to the Iranian military.
Then of course, Iranian allies would be on the move across the border into Iraq and the US would be driven out very quickly from the country. There would be all sorts of consequences that go beyond the military. Saudi Arabia in my opinion, and the Emirates, if their assets were destroyed, would collapse very quickly. You'd have millions of people in this region moving towards Europe obviously so it's not in the interests of the US or its allies to keep playing this dangerous game.
Iran does take the US seriously, that's why ever since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 Iran has been preparing itself for such as situation, or potential situation, and that is why it has such powerful defence capabilities alongside the Persian Gulf region and inside the Persian Gulf region and through the building of underground installations alongside the coast, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman where they have enormous missile capabilities as well as other capabilities in order to use to respond to any potential threat.
Sputnik: Iran has said that it has many options to select from in its foreign policy toolbox for responding to any US provocation, from military to diplomatic — what do you see some of these looking like in action?
MM: I just outlined the military, but Iran's allies exist in areas where the Americans are present from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean to Central Asia to the Red Sea. Those allies are powerful and they are very close to Iran. Again, you have oil and gas producing countries to the North of Iran, to the West of Iran, and to the South of Iran. I don't think that we will see any of them producing any oil if there's a war and those facilities would probably be destroyed for many years. That would create a global economic catastrophe. You don't have to bomb the US, you instead shut down the US economy.
Iran obviously does not want war, that's why Iran stayed within the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] despite the US leaving and despite the US' aggressive and extremists behaviour over the last year, Iran remained within the JCPOA. But, at some point Iran's strategic patience will come to an end, and the Americans should be careful not to provoke it. But also US behaviour toward China, Russia and other countries are pushing all of these countries together. Trump is isolating the United States because he's being seen across the world as aggressive and irrational and a threat to global stability. So he's creating a political convergence of many countries which could lead to other things.
Sputnik: How is the US-Iran stand-off likely to have an impact upon the geopolitics of the wider Middle East?
MM: I think the first thing that would happen is that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would collapse. They are completely dependent on oil, they are very weak regimes, they have huge numbers of foreigners, especially the Emirates. The overwhelming majority of the population in the Emirates is comprised of foreigners. If their oil assets are destroyed, and gas assets are destroyed, those regimes wouldn't last for more than a few weeks. It would be over for them and the Americans could never retake control. I think once that happens the Americans would see that the situation changes completely, It would no longer be a war against Iran but it would be a battle to contain the mess that they've created.