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New year under high tension between the United States and Iran

Donald Trump shows a document that reinstates sanctions against Iran on June 24, 2019 in Washington. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

The year 2019 ends with a final pass of arms between the Americans and the Iranians. US military strikes in Iraq and Syria against pro-Iranian Shiite militia bases show once again that tension has not abated between Donald Trump’s America and the Islamic Republic of Ayatollah Khamenei.

The crisis between the Americans and the Iranians accelerated in the spring of 2018, when Donald Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the Vienna Iran nuclear deal. Since then, incidents, more or less serious, have multiplied this year throughout the Middle East, mainly in the Persian Gulf.

We remember the sabotage of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the arrest of Iranian tankers, the destruction of an American drone by the Iranian defense, the drone / missile attack on Saudi oil installations, not to mention the backstage cyber war, all against the backdrop of the collapse of the Iranian economy because of US sanctions.

In the end, the year 2019 leaves an explosive legacy for the new year, because nothing is settled between the United States and Iran. Quite the contrary. The Iranian-American showdown is now played out throughout the Middle East.

Privately, a diplomat from a Gulf monarchy explains that “The objective for 2020 is not to find a solution but to avoid an uncontrollable escalation and to keep the current crisis within manageable limits.” Because in 2020, the calendar promises to be already at high risk: Tehran must implement, on January 6, the fifth phase of its withdrawal from the Vienna agreement, which promises to lead again plus the international climate.

A few weeks later, at the end of February, Iranian voters will be called upon to renew their parliament, the Majlis. It is an understatement to say that the hardliners of the regime have the wind in their sails facing a camp of moderates and reformers in complete loss of speed. Again, we should expect a stiffening on the Iranian side, with an Islamic Republic increasingly “bunkérisée”.

As for the United States, the country will be in 2020 in the middle of a presidential election campaign. If by chance Donald Trump was re-elected on November 3, he could be tempted to be more aggressive against Iran, this time, not only economically but also militarily. The American president would then have four more years before him to try to get the Islamic Republic back.

If defeated, the new Democratic administration could change course and embark on a less confrontational path, but nothing is less certain. In any case, the climate for 2020 between Iranians and Americans will remain highly volatile and flammable, as shown by their recent skirmish in Iraq and Syria. Last bloodshed to close 2019.

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