It is the art of anything-but-actual war. The apparent goal of Iran’s enemies, and possibly Iran itself, is in the next 50 days – ahead of the US inauguration – to be as antagonistic as humanly possible, without actually starting a full-blown conflict.
In a region as febrile and tense as this, such broad statements carry the risk that an outlier, or unexpected reaction, tips the scale into rash conflict. But none of the interested parties – not even after the broad-daylight apparent assassination on the outskirts of Tehran of Iran’s most prominent nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, of which Israel stands accused by Rouhani and other senior officials of orchestrating – really want outright war now.
First, the least involved but biggest player, the United States. President Donald Trump’s team may be doing all they can to goad and enervate Iran’s hardliners, but a wide conflict with Tehran is totally out of keeping with their long-term agenda. They are busy leaving Afghanistan and Iraq precipitously. They campaigned on ending the endless wars. Full-scale conflict with Iran would likely trigger another conflagration, with US diplomats and America’s ally Israel in the firing line of Hezbollah or Iranian long-range missiles. It would spiral fast, and that is why US actions have stopped short of hitting Iran itself. The Trump administration wants to create as much hate as po