The United States and Iran remain locked in a tense standoff, punctuated by periodic escalations, that could easily transition into a full-blown conflict. Following the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has been subjected to crushing sanctions that have contracted its economy and put pressure on its leadership. Rather than concede, Iran has responded with increasingly provocative moves—sabotaging several oil tankers, shooting down a U.S. drone, and openly violating the uranium enrichment and storage thresholds in the JCPOA. Many in Washington want the United States to launch military strikes on Iran because they believe the prospect of a war that it would lose would force Iran into submission. Military action is much more likely to backfire, however, since it would only legitimize Iran's nuclear program and make a nuclear arsenal essential to defend itself from the United States.Iran has clearly telegraphed that it would restart uranium enrichment unless America’s European allies—who want to remain in the JCPOA—defy U.S. sanctions and continue to import Iranian oil. Iran’s recent moves are a desperate effort to recapture some of the economic benefits of the deal in exchange for its continued compliance. So far, modest European efforts to that end have done little to ease Iran’s economic crisis. Iran’s recent seizure of a British oil tanker—retaliation for the Royal Navy’s seizure of an Iranian vessel—is likely to make the Europeans even less willing to risk angering the United States on Iran’s behalf.
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