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US flare-up 'would be a godsend to Iran hard-liners'

Shabnam von Hein
May 7, 2019

The US has announced that it will deploy an aircraft carrier to the Middle East to give a "clear message" to Iran that it is prepared to defend its interests. Crisis Group's Ali Vaez says the move could lead to a war.

F/A-18C Hornet fighter jet
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/MC3 Josh Petrosino

On Sunday, national security adviser John Bolton said the US was deploying an aircraft carrier and bombers to the Middle East as a signal to Iran.

Bolton said the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group with a bomber task force was a response "to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings."

Trump's national security adviser said the Lincoln was headed to the area overseen by US Central Command, which could mean east to the Red Sea and perhaps to the Arabian Sea or the Persian Gulf, where the US Navy currently has no aircraft carrier stationed.

Ali Vaez - International Crisis Group
Iran expert Ali VaezImage: International Crisis Group

The announcement comes amid increasing tensions between Washington and Tehran. Last year, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and has since then increased sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

Recently, the Trump administration also took the bold step of designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.

In an interview with DW, Ali Vaez, the Iran Project Director at the Crisis Group, talks about the risks posed by the latest US move.

DW: How do you view the US government's decision to send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier to the Middle East?

Ali Vaez: The exact nature of US threats remains unclear. Apparently, the US allies in the Middle East are wary of Iranian plans to target US assets in the region.

Some people claim that Iran is behind the latest escalation in Gaza. However, there is no concrete evidence that Tehran is trying to inflict harm on the US and its allies in response to Washington's "economic warfare" [sanctions] against Iran.

Read more: Gaza violence escalates after militants launch rocket attacks

USS Abraham Lincoln carrier USA
USS Abraham Lincoln carrierImage: AP

Will the deployment of the aircraft carrier increase the likelihood of a full-scale military confrontation between the US and Iran?

It certainly increases the risks. The presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf is not unusual. What is unusual is the Trump administration's level of bellicosity toward Iran. With so much friction between Iran and the US – and their respective allies in the region – and with no channel of communication between these parties, the risk of a confrontation is worryingly high.

Is it possible that these high stakes could force Washington and Tehran to engage in talks?

The odds of Iran negotiating with the Trump administration, which has violated the nuclear agreement between the two countries and is bullying Tehran, are very low. Also, Tehran will have to restore its nuclear leverage to return to the negotiating table. That would add fuel to the fire and increase the risk of a confrontation.

Read more: US cracks down Iran's uranium enrichment

How will Iran react to this situation?

Iran is likely to partially cease its commitments under the nuclear deal as a last-ditch effort to get an economic lifeline from the remaining signatories to the deal.

At the same time, a military confrontation with the US would be a godsend to Iran's hard-liners. They would try to use it to further militarize the domestic sphere and appropriate all levers of power.

Ali Vaez is an Iran project director at Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.