June 04, 2019

What a War With Iran Would Look Like

Neither Side Wants a Fight, but That Doesn’t Eliminate the Danger

By Ilan Goldenberg

Tensions between Iran and the United States are at their highest point in years. The 2015 Iran nuclear agreement is teetering. The Trump administration is using sanctions to strangle the Iranian economy and in May deployed an aircraft carrier, a missile defense battery, and four bombers to the Middle East. Washington has evacuated nonessential personnel from its embassy in Baghdad, citing intelligence suggesting that Iran is increasingly willing to hit U.S. targets through its military proxies abroad.

The United States also stated that Iran almost certainly perpetrated the recent damage to oil tankers flagged by Saudi Arabia, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and claimed that Iran had temporarily loaded missiles onto small boats in the Persian Gulf. In early May, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton publicly threatened a response to any Iranian attacks, “whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards [sic] Corps or regular Iranian forces.”

The good news is that the situation is not as bad as it appears. None of the players—with the possible exception of Bolton—seem to really want a war. Iran’s military strategy is to keep tensions at a low boil and avoid a direct confrontation with the United States. Washington struck a tough public posture with its recent troop deployment, but the move was neither consequential nor terribly unusual. If the United States were truly preparing for a war, the flow of military assets into the region would be much more dramatic.

Read the full article in Foreign Affairs.

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • September 25, 2019
    Trump’s Iran Policy Is a Failure

    This month’s attack on two Saudi Aramco oil facilities marked a stunning escalation of tensions in the Middle East. The scale, sophistication, and accuracy of the strikes all ...

    By Ilan Goldenberg & Kaleigh Thomas

  • Commentary
    • The Atlantic
    • September 23, 2019
    The Most Dangerous Moment of the Trump Presidency

    For all of the uncertainty of the Trump administration’s nearly three years in power, genuine international crises have been rare. That’s changing right now. The attack a week...

    By Richard Fontaine

  • Podcast
    • August 2, 2019
    Ilan Goldenberg on Iran, Europe, and the United States

    CNAS Senior Fellow and Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg joins Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend for an in-depth look at the current situation in the ...

    By Ilan Goldenberg, Andrea Kendall-Taylor & Jim Townsend

  • Reports
    • June 26, 2019
    Escalation or Negotiation?

    In May 2019, the Center hosted an all-day tabletop exercise to game out three scenarios related to the crisis surrounding U.S.-Iran tensions over Iran’s nuclear enrichment pro...

    By Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg, Nicholas Heras & Kaleigh Thomas

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia