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No, U.S. Pressure on Iran Hasn’t Risked Starting a War

Even before the bold American airstrike in January that killed Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Islamic Republic’s terrorist and expeditionary operations, journalists and experts were predicting that Washington risked “miscalculations” and out-of-control “escalation,” warning that the two countries were “on the brink of war.” Breathless comparisons to Europe in 1914 began to appear. But nine months after Suleimani’s demise, these warnings hardly seem justified. Michael Eisenstadt explains why:

The counterpressure campaign that Iran launched in May 2019 against America’s “maximum-pressure” policy . . . has relied on activities in the “gray zone” between war and peace. These include covert or unacknowledged attacks on petrochemical infrastructure and transportation in the [Persian] Gulf, proxy attacks on U.S. military personnel in Iraq, and clandestine cyber operations. Indeed, Iran is perhaps the world’s foremost practitioner of gray-zone operations (although China and Russia have also long employed this modus operandi). For nearly four decades, Americans have struggled to understand and to respond effectively to this asymmetric way of war.

Iran’s gray-zone strategy works by leveraging a number of differences in the ways that Tehran and Washington think and operate. The most important of these differences is conceptual. U.S. decision-makers have tended to conceive of war and peace with Iran (as well as with other significant state actors such as China and Russia) in stark, binary terms and have frequently been constrained by fear of escalation—creating opportunities for Iran (and others) to act in the gray zone “in between.” (The main exception here—by and large a relatively recent one—is in the cyber domain.)

By contrast, Tehran tends to see conflict as a continuum. The key terrain in gray-zone conflicts, then, is the gray matter in the heads of those American policymakers who believe that a local clash could somehow rapidly escalate to an all-out war. The result is often U.S. inaction, which provides gray-zone operators such as Iran greater freedom to act. Tehran’s interest in avoiding war and its preference for operating in the gray zone are not grounded in a transitory calculation of the regime’s interests; it is a deeply rooted feature of the regime’s strategic culture that is reflected in its way of war.

Read more at Lawfare

More about: Iran, U.S. Foreign policy

A Senior Saudi Political Figure Takes the Palestinian Leadership to Task

In an extended television interview with an Arab broadcaster, Prince Bandar bin Sultan—who served for twenty years as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., for a decade as head of the Saudi National Security Council, and two years as intelligence chief—responded forcefully to the Palestinian claim that the Gulf states have, by normalizing relations with Israel, “stabbed the Palestinians in the back.” Defending Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, Prince Bandar delivered a lengthy history of his country’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he bluntly upbraided Palestinian leaders, and Yasir Arafat above all, for squandering chances at statehood and for their lack of “ethics.” While Bandar’s sentiments can hardly be described as pro-Israel, he asserted that the Palestinian leaders are every bit as responsible as the Jewish state for the plight of their people:

[After the UN issued its 1947 Resolution 181 for partitioning Palestine], a Jewish state called Israel was recognized, which became a member of the United Nations. As for the Arab side, the Palestinians rejected the resolution, and as usual, we [Saudis] supported their rejection. Many years later, the main demand of our Palestinian brothers has been UN resolution 181, which is no longer on the table. No one is discussing it now. This was the beginning, and such events, as I mentioned, were repeated once, twice, and three times.

After the Oslo Accords, I asked Abu Amar, [i.e., Arafat], God rest his soul—and as they say remember the virtues of your dead—what he thought of the autonomy provisions [offered to the Palestinians under the 1978] Camp David Treaty. He said, “Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accords.” I said, “Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?” He said, “I wanted to, but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.” I thought to myself, so he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.

Bandar recounts another incident where he came to Arafat with an offer from the Reagan administration to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians, but Arafat stalled pointlessly until the offer expired. In short, Bandar’s view of things reflects the old adage “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Read more at Al Arabiya

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Yasir Arafat