US President Donald Trump could take “reckless” military action against Iran in his final days in office, experts have warned, as tensions between Tehran and Washington mount on the eve of the first anniversary of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani’s assassination.
The US flew B-52 bombers over the Gulf three times in the past month, most recently on Wednesday, in what the Trump administration called a deterrence measure to keep Iran from retaliating on January 3, the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing in a US drone strike.
But with less than a month left in the White House, Trump is under pressure from key allies in the Middle East – namely Israel and Saudi Arabia – to take action on Iran, said Danny Postel, assistant director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University.
“Trump is a very wounded and very cornered animal in an end-game scenario. He’s got a few weeks left, and we know that he is capable of extremely erratic behaviour,” Postel, an expert on Iran and US foreign policy, told Al Jazeera in an interview.
“It may be the case that his most erratic, most reckless lashing out is yet to come.”
On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “New intelligence from Iraq indicate[s] that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.”
Earlier this week, Iran warned the US not to escalate the situation in the run-up to the Soleimani assassination anniversary, with Zarif saying on Thursday that “intelligence from Iraq indicate [sic] plot to FABRICATE pretext for war”.
“Iran doesn’t seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests,” the foreign minister tweeted. That same day, Iran condemned Washington’s “military adventurism” in a letter to the UN Security Council.
Iranian officials have pledged “harsh revenge” for Soleimani’s assassination at Baghdad international airport.
However, experts are unconvinced that Tehran would give the Trump administration a pretext to launch a military confrontation right now as US President-elect Joe Biden, who intends to restart diplomatic engagement with Tehran, is set to assume office on January 20.
Biden has said he plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark accord signed during President Barack Obama’s administration that saw Iran limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.