An accidental war is the very worst kind. According to The New York Times, US President Donald Trump had given initial approval for a military strike on Iran in retaliation for Tehran having shot down a US drone on Thursday, but relented at the last minute. The report could be a scare tactic, aimed at glaring the Islamic Republic down, but is scary all the same. The report says that US planes had taken off and warships were in position to launch an offensive against a “handful of Iranian targets", including radar and missile batteries. Thankfully, better sense prevailed, and all Tehran had to suffer was an angry tweet from Trump.
The current round of tensions began once Trump withdrew from a multi-party nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which gave the country some concessions in lieu of a commitment to cap its nuclear programme. The EU stuck on with the deal, though, and Tehran’s ultimatum of 8 July is aimed at Brussels. Iran wants the EU to lean on Washington DC to revive the deal, failing which it would cross the nuclear threshold: That is, enrich uranium enough to be used as a warhead. Trump is not a president to be leaned upon, evidently, and he has persisted with a policy of choking Iran’s oil exports—and thus economy—with punitive sanctions. In the ensuing sabre-rattling, some oil carriers and minor facilities in the Gulf have already been targeted (by Iran, most plausibly, to threaten US ally Saudi Arabia), even as the potential of a flare-up converges on the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s oil gateway that Tehran has made noises about blocking.
The Iran deal was Barack Obama’s doing. Trump, who prides himself as a deal artist, may want one of his own. If this is the case, the time for him to engage Tehran is now—before things go completely out of hand. That a fancy US drone could be shot by Iran, which accused it of spying on its territory, suggests the latter may not be a pushover. A full-scale war, needless to say, would be disastrous for the region and the rest of the oil-consuming world. It’s time for Trump to show the world how “the art of the deal" can be brought to bear on peace prospects in the Gulf.