The Factors That Could Push the U.S. and Iran to War

Jun 12, 2019 | 09:00 GMT

An armed Iranian speedboat in the Strait of Hormuz on April 30, 2019.

An armed Iranian speedboat in the Strait of Hormuz on April 30. A war between the United States and Iran would have major global economic and energy consequences.

(ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)


  • Despite hard-line factions in both Iran and the United States that would like to pursue confrontation, both countries will remain keen to avoid a major war with each other.
  • Nevertheless, the risk of miscalculation and escalation will remain high, particularly given Iran's force dispositions and conflict strategy, as both countries ramp up their military preparations. 
  • The absence of meaningful channels of communication will also reduce the ability of both countries to de-escalate tensions after an accident or initial confrontation.

The United States is sending additional forces to the Persian Gulf as Iran prepares and mobilizes its army; together, the countries' actions are significantly increasing the possibility of war. Compounding the risk is a faction within the White House, epitomized by hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, that is more eager than others in the administration to start a conflict with Iran. Bolton, naturally, has ideological counterparts in Iran, especially in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are also spoiling for a fight. But as leaders in Washington and Tehran have emphasized, the two countries remain wary of a costly war against each other. But caution aside, a broader conflict is not beyond the realm of possibility, what with the countries' mutual hostility and mistrust, lack of communication channels to quickly resolve a conflict, as well as the setup of Iran's forces -- which have a major incentive to strike...

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