ASIAINTL CONFLICTSMIDDLE EASTOPINION

Iran’s challenge to the U.S supremacy in the Middle East

By Haris Bilal Malik 

The United States as a global superpower has been maintaining and projecting its military and political supremacy for decades. The U.S has ensured its military presence all over the world through its technological prowess and an unrivaled number of military bases and naval fleets across the world. Inspired by its military might, the U.S has deliberately opted for intervention strategies as apparent in its ongoing campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. However, despite its military prowess, Iran has through its most recent actions emerged as a considerable challenge to the U. S’s supremacy and role as a security guarantor in the Middle East. Unless the US has learned from its previous mistakes it is likely that it would embark on another disastrous intervention. Only this time, with a much better-prepared adversary and even more disastrous consequences.

The war in Afghanistan which is considered as the longest war in U.S history seems to be going nowhere despite the deployment of the world’s best-equipped military force. The same is the case with the U.S intervention in Iraq where even after almost two decades the U.S has still not managed to fully withdraw its forces and call its campaigns a success. Subsequently, the U.S was compelled to reassess its strategy of military interventionism as the only prospects for ending this prolonged war even now only through talks with the Taliban. Although the U.S has somehow managed to install a democratic setup in Iraq, the presence of ISIS in Iraq and the terrible security situation there raises several questions on U.S credibility and efficacy throughout the entire Middle East.

Despite being widely regarded as a major impediment to US interests in the region, Iran was widely regarded as being no match for the capabilities and might of the US military. This perception, however, was turned on its head when Irani made missiles and UAV drones were discovered to have penetrated Saudi Air defenses to strike with unprecedented precision at the heart of the Saudi Energy infrastructure. The purported damage to these facilities accounts for more than half of the Kingdom’s total output, amounting to about 5% of the global oil supply or about 5.7 million barrels per day. Although Iran has denied any involvement in the attack Irani backed Houthi rebels have however openly claimed the responsibility.

Nevertheless, the overall impact was that such an attack was successful despite Saudi Arabia, being one of the world’s largest arms importers, is a major buyer of advanced weaponry from the U.S. These include state of the art fighter jets and sophisticated air defence systems. For instance, even though the said oil facilities were under the defence shield of the U.S Patriot surface-to-air system (PAC-2), one of the most advanced systems in the world, it failed to deter and defend against these reportedly cruise missile and drone attacks. The lapse was such that even U.S Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had to justify it by admitting that some of the finest air defence systems do fail sometimes. Against the backdrop of this episode, it seems like Iran has positioned itself in a much better position over the U.S backed Saudi challenge in the Middle East.

The U.S’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran’s harassment of western oil tankers by Iran and the most recent controversy over the US drone purportedly shot down by Iran in June this year have continually heightened US-Iran tensions. In all, these instances have also led to the growing possibility of the U.S taking on Iran militarily as a direct consequence of its more interventionist policy. This is also evident from the U.S excessive naval presence in the Persian Gulf aimed at pressurizing Iran. Consequently, Iran which has allegedly carried out a covert nuclear program has been working on growing its missile arsenals and involved in the potential acquisition of precision strike systems. The build-up of an asymmetric naval-air-missile threat to shipping in the Gulf and nearby waters in the Gulf of Oman is all examples of Iran’s expanding military muscle. All these trends show that Iran is belligerently expanding its role in the Middle East region while directly challenging U.S supremacy both militarily and politically.

Hence, while the recent wave of challenges which the U.S has been facing in Afghanistan and the Middle East continue to undermine the U.S’s credibility as a security guarantor in these regions, Iran has dramatically taken that challenge up a notch quite visibly. The cancellation of US-Taliban peace talks, the enhanced tensions with Iran over the nuclear issue, and the recent standoff between Iran and U.S backed Saudi Arabia over the Yemen issue all serve as major challenges for the U.S’s ability to play a decisive role in the region. At present, the U.S is facing a dilemma either to shamefully withdraw from these regions or to plunge headfirst in another destructive intervention. Consequently, the U.S might need to seriously rethink and revisit its strategy of military intervention against every considerable problem in these regions. Moreover, it may need to completely revamp its concepts of why, when and how to wage a war overseas. This is because at the present the confidence which the U.S once inspired in its role as the sole global superpower capable of unilaterally solving security issues anywhere in the world has severely diminished.

Haris Bilal Malik works as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad, Pakistan.

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