Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

26 March 2017

London Terror: To Win The War, The West Needs To Empower Reformist Muslims

R Jagannathan

By giving ordinary Muslims the option of convincing themselves that they are victims rather than perpetrators, we are essentially disempowering the rational voices in the community.

It is this group that needs empowerment, so that Islam rethinks its history and reworks its own imperialist tendencies.

If the world is to become a saner place, it is Islam that needs to be secularised, and this task can be done only by Muslims.

The London terror attack yesterday (22 March), which is likely to have been prompted by Islamist rage and jihadi activity, is one more proof that the world has not got its anti-terrorism act right. The world is losing the “war on terror” because one cannot win against shadowy combatants who believe in asymmetric warfare.

Terrorism is a tactic in Islam’s cosmic war against Christendom, and no strategy can win permanently against opponents who deploy flexible tactics, as Daniel DePetris, wrote in The American Conservative some time ago. You can crash aircraft into the Twin Towers one day, you can blow yourself up against a military target, you can run over and kill ordinary citizens on a promenade by driving a truck into them (or a car, as in London), or, as in India, you can kill people by trying to derail trains. There is little that anti-terror warriors can do if a terrorist is willing to die in the process of killing others. Islam has an inherent advantage in this tactic, for Muslims seem more willing to kill themselves for uncertain gains in the afterlife than most other people.

25 March 2017

ISIS is winning the cyber war. Here's how to stop it.

BY ANDREW BYERS AND TARA MOONEY

Despite U.S. efforts, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains a formidable opponent today. It holds territory in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria, while directing cells in Egypt, France, Bangladesh, Yemen and the North Caucasus, among other hotspots around the world.

The Trump administration has publicly committed itself to defeating ISIS. However, like the Obama administration before it, the current administration has primarily focused its efforts on using airpower and special forces to physically destroy ISIS. The administration's new plan to introduce more conventional military forces into the region to recapture Raqqa, ISIS's capital, is more of the same.

To defeat ISIS, we need an entirely new strategy, one that takes on ISIS where it is highly effective — in cyberspace.

While ISIS continues to foment regional instability in the greater Middle East, its prowess online has made it a threat to Western nations, as well. ISIS focuses significant resources on cyberspace, where it has a global presence, using sophisticated techniques to electronically communicate with its far-flung sympathizers, spread its propaganda and recruit operatives around the world.

24 March 2017

The Reina Nightclub Attack and the Islamic State Threat to Turkey

By Ahmet S Yayla

The Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve made clear the immense scale of the Islamic State threat to Turkey. Investigations have shed new light on the group’s command and control over sleeper operatives in Turkey and the large network of clandestine cells and logistical and financial support elements it has set up to sustain terrorist activity. Turkish government complacency has allowed the threat to grow, as have purges of experienced counterterrorism professionals, including those after last year’s failed coup. As the Islamic State shows signs of crumbling in Syria and Iraq, Turkey now faces a nightmare scenario of a mass influx of Islamic State fighters into its territory.

In the early hours of January 1, 2017, the Islamic State took the gloves fully off in its terrorist campaign against Turkey. A single gunman gained entry to the Reina nightclub on the Bosphorus, a famous haunt for celebrities and Western tourists, killing 39 and wounding 71 before escaping into the night. For the first time evera after a high-profile attack in Turkey, the Islamic State claimed responsibility, warning “the government of Turkey should know the blood of Muslims, which it is targeting with its plane and guns, will cause a fire in its home.”

On January 16, 2017, after a massive manhunt, the attacker—later identified as an Uzbek national named Abdulkadir Masharipov (alias Muhammed Horasani) from a small town in Kyrgyzstan with a predominantly Uzbeki population—was finally captured alive in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. Investigations revealed he had been directed to launch the attack by a senior Islamic State operative in Raqqa, Syria, and had been provided logistical and financial support in Istanbul by a large Islamic State network operating clandestinely in the city.

23 March 2017

*** Hizbollah’s Syria Conundrum


When Hizbollah – the Lebanese “Party of God” – threw its fighters into Syria in 2013, it sought primarily to save itself. Had the Assad regime collapsed or been defeated by U.S.-backed regional powers, it could have faced a hostile Sunni successor in Damascus and lost its essential arms channel from Iran. Today, its core objective of preserving the regime has been met, but there is no end in sight to the war. If Iran and Hizbollah continue to provide unconditional military support to the regime without a realistic exit strategy, they will be dragged deeper into what can only become a quagmire, even as their armed strength grows in the wider region. At the same time, they will have to contend with a potentially more hostile U.S. administration that has said it wants to push back Iranian influence even as it also pursues a more aggressive approach against the Islamic State (IS), an enemy it has in common with Hizbollah and Iran.

Avoiding being sucked into a quagmire requires negotiating a settlement that has buy-in from key countries that back the opposition, as well as (with Russia) imposing the requisite compromises on Damascus. This report proposes preliminary steps Iran and Hizbollah could take in that direction, including recognising non-jihadist rebels; initiating talks with them on whatever common ground they can find; lowering sectarian rhetoric; and refraining from new offensives against opposition-held areas so as to preserve a non-jihadist foe capable of enforcing a deal, if and when one is reached.

Stop Believing in the Many Myths of the Iraq Surge

By Danny Sjursen

Politicians and military officers continue to insist the 2007 troop surge was a glorious success. It wasn’t.

The other day, I found myself flipping through old photos from my time in Iraq. One in particular from October 2006 stood out. I see my 23-year-old self, along with my platoon. We’re still at Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, posing in front of our squadron logo splashed across a huge concrete barrier.

It was a tradition by then, three and a half years after the invasion of neighboring Iraq, for every Army, Marine and even Air Force battalion at that camp to proudly paint its unit emblem on one of those large, ubiquitous barricades.

Gazing at that photo, it’s hard for me to believe that it was taken a decade ago.

Those were Iraq’s bad old days, just before General David Petraeus’s fabled “surge” campaign that has since become the stuff of legend, a defining event for American military professionals. The term has permanently entered the martial lexicon and now it’s everywhere.

We soldiers stay late at work because we need to “surge” on the latest PowerPoint presentation. To inject extra effort into anything — no matter how mundane — is to “surge.”

The Coming Islamic Culture War

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr

Western observers are often blind to social currents within the Muslim world. During the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, outside analysts confidently predicted that the uprisings would marginalize the jihadist movement in favor of more moderate and democratic reformers. In fact, the opposite happened—an unprecedented jihadist mobilization that has inspired legions of fighters from around the world and fragmented or threatened more than half a dozen countries. In large part, this was because the collapse of the old regimes, which had suppressed Islamism domestically, created new spaces for jihadists. These spaces included both literal ungoverned territory and discursive spaces, where radicals were newly able to engage in dawa, or proselytism.

Today, a new type of discursive space—one that will foster a very different set of ideas—is opening up in the Muslim world. In April 2011, Bahraini human rights activists created one such space when they launched the website Ahwaa, the first online forum for the LGBT community in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Esra’a al-Shafei, one of the website’s founders, was modest about the site’s ambitions, explaining that Ahwaa was intended “as a support network” for the “LGBTQ community” as well as a resource for those “who want to learn more by interacting with [LGBT] people.”

New Blood for Fatah and Hamas

By Grant Rumley

Palestinian politicians tend to view term limits as casual suggestions. This is especially true in the case of the two largest Palestinian parties: the nominally secular Fatah, which manages the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, and the Islamist terror group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Yet those two factions’ usual disdain for smooth political transitions seemed to wane in February, when Hamas elected a military commander, Yehya Sinwar, to serve as its next leader in Gaza, and the longtime apparatchik Mahmoud al-Aloul became Fatah’s first-ever vice president. The elevation of both men may signal a hard-line shift in Palestinian politics.

FATAH’S NEW CONTENDER

For Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the head of Fatah, the appointment of Aloul as party vice president was a stroke of tactical genius. Abbas’ allies and rivals have hounded him for years about the need to appoint a deputy and to begin planning for a stable transition, but Abbas, who is 81 years old and fears emboldening his challengers, has long refused to do so. Instead, the president has spent much of his time in office consolidating his grip on power and pushing aside his rivals, ensuring that they have remained too weak or unpopular to threaten him. When rumors swirled that Fatah was splintering ahead of a party conference last November, for example, Abbas barred the dissenters from attending the meeting and used the group’s internal elections to purge his rivals.

By naming the 66-year-old Aloul as Fatah’s vice president, Abbas has elevated a man who has the pedigree to eventually head the party but still lacks the influence to directly challenge his leadership. A longtime Fatah member and veteran of the party’s military wing, Aloul was responsible for the 1983 capture and ransom of six Israeli soldiers in Lebanon; in the 1990s, he served as a governor in the West Bank.

22 March 2017

Saudi Arabia's Failed Oil War

By Nicholas Borroz and Brendan Meighan

Saudi King Salman’s ongoing visit to Asia, through which he hopes to attract Japanese and Chinese investment in Saudi Arabia, is another indication of how committed the country is to reforming its economy. This trip, along with a host of fiscal modifications at home and the impending initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, the country’s national petroleum and natural gas company, underscore the Kingdom’s recognition of its need to escape dependence on oil—a realization that has come as a result of failed policies from 2014 to 2016 that forced Riyadh to accept the fact that its days of dominating oil markets are over.

Saudi Arabia’s strategy during the production war was to let the spigots flow in the hopes that doing so would undermine two other producers: Iran and the United States. Iran had always enjoyed a latent ability to wrest market control from Saudi Arabia, but crippling international sanctions prevented it from doing so. After the nuclear deal, though, the threat to the Kingdom increased. At the same time, the U.S. oil industry presented a new challenge. By 2015, after a decade of technological innovations, including the use of wireless seismological testing and the automating of various oilrig functions, it had claimed the mantle of global production leader from Saudi Arabia.

In the face of eroding market share, Riyadh refused to cut oil production. It instead opted to increase output in 2016—setting new records for its production levels—to keep global supply high and prices down. In so doing, Riyadh wagered that it could survive depressed prices with its over half a trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves, while its U.S. and Iranian competitors would in turn face so much financial pressure that they would bow out of the running. This was a marked divergence from past Saudi strategy, which typically favored cutting production to regulate supply and keep prices elevated.

20 March 2017

Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

by Colin P. ClarkeChad C. Serena, Amarnath Amarasingam

The current wave of foreign fighters emerging from the conflict in Iraq and Syria will be larger and potentially more dangerous than the mujahideen guerrillas that were a byproduct of the Soviet-Afghan conflict in the 1980s, FBI Director James Comey warned last September.

That is an especially foreboding observation, since the foreign fighters borne from the Afghan conflict went on to form the core of Al Qaeda and fight in the internecine conflicts in Bosnia, Algeria and Chechnya during the 1990s.

When one conflict ends, these fighters often use their connections to move on and join another fight. This phenomenon is likely to worsen in the future.

The number of foreign fighters participating in the conflict in Iraq and Syria is significant compared to those who participated in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Even more concerning, jihadists have improved and facilitated their networking capacity—improved communication, eased transportation, and diversified access to sources of information and money can make even small cadres of experienced fighters a dangerous force. The foreign-fighter phenomenon is not new. Over the past two hundred years, they have appeared in more than a quarter of all civil wars. But now these fighters engage in foreign civil wars and insurgencies—and then export their expertise back to their home countries or to places they have newly immigrated.

Rumiyah: Jihadist Propaganda and Information Warfare in Cyberspace

By Remy Mahzam 

Since its debut as an online publication in September 2016, Rumiyah (or ‘Rome’ in Arabic) has provided a strategic distraction for the so-called Islamic State (IS), and reflected a fundamental shift in the group’s modus operandi. Indeed, by producing the text in 10 languages, IS has been able to tailor its propaganda to fit the interests of particular communities and regions, as Remy Mazak explains here.

Introduction

Recognising that wars are no longer confined to the physical battlefields, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has since 2014 embarked on an aggressive propaganda campaign in cyberspace through the release of various online publications like Dabiq (discontinued since August 2016), Amaq News, Al-Naba and Rumiyah. Since its debut in September 2016, Rumiyah (‘Rome’ in Arabic), which draws its title from a Prophetic tradition foretelling the fall of the West, is a strategic distraction from the realities on the ground characterised by the considerable loss of territory and revenue, heavy casualties and low morale among fighters. The launch of Rumiyah came precisely at a time when the rhetoric to justify the final battle in Syria seemed counter-intuitive and signalled a strategic shift in IS’ modus operandi, with the battle against its enemies going not only beyond the Middle East but also into the realm of the digital.

19 March 2017

A New Strategy Against ISIS and al Qaeda


The Trump administration is set to supersize President Obama’s strategy to defeat Islamic State, sending more American forces to the region and lifting restraints on direct participation in combat and when to use armed force. Yet any victory under the current approach will be ephemeral. Even if American proxies, backed by U.S. military forces, wrest Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, away from ISIS, success will be fleeting.

The most important error is the near-exclusive focus on Islamic State at the expense of serious efforts against al Qaeda. Destroying ISIS is necessary but not sufficient. As the Obama administration turned its attention toward ISIS, al Qaeda learned from its failures. It has temporarily deprioritized spectacular attacks on the global stage and focused on embedding itself within Sunni communities in Syria, Yemen, North Africa and elsewhere to develop long-term strength and resilience.

Al Qaeda also has become more cautious in imposing its radical version of Shariah. It now indoctrinates populations over years rather than forcing immediate compliance with strict Islamic law. It does not demand that fighters place themselves formally and publicly under its command. Its affiliates in Syria do not even insist that local groups accept its ideology as long as they fight common foes. Al Qaeda today introduces its beliefs slowly and carefully, and the false message that it is more moderate than ISIS resonates around the world.

America's Way Ahead in Syria

Jennifer Cafarella, Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-month planning exercise beginning in November 2015 to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.

ISW and CTP are publishing the findings of this exercise in multiple reports. The first described America’s global grand strategic objectives as they relate to the threat from ISIS and al Qaeda. The second defined American strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria, identified the minimum necessary conditions for ending the conflicts there, and compared U.S. objectives with those of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in order to understand actual convergences and divergences. RECOMMENDED READU.S. Grand Strategy: Destroying ISIS and al QaedaThe third report assessed the strengths and vulnerabilities of ISIS and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria to serve as the basis for developing a robust and comprehensive strategy to destroy them.

This fourth report recommends a course of action (COA) that represents the best possible path forward for the United States that the ISW-CTP team could identify based on an evaluation of American interests, the current political-security dynamics, and forecasts of various actors’ plans. The ISW-CTP team tested 15 different courses of action to destroy both ISIS and al Qaeda without jeopardizing wider American interests or accepting undue cost or risk.

To read the full report, please click here

18 March 2017

U.S. military likely to send as many as 1,000 more ground troops into Syria ahead of Raqqa offensive, officials say


The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter.

The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces. 

Trump, who charged former president Barack Obama with being weak on Syria, gave the Pentagon 30 days to prepare a new plan to counter the Islamic State, and Mattis submitted a broad outline to the White House at the end of February. Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, has been filling in more details for that outline, including by how much to increase the U.S. ground presence in Syria. Votel is set to forward his recommendations to Mattis by the end of the month, and the Pentagon secretary is likely to sign off on them, according to a defense official familiar with the deliberations.

16 March 2017

OPEC’s Misleading Narrative About World Oil Supply


At a time when energy market headlines focus mainly on OPEC cuts, observers may be forgiven for concluding that a supply crunch and higher prices are imminent. On the contrary, there is still too much oil in global markets. In this context, OPEC production cuts (which notably fall short of the original target envisaged by the organization) appear to serve mainly as a psychological support to oil prices.

Analyzing trends from my proprietary database of more than 1,200 global oilfields helped me to make a bold prediction in 2012 regarding a coming oil supply boom. In January, my similar field-by-field analysis indicated that world oil production capacity and actual production were still growing—while prospects for demand growth were not sufficiently high to absorb the excess supply. In particular, actual oil production (which includes crude oil and other liquids such as condensates, NGLs, and more according to the standard definition used by most statistics) was almost 99.5 million barrels per day (mbd)—leaving a voluntary and involuntary spare capacity (the result of local civil wars and other geopolitical factors) of more than 4 mbd.

This surprising level of oil availability is a consequence of the impressive acceleration of world oil production that began between September and October 2016 and culminated in December 2016 and the early weeks of January 2017.

15 March 2017

*** Can The Islamic State And Al Qaeda Find Common Ground?

by Scott Stewart

Three years after the Islamic State defected from al Qaeda in an acrimonious and highly public split, many are still concerned that the two could someday reunite. Warnings about such a scenario from figures like Georgetown University's Bruce Hoffman have been given new life over the past few months as the Islamic State has continued to take heavy losses on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria.

Above graphic: An image from an Al Qaeda-inspired magazine shows Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi engulfed in the flames of hell. The ideological differences between the two jihadist groups run deep. (Al-Haqiqa)

The idea of the global jihadist movement's two major poles joining forces is certainly a troubling one. The combined capabilities of the Islamic State and al Qaeda could pose a significant threat to the rest of the world, making them a much more dangerous enemy together than divided. But even with the Islamic State's recent setbacks, an alliance between it and al Qaeda would be far more difficult to accomplish than one might expect.
A History of Animosity

13 March 2017

** Can the Islamic State and Al Qaeda Find Common Ground?

By Scott Stewart

Three years after the Islamic State defected from al Qaeda in an acrimonious and highly public split, many are still concerned that the two could someday reunite. Warnings about such a scenario from figures like Georgetown University's Bruce Hoffman have been given new life over the past few months as the Islamic State has continued to take heavy losses on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria.

The idea of the global jihadist movement's two major poles joining forces is certainly a troubling one. The combined capabilities of the Islamic State and al Qaeda could pose a significant threat to the rest of the world, making them a much more dangerous enemy together than divided. But even with the Islamic State's recent setbacks, an alliance between it and al Qaeda would be far more difficult to accomplish than one might expect.
A History of Animosity

Several forces continue to drive a wedge between the two groups. Perhaps the most superficial is a clash in personalities, especially among the upper ranks. A great deal of animosity seems to exist between the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Al-Baghdadi also despises Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Syrian rebel group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.) Their enmity has been made clear in the groups' propaganda: Islamic State literature routinely makes direct, personal attacks against al-Zawahiri and al-Golani. For instance, the Islamic State's English-language magazines, Dabiq and Rumiyah, have depicted al-Zawahiri as a manipulative and dishonest man, repeatedly labeling him a "deviant" and accusing him of abandoning "the pure heritage" Osama bin Laden left behind. The Islamic State has also dubbed al Qaeda "apostate sahwat," likening it to Iraq's so-called Awakening Councils. Considering the group likewise labeled the Taliban (whose leader al Qaeda has pledged allegiance to) apostates in its March 7 edition of Rumiyah, its hostility toward its al Qaeda rivals doesn't seem to have softened much amid its stinging battlefield defeats.

12 March 2017

The United States Faces Limited Options for Assault on Raqqa


By: Wladimir van Wilgenburg

The new U.S. administration has put on hold a plan proposed by former-President Barack Obama, and backed by the Pentagon, to directly arm the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) (al-Monitor, February 2). The intention is to review other options, with President Donald Trump saying during his election campaign that the ideal situation would be to get Kurds and Turks to work together. This move, however, could be a difficult one, as Turkey considers the YPG as linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and wants to weaken their presence in northern Syria (Rudaw, July 22, 2016).

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, has indicated he wants to re-engage with Turkey, while at the same time calling the Syrian Kurds the United States’ greatest allies in Syria (Daily Sabah, January 11; ARA news, January 14).

Closer cooperation with Russia, the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is also possible in the fight against Islamic State (IS), although it seems unlikely the administration would want to work with the Syrian government.

Nonetheless, the United States face some tough choices if it is to accelerate its campaign against IS and defeat the group in Raqqa, its de-facto capital in Syria and the base from where it coordinates its attacks abroad.

Unlike in Iraq, where there is a partnership with the Iraqi army, in Syria, U.S. options will likely come down to the choice between backing a non-Syrian Turkish force, or backing a Kurdish group with links to the PKK.

11 March 2017

What ISIS Will Do After Mosul Falls

BY COLIN P. CLARKE

They have options, write two terrorism scholars.

The Islamic State is reeling. With its finances cut in half over the past six months, its media and information operations in tatters, and the offensive in western Mosul eating through its territory, the end of its so-called caliphate across the Middle East seems near. While a clear-cut victory is far from inevitable, at the current rate, it is conceivable that U.S. forces and their allies will defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria by killing and capturing its fighters, driving the group from key cities and villages in what formerly constituted its vaunted caliphate, and ultimately taking Raqqa, its stronghold.

The focus, then, will shift to what ISIS’s foreign fighters—who at their peak numbered tens of thousands from dozens of countries—will do next. There are several possibilities.

When a conflict ends, either through force or negotiated settlement, transnational terrorists are likely to disperse in numerous directions. ISIS fighters are unquestionably capable: Dug in to their positions, they have skillfully used tunnels and subterranean networks to move men and materials, and have perfected the production and deployment of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to keep their adversaries at bay.

9 March 2017

The New Arab–Israeli Alliance

Michael J. Totten

During the early years of the Obama administration, conventional wisdom in Washington held that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict trumped everything else in the Middle East, that no problem could be resolved until that one was out of the way. “Without doubt,” former president Jimmy Carter said, “the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.” The reason, said his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now a professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, is because, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most combustible and galvanizing issue in the Arab world”.

Similar views were expressed across the political spectrum, from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel and General David Petraeus.

“If we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian process,” Obama said in 2008, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.

7 March 2017

IranTrump Administration Strengthen Iran's Moderates Before It's Too Late

By Jeffrey A. Stacey

Since November, when Donald Trump was elected president, U.S.-Iranian relations have gone into a tailspin. In response to the administration’s triumphalist tenor and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s pledge to “put Iran on notice,” Iran has partially escalated but also shown a modicum of restraint. Flynn’s replacement by Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster offers the Trump administration an opportunity to rethink its approach.

The goal should be to guard against any further escalation of hostilities. After all, unless the administration is willing to wage war with Iran, this confrontation won't achieve anything useful for the United States. What it will do is further strengthen the hardliners in Tehran, a process that is already underway, and undermine moderates such as President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif less than three months before Iran’s presidential election.

That the United States is in this position is particularly disappointing given that, despite some missteps, the Obama policy team had made considerable progress with Iran through the negotiation of the nuclear deal and Iran’s evident adherence to it. To be sure, the deal was imperfect, but it had been working. Except for a few minor violations, Iran had fully lived up to the accord. And when the International Atomic Energy Agency pointed out the violations, Tehran quickly corrected course.