There is a temptation in Australia to think US President Donald Trump is just rattling sabres with Iran. In the best-case scenario, that may be true.
But in the worst-case scenario we are heading to war – and it is not an unpredicted war.
Back in June 2017, I predicted Mr Trump would not bomb North Korea, rather that he would bomb Iran instead and in about two years’ time.
That is, about now.
So far, Mr Trump has been going according to form, being nice to North Korea and playing tough with the Iranians.
The current escalation is based on US intelligence the Iranians may be arming their navy with higher specification missiles that can be carried on smaller vessels.
This alarms the US because if the Iranian navy increases its capacity to assert influence in the Persian Gulf then it is a great threat to US interests, particularly in threatening oil supplies.
From the Iranian perspective though, such re-armament would be a natural response to an escalation of tensions.
After all, part of Iran’s coastline fronts the Persian Gulf. The US has no border there, Iranians do.
Iranians have every right to defend their coast and shipping lanes.
Quickly one can see how these tensions may spiral out of control.
Yet, do the US really have political interests in an escalation with Iran while playing nice with the North Koreans? Is there a bigger play here?
Why is there tension with Iran?
People in the West sometimes forget that Iran, while Islamic, is not Arabic.
Iran is Persian, and Arab-Persian antipathy pre-dates the arrival of Islam.
Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the age-old Persian-Arab enmity returned.
Iran sought to destabilise the secular Egyptian governments of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak by financing the Muslim Brotherhood.
Iran finally gained a puppet in Cairo with the election of Islamist Mohamed Morsi. Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Morsi in Cairo, sending a chill down the spines of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Neither the Wahhabist nor the Jewish State would see an Egypt-Iran rapprochement as in their interests. It had to be thwarted.
No surprise then when the Saudis and Israelis both lobbied the Americans for an end to Morsi, resulting in a “popular revolution” in Egypt, the ousting of Morsi and the election of a new secular general, Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi.
The US, Israeli and Saudi governments agreed on who should rule Egypt. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are growing closer. The Americans sell the Saudi regime weapons as the Saudi Arabians are fighting Iran in a proxy war in Yemen.
Iran and Saudi fight an economic war over oil supply and price. Iran needs an oil price north of $70 (£55) a barrel to balance their budget. Saudi will only agree to constricting supply and rise prices if the Iranians agree to their sanctions-level output, limiting their revenue. Neither agree, so OPEC is in stalemate.
Oh my, the coincidences.
And if Mr Trump were minded to create a conflict in order to wipe out Iran’s nuclear facility, would the Egyptians, the Israelis or even the Saudis disagree? I doubt it.
What can we expect from Trump?
I have a fundamental view that Donald Trump is not unpredictable, so long as you look at things through his eyes – the eyes of a bully who wants to be re-elected.
He is not a man who has the greater good of the US in mind. He just has his place in history books in mind.
A peace deal with North Korea, a Nobel Peace prize for that deal and a war with Iran – it is not out of Mr Trump’s mental framework to conceive of such a contradictory play.
More confusion: How does Europe react?
The European powers have been clear in their view that Iran has complied with the nuclear deal and that there is no reason to intervene.
Mr Trump has so far ignored the European view; Britain has been side-lined with Brexit, and European businesses have been forced into implementing US sanctions.
The US wins that play.
So if Mr Trump were to go to war with Iran, when would Mr Trump do it? That depends.
Does Mr Trump need “Jim-Bob” in southern Arkansas to vote for him in the 2020 election? Would the fictional “Jim-Bob” be upset at a war or glad that the US is “showing them who is boss”?
If Mr Trump needs Jim-Bob for the primaries, then he may just bomb this year. If he needs Jim-Bob for the election, then he would bomb next September.
If his North Korea and domestic economic strategy works, he may not need to bomb at all.
So do you still think current tensions are mere sabre rattling?
Originally published in The New Daily on May 17 2009, here.