Saudi Arabia oil attacks: Trump blames Iran but what are his options?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday

The other problem with simply stepping up the “maximum pressure” campaign is that there is not much left for the US to do. The economic pressure gauge is pretty much already at maximum. Over time the impact of this campaign on Iran will get worse. But despite US claims that it is working, few analysts see any sign of Iran moderating its wider behaviour in the region. If anything, pressure is building and Iran’s allies and proxies like Hezbollah or pro-Iranian militias in Iraq are only getting stronger.

Iran, if under sufficient pressure, might also seek to spread the conflict more broadly, urging its proxies in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere to attack US targets. In extremis it might even try to prevail upon Hezbollah (in concert with its own forces in Syria) to launch rocket attacks on Israel. The goal would be to demonstrate to Washington that what Mr Trump might see as a short punitive campaign actually risks setting the region on fire.

The difficulty here is that even the US and its key Western allies remain divided on exactly how to tackle Tehran, even if they have a broadly similar assessment of the “Iranian problem”. The Europeans still hope against hope that the nuclear deal with Tehran can be preserved. Many other countries, not least Russia and China, while having no illusions about Iran, tend to see this as just a “Trump problem” and are unlikely to rally to a campaign of diplomatic maximum pressure.

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