The likelihood of military conflict between the United States and Iran is higher now than at any time in more than two decades, military analysts say, as tensions continue to escalate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and blustery rhetoric.
While full-blown war might not be on the immediate horizon, the conditions for military skirmishes are as ripe as they’ve been since 1988, when Iran laid mines against U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and the United States destroyed Iranian oil platforms in response.
“The probability of armed conflict between the United States and Iran is higher now than at any point since 1988, and the risk will only increase over the coming year as Iran’s nuclear program continues to develop,” said Matthew Kroenig, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The recent incidents between Iran and the West provide a new backdrop for U.S. policy as Congress returns to the Capitol Tuesday and the 2012 presidential election season heats up.
The House Armed Services Committee is holding a closed-door briefing Wednesday on Iran, according to committee officials.
The presidential race has been poised to be an election on domestic issues and the economy, but Iran could change the political calculus. The tensions also could threaten the foreign-policy record President Obama has built during his first three years, if Iran were to execute a former U.S. Marine it has sentenced to death, for instance, or if Israel launched a unilateral strike.
“Iran can change the subject,” said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Obama may want to make this about domestic issues, and the Republicans may want to make this about domestic issues — the Iranians can certainly throw a wrench into that.”