Skip to main content

Why Iran-US war of words won't turn physical

Despite their escalating rhetoric, neither Iran nor the United States has the incentive nor the ability to take the new cycle of tension to a military confrontation.
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01:  White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) yields the briefing room podium to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn  February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flynn said the White House is "officially putting Iran on notice" for a recent missile test and support for Houthi rebels in Yemen.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Read in 

As much as the United States' new tone toward Iran is worrisome, and as much as the Islamic Republic's Jan. 29 ballistic missile test is disconcerting, Tehran and Washington are unlikely to collide directly.

In both capitals, decision-makers see an urgent need for harsh rhetoric — albeit for different reasons. The Iranians see a need to show resilience vis-a-vis an explicitly hostile US administration. Meanwhile, the latter wants to make clear to both its domestic and international audience that the Obama era is over. This involves signaling that the easing of tensions with Iran has ended. It also involves reassuring regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel that Washington would not engage in a rapprochement with Tehran at their expense.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.