Let us take stock of the latest troubling tensions between the United States and Iran. The quick version is that the U.S. and Iran almost went to war against each other on Thursday (June 20, 2019).
You may ask: why did a war between America and Iran almost start? The short answer is that the Iranians are accused of escalating tensions in the Gulf region through secret attacks on several oil tankers in the region. The U.S. says that there is evidence that Iranian agents planted mines to disable the tankers. Then, on June 20, the Iranians shot down an American Global Hawk surveillance drone.
The Global Hawk is basically an unmanned airplane packed with the latest spy technology, and costs about $210 million. Iran claims the drone was in Iranian airspace, while the U.S. says it was over international waters. Regardless of where it was when Iran shot it down, the shoot down of the drone sharply escalated tensions between Iran and the United States. President Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes on Iran, but changed his mind about ten minutes before the attacks were to have taken place. Tensions remain high.
Also, along with all of this very public conflict news, an American drone (a smaller one) was shot down in Yemen a few weeks ago, reportedly by Iranian forces or Iranian-allied Houthi forces. Along with that, the Yemeni Houthi forces have also stepped up their ongoing missile attacks on targets deep inside Saudi Arabia. The Yemen conflict, which has claimed at least 91,000 lives in recent years, is a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran, and Iran’s Yemeni allies (with help from Tehran) are not shy about taking the war to downtown Riyadh, as it were.
So that is, more or less, the short version of the current situation. The longer version, of course, goes back to at least the 1950s, when the United States and the British helped conservative Iranian factions overthrow the elected government (there was fear in Washington and London that the new government in Iran was pro-Soviet. This was at the height of the Cold War). Fast forward to the late 1970s, and the Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the U.S.-allied Shah of Iran, and installed a fundamentalist Shiite regime that hated Israel, America, and the Soviets, in roughly that order.
Shortly after the revolution, the U.S.-Iran Hostage Crisis took place, which brought Iran and America to the brink of war. While that was resolved, the decades since then have been full of tension, a little bit of war (The Tanker War of the late 1980s), and a lot of proxy and cyber conflicts.
Historyguy.com tweets on Iran 06.22.19
The past 40 years of conflict between America and Iran may be coming to a head now, but the Middle East is a dangerous place, and there are other actors involved, from the Saudis to the Israelis on the U.S. side, to the Houthis and Hezbollah, among others, who are allied with Iran. The shootdown of the Global Hawk drone may not be the spark to a dangerous military conflict, but other sparks may soon be struck from other angles, and by other actors in the region.