It seems clear the Iranians have little inclination or motivation to back down. They will probably increase the aggression toward merchant shipping, either putting mines in the Strait of Hormuz (which they did as part of the so-called “tanker wars” in the 1980s) or actually sinking a ship, probably surreptitiously using a diesel submarine. They could also widen the conflict “horizontally” by unleashing their surrogate terrorist organization in Lebanon, Hezbollah, against Israel, or having its Afghan spinoff, Liwa Fatemiyoun, carry out attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
If Iran takes such a reckless course, the West will likely respond militarily. Certainly the international escort mission will be ramped up in size and intensity. The U.S. part of it – which will be called Operational Sentinel, according General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – will include significant intelligence, logistic and command and control support. Based on my own decades of experience in the Gulf, including commanding the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group during the Iraq invasion in 2003, I am certain that the U.S. Central Command’s operational plans will give the president plenty of options.
These likely include sweeping mines (the Navy has the craft for this based in nearby Bahrain); sinking Iranian warships, which the U.S. did as part of the “Praying Mantis” operation in the late 1980s; striking Iranian land-based air defenses (which was to have been a part of the attack Trump paused at the last minute in June); and conducting an offensive cyber operation against Iranian military assets, and possibly even the nation’s civilian electric grid at the point where it supports the military infrastructure.