Under this scenario, Iran doesn’t end its enmity and opposition to the U.S., but it does at least temporarily de-escalate. There is some historical precedent for this hope. After the Reagan administration’s sank several ships in the Iranian navy in Operation Praying Mantis in 1988, Iran reduced attacks on neutral shipping in the gulf, providing the United States with a temporary victory. If Iran does stand down its escalations, even if only for a time, Trump’s gamble will have paid off. The strike on Suleimani will have deterred Iran more than it provoked Iran.
But don’t think a pause – or even a de-escalation – means peace. After Praying Mantis, Iran continued to aid anti-American terrorists, and in 1996 it struck America again, bombing the Khobar Towers military complex in Saudi Arabia and killing 19 American service members.
A pause is possible, but it’s optimistic to call it likely. Iran could well respond to Trump’s gamble with a gamble of its own – hitting back, hard, at America or its allies to take advantage of relative American military weakness and profound American division in the hopes of consolidating support at home and pushing the American people past the point of tolerating yet another Middle East conflict.