|Air Distance (bird’s flight) between the two||7,258 miles (11,681 km)|
|Area||636371.64 sq miles (1,648,195 sq km)||3,531,905.43 sq miles (9147593.07 sq km)|
|Population||82,531,700 (2018 est.)||327,167,434 (2018 est.)|
|GDP||$484 billion (2018)||$20.891 trillion (2018)|
|GDP Per Capita (PPP)||$5,820 (2018)||$62,518 (2018)|
|Military Capability Comparison (2018)|
|Military Power Rank||13 (out of 136 countries)||1 (out of 136 countries)|
|Nuclear Status||Not clear||Yes|
|Total Military Personnel||934,000||2,083,100|
|Military Personnel (Active)||534,000||1,281,900|
|Military Personnel (Reserve)||400,000||801,200|
|Combat Aircraft – Total||505||13,362|
|Fighters – Interceptors||150||1,962|
|Armoured Fighting Vehicles||2,215||38,822|
|Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)||1,533||1,197|
|Total Naval Assets||398||415|
|Mine Warfare Craft||10||11|
Is Iran a threat to the USA?
The perception of threat has to be seen through different criteria as each has its limitations, impact, and consequences. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, while Iran ranks 13 on the list. The ranking does not truly reflect the possible outcome should there be a direct conflict between the two countries. The domination of the US is obvious.
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the Shah of Iran and a close friend and ally of the US was deposed and exiled from Iran, the country has maintained a hostile stance towards the United States. Iran has been pursuing a secret plan for developing nuclear technology for military purposes. As a result, it has been facing international condemnation and sanctions that have had a crippling effect on the economy.
Iran is a Shia majority nation (Shia and Sunni are two major sects of Islam and staunchly opposed to each other’s ideology) and has had a hostile relationship with Saudi Arabia and several other Arab states that have a Sunni majority. Iran opposes Saudi Arabia’s control and domination of the Arab world, a position it believes belongs to Iran. This animosity between the two Islamic countries has had a fall out effect on other Arab and Islamic states.
As Iran pursues an ongoing military modernization of its forces, Sunni-majority countries like Saudi Arabia feel threatened and have been pursuing their military modernization. For both Saudi Arabia and Iran, the excessive investment in military hardware and defense force maintenance is potentially depriving people of both countries, the opportunity of optimizing the benefits of economic development.
Iran has been accused of supporting the Hezbollah, a militant group mainly operating out of Lebanon but active in several Middle Eastern countries. Iran’s support of the Hezbollah and using it as a proxy to further its strategic interests, is also a threat to Israel, in addition to other Arab states in the region.
Iran has openly and vocally called for Israel’s destruction. Therefore, Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program is vociferously opposed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and several Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries.
Iran Nuclear Deal
For several years, the United States has been putting economic, diplomatic, and sometimes, military pressure on Iran so that it would give up its nuclear weapons program. Still, the US has not succeeded despite crippling trade sanctions imposed on the country.
On July 14, 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was signed between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – USA, Russia, China, France, and the UK. Under the agreement, Iran was to give up its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, a two-thirds reduction in its gas centrifuges, and not build any heavy-water facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was to carry out regular inspections to ensure Iran’s compliance with the terms under JCPOA.
Both the United States and Israel believe Iran is continuing to secretly pursue its nuclear program, despite IAEA certifying Iran’s compliance. On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States is walking out of the Iran Nuclear deal due to non-compliance of Iran to the terms of the deal.
The United States has called Iran a state sponsoring terrorism, a country that is exporting its missiles to other countries in the Middle East and is contributing to the region’s instability. It also accuses Iran of supporting Hezbollah fighters and other rebel groups in Syria and Yemen. Germany, France, and Great Britain are against the scrapping of the deal with Iran and have been negotiating with President Trump to remain in the deal.
How much of a threat is Iran to the United States?
At present, Iran does not possess missiles that can reach the US mainland but can threaten the US’s strategic interest in the Middle East. Given its strategic location along the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman, Iran is in a position to disrupt global shipping lines that move crude oil and other supplies to and from the region. Any disruption can severely affect the global economy. This is a primary concern of the US.
The United States has a direct interest in ensuring peace and stability in the region to ensure a stable supply of oil to the world. Iran’s missiles, aircraft, submarines and ships, all remain a threat to the US Naval fleet operating there.
The US is fully capable of taking care of its strategic assets in the region. Still, any hostile act can cause temporary disruption, and there is a possibility of the conflict escalating into a full-fledged war.
Israel, a country surrounded by hostile Arab states, has been fighting independently to secure its existence, and a nuclear-armed Iran poses a direct threat to Israel. Since Iran has openly called for Israel to be wiped off the planet, the country has a strong case for opposing the Iran deal.
Evolving geostrategic alignments
Strong sanctions and economic isolation is forcing Iran to lean closer to Russia and China. The latter two are in the process of finding common strategic interests that will ensure their respective spheres of influence and protect their strategic interests.
Both Russia and China are rapidly modernizing their defense forces. China is positioning itself as the challenger to US domination in economic, diplomatic and military spheres.
If the US pushes Iran closer to the Russia-China axis, it will give both Russia and China direct access to influence the sea trade in the Middle East. Strategically, that will put a more significant threat to the US interests in the region.
On May 2, 2019, the US ended all exemptions from sanctions to countries purchasing oil from Iran. On June 13, 2019, two oil tankers were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz. The tanker ships were owned by the oil companies of Japan and Norway, and the attacks were suspected to have been carried out by Iran. Though the US Navy claimed that it had recovered fragments of mine from one of the ships, which resembled mines showcased in Iranian military parades, Iran denied its involvement in the matter.
Subsequently, the US decided to dispatch extra troops and bombers in the region. On the other hand, Iran threatened to exceed the limits of low enriched uranium that were agreed to as part of the Nuclear Deal in 2015. On Thursday, June 20, 2019 morning, a US Navy MQ-4C Triton military drone was shot down by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). Terming it as a “clear message” to America, Major General Salami, the commander-in-chief of the IRGC, claimed that “…the Islamic nation of Iran will react in a total and decisive way to any intrusions by foreign elements on our land. Our borders are our red line.”
The US disputed Iran’s claim of violating its airspace and stressed that there was a need for international cooperation to protect shipping in the Gulf region. Meanwhile, Russia and China warned the US against sending more troops to the region and aggravating the problem. In view of these events, the situation in the region has become very volatile.
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