With Iran's “tit for tat” policy in attacking the American military bases in Iraq after the assassination of Major General Gassem Soliemani, the commander of Iran’s Quds force, it seems that both Iran and the U.S. have entered a de-escalation phase. For Tehran, this limited conventional military action was necessary and justified as a show of its national strength and unity. It also legitimised the nation's regional policy, as Iran’s regional allies expected such an action to be deemed necessary in response to Trump’s bullying policy. For Washington, it was clear from the beginning that Iran couldn’t afford to not respond to such an act of terror, the elimination of a national hero, who was perceived by Iranians as the guarantor of the country’s security.
Therefore, the Trump administration is satisfied with the current degree of the conflict from a regional and domestic perspective. Regionally, further escalation could undoubtedly concern Washington’s regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, as Tehran has overtly stressed that it would target any country if its territory is used for hostile actions against Iran. Domestically, Trump’s action is gradually bringing about new challenges from his opponents, who argue that his unnecessarily hostile action against Iran could put the US on the verge of another war in the Middle East. This issue, especially on the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, has become more significant, given that the Trump administration’s claim regarding the alleged “immanency of the threat” is in serious doubt.
As regards to the implications for the region, the fact is that any escalation will put the Middle East on the verge of an unwanted war. The only reason that these days, different countries such as Iran, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, etc., are talking about the necessity of regional cooperation is that all of them are afraid of instability and increased tensions for their own individual reasons. At the top, Iran will lose if instability spreads in the region. For this reason, Iran and Russia are proposing new initiatives on collective security cooperation in the Persian Gulf. Concurrently, one should understand the strategic logic of Iran’s regional policy, which is defusing and pre-empting the spread of threats inside its national borders.
In this regard, Russia has a role to play. Russia’s new theme of foreign policy is to initiate a dialogue with all parties, combining soft and hard power. Russia, like other nations, perceives any escalation or increase in tensions in the region as being against its national interests and security, in that they spread terrorism, extremism and sectarian conflict. It wants to show that it is a peacemaker in the Middle East which remains committed to international principles and regulations. In this context, an Iran-US escalation would surely not benefit Russia. However, Russia’s regional presence is vital in that it regards the current balance of power at the level global actors. For this reason, Russia should make sure, firstly, that Trump’s unorthodox new stratagem of assassinating a high profile Iranian commander was only an individual action for domestic consumption and not the beginning of an aggressive regional policy, as similar moves going forward could change the entire political-security environment of the region, bringing divisions and further distrust among the nations of the Middle East.
Secondly, Russia, as it does, should support Iran’s current approach to the JCPOA in reducing its commitments in order to balance the principles of the Treaty, as well as support the logic of the country’s activities in the Middle East, trying to convince the key regional players such as Saudi Arabia of the benefit of regional cooperation for all involved parties, and as the only solution for achieving sustainable peace and security there.
Thirdly, Russia should value the significance of regional multilateralism as a path to bringing peace, stability and prosperity, which is based on the geographical determination of the states of the region as a shared 'neighbourhood', as well as economic integration and connectivity. In this respect, Russia’s efforts in encouraging Iran to join regional economic and political-security organisations such as The Eurasian Economic Union and The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which mainly value the dynamics of regional integration for economic growth and advancement, are helpful for balancing Iran’s regional and international relations.