Policy Brief for Persian Gulf Crisis

Executive summary

The build-up of military tension between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran has resulted in a crisis in the Persian Gulf. The resurgence of issues over the Iranian nuclear deal under the Trump administration has heightened political tensions between the two states bringing them to an all-time high in late 2019. This crisis has had a negative impact on Iran and its ability to achieve the goals of its foreign policy. With the potential involvement of weapons of mass destruction, it poses a great threat to the world overall. A potential solution to this for Iran – is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.


The crisis in the Persian Gulf consists mainly of an ongoing increase of military tensions between the two states: the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Political tensions between the two states can be traced back to another crisis the alleged existence of Iran’s nuclear program. Under the Trump administration, the U.S pulled out from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement claiming it was flawed, imposed new economic sanctions against Iran, and designated the new Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. As a result, Iran has stopped abiding by several key nuclear commitments and the situation began escalating when the U.S. began building up its military presence in the region. 

How is it becoming a bigger issue?

On September fourteenth, 2019, the Abqaiq-Khurais attack happened at the Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi movement in Yemen assumed accountability for it attributing the reasons behind it to Saudi Arabian intervention in the Yemen Civil War. Despite this admission and denial of responsibility by Iran, there are U.S. officials who allege that the attacks originated in Iran further straining relations between the two states. Increasing accusations by each of the states of aggressive behavior have further fuelled tensions between the two states. Attacks between the U.S. and Iran continued throughout December 2019, with the former calling airstrikes on the 29th targeted at Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for repeated attacks on Iraqi military bases hosting Operation Inherent Resolve coalitions. A potential catalyst to an all-out war between the two arose with the American assassination of Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on the 3rd of January 2019. 

Why is this important?

These current tensions threaten the use of the Strait of Hormuz, a large amount of the world’s oil passes through this strait which lies off the South Coast of Iran. This strait could become a flashpoint for potential all-out war, any hampering or blocking of international shipping through there would result in negative economic effects globally. The consequences of a war would be devastating as it involves some of the Persian Gulf region’s most powerful countries as well as the world’s most powerful military – the U.S.

Has anything been done to try and mitigate the situation?

High-ranked officials from other states have tried to mediate between U.S and Iran, efforts became more urgent after the assassination in an attempt to prevent an all-out war. Fortunately, Iran’s response to Soleimani’s assassination was a missile attack on U.S. military bases without any casualties. During Soleimani and Al-Muhandi’s funeral in Baghdad, several missiles hit near an American embassy and air base. This response delayed further escalation of tensions between the states. 

Security dilemmas, misperceptions, and drastic measures

With both states designating one another’s forces as terrorist groups, it allows each of them the legal justification to take drastic measures in relation with one another. Iran’s perception of the U.S. trying to take down its government fuels the misperception these states have of each other as Iran simply strives for increasing its regional influence and the U.S. is trying to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. Weapons of mass destruction remain attractive to Iran’s leaders as they could help them achieve their foreign policy goals such as ensuring its regional hegemony and acknowledgment of its territorial sovereignty despite the lack of strength in their conventional forces. The nuclear capability of Israel -with its weapons, chemical, and biological stockpiles is perceived as a potential threat and often used as justification for Iran’s own need for the development of nuclear programs for defense.

This action fuels the security dilemma in the U.S. perspective as it is seen as an offensive action, with Iran trying to establish regional authority. As one of the largest single sources of petroleum, having a hostile country dominating the Gulf and its energy supplies would not be in the best interest of the U.S. The Persian Gulf crisis is an example of arms control and disbarment, especially through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also referred to as JCPOA). Hindering nuclear programs in Iran is an attempt to prevent to prevent the state from becoming a nuclear warhead. U.S. strategy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the case of Iran has shifted between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. In the former, the U.S. had a non-proliferation approach through the Iranian nuclear agreement whereas, during the Trump administration, the U.S. has a counter-proliferation approach with its maximum pressure strategy imposing sanctions and applying military force in Iran. 

This paper aims to recommend reasonable measures that can be taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran that will benefit Iranian foreign policy and domestic interests, paying attention to key issues within the U.S – Iran relations.

Policy Recommendations

· Protection of the nuclear deal for economic security.

Following the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal, the president of Iran has made it clear that the state would consider a revival of its nuclear program unless negotiation for economic, political, and security benefits are made possible with Europe, China, and Russia – in exchange for Iran sticking to most significant nuclear-deal obligations. The removal of secondary sanctions by the U.S. would allow Iran to do business with other states and allow elements of the JCPOA to be held together without American participation. 

· Anti-Americanism stance on U.S. (Trump administration)

The continued mistrust of the Trump administration could be beneficial in domestic politics and the survival of the regime. During the Obama administration, U.S. – Iran agreements created an international consensus but caused internal divisions within Iran. Such a stance in its foreign policy would boost nationalism within the state and ease political unrest recently fuelled by attacks such as Soleimani’s assassination and lack of substantial retaliation by the Iranian authorities which has made them seem weak.

· Developing diplomatic ties with remaining of JCPOA members

The JCPOA is not a bilateral agreement exclusive to the U.S., by developing healthy relations with remaining European members Iran would build its international diplomatic image. Complying with the nuclear deal whilst the U.S. does not would isolate America from the global community. Post-JCPOA, Iran could present crucial market opportunities with plenty of room for expansion, the U.S. has left a void, crippling the Iranian economy through sanctions that would be great opportunities for investors such as China. Continued compliance with the nuclear deal prevents weapon proliferation in the region, lessening the likelihood of regional conflicts being escalated by weapons of mass destruction. 

· Lowering tensions with the U.S.

Through the JCPOA and lowering tensions with the U.S., Iran could revive its economy and military ensuring its role as a regional hegemon. Lowering tensions would be necessary for the U.S. to re-enter the agreement, a large decrease in investors and Iranian exports since American withdrawal and maximum pressure policy make Iran’s goal of becoming a regional hegemon a distant dream.


The crisis in the Persian Gulf over the past year is one that could be the catalyst to a third world war unless something changes in the foreign policy of one of the conflicting states. The Islamic Republic of Iran has an opportunity to achieve its main foreign policy objective of becoming a regional hegemon through compliance with the JCPOA, development of diplomatic ties, and lowering tensions with the U.S. The last option would conflict with its aim to establish political independence, as it would require that to humble its sovereignty before America, further hurting state nationalism with Iran which could be boosted by continuing an anti-America stance. Taking into consideration the negative condition of the Iranian economy the best decision would be compliance with the nuclear agreement and boost diplomatic ties in exchange for economic benefits and security.


  1. Al Jazeera, 2020. Al Jazeera. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/iran-parliament-designates-forces-terrorists-200107081230324.html
  2. Barnes-Dacey, J., Geranmayeh, E. & Lovatt, H., 2018. The Middle East's New Battle Lines. London: European Council.
  3. Batrawy, A., 2020. The Associated Press. Available at: https://apnews.com/a3b1f9e3989b5bcbb75827c6779fdc31
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  5. Davies, J., n.d.. U.S. Challenges and Choices in the Gulf:Iran and Proliferation Concerns. Iowa: The Stanley Foundation.
  6. Tabaar, M. A., 2019. The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/03/is-there-way-out-iran-crisis/
07 July 2022
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