As tightening American sanctions take an ever-greater toll on the Islamic Republic’s economy, its leaders are beginning to consider a diplomatic way out—even as they continue to employ military options. Ray Takeyh writes:
For now, the Islamic Republic has settled on a policy of calibrated terrorism. This has been one of the more ingenious innovations of the theocratic state, which engages in acts of terror where its complicity is clear but difficult to prove. It is unlikely that the Revolutionary Guards’ creaky speedboats will confront the U.S. armada in the Persian Gulf any more than they will directly attack U.S. troops in the region. But Iran will gradually escalate pressure by relying on its many proxies to target U.S. [allies], particularly the Saudis. Oil installations, diplomatic compounds, and trade routes are likely to be menaced by Iran’s Arab agents.
This will not be a systematic campaign of terrorism but a selective use of violence over a prolonged period. This policy is not without its risks, but it does have the advantage of putting pressure on the United States without risking retaliation. . . .
The subtle debate in Tehran today revolves around whether it is time to take up President Trump’s offer of talks. [President Hassan] Rouhani and his cagey foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have long been intrigued by the possibility of negotiating with Trump. The two led the Iran talks with the Europeans in 2005, as well as the more consequential negotiations in 2015 that yielded a nuclear accord that satisfied Tehran’s needs. The lesson that they have drawn from those experiences is that Iran seldom loses at diplomacy. . . .
Iran cannot win a war against the United States, but it is confident it can outwit Washington at the negotiating table. The most persistent question in Iran today is not about war but whether it is time to entrap the Americans in another lengthy diplomatic process.