For many people who follow the geopolitical tensions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States, 2019 will be remembered as a dangerous year, a time when the two countries came close to transforming the Persian Gulf from a flashpoint to a powder keg. In the Strait of Hormuz, tanker ships were boarded and sabotaged, drones were shut down, and naval forces from various countries operated with a heightened level of readiness. In Saudi Arabia, oil refineries were attacked. In Yemen, the protracted civil war showed no signs of abatement despite the involvement of both Iranian and American forces.
In Tehran and the District of Columbia, the rhetoric was incensed and not conducive to peace between the U.S. and Iran. As 2019 came to an end, more American soldiers were deployed to the Middle East, and there were concerns that the widespread protests and riots in Iraq had something to do with Iran insofar as sectarian discord. According to Middle East expert Amir Handjani, the political relations between the Gulf Arab states will likely have a lot to do with how the situation unfolds in the year 2020. The prospects of armed conflict between American and Iranian forces are increasing, and this could be precipitated by a change in regional politics.
There is more than just animosity between the two countries; there is also the issue of disorderly foreign policies practiced by both nations. U.S. President Donald Trump, a leader who seems to be more preoccupied with populism than with geopolitical harmony, wants to show the American people his commitment to returning all American troops home; while this is a noble cause for soldiers and their families, it has been a mess thus far. The tensions with Iran have only brought about more open-ended deployments of U.S. forces in the Middle East.
As for the Islamic Republic, it has found a dubious ally in Russia, at least with regard to involvement in the Syrian conflict. The small contingency of American troops in Syria has essentially been shifted to other regions in the country, and this has prompted Russian soldiers and Iranian militants to take their place. To say that the situation is delicate in Syria would be an understatement; as things currently stand, a single firefight between Turkish, Russian, Iranian, or American troops would be disastrous, and it could happen because such situations are not uncommon during the disorder that wartime brings.
Hopefully, the impeachment or reelection defeat of the U.S. President will allow American and Iranian officials to discuss their options towards improved relations. There are crippling economic sanctions at the heart of this conflict, and they are deeply affecting the good people of Iran. There is also the delicate matter of a balance of power in the Middle East; unfortunately, a major withdrawal of American forces may create a power vacuum that other countries, which may not have the best of intentions, would rush to fill. It will not be an easy matter to resolve in 2020, at least not if the economic sanctions persist and the two countries do not agree to hold high-level meetings.