Decertification does not necessarily mean the Trump administration is walking away from the nuclear agreement, but it certainly weakened the deal and cast doubt on its viability and future. But no matter Washington keeps the deal or scraps it, it is now certain that the United States and Iran are moving toward more confrontation rather than cooperation. Decertification was only one element of the new US policy on Iran and the administration wants to push back against Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East. As a first step, the US Treasury last week designated Iran’s elite IRGC force as a terrorist entity and has vowed to use all instruments of American power to counter Iran in the region. However, it remains to be seen if the Trump administration will match its tough anti-Iran rhetoric with action.
The IRGC and its regional proxies have also dialed up anti-US rhetoric and threats. In the past three years, the United States and Iran have been de facto allies against the Islamic State in Iraq and have largely avoided direct confrontation in Syria. But with the common enemy on the brink of collapse and Trump adopting an aggressive line on Iran, the IRGC sees the presence of American forces in the region, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, as the biggest threat. While the IRGC will not directly confront the US military in the region, it may respond asymmetrically through its regional proxies against US interests. Tension between Iranian and US naval forces in the Persian Gulf is also likely to escalate further.