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Iran's options

Iran's options

The world is watching: How will Iran respond to the US drone strike that killed Major General Qassim Suleimani?

Iran has already said that it will no longer adhere to limitations on its capacity for uranium enrichment set out under the 2015 nuclear deal. While the Islamic Republic would come up short against the US military in a conventional war, it does have options for retaliation. Here are the most important.

The Iranian coastline borders a Gulf oil shipping route, including the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Any action Tehran might take against tanker traffic or vital oil installations could send oil prices surging. This fear is not unfounded: Just after the attack on Suleimani, prices jumped 4 percent in anticipation of a potential response. And back in September, Iran was blamed for attacks on Saudi oil refineries that briefly knocked 5 percent of global crude production offline.


The Strait of Hormuz is a particular worry. Iran has responded to the tightening of US sanctions in recent months by seizing tankers in the area, and in 2016, seized two US navy boats, taking American sailors hostage. If Iran were to engage in such provocations now, President Trump's response could pull the two countries toward full-blown war. That's not likely, but we can't rule it out.

Iran has also demonstrated cyber capabilities and could lash out at the US and its allies. Oil installations around the Persian Gulf are susceptible to cyberattacks that could severely undermine energy security in the region. This might only form part of Iran's response: "They will want real blood," a former US colonel in military intelligence warned this week.

Tehran's vast network of proxy forces – including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, and local militias in Syria and Iraq – could play a key role in escalation between the US and Iran. Some of these groups have affiliates in Europe, Latin America and Africa that could inflict serious damage on US interests in those regions.

Fears that Iraq will become the frontline of US-Iran tensions are well-founded. Baghdad, hoping to placate Iran's rulers – their fellow-Shia patrons – passed a resolution in parliament over the weekend to expel US troops from Iraq. (Shia lawmakers voted in favor of the resolution while many Sunni and Kurdish members, who are more supportive of US troops being in Iraq, sat out the vote.) While it's unclear how this might play out, it is a worrying sign for President Trump, who has already threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq if US troops were required to leave the country.

Iraq is a long-term US partner and a foothold for US troops in the Middle East. A US withdrawal from Iraq would severely undermine America's ability to lead the fight against the Islamic State. Speaking to Axios, a US official explained: "It hasn't escaped ISIS' attention that Iraq is in something of disarray right now."

The bottom line: All-out war between the US and Iran remains unlikely, but there is much short of war that can still go very wrong.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Can Europe get to the bottom of Russian opposition leader Navalny's poisoning? And if so, would it change anything?

One has got to the bottom of it, to certain extent. The evidence, there was a German laboratory confirming nerve agent, Novichok. They sent it to a French laboratory and the Swedish independent laboratory, they came to the exact same conclusions. I mean, it's dead certain. He was poisoned with an extremely poisonous nerve agent coming from the Russian state laboratories. Now, there is a discussion underway of what to do. I mean, the Russians are refusing any sort of serious discussions about it. Surprise, surprise. And we'll see what actions will be taken. There might be some sort of international investigation within the context of the OPCW, the international organization that is there, to safeguard the integrity of the international treaties to prevent chemical weapons. But we haven't seen the end of this story yet.

Watch as Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, explains what's going on in technology news:

Would Facebook actually leave Europe? What's the deal?

The deal is that Europe has told Facebook it can no longer transfer data back and forth between the United States and Europe, because it's not secure from US Intelligence agencies. Facebook has said, "If we can't transfer data back and forth, we can't operate in Europe." My instinct, this will get resolved. There's too much at stake for both sides and there are all kinds of possible compromises.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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