In the long-running struggle between the US and Iran to exert their influence in the Middle East, one of the defining characteristics has been their desire to avoid a direct confrontation at all costs.
From the seizing of American hostages during the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 to the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two adversaries have managed to steer clear of becoming involved in direct conflict.
And, until this week’s attack against an American base in northern Jordan by an Iranian-backed militia, the two sides had managed to observe the same rules of engagement in the aftermath of the 7 October attacks against Israel.
While the attacks against Israel, a close ally of the US, were carried out by Hamas — the Palestinian movement which relies heavily on Tehran for military and financial support — Iran managed to persuade the outside world that it had no involvement, thereby ensuring it did not become a target for retaliation.
Indeed, so keen was Tehran to distance itself from the Hamas assault that the country’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made it clear during his meeting with Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh last November that Iran would not become involved in the Gaza war because it had not been told in advance of Hamas’s intentions.
But while Iran has shown its reluctance to become directly involved in the conflict, this has not stopped it from encouraging its allies in the region to escalate tensions in the region by attacking the US and its allies.