Friday July 01, 2022

A potential confrontation

May 13, 2019

Last Sunday, the Trump administration threateningly said that it was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command (Centcom) in the Gulf.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton called it a "clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force." This has resulted in a cold war between Iran and the US – with the potential to escalate into a full-blown war in the region in case of any misadventure or miscalculation between these two countries.

Presumably, only the dead have seen the end of the war in the contemporary anarchic world. The brewing political landscape of the Gulf coupled with the ominous escalation of tensions, mud-slinging and sabre-rattling between the US and Iran have brought both countries on the verge of a disruptive confrontation in the region which could leave dire repercussions for the entire Middle East.

The Trump administration has lately resorted to blacklisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization owing to its purportedly disruptive roles in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. In retaliation, Iran has declared all US forces based in the Middle East as ‘terrorist forces'. This has instigated the US to dispatch its USSA Abraham fleet with bombers to the shifting waters of the Gulf with a view to restraining Iran from muscle-flexing and assertiveness, which Washington considers as a threat to its allies in the region.

This has seemingly resulted in a kind of a cold war situation between the US and Iran in the Gulf which can escalate into a full-blown hot war in the foreseeable future if prudent measures towards de-escalation are not taken in a timely manner.

The ongoing escalatory tensions between Tehran and Washington date back to the Trump administration's unilateral withdrawal from the hard-won Iran nuclear deal known as the JCPOA in May 2018. What has bitterly angered Iran is the fact that, despite its full compliance of the 2015 nuclear deal (as per reports of the IAEA, Iran had been fully complying to all major provisions of the JCPOA), the Trump administration not only unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal last year, it has also resorted to imposing more crushing sanctions on the crisis-ridden Iranian economy, especially on its oil exports.

The US sanctions have resulted in decreasing Iranian oil export in nearly half and augmenting the poverty ratio of the Islamic republic to about 40 percent. After its dismal failure to completely de-nuclearize North Korea, the Trump administration mistakenly thinks that its hard-hitting sanctions could exacerbate Iran's domestic economic issues, thus compelling the Iranian people to take to the streets to overthrow the Islamic regime in Tehran.

Ostensibly, this ‘social-engineering' is highly unlikely to dethrone the Rouhani-led government, but it might result in the possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran as a response to the US hawkish policies against Tehran. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander has threatened that Tehran would block oil shipments through the waterway in response to US calls to ban all Iranian oil exports.

A strait through which a third of the world's sea-borne oil passes through every day, the Strait of Hormuz is a strategic artery linking Middle East crude producers to key markets in the Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond. In 2016, 18.5 million barrels of petroleum were shipped through it every day, making it the world's single most important maritime route for many nations' oil supplies.

This is not the first time that the US and Iran have traded barbs over the closing of the Strait of Hormuz. In 2016, Iranian naval vessels veered close to American warships in the strait, prompting a US warning that these were incidents that carry a risk of escalation.

The Trump administration is beset with some domestic issues such as the Mueller report on Russian interference in the last US elections. It is thought that President Trump perceives that the escalation of tensions with Iran may divert public opinion and media pressure away from his controversy-ridden government. Secondly, such a hawkish US approach towards Iran mostly pleases Israel, hence increasing President Trump's chances of re-election next year. For the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main Israeli lobby in Washington, will fund the political campaigns of President Trump and popularize him on TV if the Trump administration continues promoting Israeli interests in the Middle East.

If a full-blown war breaks out, it will engulf the entire Middle East and could turn into a major war in the world. Israel and others have already done their preparation in case of a war against Iran. Syria and Lebanon will certainly stand by Iran with the support of the Al-Quds forces of Iran. As a result, this could provide a fertile ground to Daesh to re-organize itself, resurface and restart its reign of terror in the war-torn countries of the Middle East.

Russia will also probably come to shore up Iran against the US, thus making any such war a major conflict in the region. Since the Middle East has already been plagued by militancy, civil wars and resultant political chaos, it is imperative for the US and Iran to take to the negotiating table with the objective to find out a way out of the current situations.

If the Trump administration withdraws some of the harsh sanctions on Iranian oil exports, Iran will likely restrain its assertiveness in the Gulf and refrain from blocking the Strait of Hormuz. It is in the interests of both Tehran and Washington to de-escalate tensions so that the region can be saved from a potentially major war and the flow of oil continues unhindered.

The writer is an independent researcher.


Twitter: @ayazahmed66665