17 August 2019

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PERSIAN THREAT

Situation between Iran and the West pushes to the limit

Author:

01.08.2019

Situation around Iran becomes increasingly threatening in terms of regional and global interests. The existing crisis is developing amidst the collapse of international agreements, acts of force and large-scale military preparations on both sides.

 

Tanker games

In June, US President Donald Trump put a stay on his own decision to hit Iran as a punishment for the shot down American drone. However, this did not exclude the threat of the war, which can take place at any moment between the US and its allies and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In recent weeks, the Strait of Hormuz has become the epicentre of the growing confrontation. The ongoing events follow a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf since the beginning of summer season. Both the US and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly accused Iran of attacking their ships despite Tehran's denials. Meanwhile, in early July the UK detained an Iranian tanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar, claiming that the tanker carried Iranian oil to an oil refinery in Syria in violation of the US and European sanctions.

Iranian authorities promised to give a symmetrical response to the actions of London. Thus, two weeks later the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran seized a British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz and escorted it to the port of Bandar Abbas (Iran). Tehran claims that the tanker was detained for violating international maritime laws.

London’s response to Iran’s actions was predictably harsh. British Foreign Secretary said that there would be serious consequences if Stena Impero were not released soon. London considers the seizure of its tanker as an “unlawful interference” and a “hostile act”.

Meanwhile, the tanker conflict between the UK and Iran is just one of the episodes of the evolving international crisis around Iran.

It is not accidental that the Strait of Hormuz is one of the active centres of confrontation between the West and Iran. All large vessels may pass through the territorial waters of Iran and Oman through this strait. This right is granted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and its relevant provisions on maritime transit, and governs the transportation of a quarter of all world oil volumes through the strait. Therefore, the US and its allies are interested in ensuring free navigation of ships in the Strait of Hormuz. It is clear that Iran does not mind using such an important channel of the global oil supply as leverage on those who force Iran to sacrifice its national interests, especially on the issue of the nuclear program.

Situation around Iran began to escalate when the US withdrew from the international deal on the Iranian nuclear program in May 2018, which limited Tehran's nuclear development in exchange for the abolition of anti-Iran sanctions. A year later, Iranian authorities announced that they suspended part of their obligations under the nuclear deal in response to incomplete fulfilment of obligations by other parties to the agreement. In particular, Iranians are not happy that other parties of the deal, i.e. the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, do not take concrete steps to compensate Iran for damages from American sanctions.

An attempt to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), the above-mentioned agreement between Iran and six international negotiators was made at a meeting of representatives of the participating countries in Vienna. However, the negotiations only confirmed that the other participants are reluctant to confront with Washington on this issue, despite their criticism of the US for withdrawal from the deal. Moreover, Iran is convinced that European countries, Russia and China will de facto continue to comply with US sanctions. It is not surprising that immediately after the Vienna meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the Iranian reserves of uranium enriched to 3.67% exceeded the volume (300 kg) stipulated by the nuclear deal. In fact, this statement confirms Iran’s withdrawal from the deal too.

 

Strike on Iran unavoidable?

With the actual collapse of the international nuclear program on Iran, confrontation between Washington and Tehran can trigger a new big war in the Middle East. In response to the statement of the American president on a possible attack on Iran, Iranian authorities threatened to attack the closest US ally. Particularly, the following warning message by the head of the Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy of the Iranian parliament Mojtaba Zonnour caused a loud resonance: "If the US attacks Iran, Israel will live only for half an hour."

Intensive preparations of the US for a possible military operation against Iran contribute to a serious aggravation of the regional situation. For example, the US recently deployed a group of F-22 fighter jets to the Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, the largest US military base in the Middle East with 13 thousand American troops and more than 100 combat aircraft.

In addition, the closest US ally in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, agreed to deploy an American military contingent on its territory. World media have already reported that Washington has sent hundreds of its soldiers, military aircraft, and missile systems to Saudi Arabia. Finally, Washington also announced the creation of a coalition to patrol the Strait of Hormuz, as a response to recent attacks on oil tankers.

However, in the context of a possible full-scale anti-Iranian offensive on Iran, most experts nevertheless mention serious constraints for the US. First, Iran is a powerful country with as many as half a million troopers capable of destroying American military targets in the Persian Gulf.

Another important factor is that the US somehow needs to activate ground operations for a complete victory of in a possible war with Iran. However, under present circumstances, none of the neighbours of Iran will allow Americans and its allies to use their territory for ground operations against Iran. Azerbaijan, for example, has categorically stated impossibility of military operations on its territory against Iran, because it is also bound by bilateral agreements with Iran on military and intelligence cooperation.

Nevertheless, it is possible that the US can benefit from various forms of "limited wars", including selective missile strikes at certain targets in Iran. The only question is whether US President Donald Trump agrees on this scenario. With all his desire to put an end to the 'Iranian problem', he definitely knows that using force against Iran  can lead to unpredictable implications in the context of Washington's regional interests and the interests of its allies, especially Israel.

On the other hand, there are obvious issues within the American administration over the Iranian issue. It is well known that the influential Trump adviser, John Bolton, upholds a radical position against Iran. It is not by chance that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Bolton of provoking international tension around Iran.

We believe that under present circumstances when the confrontation between the US and Iran threatens both the Middle East and the whole world, the only, albeit insignificantly small, hope to reverse the events is perhaps Iran's invitation for negotiations and the return to the nuclear deal. Rouhani assured that Iran will remain committed to the JCPA and will follow it in full as soon as the other parties to the deal "do the same." Unfortunately, a full-fledged return to the deal, which really could play an instrumental role for the fate of the region, which is the cradle of human civilization, seems unlikely considering the seizure of oil tankers.



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