SPARKS OF WAR IN THE PERSIAN GULF ? | publicatii - Politica La Est
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SPARKS OF WAR IN THE PERSIAN GULF ?

Mihail  E. Ionescu
 
          In May – June this year, the threat of war in the Persian Gulf has been increasingly   high. Under the pressure on the hawks of Trump administration the incidents has multiplied in the Gulf and not only, after the deployment of an American air carrier in the Gulf ( ‘Abraham Lincoln’  being sent in May ). The Iranian shoot-down an  American drone on June 20, and has brought the likelihood of war nearer. President Trump allegedly postponed an already ordered   military operation to strike several Iranian targets on June 20, and he boasted in a tweet that the number of Iranian  lives lost following it convinced him that it is  morally wrong such a reply to Theran. Here is the narrative of the episode  which  President Trump presented on his twitter account : 
@realDonaldTrump
President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran - Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH! Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out. Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled.....
4:03 PM · Jun 21,
 
@realDonaldTrump
Jun 21
....Death to America. I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust!....

@realDonaldTrump
Jun 21
....On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not....

@realDonaldTrump
Jun 21
....proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD![1]
 
          But , according to the Trump’s narrative, almost concomitantly he  probably decided for another strategy towards Iran in order to convince Tehran to negotiate. The first suggestion to such a strategy has been given also on twitter by Trump himself:
@realDonaldTrump
China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight, Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been....
3:08 PM • Jun 24, 2019•
@realDonaldTrump
Jun 24
...a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror![2]
 
          It is very worth mentioning that US President has moved the action against Iran- namely to secure  the oil passage through the Persian Gulf, the fifth of the global yearly  quantity- from the burden  of USA ( eventually its allies ) to the international community, primarily those interested in fluidity of oil transportation ( Japan and China  and others) .  Behind the suggestion could be suspected also that the door is open by President Trump to a peaceful solution , perhaps including the renegotiation of the ‘ nuclear agreement’ – JPCOA – concluded in July 2015 and from which USA has suspended in 2017.
          One day later, President Trump reiterated the threats, including militarily ( economically he already strengthened the sanctions )  , against Iran, procedure which has been already used by him as a running of crisis  in other cases  ( North Korea, for example, but not only ). See  in that regard  the following thread of tweets of US President:
@realDonaldTrump
Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words “nice” or “compassion,” they never have. Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone..
5:42 PM · Jun 25, 2019·
 
@realDonaldTrump
Jun 25
....The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on Terror, and little on anything else. The U.S. has not forgotten Iran’s use of IED’s & EFP’s (bombs), which killed 2000 Americans, and wounded many more...
 
@realDonaldTrump
Jun 25
....Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama![3]
 
          Following these developments- which has created worldwide the perception of an imminent war between USA and Iran-it happened that the British Navy has captured in the Gibraltar strait an Iranian tanker ( ‘Grace-1’ )  full of oil with the destination of Syria. Taking into account that Syria is under EU sanctions the procedure of British Navy could be considered as being legally based, but as a reaction the Tehran had arreste and moved into an Iranian port a tanker under British flag (  ‘ Stena Impero’ )  on July 19, 2019  in the Hormuz Strait.
The British-flagged tanker Stena Impero and its 23 crew members were seized by Iran.
          The crew of that tanker are comprising many nationals  ( Latvians, Russians, Filipino) , among them being nine Indians. The ship was accused by the Iranians of not answering to the call of small fishing boat threaten to be hit  by the giant oil tanker. The ship owners  stated that the ship has been practically in the Oman territorial waters and sailed in conformity with the international rules.  Again , the threat of war has increased dramatically in the Persian Gulf. As a matter of fact a war in region will have among the major consequences the disruption of the oil transport lines for the big economies in the world. Some governments becoming comncerned of looming economic crisis began to mediate in order to avoid an imminent war;  among them, those whose nationals are in the crew of  ‘Stena Impero’ . The fluidity of the oil passage through the Gulf seems to  become imperative to many actors .
 
          What has been only a  kind of indirect  suggestion which is guessed in the above mentioned tweet of Trump had became a real one once the  US State Secretary, Mark Pompeo, declared on Monday, July 21 , 2019 ,  being asked if the US would support British action to freed the arrested ship:  "The responsibility ... falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships". Also he added   that if USA has a role in policing the Hormuz Strait “the world has a big role in this, too, to keep these sea lanes open”.[4]
 
Map showing the two tankers' routes through the Strait of Hormuz
Being very clear that UK does not have such a navy to fulfill the mission, mentioning that  “the world”  has a responsibility  in this regard , opened up another interpretation.
 
Tehran forced ‘Stena Impero  ‘ to change the path
 
          Among the first who understood that suggestion has been the European Union politicians and experts. For example , on July 26 Carl Bildt wrote on his twitter account: 

@carlbildt
EU could take the initiative and use the template of its Operation Atalanta in the nearby area to set up a European maritime security force in the Gulf distinct from what the US is doing. The UK should of course be a key part of such an operation.
@ecfr
9:59 AM · Jul 23, 2019 from Republic of Croatia[5]
 
          Carl Bildt sent us to a analysis of EU experts. One of them,    Julien Barnes-Dacey  , is responsible for MENA ( Middle East and North Africa ) ,  wrote on his account of twitter, announcing his analysis carried out with his colleague Ellie Geranmayeh,  Senior Policy Fellow for Iran  & Deputy Head  of MENA Program , both  at European Council on Foreign Relations ( ECFR ) :
 
@jbdacey
Iran crisis a baptism of fire for Johnson. But opportunity for UK to build much-needed trust with European partners & leverage Johnson’s rel/ations/ with Trump to inject momentum into pol/itical/ efforts to resolve Iran issue. New piece by @EllieGeranmayeh& me
4:23 PM · Jul 24, 2019[6]
 
Prime mover: Johnson and the UK-Iran crisis
 
         
          The first paragraph of that paper explained why the authors assumed the point of view that new head  of UK government is facing his “baptism of fire” : “As Boris Johnson becomes UK prime minister, his first foreign policy test is not Brexit but managing an unexpected crisis with Iran. The Iranian seizure of a UK-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz – coming days after the Royal Marines helped Gibraltar detain an Iranian oil tanker allegedly bound for Syria – has thrust the relationship between London and Tehran into deep turmoil. This comes at a highly sensitive time, with the United Kingdom, together with France and Germany, desperately trying to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal.[7]
          So, we should notice immediately the connection between two incendiary folders of the hour: Brexit and imminence of war with Iran. “Deep turmoil”  had an initial point which has been an option of UK government : the Iranian ship detained by Royal Navy in Gibraltar, so to say UK being self-involved in an international issue which Royal Navy does not have the capacity to solve by itself[8].  We have to guess : that act  was done in order to support ( even mutually agreed ) the Iran offensive line of Trump administration – constant and increased pressure- or to provoke Tehran to react and to escalate  the tension in the Persian Gulf ? 
          The paper quoted above has listed the arguments for Boris Johnson (and UK)  to avoid being involved in the turmoil of Mideast. Brexit is the first priority for UK and the new government but being uncertain of the evolution of getting out of EU  “Johnson should see this as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership at home while highlighting the value of a diplomatically engaged UK to its European partners and the US.[9]
          In accordance with the plan envisaged by the authors, the first step to be undertaken by Johnson should be to solve the issue of the arrested tankers- Iranian and British-, firstly applying efforts for freeing the crews; secondly , together with other EU partners should be convened a conference on maritime security in  Mideast with the occasion of the UN General Assembly next September, taking into account support of some Gulf states , like Oman, but also thinking to China in that perspective ; thirdly, Johnson has to initiate a complex set of measures for de-escalation the threat of war in the Persian Gulf, and here  support of French President Macron will be crucial . It is an important point of that plan, namely that ,simultaneously,  “Johnson should back a European-led naval operation that protects international tankers there. He should coordinate this effort with Washington without becoming tied to a US-led plan, which Trump’s confrontational approach towards Iran could compromise. The European initiative could also improve Johnson’s relationship with his European counterparts ahead of contentious Brexit negotiations.” [10]
          Likewise, an important part of the plan is to mediate between Washington and Teheran and open the way for both to begin negotiations. Considering that US and Iran are on the way to deepen the crisis- it is the assessment of the paper-  to do that  Europe should play the role of go- between . “ In this, Johnson needs to use his personal relationship with Trump. /…/The prime minister should suggest to Trump that the UK and its European allies help begin direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington – if the US eases restrictions on Iranian oil exports for a set period, to give renewed diplomacy a chance. In exchange, Europeans would need to convince Tehran to reverse its non-compliance with the nuclear deal and to begin talks with Washington.”[11]
 
Somewhere in the paper, is mentioned that the process initiated by Johnson will improve his relationship  with EU “ahead of contentious Brexit negotiations.”  That means prior to October 31, 2019, when Boris Johnson has promised to leave European Union. So the plan- ECFR does not assume any responsibility, which entirely belong to the authors- should be implemented very fast , except if BoJo has planned new general elections in UK. 
          But there are some details in which are hidden some unavoidable difficulties. The first is that one point of the above mentioned plan had been tried to be achieved by the US: capitalize on the support of allies for monitoring the maritime movement  in the Persian Gulf. Last week, Washington has approached Allies to enlist themselves in the projected “ Operation Sentinel “ conceived by the Americans in that regard. European allies did not agreed, at the same time signaling their desire to launch their separate, exclusively European,  operation of that sort. According to observers  “The move to establish a European initiative is a clear signal that Europe is bending over backwards to dissociate itself from U.S. policy toward Iran.” The real thought behind that European move is a crucial difference between the strategies of Trump administration and  European Union. Stressing that, French Foreign Minister,  Jean-Yves Le Drian , said clearly:  “On the diplomatic front we want to create the conditions for inclusive regional talks on maritime security./…./ This is the opposite of the U.S. policy of maximum pressure.” Playing down that difference, in Washington the officials are stating that efforts of USA and EU  are ‘ complementary’. [12]
          High officials in the EU are mentioning that there are contacts between major members of organization ( mainly Germany and UK ) “ to build a common action/…/ It will allow us to contribute on securing maritime traffic in the Gulf and to have an independent appreciation of the situation.” ( French Minister of Defense, Florence Parly ) . On both shores of Atlantic it was recognized that will be coordinated efforts , but the fact that London is joining the European way of action  tells a lot. Practically, London is afraid that joining  Washington  could mean being attracted in the war with Iran suspecting that Trump administration is pursuing an escalating  course. “U.S. allies are increasingly concerned about participating in joint operations under American command/…/ If American allies lose faith that the U.S. is committed to peaceful resolution of the Iran issue, they won’t want to get caught up in an operation with an objective they don’t support.” said Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists.[13]
          Regarding the Iran position should be quoted the position affirmed by the Foreign Minister  Javad Zarif on his twitter account:
  @JZarif
The May govt's seizure of Iranian oil at behest of US is piracy, pure & simple. I congratulate my former counterpart, @BorisJohnson on becoming UK PM. Iran does not seek confrontation. But we have 1500 miles of Persian Gulf coastline. These are our waters & we will protect them
4:40 AM - 23 Jul 2019[14]
And Iranian  President Rouhani expressed  the folowing position recently  in the cabinet session ( according to the official website):
“We consider surrendering not right, and the Iranian nation and constitution will not accept it, but we are always ready for a fair, respectful negotiation, and we are ready now/./.../We are in contact with European countries and other countries in the world, but we have not reached the desired point until now, because the proposals were not balanced, but we will continue the political process, and if we do not come to a conclusion and the second 60-day opportunity is over, we will surely take the third step”.[15]
 
          To conclude: events in the Persian Gulf are very complex and today there is a dynamic developments of events. US strategy of compelling Iran to negotiate exerting increasing economic  and military pressure is not followed by the NATO European allies. They are considering to launch their separate maritime operation – similarly to anti-piracy operation ‘Atalanta’  in the Gulf of Aden launched on December 2008 - for de-escalating the tension in the Persian Gulf . To fill up the differences between the two sides is considered  becoming the way for Boris Johnson to assert himself as a peace –maker as well as a Brexiteer at  more ease than expected (even in London)  for Europeans. In this regard he will have to use his relationships with Trump and the position of UK as a privileged partner of USA.
 
 
July 29, 2019
 
[5] https://twitter.com/carlbildt/status/1153560208733548544- Comments on gis proposal went from tough irony- “Or EU could tell Brexiting UK not to apply EU sanctions to non EU cargo in international waters then pushed to contested waters of Gibraltar. Stop acting as US proxy & release Grace 1. UK fabbricated crisis resolved” – to pragmatic approach to implement it: “ The EU can ask for terms to monitor the traffic in the Hormuz straight, with Iran and Oman and suggest to include Saudi Arabia. Form an alliance that warrant the free passage with rescue services! Go ahead, nothing stops this but belief but the mullahs can explain “belief”!”. Should note also that there are other comments which see the wide- EU implications of such a proposal: “But an embarrasing start for BoJo. His first important decision would be to as EU for support and collaboration....”
[8] According to some views , Royal Navy has diminished dramatically in the last decades ( “the Royal Navy has lost more than 40 percent of its fleet, that stood at more than 130 ships. Today’s Royal Navy numbers fewer than 80 ships.  “ since eighties )  , and today has the capability to develop low-end maritime operation. An expert explained: “The UK’s strategy, if you look at their most recent [Strategic Defense and Security Review], they say is that ‘Our job is to plug into a U.S.-led force in support of some larger operation, whether that is against a great power or against someone like a Libya,’ /…/ And they’ve designed a Navy and a force that’s like a small version of the U.S. Military, with the idea that they plug that in to the US military. And that led them to pursue those two aircraft carriers, submarines, and if you look on the ground, they’ve got some really high-end units, but they’re really small. They are designed to plug in.” David B. Larter, In a naval confrontation with Iran, Great Britain can find neither ships nor friends, in ‘ Defense News’ , July 25, 2019-https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2019/07/25/in-a-naval-confrontation-with-iran-great-britain-can-find-neither-ships-nor-friends/
 
[9] Ibidem
[10] Ibidem
[11] Ibidem
[12]Nick Wadhams, European Allies Spurn U.S. Effort to Protect Ships From Iran, in ‘ Bloomberg’, July 25, 2019 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-25/european-allies-spurn-u-s-effort-to-protect-ships-from-iran
 
[13] Ibidem

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