Are we really going to war with Iran?

Are we really going to war with Iran?

The US Navy’s Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group transits the Suez Canal in Egypt on May 9, 2019 to deploy in the Arabian Gulf in response to threats from Iran. (US Navy photo via AP)

War with the Iranian regime has seemed a real possibility many times in the past four decades, but never happened. So are the threats this time real or idle?

For insights into the current situation, we need to study Tehran’s past behavior and its refusal to enter into a single war despite its confrontational stance.

In the past four decades, we have seen in Tehran a sinister rationalism that pushes things to the brink of the abyss but never takes the leap. The situation today is quite different. The US administration is the one pushing Iran to the brink, and the revolutionary theocratic regime is now facing its most dangerous situation since coming to power in the 1970s.

Popular protests inside the country are growing, and with the ban on Iranian oil and other exports, Tehran’s options are narrowing.

Iran can stubbornly maintain its stance in the hope that either Washington shifts its position or there is a change in the US presidency, but this would require Tehran to wait 18 months and risk having its regime collapse from within.

Another option would be for Iran to negotiate and compromise, which is against its principles, and would dent its pride and hinder its expansionist military nuclear project.

A third option would be to seek out a military conflict that it believes it will win and force the US to compromise.

Iran’s policy had been to avoid a military clash with US forces in the region, using instead proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis to carry out combat missions. But this time round, war is more likely to erupt.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Iran has mastered risk-taking and never suffered the consequences. Tehran has risked war many times, with the attack by its followers against a US Marines headquarters in Beirut in 1983, and the kidnapping and assassination of a number of Western and Arab figures by its agent Hezbollah in the 1980s.

The Iran-Iraq war that began in 1981 and lasted eight years had dangerous complications, such as Iran’s attack on Kuwaiti oil tankers, its attempt to attack Saudi Arabia in 1984 with four Phantom jets — two of which were brought down by the Saudi air force — and the downing of an Iranian passenger aircraft over the Arabian Gulf in 1988 by a US missile.

Iran was also linked to a 1996 attack on the Marines headquarters in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia; dared to host Al-Qaeda leaders on its territory after the 9/11 terror attacks; and then became involved in attacks on US troops in Iraq through its support for what was then called the “Iraqi resistance.”

Moreover, Iran defied repeated US threats of bombing over issues surrounding its nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment for military purposes. Tehran was also shown to have links to global terrorism, and had a hand in bombings in Africa and Latin America, including the 1994 bombing of a synagogue in Buenos Aires.

Iran’s defiance has only increased with plans for attacks inside the US against its opposition as well as an assassination plot against the then Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir. This, in addition to the wars it waged — or was behind — in Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf states and Yemen.

All of these are serious circumstances that could have resulted in military confrontation, leaving Iran in conflict with the world. But Tehran never attempted to enter into direct confrontation with the US, while the US also avoided war. Instead, Tehran has confined itself to using its agents, such as Hezbollah, several militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, to carry out combat missions.

All of this suggests that Iran’s policy is clear: it is to avoid a military clash with US forces in the region. Nevertheless, Iran believes the US has vital interests and may sometimes have to go to war to defend them, as it did in 1991 to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and, in 2003, when it invaded Iraq.

This time round, war is more likely to erupt.

(To be continued)

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concern over Gulf shipping

Two Saudi oil tankers were among four commercial vessels sabotaged in waters off the UAE. Experts warn further attacks could result in a military confrontation. (Reuters)
Updated 23 May 2019

Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concern over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened the security and safety of international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways.

“On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The latest threat by Iran to block the strait — if it was prevented from using the strategically important choke point — was made last month after the Trump administration announced the end of US sanction waivers on Iranian oil imports.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said, adding that the Fujairah incidents show the need to strengthen “the monitoring of the Gulf through regular and alternative sources, including intelligence operations, shared intelligence capabilities, and military intelligence analysis.”

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) in order to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, according to the US Naval Forces Central Command (5th Fleet). Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

“It shows that there are some vulnerabilities in maritime safety and security that need to be addressed. So, overall, it’s not very good news for the region, for the oil market or for peace and stability.”

Iran has called for an investigation into the Fujairah incidents and hinted at “adventurism” by foreign actors to disrupt maritime security.

The acts of sabotage were followed by strikes by explosive-laden drones on Saudi oil installations, which led to a temporary closure of the East-West pipeline, which carries crude from the Kingdom’s main oilfields to the Red Sea port of Yanbu.

A television station run by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi group later said it had launched drone attacks on Saudi installations, but did not identify the targets or time of the attacks.

Abdulla said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US.

“Iran thinks these are the sub-targets that it can get away with,” he said. “Incidents (of the kind) are not common in the Gulf, so it’s an indication we are in for more escalation. The threat is there — we heard it from (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani himself, which makes it even more credible,” he said.

“The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdullah said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.

While heated rhetoric emanates from both Tehran and the White House, some believe the Trump administration is pursuing two incompatible goals — preventing Iran from exporting oil and keeping oil prices low.

Mark Katz, who teaches government and politics at George Mason University in the US state of Virginia, said: “Saudi Arabia has indicated its willingness to increase its own oil production in order to make sure that the withdrawal of Iranian oil from the market does not result in an oil price spike.

“However, the attack on the tankers ... calls into question whether oil prices can be kept low. If insurance rates on Gulf shipping rise because of the attacks, this will serve to increase prices to importers of Arab Gulf oil.”

Should Iran be found responsible for the damage to the tankers, Katz said, Tehran’s message might be that it will make it difficult, or at least expensive, for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to export oil if the US prevents Iran from doing the same thing.

“By not claiming responsibility for the attacks, whoever staged them hopes to avoid retaliation while also increasing uncertainty about the safety of buying Arab Gulf oil,” Katz told Arab News.

“The most appropriate response at this point would be for the US navy, in conjunction with its Western and Arab allies, to increase its patrolling of Gulf waters,” he said.

Daesh mortar attack on soccer field kills 6 in Iraq

Updated 25 August 2019

Daesh mortar attack on soccer field kills 6 in Iraq

  • The attack occurred late Saturday in the village of Daquq
  • The area of the attack is controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces

BAGHDAD: Police in Iraq say Daesh militants have fired mortar rounds at a soccer field near a Shiite shrine, killing six civilians and wounding nine others.
The attack occurred late Saturday in the village of Daquq, in Iraq’s northern Kirkuk province, as people were exercising.
Police officials confirmed the attack, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The area of the attack, southeast of the city of Kirkuk, is controlled by Iran-supported militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
Daesh, which once ruled a self-styled Islamic caliphate sprawling across Iraq and Syria, no longer controls territory in either country but has continued to stage sporadic attacks.