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Brewing turmoil in Pakistan’s backyard

Since Donald Trump administration refused to extend waivers for Iranian oil exports, the United States and Iran have been giving threats and counter threats. In response to the US decision to tighten oil sanctions and push Iranian oil exports to zero, Iran has expressed its determination to resist the US pressure and retaliate, if deemed necessary.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on a visit to New York in late April told the audience at the Asia Society that his country would continue to sell its oil despite the US sanctions and warned that the US should remain ready to face the consequences, if it tries to block Iranian oil export. Zarif also alleged that John Bolton, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed were trying to push the US toward disaster, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to avoid further conflicts.

In private meetings, Zarif reiterated his view that the US wants to exert ‘maximum pressure’ to force Iran to return to the negotiating table, but warmongers are using pressure to provoke a conflict. Zarif said, “Iran would not accept being bled to death. If pushed too far, it will retaliate against those who are overly confident in their own military capabilities”. He apprehended that a war might start over a “planned accident” that could be blamed on Iran.

The US is trying to maximize its pressure on Iran by adding new sanctions on its export of iron, steel, aluminum, and copper. Industrial metals are Iran’s second-largest foreign exchange earner after oil and gas. Over the last few days, the turmoil has intensified as the region witnessed mysterious sabotage against tankers in Emirati ports, drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, and the US deployments of aircraft carriers, bombers and troops in the Arabian Peninsula, along with withdrawal of hundreds of non-essential staff from its embassy in Baghdad.

A question arises; does this saber rattling suggest that a conflict with Iran is imminent or irreversible? The immediate reply is, probably not, as none of the immediate parties to the dispute sees a conflict in its interests now:

  • Despite its recent air and naval deployments to the region, the US has not put in place the assets that the military would demand for more than a limited response. The decades-long experience in Iraq and Syria makes clear that such limited campaigns do not lead to significant political results. President Trump acknowledged that, should the administration decide to enhance its military posture in the region, “we’d send a hell of lot more troops than the 120,000 personnel being reported. Moreover, European reactions to the escalating tensions in the Gulf make clear that the US would be operating without the support of its allies. Zarif made clear that Iran wants to avoid a conflict in the region.
  • He acknowledged that regardless of the ultimate outcome of a conflict with the US, they would inevitably suffer the consequences of the fight. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also downplayed the threat of a US-Iran conflict. He told senior officials “Neither we, nor they are seeking war.” Although Khamenei also described the prospect of negotiating with Trump as ‘poison,’ it remains uncertain that the Iranians would not agree to return to the negotiating table if the circumstances favor it.
  • Finally, the Saudis and Emiratis have shown relatively cautious response to the incidents in Fujairah and the attack on the Saudi pipeline. This shows Saudi and Emirati reluctance to be dragged into a war with Iran. The attack on Saudi pipelines was predictable, possibly reinforcing that the Gulf leaders must understand that their cities and oil facilities would be the prime targets of Iranian retaliation in case of conflict.

The fact remains that none of the country wants to get the blame for initiating a conflict, but it doesn’t mean that the threat of eminent war is not there. There is a fear that miscalculation or misunderstanding can trigger confrontation and an outbreak of war. As the US expands its military presence in the region, the risk of beginning an accidental war rises further.

 

Are attacks on ships in UAE preamble of another dirty game in Arabian Peninsula?

Over the last few days the ‘verbal assault of United States at Iran’ has intensified. There seems to be a concerted effort to portray that Iran is a threat for the United States as well as its allies located in the region. The efforts look similar to ‘OBL hiding in Afghanistan’ and ‘presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared information on escalating threats from Iran with European allies and NATO officials during his recent meetings in Brussels. Pompeo canceled a scheduled visit to Moscow and stopped in Brussels instead. The secretary wanted to share some details behind what the US has been saying publicly, ‘Iran is focusing on threats’.

Pompeo, while in Brussels, discussed reported attacks on several oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Pompeo also said, “We have been requested by the UAE to provide assistance in the investigation, which we are very glad to do.” While, the US, so far, has abstained from accusing Iran of any direct involvement, the sole purpose appears to be ‘building ground for a possible military assault against Iran’.

Lately, four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz. It did not describe the nature of the attack or say who was behind it. UAE disclosed the vessels as very large crude carrier (VLCC) tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah, both owned by Saudi shipping firm Bahri. The other two were UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge A. Michel and Norwegian-registered oil products tanker MT Andrew Victory. Saudi Arabia also announced that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked and described it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid tensions between the US and Iran.

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