The dangerous games Iran plays

Tehran thinks it has covered its tracks but it is seriously stretching the limits of implausible deniability.
Saturday 15/06/2019
This picture taken on June 15, 2019 shows tanker ships in the waters of the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the eastern UAE emirate of Fujairah. (AFP)
This picture taken on June 15, 2019 shows tanker ships in the waters of the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the eastern UAE emirate of Fujairah. (AFP)

With the June 13 attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the region has been once again thrown into a major crisis situation.

Not less than six tankers have been hit near the global strategic Strait of Hormuz in about a month, which is unprecedented and reason for utmost concern.

The latest Gulf of Oman incidents occurred just a day after the Iran-backed Houthis fired a cruise missile at the Abha International Airport, a Saudi civilian facility, causing 26 injuries. Drones aimed at the same airport were intercepted June 14.

Iran and its proxies were found to be behind May 12 attacks on vessels off the Fujairah coast. Investigations are yet to determine the full extent of Iran’s involvement in the most recent incidents but there is strong preliminary evidence.

“It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said June 13.

“This assessment, he explained, “is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

Another piece of evidence was the brazen return of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to the scene of the crime June 14. In broad daylight, they removed an unexploded limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous tanker. It was a blatant attempt — captured on videotape — at eliminating the evidence of Iran’s involvement.

Iran had used the same type of mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the so-called “Tanker War.”

The incriminating pattern is clear.

Tehran previously threatened to close the global strategic passageway if it was not allowed to export its oil. Increasingly airtight sanctions have deprived Iran of more half of its oil income. The Houthis, Iran’s proxies in Yemen, attacked Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea strait last July.

The world cannot passively stand by watching as world peace is endangered by Tehran’s reckless behaviour. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has rightfully urged international solidarity “to send an unequivocal and unambiguous message to our neighbours that subversive activities are no longer acceptable,” including “concealing themselves behind regional proxies or grey zone operation that are non-attributable to their original perpetrators.”

It is not clear what the Iranians and possibly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and regional proxies could have been trying to achieve though their attacks. There is, however, an emerging consensus they were trying to destabilise the oil market to their advantage and to position themselves as untouchables despite their endless provocations and acts of aggression.

Iran has described the US sanctions as “economic war and terrorism” and pledged to fight them. It is fighting them now with its own brand of terrorism.

In doing so, Tehran seems to be convinced that it can get away with the crime.

“As long as there is significant ambiguity the attacks won’t produce a casus belli (cause for war),” said Jack Watling, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Tehran thinks it has covered its tracks but it is seriously stretching the limits of implausible deniability. It is not Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s incredible claims that can earn Tehran some shred of credibility.

It is too early to predict what ripple effects the attacks on freedom and safety of navigation will have.

The Iranians seem to be risking a catastrophic showdown with the United States. Asked what he intends to do about Iran, US President Donald Trump told Fox News: “We’re going to see.” He also said that any move to close the Strait of Hormuz would “not last long.”

Iran’s aggressive moves have been for many years destabilising the region and jeopardising its security.

There is legitimate concern around the world that Iran’s provocations are not over. More than ever, Tehran is putting global peace and security at risk.

6