Beware the Hawks: War with Iran Would be a Global Disaster

Published June 17th, 2019 - 12:23 GMT
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Mike Pompeo revealing video U.S. claims is proof Iran attacked oil tankers (AFP/FILE)

 

After two violent incidents against commercial ships and oil tankers travelling through the Gulf of Oman, all eyes are on Iran.

The U.S., U.K., U.A.E, Saudi and Bahrain all blame Iran for attacking the naval vessels in a critically important shipping route and trying to provoke a militant response. Each nation that blames Iran has made it clear they could respond with force if the provocations continue.


What looks like a world sleepwalking into armed conflict may actually be a concerted effort to toe the line between a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and war, though that line is beginning to blur. In response to the attacks, Bret Stephens of the New York Times calls on the U.S. to sink Iran’s navy if another such provocation occurs, even though conclusive evidence exposing Iran as the culprit has yet to be released.
 

What looks like a world sleepwalking into armed conflict may actually be a concerted effort to toe the line between a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and war

What is desperately needed now, more than ever, is a concerted effort to de-escalate the tensions rather than ramp them up. Iran needs diplomacy right now. A war against Iran would be a cataclysmic disaster that could cost thousands of lives and imperil millions more.

More should be done to avoid one. 


War-Baiting


On June 13, two oil tankers were reportedly attacked in the Gulf of Oman, between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A month before that, another four vessels were said to have been hit. 

For both attacks, the U.S. and Saudi among other allied nations have blamed Iran for the attacks. For the first attack, an anonymous U.S. official citing an unseen initial assessment found Iran at fault. For the second, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) released a grainy video showing that they claimed to be Iranian agents removing a limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous—one of the vessels attacked.

The video did little to provide authoritative proof Iran was the culprit. “"The video is not enough, said Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Mass. “We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”

Japanese officials are also skeptical. One aide close to Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said "These are not definite proof that it's Iran."

“Even if it's the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it," he added.
 

If Iran did attack six navy vessels in the Gulf of Oman, then the U.S., Saudi, Israel and Iran may truly be on the eve of war.

Japan and Germany’s comments reveal that the U.S. has not even privately shared damning evidence on Iran yet. 

The president of the company that owns the Kokuka Courageous, one of the tankers damaged, said publicly that two flying objects attacked the ship, contradicting the U.S.’ claims that limpet mines were used. “The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole,”  Kokuka President Yutaka Katada said in a press conference. “Then some crew witnessed the second shot.”

Despite the hesitations and uncertainties, Bahrain and the U.K. have rallied around the U.S.’ assertions. Saudi’s de facto ruler, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, said he wouldn’t “hesitate to deal with any threat,” from Iran. 
 

Saudi’s de facto ruler, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, said he wouldn’t “hesitate to deal with any threat,” from Iran. 

All of this falls inside the “maximum pressure” strategy currently being deployed by the Trump Administration: a strategy that calls for Iran’s total isolation from the international community and the threat of war used liberally against them.

The official goal is for the Iranian regime to drastically change its behavior to be less antagonistic, though officials expect Iran to become more aggressive. If Iran did attack six navy vessels in the Gulf of Oman, then the U.S., Saudi, Israel and Iran may truly be on the eve of war.

But rather than seek to defuse it, some public figures are fanning the flames of war.

Bret Stephens, a neoconservative columnist at the New York Times, published an article entitled “The Pirates of Tehran,” where he argues the ‘maximum pressure’ strategy isn’t enough.

“Trump might be a liar, but the U.S. military isn’t,” he writes. “There are lingering questions about the types of munitions that hit the ships, and time should be given for a thorough investigation. But it would require a large dose of self-deception (or conspiracy theorizing) to pretend that Iran isn’t the likely culprit, or that its actions don’t represent a major escalation in the region.”

Stephens chooses his words carefully here. He positively cites the U.S. military's own assessment as reliable enough to make Iran “the likely culprit” but stops short of actually pinning the attack on Iran.

There’s enough doubt in the author’s mind that compels him merely to call Iran a likely culprit. He still has room, in other words, to recant his statement without having to fully contradict himself.

Assuming Iran is trying to provoke a military response, Stephens recommends one.
 

What Stephens and other Iran hawks often fail to acknowledge is the humanitarian consequences of the U.S.’ current strategy against Iran.

“The Trump administration ought to declare new rules of engagement to allow the Navy to engage and destroy Iranian ships or fast boats that harass or threaten any ship, military or commercial, operating in international waters,” he contends, before adding that “If Tehran fails to comply, the U.S. should threaten to sink any Iranian naval ship that leaves port.”

Stephens is calling for a total blockade in the event of another oil tanker attack, even if the evidence linking Iran to the attack remains questionable. That is all-out war.

Blockading Iran’s ports would prevent critical supplies from reaching its people. Within weeks of such a maneuver, millions could struggling finding affordable food amidst a collapsing economy. 

Though Stephens is aware “nobody wants a war with Iran,” he insists he could be easy enough to win, since the U.S. “sank Iran’s navy before.” 
 

"An Iraq War Won’t Destabilize the Mideast.”

The New York Times columnist's insistence is bolstered by a June 16 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal written by notorious Iraq war supporter Reuel Marc Gerecht. "America Can Face Down a Fragile Iran," Gerecht opines. In the piece, he says "America’s Iran problem will remain until the theocracy cracks," and hints that the only way to crack it is to unleash a "massive external shock," on the isolated nation. In Nov 2002, in the lead-up to the Iraq War, Gerecht found Iraq to be a similarly safe target for U.S. intervention, writing "An Iraq War Won’t Destabilize the Mideast.”

What Stephens, Gerecht and other Iran hawks often fail to acknowledge is the humanitarian consequences of the U.S.’ current strategy against Iran.

 

Hollowing out Iran

An Iranian villages lies underwater following devastating floods (AFP/FILE)

Crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. have caused real wages to fall, inflation to skyrocket, and food to become less accessible.

Companies are terrified to export anything to Iran, including critical goods and medicines that are technically exempt from the sanctions, for fear of running afoul with the U.S.

Emergency response services in Iran Red Crescent were hit so hard by sanctions that they weren’t able to provide effective relief to towns hit by floods in April.

“The U.S. Administration’s policy alongside its Saudi and Israeli allies, with help from the U.A.E., is designed with the intention of crushing Iran as an entire country—politically, socially and economically,” Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, founder and executive director of ICAN, said to Al Bawaba. ICAN is an international non-profit focused on women’s equality and preventing extremism.
 

“The U.S. Administration’s policy alongside its Saudi and Israeli allies, with help from the U.A.E., is designed with the intention of crushing Iran as an entire country—politically, socially and economically,”

“The sanctions’ effect on the Red Crescent is a basic indication of this wider policy… It is a violation of international human rights and humanitarian norms to block the provision of aid in times of crisis,” she added.

A recent study conducted by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs found that U.S. sanctions on Venezuela led to the deaths of 40,000 people since Aug 2017.  If Trump’s claim that his sanctions against Iran are the “toughest ever,” Iran may be facing a comparable death toll.

In Feb, CNN shared a story of an Iranian father speeding through the traffic of Tehran to get to a pharmacy. He only had two hours to save his daughter from a sickness. When he finally got to the pharmacy, he saw a line of 800 people waiting to receive medications. He dropped to his knees. "I cried and screamed, begging people to let me get through," he said.
 

“The U.S. Administration’s policy alongside its Saudi and Israeli allies, with help from the U.A.E., is designed with the intention of crushing Iran as an entire country."

He was able to save his daughter, but many who rely on regular access to medicine are now facing a life-and-death struggle.

Meanwhile, as Iran’s economy gets hollowed out and private businesses close, state-backed enterprises owned by Iran’s clandestine Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) only become more dominant in the country.

Naraghi-Anderlini told Al Bawaba that the moves only empower hawkish Iranian interests that may want a war. “Trying to strangulate Iran only hardens and strengthens the minority hardliners in the county,” she said.

Beyond the already-devastating impact ‘maximum pressure’ has had on Iran, a war would be far, far worse.


Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe with Iranian prime minister Rouhani (AFP/FILE)

Iran, a country of 81 million people, commands a powerful and seasoned military that can utilize a diverse array of tactics to counter a monolithic force like the U.S. military.

To seriously contemplate a war, policy makers would also need to consider the possibility that millions would be put in harm’s way, thousands of U.S. soldiers could die, and Americans across the globe would be threatened.

Even the U.K., which blames Iran for the oil tanker attacks, knows the trouble with a war and has continued calling for "diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions."
 

Even the U.K., which blames Iran for the oil tanker attacks, knows the trouble with a war and has continued calling for "diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions."

Instead, the U.S. should actively pursue deconfliction channels with Iran. Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who was previously warned of an “accidental conflict” starting between the U.S. and Iran, is positioning itself to be a mediator between the two. 

These diplomatic back-channels must be formed quickly, as the levels of distrust between the U.S. and Iran are reaching dangerous highs.

If both sides develop yet more militant postures, they may become convinced the other is preparing for conflict, and they could become entangled in precisely the accidental conflict Japan is trying to prevent.

 

 


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