Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated considerably in recent weeks, and it appears there is no easing off. Despite tensions existing between the US and Iran for some time, especially since the election of President Trump, recent events have aggravated the situation significantly.
This current escalation and trading of threats arguably began last year when the Trump administration pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord set by then President Obama. The Trump Administration, following the withdrawal, then went on to impose tough economic sanctions that severely affected Iran’s automotive sector, transactions involving the use of the US dollar and the purchasing of commercial airplanes and some metals.
These sanctions were not to be the last, unsurprisingly. A second round of sanctions were restored late last year that specifically targeted Iran’s oil industry, its main source of revenue. And, the new sanctions were implemented at a time when Iran was experiencing an economic crisis, worsened by protests throughout the country over increasing costs, unemployment and corruption.
At the time of the restoration of sanctions, President Trump stated that their purpose was to hopefully force Iran to cease supporting militant groups in the Middle East. But, the escalation didn’t stop there.
On the 12th of May 2019 four commercial ships were damaged in the Gulf of Oman off Fujairah’s coast. Three of the ships were oil tankers, with two registered to Saudi Arabia and the third to a Norwegian company. The fourth ship was an Emirati bunkering ship.
US and Saudi Arabian officials have claimed that Iran was responsible for the attack and a U.A.E led international investigation found that because of the sophistication of the attack and the use of limpet mines, a state actor is most likely responsible but didn’t directly name Iran as the culprit.
President Trump, at the time, accused the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC of being directly responsible for the attack, but Iran has consistently denied these accusations.
Following these attacks, insults were traded by the leaders of both countries. But tensions were to escalate further following the 13th of June Gulf of Oman incident. Wherein a further two oil tankers were bombed (one owned by a Japanese company and the other a Norwegian company), in a similar fashion to the four in May.
Again, the US and Saudi Arabia accused Iran of being responsible for the attacks and Iran, again, denied any involvement. Following this attack the US released footage it claimed showed the IRGC removing an unexploded limpet mine off of the side of one of the tankers. Interestingly, some crew members have claimed that they saw flying objects hit the side of the ships, indicating that missiles or bullets may have been used instead, shedding weight from the US’s claim.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran on the exact day the attacks occurred. Which makes one wonder, why would Tehran order an attack on a Japanese registered oil tanker when it’s trying to build a better relationship with Japan? However, Iran still remains the most likely culprit with Germany and the United Kingdom both also stating that Iran is most likely responsible.
Following the last attack on two oil tankers a US MQ-4C Triton drone was shot down by Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The IRGC have claimed to have been responsible for shooting down the drone as it entered Iranian airspace, although the US denies this, claiming that the drone never entered Iranian airspace.
There is a dispute over the exact model of the drone shot down, the US claims it was the Triton drone and Iran claims to have shot down an RQ-4 Global Hawk, which is generally used for unmanned surveillance missions.
This attack led to the preparation of a military response on behalf of the US being “called off” by President Trump supposedly ten minutes before it was going to happen.
To further complicate the situation Iran’s atomic agency spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, has now also claimed its only 10 days away from possessing uranium enriched to 20%, which is only a step away from weapons grade. It claims Iran requires this level of enrichment for a research reactor.
President Trump has stated that Iran must never been allowed to possess weapons grade uranium, and that ‘they (Iran) understand that’.
The potential for conflict is certainly there, though it’s reassuring to know that President Trump does not want a war, as he’s stated multiple times. Although, NeoCon’s such as John Bolton, whose currently an advisor to the President, certainly appear to have a proclivity for choosing war.
Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, also appears to be wanting to avoid a war, although its difficult to say. The future is impossible to predict, however with two leaders that won’t back down for fear of losing face or damage to their platforms, which are built on the idea of both being ‘strongmen’, compromise is unlikely.
A likely outcome is further sanctions on Iran and potentially a deal that sees Iran cease enrichment of uranium as high as 20%.