Finian Cunningham – Strategic Review Aug 15, 2019
When Washington announced a few weeks ago the formation of a maritime “international coalition” to “protect shipping” in the Persian Gulf, many observers were skeptical. Now skepticism has rightly turned to alarm, as the proposed US-led “coalition” transpires to comprise a grand total of just three nations: the US, Britain and Israel.
The term “coalition” has always been a weasel word used by Washington to give its military operations around the world a veneer of international consensus and moral authority. If the US goes ahead with deploying forces in the Persian Gulf the guise of “coalition” is threadbare. It will be seen for what it is: naked aggression.
Iran promptly warned that if the US, Britain and Israel move on their intention to deploy in the Persian Gulf, it will not hesitate to defend itself from a “clear threat”.
Britain has ordered this week another warship, HMS Kent, to the Gulf. The move, significantly, occurred as Trump’s hawkish national security advisor John Bolton was in London for two-day official meetings with PM Boris Johnson and other senior ministers. Bolton praised Britain’s decision to join the US-led Operation Sentinel mission, rather than an alternative proposed European naval mission. It’s not clear if HMS Kent is simply replacing another British warship in the Gulf, HMS Duncan, or if this is a further buildup in force. Either way, the line up of US, Britain and reportedly Israel is a foreboding potential offensive.
Israeli leaders have in the recent past repeatedly called for military attacks on Iran, claiming without evidence that the Islamic Republic is secretly building nuclear weapons, thus allegedly posing an existential threat to the Jewish state, despite the latter possessing an estimated 200-300 nuclear warheads.
Given the Trump administration’s manic hostility towards Tehran, which it labels a “terrorist regime”, and given the long history of US-British treachery against Iran, it is understandable the alarm being aroused if Washington, London and Tel Aviv proceed with their flotilla in the Gulf.
Major General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, slammed the proposed US-led trio of forces as a “coalition of demons”.
Iranian defense minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami warned that any such US deployment involving Israel in a waterway contiguous with Iran’s southern coast would have “disastrous consequences for the region”. Tehran would view it as an act of war.
Will Washington light the fuse? President Donald Trump and his psychotic war advisor John Bolton have certainly talked tough on several occasions over recent weeks about attacking Iran and “destroying” the Persian nation with overwhelming force. Combined with the depraved Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu and the lackey British premier Boris Johnson, the “axis of insanity” is perplexing.
However, Trump’s threats have often turned out to be empty. Washington has said before it would “defend” its interests when cargo ships were sabotaged in recent weeks. Iran was blamed by the US without evidence for the sabotage incidents, but Washington’s bellicose rhetoric didn’t materialize in military action. Even when Iran shot down a US $220-million spy drone over its territory on June 20, Trump balked at ordering “retaliatory” air strikes.
Another deterring factor is Iran’s formidable anti-ship missiles and air defenses which are augmented by the latest Russian technology, as documented by John Helmer.
There is thus a fair chance that the Trump administration will back off from its plans for a maritime incursion in the Persian Gulf. Even the intellectually challenged White House must know that any such move – especially involving a blatant axis of aggression of the US, Britain and Israel – will be tantamount to declaring war. The consequences for the war-torn region, the global economy and world peace would indeed be potentially calamitous. Surely, the unhinged American, British and Israeli leaders know this?
International consensus and world opinion may also be a vital check on the US-led folly of antagonizing Iran. The refusal by Germany, France and other European nations to participate in the US maritime force dealt a significant blow to Washington’s subterfuge of forming a coalition camouflage for its aggression against Iran.
The Americans were infuriated. US officials have reportedly lobbied the Berlin government to change its mind, to no avail. One American official was reported to have complained: “German officials keep telling us that they’re on our side, but they have to side with Iran on nuclear related issues because of the nuclear deal. Iran is attacking tankers which has nothing to do with the deal. So what’s Germany’s excuse for not siding with us this time?”
Richard Grenell, the pesky US ambassador in Berlin, displayed exasperation over Germany’s rebuff to the naval coalition plan, dubbed Operation Sentinel. Employing his best double-think, Grenell said: “German participation would help deescalate the situation. The Iranians would see a united West.”
This comes against a background of various rows between the Trump administration and Berlin, including on NATO spending, trade tariffs and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia.
Washington is peeved by the Europeans and Germany in particular for not giving its purported naval coalition in the Gulf the desired appearance of international mandate.
As Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked, the US is “isolated”, apart from having the British and Israelis riding shotgun on its now-evident adventure of aggression. From political, legal and moral viewpoints, it will be difficult for the Trump administration to proceed with its plan to “protect shipping” in the Persian Gulf because it is abundantly clear that the plan is a flagrant war footing.
If the US and its allies were genuine about forming a protection arrangement for commercial shipping routes through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf – where 20-30 per cent of globally shipped oil passes each day – then they would do well to take on board the Russian proposal presented at the UN on August 8.
Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s acting envoy to the UN, set forth a multilateral security concept. He emphasized that the partnership would be a genuine international coalition acting within the framework of the UN Security Council. The proposal, which China has backed, would include all stakeholders for the safety of shipping through the vital Persian Gulf, including Iran. This is surely the way to go towards de-escalating the dangerous tensions in the region. The key is that any such initiative must be formulated in keeping with UN principles and international law. It is not for one, two or three nations to assume the role of naval “policemen” in an area of international waterways. Even if we take Washington’s rhetoric about “protecting shipping” at face value, its deployment of force in the Gulf is an illegitimate assumption of power. It is outside UN principles and without Security Council mandate. In a word, illegal.
European and Asian nations would be advised to back the Russian initiative in order to maintain peace in the Gulf. By contrast, Washington’s plans are a reckless and reprehensible provocation for war.