On the 12th of May, four oil tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Current reports indicate that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, or forces aligned with them, were responsible for these attacks. This is the latest in a long line of hostile events occurring in the Middle East, which has seen the United States increase its military presence in the region in recent weeks.
This attack has only served to heighten tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and war hawks within the Trump Administration seem eager to exploit this. Reuters reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has stated that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government are pursuing threatening policies; “The fact is that Trump has officially said and reiterated again that he does not want a war, but people around him are pushing for war on the pretext that they want to make America stronger against Iran.” These comments are likely referring to the current U.S National Security Advisor, John Bolton. This is not the first time concerns have been raised in the past regarding Bolton: Zarif made comments to Reuters last month that Trump could be easily pushed into conflict by his National Security Advisor.
It does appear that John Bolton is one of the key individuals seeking a war with Iran. Bolton’s reputation as a war-hawk stems back to previous comments he has made. In the past, he has stated that he believes pre-emptive strikes are an acceptable foreign policy strategy. To this day he remains a supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and believes that the worst decision the United States made during this time was to withdraw from Iraq in 2011. As National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump Administration, Bolton has continued as a voice of conflict, prominently calling for American military involvement in Venezuela. His confrontational approach to foreign policy has also been cited as one of the reasons for the collapse of recent talks with North Korea. If the Trump Administration chooses to pursue Bolton’s strategy, then it is highly likely that the United States will once again be embroiled in war in the Middle East.
Bolton is not the only cause of tension. Relations between the United States and Iran have been antagonistic since the mid-Cold War, with then-President George W. Bush referring to Iran as being part of the “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address. However, tensions between the two nations seemed set to reduce in 2015, following the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump’s decision to withdraw from this deal upon assuming office in 2017 was widely seen as a step backwards, and the reimposition of economic sanctions has led to further deterioration in the relationship. This is complicated by further U.S. interests in the region; Saudi Arabia, their biggest ally, has called for “surgical strikes” into Iran.
At this stage, war is not a certainty. While military build-up occurs, both Iran and the United States seem to be making some last-ditch attempts to open an effective dialogue. The head of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy, Hashmatullah Falahat Pishe, on Friday called for negotiations between the United States and Iran to be held. This follows reports that President Trump is attempting to soften his rhetoric towards Iran in order to secure some form of deal. If the two nations can open up their lines of communication and come to an agreement, perhaps the war hawks can be grounded.
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