Four commercial ships have been damaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), heightening existing regional tensions between the United States (U.S.) and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Emirati officials reported the attacks on Sunday, May 12th, and had occurred near the port of Fujairah, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs. The U.A.E.’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that “no injuries or fatalities occurred aboard the vessels,” nor was there the “spillage of harmful chemicals or fuel.” Treating the incident as suspected deliberate sabotage, the U.A.E., with U.S. assistance, has launched an official investigation. U.A.E. officials have declined to name a key suspect, but unnamed U.S. officials quoted by Reuters and the Associated Press have identified Iran. However, no conclusive proof has been put forward.
Abbas Mousavi, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, has said the alleged attacks on the ships were “alarming and regrettable.” He has called for the “clarification of the exact dimensions of the incident” warning against “plots by ill-wishers to disrupt regional security.” Fatemeh Aman, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, in a statement released by Al Jazeera, has said we should be careful to place blame as incidents could be “orchestrated by those who seek a military attack on Iran.” “Any incident or sabotage could be falsely attributed to Iran, even if Iran had no involvement,” he said.
There is no shortage of those interested in military escalation. John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor and a key architect of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, has long advocated for regime change in Iran. Along with fellow hawk, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he has been pivotal on focusing Trump on Iran as a threat to the interests of Washington and its allies: Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Israel. These three countries have converged on the common objective of pushing for U.S. attacks on Iran in order to quell its growing power and creeping influence in the region. For Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., Iran’s power is a direct threat to their own, and its efforts to empower Sunni and Shia extremists present a challenge to their domestic stability. Meanwhile, Iran poses a major strategic threat to Israel in its backing of armed groups near Israel’s borders in Lebanon and Syria, as well as its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. Misinterpreted or even false flag attacks could easily lead to armed conflict.
Tensions have been boiling between the U.S. and Iran since Washington’s unilateral exit from the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S. claims the agreement does nothing to stop Iran from developing missiles or destabilising the Middle East. However, all other signatories insist this was never the intention, as the agreement had been effective in its purpose to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The U.S. has re-imposed sanctions on Tehran and in early May, lifted sanction waivers from eight countries that import Iranian oil. Iran, in turn, has announced it will scale back compliance with parts of the nuclear deal within 60 days. Citing credible threats from Tehran, Washington has deployed aircraft carriers and bombers to the Middle East; Additionally, the New York Times has reported that U.S. President Donald Trump‘s top aides have updated a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the region should Iran attack U.S. forces or develop a nuclear weapon.
However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there will be no conflict: “Neither we, nor them, is seeking war. They know that it is not to their benefit.” Indeed, as history suggests, another U.S. war in the Middle East would be catastrophic for the region. Members of Congress must speak out forcefully against what the U.S. is doing and demonstrate that the people will not tolerate another war. Ties need to be cut with allies in the region who continuously fuel instability and push for war, and the voices of war hawks like Bolton and Pompeo must be reined in. Otherwise, further incidents like the attacks on the ships will inevitably escalate to conflict.
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