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Friday Feature - Dire Straights, the Standoff With Iran

Friday Feature

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Posted on: 
16 Aug 2019
Friday Feature - Dire Straights, the Standoff With Iran
Thursday saw the Supreme Court of Gibraltar ordering the release of an Iranian oil tanker which had been seized by that territory’s police force, with assistance from British Royal Marines, as it attempted to pass through the strategic waterway because of suspicions that Iran was attempting to send oil to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in violation of US and EU sanctions. The order to release the Iranian tanker was the latest move in a geostrategic chess match between Iran and the US, which also involves several other global powers including Israel.

The original seizure of the Iranian tanker on 4 July sparked a series of events including the shoot-down of a US military drone over the Persian Gulf and sabotage attacks on oil tankers flagged by several countries, as well as seizures of British-owned oil tankers by naval units of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the pretorian armed faction which answers to no one but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khemenei and in the assessment of many analysts the force which controls much of Iran’s economy and government. The British tankers were seized under legally nebulous circumstances as they attempted to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway separating Iran from Oman and the United Arab Emirates at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. 20% of the World’s daily energy supplies pass through the Strait of Hormuz and Iran has historically made use of threats to close it in order to gain leverage in its geostrategic position. Should Iran ever follow through on those threats and close the Straits of Hormuz, even for a short time, the global economy would suffer a terrible shock.

Another strategic waterway playing a role in the crisis is the Bab al Mandab, the southern gateway into the Red Sea through which ships travelling to and from the Suez Canal must pass. Hundreds of ships a week go through this chokepoint including tankers carrying oil from the Gulf to Europe as well as cargo vessels taking goods and people between Europe and Asia. Iran’s role in supporting Yemen’s Houthi rebels gives it the ability to harass ships traveling through the Bab al-Mandab while allowing it to plausibly deny that it is doing so.

Last but not least, military ships pass through and guard all of these strategic chokepoints, and that’s where Israel comes in.

The IDF, along with the US, France, China and others, maintains a military base in Djibouti, the tiny rump state on the African coast across from Yemen. This base allows Israel to play a role in maintaining the security of international shipping through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, much to Iran’s irritation. But it was the possibility that Israel would join an international coalition, led by the US and UK, to maintain sea lines of communication in the Strait of Hormuz which ignited the full fury of Iran’s leaders in recent days.

In sentiments echoed by several other senior Iranian officials, Commander of the IRGC Navy, Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, told the Lebanese news agency Al Mayadeen this week that "Any kind of presence of the Zionist Regime (Israel) in Persian Gulf is illegal as it may trigger war and conflict in the region."

In this context, the Iranian-backed Lebenese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, fresh from its successful military intervention in the Syrian civil war, has been making threatening statements that it is prepared to unleash its vast arsenal of rockets on Israeli cities should a conflict involving Iran erupt, whether Israel is directly involved or not. The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has made similar threats, making a two-front rocket barrage against Israel a very real possibility.

Hovering over all this geostrategic drama is the increasing tension over Iran’s renegade nuclear program and the unraveling of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement which was meant to address it. A related trend is the budding military, intelligence and even diplomatic relationships between Israel and the Western and Arab governments which are also opposed to Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony.
With all these unfolding developments on multiple fronts across different dimensions, one of the few things which can be known for certain is that the world is, both literally and figuratively, in the midst of Dire Straits. Israel, as always, is poised to play a crucial role while also being potentially threatened by devastating consequences for a mistake or miscalculation by any number of players.

Here are two videos giving some analytical context to this story


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