Persian Gulf situation
It was known as the “tanker war.” In 1987, Iran wreaked havoc on global energy supplies moving through the Strait of Hormuz, using mines to attack Kuwaiti oil tankers and eventually triggering direct conflict between U.S. naval forces and Iranian vessels. The U.S. estimated that Iran had attacked more than 160 ships in its campaign to disrupt oil shipments from the Persian Gulf.
Is Tehran now taking a page from its 1980s playbook?
Washington says yes. The U.S. accuses Iran of carrying out a “blatant assault” on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, one Japanese-owned and the other Norwegian-owned.
The U.S. believes Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may have used mines in the attacks. On Friday, U.S. Central Command released video that it said showed a Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulling up alongside one of the tankers and retrieving an unexploded limpet mine off the ship’s hull.
Iran is also suspected of using mines to attack four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in May. President Donald Trump said there was no doubt of Iran’s involvement in the tanker attacks, calling the regime “a nation of terror. ... They’re in deep, deep trouble.”
For now, the priority for the U.S. and its allies should be to protect navigation. The West cannot allow the waters surrounding the Strait of Hormuz to be held hostage by Tehran. Nearly a third of the world’s crude oil passes through those waters. Naval ships from the U.S. and its allies can escort oil tankers and other ships through the strait and the Gulf of Oman while the threat from Iran looms. That’s what the U.S. did during the Tanker War.
As for Washington’s longer-term strategy toward Iran, the Trump administration should stay on course by squeezing Tehran with sanctions until supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime returns to the table to negotiate a better nuclear deal.
That deal must not only ensure Iran’s halt of uranium enrichment, it needs to address the regime’s propping up of terrorist groups and its pursuit of ballistic missiles. The 2015 nuclear deal Trump shelved was too narrow in its scope. The missing cog in Washington’s strategy is Europe — its leaders continue to pin their hopes on the 2015 pact.
Washington’s ramp-up of sanctions against Iran, particularly those aimed at Tehran’s oil industry, have been effective. Iranian oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day to below a million barrels. That has dealt a $10 billion broadside to Iran’s economy. If Iran is indeed behind the latest tanker attacks, Tehran’s motive may be to lash out at U.S. sanctions. Constrain our oil shipments? We’ll constrain yours with limpet mine attacks on tankers.
An escalation of military tension in the region is in nobody’s interest, and the Iranians likely understand that. But U.S. sanctions are doing their work and should continue. If European leaders would get on board, chances increase that conflict with Iran can be resolved the right way — through negotiations.