The location and number of vessels in the Straits of Hormuz that were sabotaged by Iran this week send a clear message from Iran to Trump, and the US president will not take that lying down.
On Monday morning, May 12, 2019, four oil tankers sailing in international waters were attacked as they made their way out of the Straits of Hormuz towards the Indian Ocean. The details of the sabotage are still unclear as these words are being written: who attacked, where they escaped to, how they attacked and how much damage they inflicted. My intuition tells me that Western Intelligence agencies, certainly the American ones, know exactly who attacked and how the sabotage was accomplished.
All the media pundits are pointing an accusing finger at Iran, situated in direct sight of the Hormuz passage, and blaming it for the quadruple attack. It is not the first time Iran has behaved in this manner. On July 25, 2018, ten months ago, two Saudi tankers, sailing south of the Red Sea opposite the Hudeida port north of the Bab el Mandeb Straits, were attacked. The attackers were the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been in direct conflict with the Saudis for years, but one month after the attack a senior Iranian officer admitted that the Houthis acted at Iran’s request.
No one thinks that this week’s attack was perpetrated by anyone other than Iran. The location and number of vessels attacked send a clear message from Iran to Trump: If you want war you will get war, and we, the Iranians, are not afraid of you, your arrogant boasting, US military might in the Persian Gulf or aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sent by you to the Gulf last week along with the auxiliary vessels surrounding it.
The US aircraft carrier was deployed to the Persian Gulf after US Intelligence identified unusual movements of Iranian ballistic missiles which seemed to signal preparation for launching them. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, announced in a statement: “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime. But we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces.”
The Iranians did not let this pass quietly, with their spokesmen rivaling one another in seeking to threaten the US. Iran is walking a tightrope, assuming that the US does not want a war and will not take significant steps against the Islamic Republic, since in contrast to the situation prevailing during the 1991 and 2003 previous Gulf Wars when NATO and Australian armies fought side by side with the US, European NATO members, particularly Germany, France and the UK, who signed the 2005 nuclear deal with Iran and are still bound by it although the United States bowed out, are vehemently opposed to a conflagration.
I consider the attack on the Saudi tankers this week the first shot in a third Gulf war, because the US, especially under Donald Trump’s leadership, cannot allow itself to be humiliated this way by Tehran. After all, two and half years ago, even before entering the White House, Trump talked about “making America great again.” The attack on the Saudi tankers has furnished him with the reason for waging war against Iran, and I will not be surprised if before long, we are witness to US attacks on Iranian targets such as the port the attackers sailed from and Iranian nuclear power plants.
As the United States views it, attacks on vessels in the Straits of Hormuz are meant to destabilize the world’s economic and political order. These waters are international even though they are in close proximity to Iran. Any damage to the transport of oil from the Persian Gulf to the rest of the world deals a massive blow to the international economy, as it will lead to a sharp rise in oil prices, insurance for vessels carrying oil and costs to consumers for a large number of products.
Trump demands the Iranians enter into negotiations for a new nuclear deal, while the Iranians demand that the United States apologize for leaving the existing deal. Both sides have moved rapidly to the point of threats and actions, and the chance of a direct clash is becoming more imminent by the day.
In Iran there are two vying trends of thought: The radical Revolutionary Guards, who were against the nuclear deal from the start because it limited the development of an Iranian atomic bomb, would like the situation to deteriorate in order to force the US to remove the sanctions it placed on Iran and return to the nuclear deal. Opposing that idea is the moderate position of Foreign Minister Zarif, who believes that Iran must begin to act according to accepted international rules of the game, refrain from angering the US and ignoring international law, in hopes that the next eighteen months can pass without significant entanglements until the November 2020 US presidential elections bring back the Democrats. They, it is expected, will remove the sanctions and return to the nuclear deal.
The attacks on the Saudi tankers show that Supreme Leader Khamenei supports the Revolutionary Guards’ position and is willing to endanger his country in order not to give in to the forces of “The Arrogant Ones,” the expression denoting America in Ayatollah rhetoric.
Persian Gulf air is saturated with oil vapor while oil and gas facilities are everywhere, and Iran is easily able to deal a swift and mortal blow to the economies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Emirates. There is a serious potential for deterioration leading to war and it is highly likely that in the near future we will see a head-on clash between Iran and the United States.
And Israel? The results for Israel may be far from simple, because there is a distinct possibility that if violence erupts in the Straits, the Hezbollah will decide to use its missile arsenal against Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza will not sit idly by either, and may enter the action, receiving their instructions from Iran.
Will Israel respond to this kind of attack resolutely and immediately as it has promised, sending Lebanon back to the Stone Age? What will Israel do to Gaza? Only Trump and Netanyahu know the answers to those questions.
It is entirely possible that the Iranians and their Lebanese and Gazan allies are relying on Putin to prevent Trump from overreacting, expecting him to use the weight of Russian military power to stop the American war machine. I, however, highly doubt Putin will want to antagonize the US for the sake of Iran, a country for which he has little affection. To Putin, the Iranians are partners, even allies, but only when carrying out important missions such as preserving the Syrian regime, purchasing another Russian nuclear power plant, or setting the world’s natural gas prices – but to sacrifice Russia in a war against the US may result in an international holocaust, and that is much more than Putin is willing to even consider. At the end of the day, Putin knows exactly what the Ayatollahs think of those who drink vodka and eat pork.
If I were one of Khamenei’s advisors, I would tell him to be wary and to keep away from any group to which Donald Trump, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo belong, especially since this group happens to control the largest and most deadly military might in the world. However, I am not one of Khamenei’s advisors, and that is why he is putting his regime and country into existential danger.
Israel must be prepared for any scenario that could take place in Lebanon and Gaza, and wish a heartfelt godspeed to the American army as it makes its way to its crucial missions in the land of Persia.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Op-ed and Judaism editor.