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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The True Reason Behind Iranian Escalation in the Persian Gulf

Filed under: Iran, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Policy, Yemen
Publication: Diplomatic Dispatch by Amb. Dore Gold

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

There is already a conventional wisdom emerging about what triggered the clash between the U.S. and Iran over the Strait of Hormuz, where 19 million barrels of oil flow per day.  The main argument heard time and again is this: President Trump decided to pull out from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, on May 8, 2018, and since that time, relations with the West have been steadily deteriorating.

Iran, according to this logic, is trying to force Washington to reconsider its position on the nuclear agreement by carefully calibrating escalation that began this year with an Iranian attack on 4 tankers near Fujairah, an emirate belonging to the United Arab Emirates. Two of the tankers were Saudi Arabian.

Iran is also trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its Western allies.

The EU has refused to support the American contention that the attacks on the 4 tankers were unquestionably the work of Iran.  They ignore the fact that Iran is driven by an expansionist doctrine known as “the export of the Iranian Revolution.” In fact, in February 2015 the Iranian Quds Force Commander, Qassem Suleimani, admitted, “we are witnessing the export of the Iranian Revolution throughout the region, from Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen, and North Africa.” In Syria and Iraq, the export of the revolution has led to the massive expulsion of Sunni Arabs to Europe, and their replacement with Shiites from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A special adviser to the European Union foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, named Nathalie Tocci, told the BBC that America was to blame for the tension in the Gulf because it pulled out of the Iran deal. She said that if there is escalation on one side (meaning pulling out from the Iran deal), then there is going to be retaliation on the other side. It was as though it’s a law of physics. Iranian aggression and ethnic cleansing were not on Europe’s radar screen. 

Britain’s Guardian said that those in the UK who supported the American position had a “lust for war.”       

The fact is that Iranian-sponsored escalation has been underway for some time. The UN reported in January 2018 that the Houthi drones in Yemen were almost identical to Iranian drones. 

That was significant because two days after the hit on the tankers, seven Yemeni UAVs struck Aramco pumping stations that served its oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis launched a missile to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abha Airport in early June, wounding 26 civilians.

A message emanating from the Yemeni attacks to the Gulf Arabs was that if you Saudis think you can circumvent the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran has asserted its naval supremacy, then Iran will find your vulnerabilities elsewhere.                

The Iranians have been attacking Western shipping in the Persian Gulf since the mid-1980s. Much of this involved attacks on oil tankers. The chosen instruments back then were naval mines.  This had nothing to do with nuclear agreements or disagreements.  It did have to do with Iran’s quest for regional hegemony.  There is also a message to the West: if you curtail our oil exports through sanctions, then no one will get oil from the Persian Gulf.

Diplomats at the European Union who have a strong interest in safeguarding the free flow of oil and protecting its price should back their American allies. Otherwise, the next time the price of oil goes shooting through the roof, they should not be surprised if European citizens in individual European states become enraged at Brussels and seek to follow the British example of even exiting the EU, if individual member states’ interests are not adequately protected.