Category Archives: Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf Primed to Explode

By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

July 20, 2012 “Asia Times” – July 18, 2012 — “US navy fires on Emirate boat out of fear of Iran” – headline in Kayhan Newspaper, Tehran.

The Persian Gulf powder keg may soon explode if the current cycle of mounting tensions continues unabated. Two days ago, a minor incident involving a US refueling warship and an Indian fishing boat off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) resulted in one fatality and three wounded. That the fishermen insist they were fired on without a warning – contrary to the US navy’s assertion – gives us a prelude to more ominous developments on the horizon. It seems trigger-happy American sailors see gathering clouds of conflict and are taking preemptive measures that, in this particular case, made a small dent in otherwise amicable US-India relations.
In a sign of New Delhi’s unwillingness to call for an inquiry into the incident, however, it has not voiced even a whisper of criticism of the US. Initially, US media reported that the incident was a US warning to “Iran and al-Qaeda” to stay away from US warships, in light of Iran’s renewed threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. This reflects a US siege mentality that also underscores the Persian Gulf region’s growing volatility and potential for imminent maritime tensions.
This spike in tensions is also partly due to the US navy’s bulked up presence in the region. The Pentagon on July 16 deployed an extra aircraft carrier there months ahead of schedule. It is also organizing unprecedented mine-sweeping exercise in the area – this month it deployed four additional minesweepers and additional fighter jets to the region.
The resulting overcrowding of Persian Gulf waters with the US fleet is an invitation for similar incidents to this week’ fatal encounter. Accidental confrontations could easily escalate into something bigger in coming weeks and months, particularly if the US and Iran bump into each other.
There is no guarantee that a US-Iran war would not be triggered by such incidents, since there is no military-to-military hotline or similar communications to handle such emergencies. In spite of some US overtures toward such a preventive mechanism, Iran refuses to consider it, as well as any other “incident at sea” protocols, since it regards the US presence in the Persian Gulf as fundamentally illegitimate.
The thickening fog of suspicion and mutual distrust is growing more dangerous, with the US pondering the possibility of an Iranian provocation and Tehran studying the US’s inclination to resort to shows of force to assert its hegemony. Beyond such tactical questions, the larger strategic question is what is Washington’s ultimate aim?
From Tehran’s vantage point, it scored big points in recent drills that convinced the West of its vastly improved missile capability, contrary to various US expert studies that have painted a different picture, citing the Iranian missiles’ lack of precision and relatively low payload. Confronted by a more lethal adversary than previously thought, the US is now treading a fine line by relying on its military muscle to deter any Iranian “asymmetrical” provocation that could see oil prices soar. The US containment strategy may not work, however, if Tehran decides to up the ante against the US over the sanctions that are hurting the Iranian economy.
This is unlikely to happen, however, as major US exemptions for the Iran oil sanctions will, at least for the next five months, give the green light for business to continue mostly as usual with regards to Iran’s oil shipments. Should the US choose to remove those exemptions when they are up for review, Iran may opt for more direct action in the Persian Gulf.
In this rapidly evolving milieu, the Persian Gulf is hostage to the geostrategic calculations of, on the one hand, a Western superpower and its local client states and, on the other, a traditional regional power with growing military prowess. What makes the scenario more dangerous is that the whole picture is moving in the direction of a zero-sum game of strategy, that is, a win-lose scenario, increasingly bereft of prior shades of grey indicating “shared” or “parallel” interests. This sharpening of conflicting interests is ready-made fuel for open conflict in the Persian Gulf.
In the assortment of available remedies, one can easily point to the on-going multilateral nuclear talks between Iran and the “5 +1” nations (the United Nations Security Council permanent five members plus Germany) that have now been degraded to the level of experts. If the Western nations headed by the United States decide to continue with the uncompromising approach already seen at Iran Six meetings in Baghdad and Moscow, however, the nuclear standoff will linger and possibly worsen.
To de-escalate tensions with Iran, the West will need to take a vastly different negotiation strategy, one that is willing to trade sanctions for concessions. However, in a US election year, this is unlikely to happen.
*Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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US navy fires on fishing vessel in Persian Gulf

By Peter Symonds 
19 July 2012
The killing of an Indian fisherman by a US navy ship in the Persian Gulf on Monday is a sign of sharp tensions as the US continues its military build-up in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.
USNS Rappahannock, a refuelling vessel, opened fire with its large calibre machine guns on a small fishing vessel about 16 kilometres off the United Arab Emirates (UAE) port of Jebel Ali. A US navy spokesman claimed that the vessel had “disregarded nonlethal warnings and rapidly approached the US ship.”
Shekar, 35, was killed on the spot. Three other fishermen from southern India were seriously injured—Sarvana was hit twice in the thigh; Muthu Muniraj was hit in the legs; and Muthu Kannan sustained wounds to the mouth and stomach. Two other men—UAE nationals—were uninjured.
Doubt has already been cast on US claims that the navy ship was responding to a threat. Sarvana told the Indian news channel Times Now on Tuesday that the US ship started shooting “without any warning.” He added: “We were shocked to come under attack like this. There was no time to react. We didn’t know what hit us.”
Muthu Muniraj told Reuters: “We had no warning at all from the ship. We were speeding up to try and go around them and then suddenly we got fired at. We know warning signs and sounds and there were none; it was very sudden. My friend was killed, he’s gone. I don’t understand what happened.”
An estimated four million Indians are part of the huge foreign cheap labour workforce in the Gulf states, largely employed as domestic servants, labourers and in other menial jobs.
The incident is reminiscent of the lethal methods used by the US military on land in Iraq. Any vehicle or person deemed a “terrorist threat” to US personnel was fired on and killed. None of the US investigations into hundreds of such incidents, involving men, women and children, resulted in charges or disciplinary action.
The US response to Monday’s naval firing is similar: perfunctory condolences to the families of the dead and injured, but no admission of guilt. A US military investigation has been announced but will undoubtedly clear the personnel involved. A naval spokesman defended the crew’s actions, declaring: “Our ships have an inherent right to self-defence against lethal threats.”
Despite public anger in both the UAE and India over the incident, neither government has issued a diplomatic protest. Dubai’s police chief Dahi Khafan Tamim did note: “The primary investigation confirms that the [fishing] boat was in its right course and did not pose any danger. The shooting was clearly a mistake.”
The shooting clearly indicates that US naval crews in the Persian Gulf have been put on a heightened state of alert as the Obama administration ratchets up its confrontation against Iran. International diplomatic talks over Iran’s nuclear programs have all but broken down. From the beginning of the month, the US and the European Union, in what amounts to an act of economic warfare, have imposed harsh new sanctions against Iranian oil exports.
The Obama administration has repeatedly declared that it would use all means, including military force, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Tehran has denied any intention of constructing a nuclear bomb, rejecting unsubstantiated US claims.
However, the US military build-up in the Persian Gulf is continuing apace. Since the beginning of the year, the Pentagon has increased the number of aircraft carrier battle groups from one to two, doubled the number of minesweepers and moved a squadron of advanced F-22 fighters into the region. It announced on Monday that the USS John C. Stennis would be sent to the Gulf four months ahead of schedule to ensure the presence of two aircraft carriers at all times.
An article in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, entitled “Pentagon bulks up defences in the Gulf,” provided details of a sophisticated missile defence radar station to be completed this month in Qatar. Along with similar sites in Israel and Turkey, the station will be able to track ballistic missile launches deep inside Iran. Qatar, a close American ally, already hosts the largest US military air base in the region, with 8,000 US troops.
The US military is seeking to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile interceptor system in the region in coming months, possibly in the UAE. A senior US defence official told the Journal: “There’s an effort to get it up and running as soon as possible.” He denied, however, that there was “some rush to be ready for imminent conflict.”
The Pentagon also announced a major minesweeping exercise involving 20 countries for mid-September in the Gulf. The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012, the largest ever of its kind, is billed as focussing “on a hypothetical threat to mine the international waterways of the Middle East.”
Claims by the US that these steps are purely “defensive,” and not aimed at Iran, are simply not credible. In preparing for massive strikes on Iranian nuclear and military facilities, the Pentagon is strengthening its ability to neutralise any retaliation by Iran by launching missiles or mining the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The rapid build-up of “defensive” measures is another sign that the US is readying to wage an unprovoked war on Iran.
The Pentagon has applied to Congress for funds to reinforce the weaponry on US navy ships in the Gulf—including new laser target-trackers for machine guns and Griffin missiles that are specifically aimed at dealing with “hostile fast-attack craft.” Along with the hardware, the navy has obviously upgraded its rules of engagement, putting its warships on a hair-trigger to respond to alleged “threats.”
The deliberate US heightening of tensions in the Gulf not only sets the stage for further tragic incidents involving civilian deaths, but also for a maritime provocation against Iran that could be exploited as the pretext for war.

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Persian Gulf primed to explode

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi 

“US navy fires on Emirate boat out of fear of Iran” – headline in Kayhan Newspaper, Tehran. 


The Persian Gulf powder keg may soon explode if the current cycle of mounting tensions continues unabated. Two days ago, a minor incident involving a US refueling warship and an Indian fishing boat off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) resulted in one fatality and three wounded. That the fishermen insist they were fired on without a warning – contrary to the US navy’s assertion – gives us a prelude to more ominous developments on the horizon. It seems trigger-happy American sailors see gathering clouds of conflict and are taking preemptive measures that, in this particular case, made a small dent in otherwise amicable US-India relations. 
In a sign of New Delhi’s unwillingness to call for an inquiry into the incident, however, it has not voiced even a whisper of criticism of the US. Initially, US media reported that the incident was a US warning to “Iran and al-Qaeda” to stay away from US warships, in light of Iran’s renewed threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. This reflects a US siege mentality that also underscores the Persian Gulf region’s growing volatility and potential for imminent maritime tensions. 
This spike in tensions is also partly due to the US navy’s bulked up presence in the region. The Pentagon on July 16 deployed an extra aircraft carrier there months ahead of schedule. It is also organizing unprecedented mine-sweeping exercise in the area – this month it deployed four additional minesweepers and additional fighter jets to the region. 
The resulting overcrowding of Persian Gulf waters with the US fleet is an invitation for similar incidents to this week’ fatal encounter. Accidental confrontations could easily escalate into something bigger in coming weeks and months, particularly if the US and Iran bump into each other. 
There is no guarantee that a US-Iran war would not be triggered by such incidents, since there is no military-to-military hotline or similar communications to handle such emergencies. In spite of some US overtures toward such a preventive mechanism, Iran refuses to consider it, as well as any other “incident at sea” protocols, since it regards the US presence in the Persian Gulf as fundamentally illegitimate. 
The thickening fog of suspicion and mutual distrust is growing more dangerous, with the US pondering the possibility of an Iranian provocation and Tehran studying the US’s inclination to resort to shows of force to assert its hegemony. Beyond such tactical questions, the larger strategic question is what is Washington’s ultimate aim? 
From Tehran’s vantage point, it scored big points in recent drills that convinced the West of its vastly improved missile capability, contrary to various US expert studies that have painted a different picture, citing the Iranian missiles’ lack of precision and relatively low payload. Confronted by a more lethal adversary than previously thought, the US is now treading a fine line by relying on its military muscle to deter any Iranian “asymmetrical” provocation that could see oil prices soar. The US containment strategy may not work, however, if Tehran decides to up the ante against the US over the sanctions that are hurting the Iranian economy. 
This is unlikely to happen, however, as major US exemptions for the Iran oil sanctions will, at least for the next five months, give the green light for business to continue mostly as usual with regards to Iran’s oil shipments. Should the US choose to remove those exemptions when they are up for review, Iran may opt for more direct action in the Persian Gulf. 
In this rapidly evolving milieu, the Persian Gulf is hostage to the geostrategic calculations of, on the one hand, a Western superpower and its local client states and, on the other, a traditional regional power with growing military prowess. What makes the scenario more dangerous is that the whole picture is moving in the direction of a zero-sum game of strategy, that is, a win-lose scenario, increasingly bereft of prior shades of grey indicating “shared” or “parallel” interests. This sharpening of conflicting interests is ready-made fuel for open conflict in the Persian Gulf. 
In the assortment of available remedies, one can easily point to the on-going multilateral nuclear talks between Iran and the “5 +1” nations (the United Nations Security Council permanent five members plus Germany) that have now been degraded to the level of experts. If the Western nations headed by the United States decide to continue with the uncompromising approach already seen at Iran Six meetings in Baghdad and Moscow, however, the nuclear standoff will linger and possibly worsen. 
To de-escalate tensions with Iran, the West will need to take a vastly different negotiation strategy, one that is willing to trade sanctions for concessions. However, in a US election year, this is unlikely to happen. 
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011). 
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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On the Verge of An All Out War? Massive Military Build-Up in the Persian Gulf

by Ben Schreiner

The familiar menace of U.S. war drums have resumed at a fevered pitch, as Iran finds itself once again firmly within the Pentagon’s cross hairs. 
According to multiple reports, the U.S. is currently in the midst of a massive military build-up in the Persian Gulf on a scale not seen in the region since prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The military surge reportedly includes an influx of air and naval forces, ground troops, and even sea drones. Lest one forgets, the U.S. already has two aircraft carriers and their accompanying striker groups in the region. 
A growing sense of Iran war fever can also be seen mounting in Washington. For instance, in an effort to foil ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany), a bipartisan group of 44 U.S. Senators recently sent a letter to President Obama urging the administration to “focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists.”
Such hawkish posturing occurs despite the fact that the U.S. intelligence community (as well as the Israeli intelligence community, for that matter) finds no evidence that Iran has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon–the ostensible reason behind Western sanctions and threats of attack. Moreover, as an April Pentagon report states, Iran’s military doctrine remains one of self-defense, committed to “slow an invasion” and “force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” (Compare this to the U.S. military doctrine rife with notions of global “power projection” and one sees where the credible threat lies.) 
The nuclear issue, though, is but a pretext used to veil U.S. imperial designs in the region. As a senior U.S. Defense Department official recently let slip to the New York Times: “This is not only about Iranian nuclear ambitions, but about Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions.” In other words, it is about removing one of the last irritants to U.S. power projection in the resource-rich Middle East.
Of course, Iran already finds itself under siege from a lethal trifecta comprised of U.S.-led cyber attacks, Israeli-led assassinations, and oppressive Western economic sanctions. The latter of which has left ordinary Iranians to confront a toxic mix of ballooning inflation and rampant unemployment. In short, as Conn Hallinan writes at CounterPunch, the West is “already at war with Iran.”
The question, then, is just how far this “war by other means” shall ultimately escalate?
Towards a Dangerous Escalation
Although punitive economic sanctions are frequently sold as an alternative to war, history is replete with evidence to the contrary. In the end, sanctions are often but a prelude to military hostilities. (One only needs to cross over to Iraq and look at the history of Western sanctions and eventual U.S. invasion.) 
In fact, a recent report in the New York Times warned of much the same. The current round of Western economic penalties imposed on Iran, the paper wrote, “represent one of the boldest uses of oil sanctions as a tool of coercion since the United States cut off oil exports to Japan in 1940. That experiment did not end well: The Japanese decided to strike before they were weakened.”
But much like the attempted torpedoing of Japan’s economy prior to the Second World War, the current attempt to bring Iran to its knees via economic sanctions may very well be designed to draw an attack from Iran–thus creating a justification for a full-fledged U.S. military campaign to impose “regime change.” 
And much the same as in the 1940s, a global crisis of capitalism greases our current path to war. After all, war enables the forcible opening of new markets, along with bounties galore to be wrought via “creative destruction”; both of which are desperately needed for the sustenance of an imperiled economic system predicated on limitless growth and expansion. Indeed, this enduring allure of war has already reared its ugly head amidst the current crisis.
The colonial smash-and-grab that was the 2011 N.A.T.O. intervention into Libya, as Alexander Cockburn has deemed it, was our first evidence that Western elites have settled on war as a means to resolve the current intractable capitalist crisis. But the spoils from Libya have proven to be insufficient to revive growth stymied since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. 
A heavily sanctioned Iran, on the other hand, boasts a G.D.P. over five times larger than pre-“liberated” Libya, while also sitting atop the world’s third largest oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserves. A defeated and placated Iran able to be enveloped more fully into the U.S.-dominated capitalist system thus holds great potential for global capitalism’s needed regeneration. Of course, in seizing control over Iran’s energy resources, the U.S. and its allies would also come to possess a monopoly over the Middle East’s energy resources–a strategic key in any future conflict with rivals Russia and China.
And so it is that under the imperative of renewing global capitalism that the U.S. swiftly amasses its military hardware to the Persian Gulf under to cloak of combating nuclear proliferation. The accompanying talk of military hostilities and of using “all options” against Tehran by elites in Washington thus ought not to be taken as idle threats. 
Clearly, we stand at the very precipice of outright war.
Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer based in Oregon. He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com or via his website.
Ben Schreiner is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Ben Schreiner

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