Iran: 'Terrorist U.S. To Blame For Any Clashes That Now Take Place In The Gulf'
By Zak Doffman
“[Iranian and U.S.] forces, which have been reciprocally designated as terrorist groups, may engage in clashes in the Persian Gulf or any other region, [and] there is no doubt that the U.S. will be held accountable for such a situation.” So came the warning from Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs, speaking on Tuesday at an event in Turkey.
Also on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed into law the bill designating all U.S. forces operating in the Middle East as terrorists and the U.S. government itself as a sponsor of terrorism. Under the new law, “CENTCOM as well as forces, organizations and bodies under its command, are declared terrorist and providing any assistance — including military, intelligence, financial, technical, educational, administrative and logistical — to these forces in order to counter the IRGC and the Islamic Republic of Iran amounts to collaboration in an act of terror.”
It is unclear what this new law will mean in practice and how it will change Iran’s behavior in the region, but as the U.S. builds up pressure on Iran, both through the designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and through the end to oil sanctions waivers, the rhetoric coming out of Teheran has predictably escalated.
On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad claimed that U.S. Middle East allies are intent on driving currently escalating tensions with Iran all the way to conflict. Casting allegations against Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as National Security Adviser John Bolton, Javad Zarif said “they have all shown an interest in dragging the United States into a conflict.” Asked if this means regime change, Zarif said, “at least.”
The same day, an Iranian news agency published drone footage that it claimed showed “U.S. warships being closely monitored in the Persian Gulf waters, south of Iran.” A U.S. Naval Forces Central Command spokesperson responded that the warship in question had not been in the Persian Gulf since 2016, but the point had been made.
On Tuesday, Zarif then tweeted that “today the world’s catching on to John Bolton’s chronic warmongering. But Iranians didn’t need to read a 10,000 word New Yorker profile to be convinced: we’ve seen him shill for a cult terror group, and—along with his B-Team accomplices —target Iranians with Economic Terrorism.”
With the U.S. ending of oil sanctions waivers due to hit from this month, the posturing from Iran will intensify. Iran’s exports have almost halved in the last year and domestic conditions will now get harder.
On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claims that “America’s decision that Iran’s oil exports must reach zero is a wrong and mistaken decision, and we won’t let this decision be executed and operational… the Americans themselves will see that we will continue our oil exports,” can be seen as largely bluster. The economic sanctions are biting hard, and this is fuelling military and political rhetoric.
According to Iran’s Press TV, the Chairman of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces said the same day that “as oil and commodities of other countries are passing through the Strait of Hormuz, ours are also moving through it. Iran will definitely confront anyone who attempts to destabilize the Strait of Hormuz, and if our crude is not to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, others’ will not pass either.”
If this isn’t escalation enough, General Mohammad Baqeri has said that Iran and Russia will stage joint naval exercises in the Gulf later this year. And the country has appointed a new hardline commander of the IGCC. Hossein Salami has publicly threatened the U.S. and its allies with the dire consequences of any conflict for them in the region, especially Israel. ”We warn Israel against committing a mistake,” he said in February. “If it fails to heed the message, it will definitely be wiped off the page of life.”
As ever in the Middle East, the combination of religious dividing lines and vying military alliances make for a heady mix. History tells us that whatever politicians (in Washington, Teheran, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh or Jerusalem) think is the plan, it is unlikely to play out that way. The region is the world’s epicenter of unintended consequences and spiraling tensions.
“I believe President Trump’s intention to put a policy of maximum pressure on Iran in order to bring Iran to its knees is doomed to failure,” Foreign Minister Zarif said on Sunday.
The actual risk is that the whole situation is doomed to result in military skirmishes that will gradually escalate towards a scale of conflict that nobody with a healthy view of geopolitics and reality should want to see.