The Irish Times view on tensions in the Persian Gulf: the risk of miscalculation

The confrontation over oil tankers is, in truth, a sideshow in the wider conflict between Tehran and Washington

A SH-60 Sea Hawk flies over the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during a vertical replenishment-at-sea, Arabian Sea off Oman, last week. Photograph: Keypher Strombeck/US Navy/Handout via Reuters

A SH-60 Sea Hawk flies over the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during a vertical replenishment-at-sea, Arabian Sea off Oman, last week. Photograph: Keypher Strombeck/US Navy/Handout via Reuters

 

Iran and the west are sliding towards a full-scale military confrontation in the Persian Gulf, one captured oil tanker at a time. That would be a calamity for Iran, which is being suffocated by US-imposed economic sanctions. It would also be a disaster for the European Union’s attempt to keep alive the Iranian nuclear accord which the US repudiated in May last year.

The epicentre of the most recent provocations is the Strait of Hormuz, the narrowest point of the Gulf, through which a third of the world’s oil supplies are shipped. Late last week the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged tanker navigating the Strait, in retaliation for the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar earlier this month. London claimed that vessel was bound for Syria, in violation of western sanctions.

These incidents coincide with an escalation in the stand-off between Iran and the US, with each side claiming to have shot down a hostile drone flying over the Gulf in recent days. That tit-for-tat exchange of fire followed the decision of President Donald Trump last month to cancel military strikes against Iran just 10 minutes before they were due to be launched.

The confrontation over oil tankers is, in truth, a sideshow in the wider conflict between Tehran and Washington. This conflict has raged for 40 years, since the Islamic revolution, the overthrow of the Shah, and the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran. The nuclear accord agreed during the Obama administration suggested a new beginning for Iran’s relations with the west.

Trump’s unilateral repudiation of that agreement was an act of diplomatic vandalism and a strategic miscalculation. It brought an end to Iran’s rapprochement with the west, such as it was, and stoked Iranian suspicions about America’s intentions, in alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia, towards the Islamic Republic. Now it may have ushered in the opening salvos in a fresh confrontation that, if it is not checked, could ignite a full-scale military conflict. Both sides must pull back before one of them makes another catastrophic miscalculation.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.