Anti-Iran Coalition in the Persian Gulf Is Running out of Steam

This summer’s tanker incidents in the Persian Gulf have caused a serious deterioration of the situation in this region. The United States and its Western allies instantly blamed Iran without any grounds. The US Central Command announced the formation of an international coalition on ensuring safety at sea that was markedly aimed against Iran. The military foundation was formed by US warships deployed in the Persian Gulf, a British marine brigade and Australian frigates. Israel, Bahrein, the UAE and Saudi Arabia declared their support for the initiative. However, neither the Americans nor the other members of the coalition made any moves to curb Iran. They limited themselves to verbal accusations and threats aimed at Tehran.

After a pause, the situation was exasperated by missile and drone attacks on major Saudi oil facilities on September 14 that nearly caused a serious oil crisis. Per tradition, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the attack on Iran. US President Donald Trump was more cautious. He said the Saudis must find out who launched the missiles and drones and from where. Only after this will it be possible to decide on response measures. He implied that the Saudis themselves should take any response measures. Trump did not say a word about the need to step up the activities of the anti-Iran coalition.

Not wishing to further exacerbate relations with Iran, the Saudi authorities announced that the attacks were carried out with the use of Iranian missiles and drones from a “northern direction.” They did not directly accuse Tehran of these attacks. The Iranians dismissed these accusations as ungrounded. Since the Yemeni Houthis took the blame for the attacks, Tehran supported their right to respond to the “Saudi aggression”.

One gets the impression that at present the US president does not want to exacerbate relations with Iran and provoke Tehran into an armed conflict, which is fraught with US involvement in a new regional war. After all, in his election campaign Trump promised to put an end to US wars abroad. On the eve of his second term presidential campaign he is not planning on an armed conflict with Iran, which could ruin his reelection. 

However, the US establishment believes that he cannot avoid responding to Tehran’s “new provocations and aggression.” Therefore, Washington announced new sanctions against the Central Bank and other financial institutions in Iran.

Judging by all this, ruling US circles still believe that the continuation of “maximum pressure” on Iran, reinforcement of sanctions and Iran’s international isolation will eventually compel it to make unilateral concessions and compromises both in the nuclear development field and on other US concerns. In this case it won’t be necessary to resort to punitive military measures and use the anti-Iran coalition of Iran’s Arab neighbors which are obviously reluctant to get into a fight against Iran. 

Trump continues to show a misleading peaceful disposition and has announced his intention to come to an understanding with Iran, sit at the negotiating table without pre-conditions and agree on a de-escalation of tensions in bilateral relations and normalization in the region. However, the bad cop, Pompeo, instantly demanded that Tehran must return to the JCPOA, curtail its missile program and suspend its excessive regional activities. 

As for Iran, it is obviously not going to succumb to US pressure and make unilateral concessions despite Washington’s increasing clampdown. Lack of US response by force to Iran’s destruction of an expensive US drone and Trump’s soft reaction to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities make Tehran even more confident. Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said unequivocally that all US facilities in the region, up to 2,000 km away, are in the crosshairs of Iranian missiles. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was put under US sanctions, told US journalists on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York that US aggression against Iran would trigger a total war in the region that would strongly backfire on the United States as well. 

Iran’s leaders obviously believe that Trump’s prudence and pacifism are prompted by the US domestic political situation and the understanding that the Gulf countries are not ready to get involved in an armed clash with Iran without direct US support for fear of a crushing retaliation. 

At the same time, Tehran understands well that the escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf may eventually provoke an armed conflict that is likely to cause much more damage to Iran than to its rivals. To prevent the development of the military scenario in which neighboring countries are not interested and being unable to form an effective anti-US coalition, Tehran has decided to use diplomacy for political settling the differences with its Arab neighbors directly, without US mediation. 

In his speech at the 74th UN General Assembly session, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came up with a Hormuz peace initiative in which he described the principles of regional cooperation on ensuring energy security, free navigation and energy exports from the Gulf. He emphasized that this initiative was based on universally recognized principles of international law and must be carried out under UN aegis. He said that withdrawal of all US bases and armed forces and prevention of foreign interference in the affairs of the region were main and vital conditions for the success of the initiative. It will soon be obvious whether Tehran’s political initiative on forming a collective security mechanism, as opposed to the US anti-Iran coalition, will work or not. In any event, now the ball is in the court of Iran’s opponents.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.