Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Washington holds Iran responsible. Iran denies the charge. While some observers draw attention to the possible role of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in the attacks, others draw attention to Washington hawks’ desire to build a case for more pressure or action against Tehran. Iran has announced that on June 27 it will exceed a limit on enriched uranium set by the JCPOA. Washington is sending more troops to the Middle East.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation to establish the facts and who was responsible for attacks on the two oil tankers.
Speaking to the BBC, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt reiterated that the UK’s own intelligence assessment has concluded the Iranian regime was “almost certainly” behind the attacks on 13 June. Nonetheless, he added, there was a “great risk” of war over the incident and the UK was urging all sides to de-escalate the situation.
Washington’s other European allies are more cautious about the evidence and also call for restraint. “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
The attacks on tankers may undermine global economy and convincing evidence is needed in order to avoid unfounded accusations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated. Saying that nobody wants war in the Gulf of Oman, China’s Foreign Ministry called on all sides to exercise restraint and urged dialogue.
“In the event it acts upon its threats and violates the nuclear deal, the international community must immediately impose the sanctions that were set previously. Israel will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” said PM Netanyahu. In other words, JCPOA’s most vociferous critic is calling on Tehran to respect its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Israel’s principal regional ally in the anti-Iran bloc Saudi Arabia called for a “swift and decisive” response to the attacks. The call was no doubt addressed to Washington. The word “decisive” must have reminded some of “Operation Decisive Storm” launched by Riyadh and its Gulf allies against the Houthis. That was four years ago.
The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that diplomatic sources at the UN headquarters in New York revealed to Maariv that they are assessing the United States’ plans to carry out a tactical assault on Iran in response to the tanker attacks. The military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program, the officials further claimed.
In brief, there is increased risk of yet another disastrous military confrontation in the conflict-ridden Middle East and the world is watching with growing concern.
It seems that many countries are still haunted by memories of the “evidence” Washington and London offered on “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program” before the launching of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. That invasion, many agree, served neither Washington’s claim to global leadership nor the cause of multilateralism.
President Obama tried to repair the damage. On May 28, 2014 in his commencement address at West Point he said: “Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong…”
And, in his final address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2016, after saying that the US has been a force for good, he continued:
“I’m proud of that. But I also know that we can’t do this alone. And I believe that if we’re to meet the challenges of this century, we are all going to have to do more to build up international capacity. We cannot escape the prospect of nuclear war unless we all commit to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and pursuing a world without them…
“We are all stakeholders in this international system, and it calls upon all of us to invest in the success of institutions to which we belong…”
A major source of criticism directed at President Obama’s multilateralist approach was his failure to enforce the red line on Syria. It has been said that, despite the agreement on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, refraining from military action led to questions of credibility for Washington. However, those critics hardly specified what kind of military action was needed and what it could have achieved. And, their criticism reflected a rather sad perception of the Middle East implying that use of force remains the only credible language to address the problems of the region.
Unfortunately, the Trump White House remains determined to upend the achievements of its predecessor. Promoting multilateralism and the Iran nuclear deal are no exceptions. However, President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA has inevitably led to questions regarding Washington’s commitment to its treaty obligations and that too is worrisome.
In early April this year, Germany and France announced the creation of an “Alliance of Multilateralism” to promote global cooperation at a time of rising nationalism and isolationism. The initiative will officially be launched in September at the UN General Assembly, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said at a joint press conference.
Last week, Foreign Minister Maas travelled to Norway for talks with Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide who presented a white paper on Norway’s role and interests in multilateral cooperation.
The initiative would hopefully lead to greater awareness about the merits of multilateralism, but this will take time.
The world has seen enough military operations the results of which have not matched with their ambitious titles. This could be the time to try something different with a different title, perhaps “Operation Enduring Diplomacy”. After all, to launch such an operation, those involved in a conflict would not have to deploy troops, deploy aircraft, bomb military targets, cause collateral damage and civilian casualties. All they would have to do would be to sit around a table, preferably without preconditions, and stay there to allow for some progress. And, even modest progress thus achieved would be less costly than endless exchange of accusations, uncertainty and increased risk of military confrontation. This was the path the P5+1, including the US, took to conclude the JCPOA and the world rejoiced.
Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog.