How tensions between US and Iran have raised the stakes in Persian Gulf

Iranian and US flags side by side
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Tensions between the United States and Iran have soared in recent weeks, with Washington dispatching warships and bombers around the Persian Gulf, and Tehran threatening to resume higher uranium enrichment. The Canary has regularly reported on the escalation in tensions since Donald Trump became president.

The tensions come a year after Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers and restored crippling sanctions.

Here is a timeline of recent events:

– May 5

John Bolton, the White House national security adviser and a longtime Iran hawk, announces the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”, without providing details.

He threatens “unrelenting force” in response to any attack.

Read on...

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– May 8

Iran vows to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels starting July 7 if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal.

The US responds by imposing sanctions on Iran’s metals industry.

– May 9

The European Union urges Iran to respect the nuclear deal and says it plans to continue trading with the country despite US sanctions.

Trump says he would like Iran’s leaders to “call me”.

– May 10

The US says it will move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East to counter ‘threats’ from Iran.

– May 12

The United Arab Emirates says four commercial ships off its eastern coast “were subjected to sabotage operations”, just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets air false reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port.

– May 13

European foreign ministers urge the United States and Iran to show restraint, while US secretary of state Mike Pompeo briefs his counterparts on the alleged threats from Iran.

Trump warns that if Tehran does “anything” in the form of an attack “they will suffer greatly.”

– May 14

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels launch a drone attack on Saudi Arabia, striking a major oil pipeline and taking it out of service.

The New York Times reports the White House is reviewing military plans that could result in sending 120,000 US troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces or steps up work on nuclear weapons. Mr Trump says it’s “fake news”, but that he would “absolutely” be willing to send troops if necessary.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says “no one is seeking war,” but that it wouldn’t be difficult for Iran to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.

A senior military officer in the US-backed coalition fighting Daesh (Isis/Isil) says “there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria”. In a rare public rebuttal, US Central Command says his remarks “run counter to the identified credible threats”.

– May 15

The US Embassy in Baghdad orders all non-essential government staff to leave Iraq immediately.

The Netherlands and Germany say they are suspending their training of Iraqi forces.

– May 16

Saudi Arabia blames Iran for the drone attack on its pipeline and an English-language newspaper close to the palace calls for the US to launch “surgical” strikes in retaliation.

Trump says he hopes the US is not on a path to war with Iran amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for a conflict with the Islamic Republic. Asked if the US was going to war with Iran, the president replied, “I hope not” — a day after he tweeting “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

– May 19

A rocket lands near the US Embassy in Baghdad, without harming anyone.

It is not clear who is behind the attack, but after the initial reports, Trump tweets: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Iran’s foreign minister responded by tweeting that Trump had been “goaded” into “genocidal taunts.”

– May 20

Semi-official media in Iran report that it has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium, which is used for civilian applications but not nuclear weapons.

Iran is allowed to enrich uranium to the low level of 3.67%, but increased production could lead it to exceed the stockpile limits in the nuclear deal.

– May 24

Trump says the US will bolster its military presence in the Middle East with an additional 1,500 troops. He says the troops will have a “mostly protective” role.

– May 31 and June 1

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman hosts three high-level summits in Mecca, drawing heads of state from across the Middle East and Muslim countries to present a unified Muslim and Arab position on Iran. He calls on the international community to use all means to confront Iran.

The Saudi-led war on Yemen, which the UN has called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, continues unabated. Since 2015, it has killed over 60,000 people. In 2018, eight million people were on “the brink of famine”. The UN warned this may rise to over 12 million.

– June 4

The Canary quotes Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) as saying

For decades now, successive US governments have talked about freedom and democracy while arming and supporting human rights abusing regimes around the world. US and UK arms sales have fueled and enabled the devastating war in Yemen, which has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world… The US has a long history of appalling interventionism and wars. These conflicts have done terrible damage and killed thousands of people. What is needed is caution, deescalation and diplomacy, not threats of military strength from the world’s only superpower.

– June 12

Saudi Arabia says 26 people were wounded in an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting an airport in kingdom’s southwestern town of Abha.

– June 13

Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked in an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as 44 sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the US Navy rushed to assist.

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  • Show Comments
    1. It’s pretty bloody obvious who’s behind this: John Bolton himself, presumably via a third party that actually carries out the attacks and cannot be traced back to Bolton. Bolton is trying to create a casus belli and ramp up the tension so that the US can launch an all-out invasion of Iran.

      1. The ratcheting up of tensions with Iran of late appears to have been one all way.

        While it is possible Iran is guilty as charged, for anyone in the US or British governments to say the evidence is incontrovertible that Iran attacked these tankers is laughable. This incontrovertible argument was used to justify a war with Iraq which was subsequently found to be completely unjustified and controvertible. We should be very suspicious of a move to war when longtime proponents of this, in the shape of Bolton and Pompeo are concerned.

        Lessons are meant to be learned from previous mistakes. Here it might well not be an honest mistake though but a deliberate attempt to frame Iran for the act of a third party.

        That two tankers suffered damage is beyond doubt but who actually caused the damage and how it was caused is still debatable. There are so many actors in this game with Israel the most keen to suppress Iran in the region. It is possible they have been behind the explosions. They are militarily capable and are working hand in glove with the Trump regime. Gifting Jerusalem to Israel and the recent naming of a settlement to Trump is evidence of something reciprocal.

        Saudi Arabia is already complicit with the US in attacking and maintaining its war with Yemen despite international condemnation. They too are quite capable of initiating this type of attack and/or facilitation of false flag operations by third parties and making it look like anyone they want. They have shown that they value relations with Trump and appear to have no qualms doing the bidding of the US that is giving them a free pass in the region. It is also possible US special forces did this on their own.

        Now if I was going to attach limpet mines to tankers I’d put them below the water line where they would allow water ingress not high on a hull where they could be seen and tackled ahead of any explosion. Were there no casualties? Not even one? This looks like an attempt to cause damage that would look good for visual media but actually have little import to the vessels themselves. That even the crew say the damage was done by a flying object is concerning. If even the delivery method of this explosive is disputed by those on the water how is it the US administration is so confident of the perpetrators?

        Video evidence of a supposed Iranian vessel removing mines after the event (?) or more laughably placing mines is just not credible. Was there a date stamp on this video and who for goodness sake was taking it? Was this boat causing a problem or resolving one? Who were the personnel on the boat? If this really was an Iranian vessel where is it now and how was the identification made that it was Iranian?

        The subsequent attempt by Pompeo to tie in all manner of other attacks in different locations in the middle east to Iranian actors sounds like a sordid grubbing around to justify an impending violent intervention with a sovereign country. Make no bones about it any military intervention will cost many thousands of lives and billions of pounds, dollars or any other local currency.

        Who are the ultimate beneficiaries of any such proposed action? Now go look where they were on the night of the offence.

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