Iran’s Actions Under Renewed Scrutiny

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz have placed Iran under renewed scrutiny. Merely one month after four vessels travelling through the Strait were sabotaged, last week’s incident risks bringing the region closer to armed conflict. Iran has once again denied any responsibility, even though the U.S. and some U.S. allies have singled out the Islamic Republic’s regime as the culprit. However, the region’s leaders continue to emphasize the need for dialogue and restraint between Iran and the United States, fearing that an armed conflict could economically and politically destabilize the region.


According to a Press TV report, Iran’s Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff has been quick to push back against these accusations, arguing that “‘if the Islamic Republic decided to stop oil flow from the Persian Gulf, it will do it publicly and there will be nothing covert about it.’ Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri made the remarks during a military ceremony in Tehran on Monday, in reaction to charges leveled against Iran by the United States and some of its allies, accusing Tehran of being behind recent attacks on two tanker ships in the Sea of Oman and a previous attack on several commercial vessels off the coast of the Emirati port city of Fujairah.”

Few, if any, are convinced by Iran’s denials. However, it is clear that, at least for the time being, there is little push for military conflict. Instead, the focus has been on creating conditions for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. That is the position taken by Arab News correspondent Mohammed Al-Sulami who argues that “countering terrorism and rogue states, as well as their proxies, is a collective responsibility, with the dire consequences of an inactive position toward them being borne by the entire world. Even if countries are outside the region, their interests will be harmed, with the smallest damage resulting in a rise in energy prices and threats to international navigation. More seriously, these threats will be extremely detrimental to the global economy. This is a shared responsibility. But will anyone pay attention to these alarm bells before it is too late?”

That sentiment was echoed by a recent Gulf News editorial calling for caution and restraint going forward: “It is clear that the potential of an escalation is getting closer, but it is also clear that all the major players, including Iran, do not want war. But because of skyrocketing tensions, it is incumbent that all parties exercise caution and restraint going forward. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has said that while Riyadh wants peace, the kingdom will not take such attacks sitting down. The ball is in Iran’s court to decide whether or not it will start acting like a responsible neighbor and stop undermining Gulf interests and international security.”

Some editorials appear to take a page from the statements of various government leaders. For example, the UAE daily The National cites the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, who in a recent diplomatic visit “called for the region to come together to find a solution to this ongoing crisis. Since the beginning, the UAE has called for de-escalation. Speaking during a visit to Bulgaria, Sheikh Abdullah even opened a door to diplomatic talks, stating that he remained hopeful of ‘attaining a broader framework for co-operation with Iran…. By tightening sanctions against Tehran, the U.S. has starved the regime and its proxies of vital funds. However, if we are to find a viable solution to this problem, regional players must be involved.’ Sheikh Abdullah has given the world new hope that it may not be too late for a diplomatic resolution.”

In an interview with Asharq Alawsat’s Ghassal Charbel, later published by the Khaleej Times, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reiterated his country’s preference for a diplomatic solution, while cautioning the Iranian regime against further provocations: “Saudi Arabia’s stance is clear. It does not want a war in the region, but we will not hesitate in dealing with any threat against our people, sovereignty, and vital interests…. Recent developments in the region, including the targeting of Aramco oil pumping stations by the Iran-backed Houthi militias, underscores the importance of our demand for the international community to take a decisive stance against an expansionist regime that has supported terrorism and spread death and destruction over the past decades not only in the region, but the whole world. The choice is clear before Iran. Does it want to be a normal country that plays a constructive role in the international community or does it want to be a rogue state? We hope that the Iranian regime opts to become a normal country.”

Others have been more vocal in demanding severe consequences for Iran. In a recent editorial, the Jordan Times expressed fears that the United States’ decision not to engage in military confrontation may have emboldened Iran, hence the need for a more forceful response:
“Tehran may have calculated that Washington is not willing or ready for a major armed conflict with a determined adversary such as Iran so close to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Whoever is behind the attacks on oil shipping across the Strait of Hormuz is playing with fire, as much of the oil from the oil-rich region goes through the Strait to the four corners of the world. This means that the UN Security Council must be seized with the spiraling tension in the area as a matter of top urgency…. Yet, a UN intervention must go beyond censorship, condemnation or even investigation. Some kind of UN military presence in the region is now urgently needed before the growing tension spills over and engulfs the entire region.”

Similarly, Seth Frantzman of the Jerusalem Post points out that Iran has become bolder following last month’s acts of sabotage, and argues in favor of a more robust US response:  “This incident, if it is shown to have been caused by torpedoes or Iran, will require a U.S. response. The sabotage in May, which came after the US had warned Iran that it would respond to threats, was papered over because the U.S. administration does not actually want a major conflict with Iran. The Trump administration’s policy is to threaten and sanction; it doesn’t want war. But now within the administration there will have to be discussions about how to respond, once a determination is made…. Oil tankers are rarely sabotaged and even more rarely do they suffer explosions. Now in the space of one month, six ships have been damaged. As we learn more about the extent, a major emergency in the Gulf could develop.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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