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STATUS: IT’S COMPLICATED
It’s difficult to pinpoint where, exactly, the recent tensions with Iran started, given that the relationship between the U.S. and Iran hasn’t been peachy since the 1980s.
Though if we had to choose one date in recent history where things took a turn for the worst (and full disclosure: we’re no historians), Nov. 5, 2018, looks like a good one, since that’s the day President Trump officially re-imposed all sanctions against Iran. (They had been lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.)
The relationship between the U.K. and Iran has likewise been sour since former British Prime Minister Theresa May was elected in 2016, and she accused Iran of aggression in the Middle East.
The global dinner table has only gotten more and more awkward since then, with Iran leading a cyberattack against British parliament in 2017 that lasted 12 hours and compromised the email accounts of more than 90 MPs, and the U.S. designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps an official terrorist organization in April 2019.
Sh*t really hit the fan this past June when the U.S. (arguably) stirred the pot by leading two cyberattacks against the country, shooting down an Iranian military drone which may or may not have been in international airspace (history is written by the victors, after all), and imposing additional sanctions against Iran after Iran shot down a U.S.-owned drone.
Tit for tat, and all that.
A GULF DIVIDE
We’ve all heard the story of two ships passing in the night, but this tale lacks the romance.
The world has been holding its breath as antics escalate in the murky waters between the U.S., U.K., and Iran.The main points of contention seem to lie between the U.S. and Iran, with the U.K. caught in the middle.
Hostilities between the U.S. and Iran escalated in May, when it’s believed that four American oil tankers were hit by blasts in the Gulf of Oman; naturally, the U.S. accused Iran of planting mines, which Iran denied, but two more tankers have been attacked since then, leaving both the American Navy and the British Navy on guard.
President Trump has long wanted Iran to negotiate with the U.S. on a number of issues, so why all this beef?
• Nuclear Bond(age)
Remember the halcyon days of the Obama administration? Things seemed a bit more peaceful back then, didn’t they?
There are good reasons for that, and one of those was the nuclear agreement that the U.S. reached with Iran in 2015 whereby Iran agreed to limit their nuclear activities — much to international relief.
Until that point, Iran’s (supposedly peaceful) nuclear program had been a global concern. (Nuclear war isn’t fun.) Obama’s 2015 deal assuaged those concerns.
All good things must come to an end (or so they say). Last year, Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal over perceived flaws (fake news or otherwise) and has held Iran in a chokehold ever since.
Iran was, understandably, a little peeved (to say the least) by the sudden change of plans, especially since the real issue behind the 2015 deal seems to be less about flaws in the fineprint and more about who actually signed on the dotted line in the U.S.’s name.
Nobody likes a spoilsport.
And so yes, while Trump has repeatedly urged Iran to go into talks with him over a new nuclear deal, both sides are sending a lot of mixed signals.
In typical Trump fashion, the U.S. has aimed a media campaign at the Iranian public in an attempt to bully them onto America’s side. Iran’s machismo show of guns and ammunition, meanwhile, is its own method of negotiating in plain sight that relies (perhaps too heavily 😬) on the assumption that Trump would rather not go head-to-head when push finally comes to shove.
We certainly hope Iran’s instincts are right.
• Oil & Water
We don’t suppose any of you will be shocked to learn that oil access in the Persian Gulf also sits at the heart of the issues between Iran and the U.S.
Iran basically sits on an oil goldmine; if the government decides at any point that it’s had it with Trump’s games, it could very well block off access to roughly one-fifth of the world’s oil and a quarter of its natural gas. This is an unlikely — but not impossible — outcome of the current crisis.
That said, the tensions have already pushed up gas prices in affected regions (namely the U.S. and Britain), but it hasn’t been anything too crazy…yet.
And it’s not just gas that’s being impacted.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration has issued a new warning to commercial shipping about Iranian threats in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, saying that some ships reportedly have had their GPS interfered with.
MONEY IN THE MIDDLE
We’re all for sticking up for your friends, but the U.K. has no one to blame but itself for the sticky situation it’s in.
Things had quieted down (for the most part) between the U.K. and Iran after the 2017 cyberattack — until early July 2019, when the U.K. helped detain an Iranian tanker carrying oil to Syria. The seizure followed closely on the heels of calls for the U.K. to pick a side in the U.S.-Iran skirmish, making it clear where Britain’s allegiance lies.
But that doesn’t mean all British politicians agree on the move. Richard Burgon of the Labour Party has explicitly warned against the U.K. becoming President Trump’s “sidekick” in a potential Iranian conflict that “could be worse than the Iraq War.” Journalists have also argued that Iran may not have been entirely wrong in calling Britain’s seizure of their tanker in early July an act of “piracy.”
Let’s also not forget that Britain’s new PM, Boris Johnson, has only just taken office. Seems a bit silly to involve the U.K. in a round of fisticuffs when its hands are tied behind its back.
On that note, however, Johnson has the potential of taking this global disagreement one of two ways — he could use his friendship with Trump to encourage the U.S. to de-escalate the tensions in the Gulf, or he could send Britain off to war. (We’d prefer the former.)
And while the U.K. has called on Europe and the Royal Navy to escort and protect British ships through the Gulf, Iran is less than enthused about the potential of an international naval coalition in their waters, meaning that either possibility is totally plausible.
Like the U.K., Israel is also monkeying in the middle. Iran recently warned the country against aiding the U.S. in a maritime mission in the Gulf, claiming it reserved the right to confront such a “clear threat.”
Either way, a tête-à-tête is needed — and quickly — before anyone finds themselves drowning in the deep.