Advisors to US President Donald Trump are routinely frustrated by the President’s seemingly limitless ability to play down rising tensions with Iran. Despite mock imperialist media outrage over alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers, and the shooting down of a US drone in mid-June, President Trump has yet to light the fuse on what would be a cataclysmic intervention in the Middle East.
Oil and the Strait of Hormuz
In early May close to Fujairah, a major tanker refuelling hub on the Straits of Hormuz, four commercial vessels were sabotaged by persons unknown. The imperialist media immediately put the blame on Iran, which denied any involvement.
The strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important waterway for global trade in crude oil. Tankers hauling about 17.5 million barrels pass through it daily, according to Bloomberg tanker tracking from 2018. That’s equal to about 40% of all the crude traded internationally. All oil exports from Kuwait, Iran, Qatar and Bahrain, more than 90% of those from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and 75% of shipments from the UAE pass through this narrow, shallow and hemmed in waterway… (see Grant Smith, Julian Lee and Javier Blas, ‘Why tanker attacks raise fears over Strait of Hormuz’, Bloomberg, 14 June 2019).
Very few neighbouring oil producers can cope without access to the Strait: Saudi Arabia can bypass it in part owing to an east-west 746-mile twin mega-pipeline capable of carrying about 5 million barrels a day from the oilfields in the Persian Gulf to an export terminal located in the Red Sea. Despite being able to carry this huge amount of oil, the pipeline can’t accommodate all Saudi exports, which usually run at about 7 million barrels of crude a day and another 1.5 million barrels of refined products. Iraq exports some oil by pipeline into Turkey and the Mediterranean, but the bulk of the country’s exports go into the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. The same applies to Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. The UAE can partly bypass the Strait through a strategic 1.5 million barrels a day pipeline from its oilfields into the port of Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman (ibid.).
Barely a month after the attacks near Fujairah, two further ships were attacked on 13 June, one Norwegian and one Japanese. Again, despite evidence to the contrary, including from the Japanese crew, the US was quick to blame Iran, which denied involvement.
Yutaka Katada, the president of the Japanese company operating the Kokuka Courageous tanker, spoke to the press after discussing the incident with his crew:
“‘I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship. A mine doesn’t damage a ship above sea level. We aren’t sure exactly what hit, but it was something flying towards the ship’, Katada said “(‘Oil tanker operator destroys US version blaming Iran for attack’, Sputnik News, 14 June 2019).
Proletarian in an article published on its website commented that “These incidents have happened in the context of US imperialist sanctions and military threats against Iran that have led the middle-eastern country to warn its adversaries that it is in a position to hamper shipping in the Straits of Hormuz if they don’t back off.
“Iran is well positioned to disrupt crude exports in this vital shipping lane, through which a fifth of the world’s consumption of crude oil passes. The sabotage, however, has all the hallmarks of a false-flag operation and could conceivably be explained by the fact that President Trump appears to be at loggerheads with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton as regards US policy towards Iran.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was asked whether the situation around Iran had dramatically worsened after the Gulf of Oman events, and whether the Russian intelligence agencies had any evidence to corroborate US allegations. Lavrov replied,
“We have no such intelligence. What we can see is this murky ‘evidence’ supplied by the United States – a videotape, some photos that raise serious questions even from their closest allies.
“We are in favour of a thorough investigation of all these incidents. By the way, the Islamic Republic of Iran wanted this in the first place.
“As for how the situation may develop, yes, indeed the developments are alarming. I would not like to make any rash negative or disastrous predictions. We must demand that all parties show restraint and refrain from any harsh actions, especially following the same ‘highly likely’ logic that the West used in many other cases. These ‘very likely’ and ‘highly likely’ approaches are hardly relevant when it comes to dealing with things that are way too serious. Only an investigation and an agreement to normalise the situation are relevant here. The key to normalising what is happening is fostering a dialogue between all the Gulf states. I mean both the Arab monarchies and the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the support of their neighbours, the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the five permanent members of the UN, and the European Union.
“We have long been proposing to begin coordinating this kind of confidence building process and building a security system. Those who rely on inciting tension between Arabs and Persians, Arabs and Kurds, and inside the Arab world – between the Sunnis and the Shiites, are not guided by the interests of the peoples of the region, but by their own narrow geopolitical motives.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee
On Wednesday 19 June, Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, spoke at a subcommittee meeting at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington. At this meeting Mr Hook made a series of spurious allegations against Iran, including allegations that Iran attempts to set up parallel state structures inside various neighbouring countries, with a view to undermining and subverting the governments of those nations. These accusations were all made without any sense of irony (see Laurie Mylrole, ‘US envoy: Iran creates parallel institutions in other countries to expand its influence’, Kurdistan 24, 20 June 2019).
“Our intelligence confirms that Iranian vessels operating in and around the Strait of Hormuz on June 12 and 13, approached both the ‘Front Altair’ and the ‘Kokuka Courageous’ before each vessel suffered explosions. We assess this activity is consistent with an Iranian operation to attach limpet mines to the vessels. I could also say that a senior IRGC official confirmed that lRGC personnel had completed two actions. So we’re going to keep doing what we can to declassify intelligence without compromising sources and methods. But those who have been able to see the intelligence come away without any question that Iran is behind these attacks” (Brian Hook, quoted by Omri Nahmias in ‘US Secretary of State Pompeo, Trump does not want war with Iran’, Jerusalem Post, 20 June 2019).”
Once again, classified, secret intelligence that nobody can see leaves those who are allowed to see it (Hook, Pompeo, Bolton etc.) in no doubt about its authenticity.
But Hook and his arguments were not taken at face value in quite the same way as they might have been had Hook been working for Bush Jnr twenty years ago, or even for Barack Obama in his two terms. In his contribution to the meeting, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (Democratic Party-New York), warned that miscalculation could lead to war.
“Iran’s recent attacks on tankers in the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman are setting the region on a course to war,” he said. “We obviously need to deescalate the situation before the worst happens. However, the administration’s most recent steps seem to be pushing us more toward confrontation then negotiation.
“…coming up with a phony emergency to circumvent Congress and admit these missiles to Saudi Arabia, putting more boots on the ground for supposedly defensive reasons, all framed by increasingly belligerent rhetoric – it does bother me because we should be trying to prevent confrontation…
“I see a growing risk of miscalculation… I see more, in more and more scenarios, that could spark a conflict. It could lead to the United States stumbling into a war. And what I’d like to hear from the administration is the clearest possible statements that the United States is not looking for war with Iran and how we can get Iran back to the negotiating table. And if we can’t hear that from the administration, I want to make it very clear, Mr. Hook, that military action against Iran without the approval of Congress is absolutely not an option. Congress has coequal power under the constitution…
“We went through 20 years of going along with wars because we were told certain things were fact when, in fact, they weren’t. So I think that Congress has to play a major role” (quoted by Omri Nahmias, ibid.).
US imperialism spells out its Iran policy
In addition to the comments made relating to the recent tanker attacks, Hook and his team spelt out the general policy of US imperialism towards Iranian influence in the region and their attempts to contain it. A full report, including footage of the session was made available on Kurdistan News 24, and is available online. They report as follows,
“’We very much want to see Iraq strong, stable and sovereign,’ he [Hook] told the Congressional panel, as he described what is essentially a competition between the US and Iran for influence in that country.
“’We want the Iraqi military to have a monopoly on military force’, Hook affirmed. ‘We do not want to see the PMF [Popular Mobilisation Forces], especially those that Qasim Soleimani organises, trains, and equips to be stronger.”
“Tehran’s modus operandi, Hook explained, ‘is to try to create two militaries within a state and two states within a state’. Iran seeks ‘to catalyse sectarian identities and dissolve national identities,’ as it ‘adds a religious dimension to political conflicts’ to mobilise support for its parallel institutions and, ultimately, for Tehran itself.
“Iran has done that with considerable success in Lebanon, where Hizbollah operates as a state within a state, and it is now trying to do the same in Yemen and Iraq.
“Hook described the Trump administration’s ‘two primary objectives’ in regard to Iran. The first is to deprive the regime of the funds that it needs to carry out ‘its destabilising activities,’ while the second goal is to cause Iran to accept negotiations on a new ‘comprehensive and enduring’ agreement that would rectify the shortcomings in the 2015 nuclear deal.
“The ‘comprehensive deal’ would address four issues: Iran’s nuclear programme; its ballistic missile programme; its support for ‘terrorist groups and proxies'; and its hostage diplomacy—the ‘arbitrary detention of US citizens’, as Hook diplomatically put it.
“The Special Representative told the House panel that the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign was succeeding, as he stated that Iran’s most recent budget contains a 28% cut in military spending, including a 17% cut for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC.)
“He also noted that the ‘IRGC has told Iraq’s Shi’a militia groups that they need to start looking for new sources of revenue.’
“Hook repeatedly emphasised that the Trump administration does not want military conflict with Iran. The ‘core’ of our policy, he said, is ‘economic and diplomatic.’ However, Tehran has not responded in kind. Rather, ‘it has responded with violence.’
“Hook’s public appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee was followed by a classified session, also focused on Iran, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Following his Congressional testimony, Hook departed for the Middle East, where he will hold meetings in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain.”
US Drone shot down
On 20 June an unmanned drone aircraft was shot down by an Iranian missile forcing the US Central Command (CENTCOM) to confirm that it had lost a drone near the southern coastal province of Hormozgan.
Iran explained in state media that the US drone was conducting a ‘spy mission’ over Iranian territory, but Washington insisted that their aircraft was flying safely in international air space (‘Iran shoots down US drone – Tehran warns Washington has “crossed red line”’, 21st Century Wire, 20 June 2019).
“This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace,” said Captain Bill Urban.
Despite the tensions of recent weeks, and to the surprise and no doubt, annoyance of many, President Donald Trump dismissed the downing of the drone as another ‘fly in the ointment’. Emerging from another meeting with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Trump remarked,
“I have a feeling… that it was a mistake made by somebody who shouldn’t have been doing what they did.
“I find it hard to believe that it was intentional,” he added. “It could have been somebody who was loose and stupid.”
In a letter to the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and United Nations Security Council, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, wrote:
“While the Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek war, it reserves its inherent right, under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, to take all appropriate necessary measures against any hostile act violating its territory, and is determined to vigorously defend its land, sea and air… Iran condemns, in the strongest possible terms, this irresponsible and provocative wrongful act by the United States, which entails its international responsibility.”
Imperialism and war
Iran has every right to defend its territorial integrity, to protect its borders and shield its people from the monstrous and savage plans of imperialism. Should imperialism decide to launch a predatory war of aggression upon the resourceful Iranian people, imperialism will unleash forces which it will be unable to control. From the earth of the Middle East, which is blood soaked and defiled because of the interference of imperialism, will come an almighty anti-imperialist retaliation which will surely lead not only to the defeat of imperialist interference in Iran, but threaten its ‘loyal Jewish Ulster’ in occupied Palestine. Communists in the imperialist heartlands will be duty bound to support the Iranian people in the defence of their homeland, and render whatever support they are able in the fight.
Death to imperialism!