Last Sunday, four oil tankers at the UAE port of Fujairah were allegedly set ablaze in what authorities are calling an act of sabotage. Two of the vessels were Saudi, one of which was en route to the US.
This is one in a series of escalations of tensions in the region, which began with an announcement by war hawk John Bolton that Israeli intelligence had warned of Iranian plans to attack US forces in the region.
Though the provenance of the information around the attack in Fujairah, along with the target of the attack, is unclear, the US national security adviser ordered a US carrier task force to steam to the Gulf. He warned that any hostile act by Iran against the US would be met with overwhelming force.
Plotting regime change
Knowing Bolton's enthusiastic endorsement of regime change, his actions appeared designed to foment such a result. All it might take would be a single incident, such as the UAE attacks, to launch B-52 bombers and a massive retaliatory strike against Iran. We may not be there quite yet, but we are well on our way.
Earlier this week, anonymous US officials leaked to the media that Iran was believed to be behind the UAE attacks, with the New York Times noting: "American officials suspect that Iran was involved. Several officials cautioned, however, that there is not yet any definitive evidence linking Iran or its proxies to the reported attacks."
"When something happens in the region that damages or threatens US interests, we first blame the bogeyman and then search for evidence to support our conviction."
This is typical of US hyperventilation over Iran. When something happens in the region that damages or threatens US interests, we first blame the bogeyman and then search for evidence to support our conviction.
That's not the way good intelligence works. First, you examine all the evidence carefully; then, you determine who to blame. And then, you offer the evidence for your conclusion and your intended response.
Bolton doesn't need to examine the evidence. He knows who did it. That's why the Times offered an ominous account of a secret meeting of senior US military and intelligence officials who reviewed a detailed war plan against Iran, including the deployment of up to 120,000 troops.
Of course, the phrasing declared the war plan would be invoked if Iran harmed US assets in the region - but given that Bolton already demanded such a plan from the Pentagon last year, before Israeli or US intelligence found any imminent Iranian threat against US forces in the region, that phrasing appears disingenuous.
Apart from Bernie Sanders, who tweeted that a war with Iran will destablise the entire region, I'm struck by the deafening silence in the halls of Congress and on the Democratic presidential campaign trail. Yes, candidates are focusing on bread-and-butter domestic issues, because that's what they think motivates the base. But foreign policy often plays a more decisive role in presidential administrations than domestic affairs.
So, whether they want to or not, Democrats must make this an issue. They must keep us out of war. They must do even better than that. They must do what Senator Rand Paul did in a hearing at which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified: they must tell Trump and his officials that under no circumstances do they have the approval of Congress to go to war against Iran
Let's not let the European Union off the hook either. After tepidly standing by while Trump clamped punitive sanctions on Iran, destroying what little economic activity had resumed after sanctions were lifted in 2015, it has said almost nothing about the recent US escalation. If the Europeans are ever to be a buffer against US adventurism, it ought to be now.
It's worth noting the hypocrisy of the US and Israeli intelligence claims that Iran is making plans to attack US forces, when in fact it is the US that had previously developed such plans against Iran. That means that Iran could be attacked for doing precisely what any serious national military would do: plan how to attack an adversary if they attack you.
Nevertheless, considering the danger posed and the array of enemies lined up against it, Iran has been remarkably calm and poised in the face of such provocations. It has not lashed out or perpetrated terror attacks against Israeli, US or Saudi targets. This follows a generally pragmatic course in its regional relations.
History of false claims
Enemy states arrayed against Iran have now, and in the past, ginned up fake intelligence dossiers to justify their bellicose views of Tehran. There have been stolen laptops, fake charts and graphs, and warehouses allegedly full of evidence proving Iran’s intent to build a nuclear weapon.
For decades, such claims have suggested that Iran would have a nuclear weapon within six months, or a year, or five years. All have turned out to be frauds.
In the current hostile environment, war hawks are falling back on old habits. Remember yellowcake? Remember Saddam Hussein's WMDs? Remember Judith Miller's breathless Times reports confirming these fake claims? The same thing is happening again, perpetrated by many of the same characters.
Bolton's claim that the Mossad discovered that Iran was targeting US forces wasn't supported by any evidence, failing to specify who would attack, or where, when or how
The latest intelligence fraud appears to be an Israeli TV report based on anonymous "Arab" (read "Saudi") sources that Iran would attack Saudi oil fields: "Israel has warned the US that Iran is contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities, an Israeli TV report said Friday night, as tensions between Tehran and the Trump administration soar."
The Channel 13 report said the Iranians were "considering various aggressive acts" against US targets and had looked at targeting US bases in the Gulf, but deemed it "too drastic". Their main target was, instead, "Saudi oil production facilities", which would "send world oil prices soaring and enable Iran to get more income from its oil sales".
Preventing a costly war
Can it be a coincidence that less than 24 hours after this news report aired, an attack was apparently mounted against Saudi oil tankers?
I recommend this terrific piece by Ali Vaez, which describes why Trump's policy towards Iran, including sanctions and regime change, will not and cannot work.
"Trump and his closest advisers may discover that history will not bend to their will," Vaez writes. "Rather than trying to achieve the unattainable goal of Iran’s surrender, they should act to prevent another costly US war of choice.
"This would require stepping back from maximalist demands, and using sanctions as a scalpel, not a chainsaw. In practice, that would mean lifting sanctions gradually and conditionally."