Washington Clear words from US President Donald Trump on the alleged attack on an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman: "Iran has clearly done it." On the morning of his 73rd birthday, he was sent by phone to the studio of the television channel Fox. He seemed to be in a good mood and told that he would "maybe approve a bit of cake tonight". But in terms of Iran, he demonstrated harshness. The responsibility for the alleged attacks was "practically written on the forehead" of Iran.
The Thursday incident is fueling tensions between Iran and the United States. According to the New York Times, senior US military officials categorized the incident as a significant escalation of the months-long crisis. "We're on a collision course," said James Stavridis, Admiral of the US Navy and former NATO commander, the television channel MSNBC.
International developments are followed with concern. Through the Strait of Hormuz, the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf into the open ocean, oil from the Middle East is brought to international markets. Overnight, the waterway has become a symbol of an aggressive power struggle between the US and Iran.
Tehran denied involvement in the alleged attacks and accused the US of "destroying international rules and structures." The incident caused oil prices to climb, and foreign shipping companies were reported to have suspended orders for the Persian Gulf.
The sharp response from Washington also fuels concerns that the US and Iran may be heading for a military conflict. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused Iran of attacking and setting fire to the merchant ships just hours after the incident.
It is an "unacceptable escalation of tension across Iran," Pompeo said. Explicitly, Pompeo explicitly did not consider a military strike public, but threatened that the US would "join forces and defend interests to protect global trade and regional stability."
The Secretary of State relied on insights from US intelligence agencies. A video, that the US military published, should show a sabotage at the tankers. Iranian Revolutionary Guards – an elite unit of the military – are said to have executed them. However, further details that would clearly prove Iran's involvement have not yet been presented by the US.
Nevertheless, Washington leaves no doubt that Iran is responsible – thereby limiting Trump's options for finding a diplomatic way out of the situation. Rather, Washington appears to be pushing its course of maximum pressure consistently, which in turn reduces the chances for talks rapidly. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, said in a statement that he does not consider Trump "a worthy person to exchange."
For months, the threatening gestures between Washington and Tehran are increasing in intensity. The White House accuses Tehran of planning to attack US troops and other allies in the area. Among other things, Iran is planning it in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the US on the Islamic Republic following its withdrawal from the International Nuclear Agreement JCPOA.
Video of the US military is to show sabotage on tanker ships
However, a clear Iran strategy of the USA is not recognizable in all these developments. While the world looks worried about the next steps of both players on Friday, Trump remained vague. "We'll see what happens," Trump said in his interview with Fox. "Our sanctions are very effective," he emphasized, which speaks against the serious consideration of a military option.
In April, the US government classified the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. Iran's president then declared all American troops in the Middle East terrorists and called the US government a "state sponsor of terrorism."
Shortly thereafter, the US moved an aircraft carrier and a bomber squadron into the Persian Gulf, and about 1,500 additional US troops are on their way to the Middle East. The US is now sending the destroyer "USS Mason" into the Gulf of Oman in response to the burning oil tankers.
Mixed US signals make the situation more dangerous
Will the escalation on the gulf continue to increase? Trump himself had fanned fears of a war when he threatened Twitter on Twitter a few weeks ago with an "end" of Iran. Then again he stressed that he was open for discussions. His security adviser John Bolton, on the other hand, had not ruled out a military strike. The US would "not go to war with the Iranian regime," but be "ready to respond to any attack," Bolton said in May.
The danger of these mixed signals is that they increase the risk of an involuntary escalation, especially since the diplomatic wires between Washington and Tehran, which could clear up miscalculations and misunderstandings, have been largely severed since the break of the nuclear deal.
International support for a US military strike on Iran is likely to be low since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal. Currently, Europe and Japan are trying to to mediate by diplomatic means, but without visible success.
Even from the US Congress Trump is likely to learn little support for a military strike. The harsh sanctions course is viewed positively across all parties, but a war with Iran is unpopular. Since erroneous intelligence on alleged weapons of mass destruction has led to the Iraq war, Washington has been keenly aware of the intelligence base on which the allegations of the US government are based.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant, called for more sanctions against theocracy. Iran must feel "pain for this escalation, additional sanctions would be the appropriate answer," he said.
MoreDuring his visit to Iran, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wanted to explore solutions to the nuclear dispute with the United States. But he returned without success.