Berlin, London, WashingtonFor Donald Trump, the recent incident in the Persian Gulf confirms "what I've always said about Iran: it's trouble, nothing but trouble." Just before the US president left the White House on Friday for an outing, the fomentation stoked a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz fears an escalation.
Only in June had it become known that Trump had approved a military strike following the shooting down of a US surveillance drone by Iran. Washington drew back at the last minute.
Trump renewed the announcement that he wanted to repay provocations from Tehran. "We hope you will not do anything stupid," he said. "Because then they will pay a price like no one has ever paid." The US Department of Defense wants to send more than 500 soldiers and several F-22 stealth fliers faster than originally planned in the region.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the reactions were more factual, but no less worried. The NATO condemned the "destabilizing activities of Iran", the federal government spoke of an "unjustifiable interference in the civilian shipping industry". British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt called the move a "clear breach of international law".
The incident complicates the already tense congestion. The US government might be under pressure to react militarily in the face of ever-increasing affronts from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
And the European partners struggling for a strategy of de-escalation are increasingly driven by the showdown between Washington and Tehran. The US is tightening its sanctions almost every week, and Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz if Tehran's oil exports continue to be blocked.
What is Tehran's purpose?
With the occupation of the British tanker Iran wants to prove how easily it can sabotage the international shipping – and that one does not want to put up with anything. The latest incident seems to be a direct reaction to a two-week event: the Panamanian-flagged Iranian supertanker "Grace I" was then captured by the British fleet off Gibraltar.
Over the weekend, Iranian television stations proudly showed four Revolutionary Guard speedboats circling British-flagged Swedish tanker "Stena Impero" and masked men descending from a helicopter.
Iranian authorities accused the crew of endangering safety at sea by driving the boat on the wrong side into the sensitive strait. In addition, it had rammed an Iranian fishing boat, the crew not helped and oil leftovers in the Persian Gulf. The 23 sailors from the Philippines, from India, Russia and Latvia remain according to media reports for the time being for surveys on board. The shipping company stated that it did not behave wrongly.
The UK announced that it would respond "deliberately but clearly". However, Secretary of State Hunt stressed that London wanted to resolve the conflict diplomatically. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) commented similarly. "It's about preventing war," he told the "Bild am Sonntag".
Although moderate politicians in the US government support this goal. "We are not looking for a war with Iran," said Defense Secretary Mark Esper to the US Senate. But that's where the consensus ends. Washington is pushing to protect the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf from sabotage.
On Friday, Trump reaffirmed this demand in a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. Kenneth McKenzie, head of the Pentagon's Pentagon Central Command, pushed for "aggressive" international cooperation against Iran. So far, only the United States and Britain have increased their naval patrols in the region, which is not enough from Washington's point of view.
Perhaps the latest incident brings movement into the debate. In London, calls for stronger measures to protect British vessels are growing louder. One would have to reckon with an act of revenge by Iran, criticized the conservative politician Ian Duncan Smith. On Monday, the British Parliament will be informed about the next steps. However, decisions made difficult by the search for a successor to Theresa May. On Tuesday, a vote should clear the way for Boris Johnson as prime minister.
It is unlikely that Washington will relinquish its demands; rather, the hardliners in Trump's government seem strengthened. So US Security Advisor John Bolton suggested that the US would also want to lift the last exceptions for Iran.
New sanctions threaten
To date, Iran has been allowed a civilian nuclear program, with the support of those countries that have signed the 2015 nuclear agreement. The unilateral reversal by the US could put additional pressure on Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China: they would have to decide whether to honor their pledges or risk new sanctions from Washington. In Tehran, too, all the signs are hard.
Iran accused Bolton of having orchestrated the action against the "Grace I" to provoke a confrontation. Iran's parliament praised the action of the Revolutionary Guards against the "Stena Impero". Resistance to the US brings together the secular and spiritual leaders of the country.
More: US President Trump claims the US Navy shot down an Iranian drone. But Iran contradicts. The situation is getting worse.
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