Thursday, April 30, 2015

Iran Ratchets Up Tension

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif's Bluster - Max Boot
  • On Tuesday, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats seized the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-registered container ship that was transiting through the Straits of Hormuz.
  • On Wednesday, speaking in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif made it seem as if a nuclear agreement is a done deal - on Iran's terms.
  • Zarif made clear that the lifting of sanctions would occur within weeks of the agreement being signed (contrary to White House claims that sanctions relief would be phased), while also mocking Obama's claims that sanctions could "snap back" in the event of Iranian violations: "If people are worrying about snapback, they should be worrying about the U.S. violating its obligations and us snapping back," he said.
  • Both are evidence of Iranian arrogance: by hijacking a ship registered to an American protectorate and then lecturing American leaders that they will have to abide by Iran's terms for a nuclear deal - or else. This is not the way Iran would talk or act if it feared the U.S., but plainly it doesn't. It is indicative of where we stand that there has been nary a peep of protest about the hijacking of the Maersk Tigris.
  • The very reason why Iran was able to hijack the negotiations to legitimate its illegal nuclear program is precisely because the U.S. has spent years turning the other cheek at Iranian aggression. That's why Iran's foreign minister feels free to come to New York and act like a haughty master of the universe.

    The writer is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Iran Seizes Cargo Ship in Strait of Hormuz - Missy Ryan and William Branigin

The Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship, was intercepted by patrol ships from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, fired upon and then boarded by Iranian forces in the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Iran's Fars news agency said Iran was taking the ship to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
A State Department official said that under a bilateral compact the U.S. has responsibility for the security of the Marshall Islands, including the defense of ships flying the nation's flag. The U.S. military, after receiving a distress call from the Tigris, sent surveillance aircraft and ordered the destroyer USS Farragut to head toward the ship.
On Friday, the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Kensington was approached by four Iranian patrol craft while on an internationally recognized shipping route in the southern Persian Gulf, off the coast of Oman. The Iranian ships circled the Kensington and followed it for a time before departing. The incidents are alarming, a U.S. Navy official said. 
(Washington Post)

The Pirates of Tehran - Editorial

Apologists for Iran will no doubt ascribe the seizure of the Tigris to "hardline factions" within the regime. That might be true, but it only underscores the futility of striking a nuclear deal with a regime in which the hardliners can operate with impunity. Iran's disdain for basic maritime conventions is a good indicator of how it will treat any agreement it signs. Pirates don't keep their word, and it's dangerous to bargain as if they will. 
(Wall Street Journal)

- Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall 

[Iranian] commanders have threatened to sink U.S. ships and send American soldiers home in coffins. Recently – with the nuclear talks at full speed – Iran conducted a large naval exercise in which it sank a mockup of a U.S. aircraft carrier. Here, too, the United States chose not to react.
This time Iran has raised the stakes. Will the United States hold back this time as well?
(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Given the US's formal, binding obligation to the Marshall Islands, the Iranian seizure of the ship was in effect an act of war against America.
[T]he Obama administration failed to condemn their unlawful action.
If the administration continues to stand by in the face of Iran's aggression, the strategic implications will radiate far beyond the US's bilateral ties with the Marshall Islands. If the US allows Iran to get away with unlawfully seizing a Marshall Islands flagged ship it is treaty bound to protect, it will reinforce the growing assessment of its Middle Eastern allies that its security guarantees are worthless.
Three days after a ship sailing under their flag was seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, citizens of the Marshall Islands discovered that their decision to place their security in America's hands is no longer the safe bet they thought it was 29 years ago.
(Jewish World Review)


John Vagabond said...

I think this is a first salvo, designed to underline Tehran's disregard for US concessions. Over 30bn USD will find its way into the hardliners' hands over the next weeks and the principal beneficiaries are unlikely to be the Iranian people. Instead, the centrifuges will increase production, Hamas, the PA and Hezbollah will think Christmas came early and the Israelis will ratchet up security. President Obama and John Kerry are seemingly either unaware or heedless of the whirlwind which they have inadvertently unleashed.

Bruce said...

I loved your line about "Hamas, the PA and Hezbollah will think Christmas came early"...! Excellent frame.

I suspect Obama and Kerry are heedless, ignoring the obvious consequences in order to get credit for slowing their progress [kicking the can down the road].