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Tags: iran | united states | persian gulf

Global Safety at Risk in Persian Gulf High Stakes Game

a small boat speeds past a military ship
Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels sail close to U.S. military ships in the Persian Gulf near Kuwait on April 15. (U.S. Navy via AP)

Micah Halpern By Friday, 24 April 2020 12:44 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

The U.S. 5th Fleet protects the Persian Gulf.

For 60 minutes earlier this week, that's one full hour, 11 Iranian Navy smallboats dangerously and provocatively danced around the United States fleet stationed in the Persian Gulf. That fleet, that United States presence, is not in those waters merely for show. Included in the fleet are the USS Paul Hamilton, a destroyer ship and the USS Lewis B Puller, a Naval Landing Base, home to a team of Apache attack helicopters.

The U.S. Navy attempted to contact the Iranian vessels using speakers and even loud bursts emitted by warning sirens. Finally, the Iranian boats responded and then left.

FARS, an official Iranian media outlet, announced the incident but without giving real details, creating the impression that they are fully in control of the waters.

The U.S. Navy took a different track. They issued a statement that they were in international waters. The Naval statement read: "The dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision ... and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area."

Iran is pushing the envelope.

Iran is trying to draw the United States into conflict.

Iran is trying to mitigate the devastation caused by COVID-19 that has overtaken their leadership and country. They want to make themselves look strong — stronger than their archnemesis, the United States.

Trying to mitigate the situation even further, Iranian leadership chose to switch gears and instructed Iranian media to announce that their Iranian Revolutionary Guards have successfully launched a satellite into orbit.

President Donald Trump responded by doing what he does so often: He tweeted. Trump explained that he gave a direct order to the Navy to shoot at the Iranians if this were ever to happen again. The president's exact tweet was: "I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea."

Trump pushed back by ordering not just warning shots but orders "to shoot down and destroy any and all." This is not an ambiguous command. It is very clear and precise. What is not clear, however, is how or if Iran will heed the message. This is not the first spat between Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the United States to take place in the Persian Gulf.

Trump has mastered the art of hyperbole. And while the wording and sentiment of his tweeted command is clear, its intent is not as clear. Was this a hyperbolic Trumpian response or was it a direct threat to Iran to cease and desist or else?

One of Trumps' greatest assets is that no one knows how to predict his actions. His tweets are often exaggerations, to be clarified later. But this was a direct threat. The US. 5th Fleet was in international waters and was well within its rights to be there while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boats were aggressively taunting them, trying to draw out a response.

Persians, today's Iranians, have been playing the game of chess since the 6th century. Many historians suggest that Persians invented the game of chess. Originally a game played exclusively by royalty and nobility, the game eventually caught on for all. It has become a game of diplomacy for Iranian leadership. And this was a classic Iranian chess move: force the United States to act by dangling an attractive but irrelevant pawn, i.e. their small naval boats, and then swoop in and change the makeup of the chess board.

Moves and countermoves.

The day after President Trump released his tweet, there was an official response from Iran. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hussein Salami, was on Iranian national television saying: "I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens the security of Iran's military or non-military ships. Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran's strategic priorities." General Salami was indignant. He said that whatever happens in the Persian Gulf is under their purview. He said that control of the Gulf is Iran's strategic goal and interest.

Speaking on national TV was significant. It demonstrates to the people of Iran that Iran is standing up to the United States. What was not covered in the Iranian press, however, was another message from President Trump, tweeted later that same day. This tweet clarified the earlier aggressive Trump announcement about the U.S/ Navy protecting itself. Trump's message was: "I have not changed the rules of engagement."

Context and clarity count. In other words, the tweet was an expression of standard U.S. policy, merely expressed in Donald Trump's inimitable style.

This is a game of high stakes diplomatic chess. Unlike the simple board game of chess, the stakes in this game involve the safety of the world.

Expect more moves and countermoves.

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Iran is trying to draw the United States into conflict.
iran, united states, persian gulf
Friday, 24 April 2020 12:44 PM
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