In response to the attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week; the US Department of Defence announced that it is sending an additional 1,000 troops to bolster security in the Persian Gulf. This comes amidst the escalating tensions in the region following US decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPoA) in May 2018. The US also re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran and last month ended all waivers for Iranian oil imports. President Donald Trump further decided to impose new sanctions and warned of secondary sanctions on individuals or entities doing business with Iranian industries under sanctions.
Iran too had responded with warning other signatories of the JCPoA, especially UK, France and Germany, to do more to ease the impact of sanctions on Iranian economy failing which Tehran will be forced to retract from the deal. This prompted the US to send additional troops including Arlington and a Patriot missile battery. At that time an additional 1,500 US troops were sent to the Gulf. The build-up of troops, patriot battery and missile, surveillance aircraft etc. does not bode well for peace and stability in the region.
Iran has been insisting that it was not involved in the tanker attack carried out in the Gulf of Oman. However, the US as well as Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran as the perpetrator of the subversive act. In fact, the two have also blamed Iran for attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah in May. Further, Saudi Arabia has faced attacks from Houthi rebels in Yemen against which a Saudi-led coalition is involved in a prolonged conflict.
In May 2019, a Saudi Aramco oil pipeline had come under a drone attack. Last week, a Houthi missile struck at the Abha airport in the southern Najran province injuring 26 people. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of arming and encouraging Houthi rebels for carrying out attacks inside the Kingdom. The US decision to send more troops should be seen within the context of these incidents. Announcing the decision to send additional troops, Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan said that it is in response to Iran’s hostile behaviour. He further underlined that the US does “not seek conflict with Iran” but to “ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel” and “protect our national interests” it is conceived necessary.
These are significant developments and comes amidst growing tensions between the US and Iran. Other global powers such as Russia, China, France, UK and Germany have been hoping to bring down the tensions but have failed to undertake any significant initiative. The visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Iran this month was seen as one of the initiative to convince Iran to bring down its rhetoric and “play a constructive role” in maintaining peace and stability.
Iran, however, has adopted a defiant note. It has refused to bow to threats of military action and contends that it has right and the ability to defend itself against any military action. Russia and China also have been critical of the recent US actions in the Persian Gulf. This suggests that Iran is not entirely isolated and any serious escalation can cause a wider regional conflict. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Iran had shot down a US drone, which has been termed by President as a ‘very bad mistake. The act could potentially raise the tension.
For India, the situation in the Persian Gulf is a cause for worry. New Delhi has vital interests in the regional peace and stability not only for its energy security but also for the welfare of its over 8.5 million citizens living in the Gulf. India has strong strategic, political and business ties with the all the regional countries. New Delhi shares excellent relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, this is underlined by the fact that both countries have sent emissaries to India in the recent past. India hopes that all stakeholders would explore initiatives to deflect the current hostilities and create a conducive environment for a negotiated solution.
Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Quamar, Strategic Analyst On West Asia