The recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman have endangered lives, disrupted traffic in some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, and forced up global energy prices. And they aren’t the first: Tankers off the port of Fujairah were attacked last month. These continuing reckless assaults need to be answered.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran — and pointed to video footage of what appears to be an Iranian speedboat removing an unexploded mine from the side of one of the stricken vessels. Iran denies the charge, and exactly what transpired is not yet clear. The Trump administration should lay all the evidence it has gathered before the United Nations and especially its European allies. The Islamic Republic’s provocations, once proven, demand a coordinated response.
U.S. sanctions on the regime are already extensive, limiting the additional punishment that can be imposed this way. But the screws can and should be tightened further. For instance, there’s room to expand the scope of sanctions announced earlier this month on Iran’s production and export of petrochemicals.
Europe is in a position to do more, and should step up. Its governments have been unhappy with the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 joint nuclear agreement with Iran, and have been on the fence ever since — even going so far as to devise a “special purpose vehicle” to help Iran work around U.S. sanctions. Germany, France and Britain now need to see the regime in Tehran for what is — a grave danger to the Middle East and the wider world — and to fall in with the U.S.
Coordinated measures would have potent symbolic as well as substantive weight, showing Iran that it can no longer hope to divide the Western powers. Iran’s apparent attacks on shipping are probably, in part, an effort to do just that, and to strengthen the regime’s hand in any future negotiations. Collective action is needed to show Iran’s leaders that this won’t work. Such a move would also lessen the likelihood that the U.S. might choose a unilateral and disproportionate military response.
While pressing for forceful joint measures, the Trump administration should also throw its support behind a Swiss channel for medical and humanitarian supplies to Iran. This would show that the U.S. sincerely wishes to spare ordinary Iranians the worst of the sanctions. It would also weaken one of Europe’s arguments for declining, up to now, to support the U.S. more effectively.
It’s lucky that the attacks on the tankers haven’t already cost lives or resulted in an environmental calamity. Next time might be different. Iran’s reckless belligerence, once proven, needs to be punished, and not just by the U.S.
Source » bloomberg