Pompeo threatens to light the fuse in Persian Gulf

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz transits the Strait of Hormuz as the flagship of US Carrier Strike Group, Sept 18, 2020 (US Navy photo) 

The US Fifth Fleet announced on September 18 that a Carrier Strike Group comprising USS Nimitz passed through the Strait of Hormuz with the guided-missile cruisers USS Princeton and USS Philippine Sea and guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett. After a gap of some ten months, a US aircraft carrier is being deployed to the Persian Gulf.   

This news will fuel speculation that a military flare-up involving Iran is in the making. In an article on September 16, Trita Parsi, the well-known expert on Iran who heads the Washington-based think tank Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, has written that a “first direct clash (with Iran) may take place as early as this coming Monday (September 21).”

In Parsi’s estimation, if President Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidential election in November fails to make headway, he might resort to some desperate gimmicks that gives him mileage in the news cycle and help whip up jingoism among the gullible American public who would rally behind their commander-in-chief and, therefore, Trump’s Plan B might well be to engineer a military flare-up in some form involving Iran in the few weeks remaining between now and the November 3 election in the US. 

Parsi sees Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the mastermind behind this Plan B. And the intention seems to be to somehow provoke Iran to use force, which would give an alibi for the US military to carry out “reprisal” attacks. Parsi enjoys big reputation as a regional expert and his prognosis cannot be ignored. The deployment of the Carrier Strike Group in the waters off Iran lends added credibility to Parsi’s prediction. 

Indeed, after having failed to get the UN Security Council to back his move to invoke “snapback” sanctions against Iran, Pompeo is threatening to unilaterally implement such “UN sanctions” even without a UN Security Council mandate. It is a bizarre situation. But Pompeo is adamant about enforcing the non-existent UN sanctions w.e.f “midnight GMT on September 20.” 

The proposed “enforcement” of “snapback” sanctions would entail US warships attacking and confiscating Iranian cargo ships in international waters — as well as non-Iranian vessels suspected of carrying Iranian goods. Pompeo contends that these measures are not only lawful but also necessary and that the US is carrying out the ruling of the UN Security Council (which is of course a complete lie.)

What is afoot is a sort of naval blockade of Iran. The desperate US attempt to ratchet up tensions by provoking Iran is self-evident.

It is a foregone conclusion that Israel will jump with glee into any US-Iranian military conflagration. With the normalisation of Israel’s relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, Israel gets access to 3 vital staging posts overlooking the Iranian coast from where its jets can operate. 

Indeed, the timing of Israel’s “peace agreements” with the UAE, Bahrain and Oman altogether takes a new ominous meaning under these circumstances. It has been a long cherished Israeli dream to get the US to militarily attack Iran. And Israel will be desperately keen to realise that dream while Trump remains the president and Pompeo, an ex-CIA Director, remains an influential policymaker. 

As of now, both Trump and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu are in the same boat as any decrepit discredited politicians anywhere who would stand to gain out of whipping up jingoism in an upcoming election. Trump faces an upcoming electoral battle, which is on razor’s edge.

And Netanyahu is on trial facing corruption charges; furthermore, his mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic is widely condemned by the Israeli public, which is asking him to resign and get lost. (Israel announced last week a second nation-wide lockout as the pandemic has spun out of control.) 

The probability is high that if the US Navy were to interdict Iranian ships, Tehran will be forced to retaliate in some form. What form it takes only time will tell. The powerful head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)  Gen. Hossein Salami has warned Trump directly. 

Conceivably, Trump would know this is a risky path to take. For, the entire Plan B can boomerang if Iran inflicts serious casualties on the US forces. Iran’s missile capability is very substantial. But Plan B seems to be Pompeo’s hare-brained scheme who is a retired US Marine officer. 

Pompeo has an eye on the 2024 presidential election and is only too eager to pander to the Jewish lobby. Between Pompeo and Netanyahu, there is no daylight possible, too. Above all, a war with Iran will go down well with Pompeo’s evangelical constituency back home. Thus, Plan B may take off the ground, the high risks notwithstanding — that is, unless Trump puts his foot down at the last minute.

Historically, this is a situation analogous to the infamous 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in the Vietnam war, which was a fake event that the US used to commit the first ground combat units in Indo-China and initiate a massive bombing campaign.