Attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are an effort to signal to the rest of the world that no one is beyond Iran’s reach.
There is a tendency in Western policymaking circles to view the consequences of Iran’s actions as being confined to the Middle East. Recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman clearly demonstrate the fact that Iran’s actions are not only targeting regional countries. Tehran’s ambitions to build on its anti-Western ideology and strategy have now become a threat to the wider international community with its targeting of the freedom of navigation that affects the interests of global actors.
An increasingly powerful and violent Hezbollah doesn’t overly trouble the mind of Western observers, even when the organization’s bomb factory in London and its terrorist activities in the UK are revealed to the world. A Houthi missile strike, using Tehran’s latest delivery of weaponry, may be met with quiet disapproval, but it isn’t taken seriously as a threat beyond the confines of the region. This may explain a continued European desire to appease Iran.
However, this appeasement fundamentally overlooks the threat that such instability poses further afield, based on the misguided view that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his cronies can be placated. Accordingly, this policy has further emboldened Iran, deepened the current crisis and could have severe international consequences.
When the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015, it is often forgotten that it was meant to be the first in a series of accords. Future agreements aimed at curtailing Iranian support for proxies was intended as next on the list. Yet the Western signatories patted themselves on the back and considered it a job well done, ignoring the concerns of Iran’s neighbors — those on the frontline of Tehran’s violence and aggression. Ultimately, the nuclear deal simply freed Iran to further ramp up this behavior.
In Yemen, for example, despite the JCPOA being in place for most of the conflict, Iran has continued to ship billions of dollars-worth of resources to the Houthi rebels. This aid has come in form of increasingly sophisticated drones, powerful missiles and other high-tech arms. In turn, this weaponry has been targeted at oil tankers bound for Europe in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and launched at Saudi Aramco pipelines. The much heralded JCPOA did nothing to arrest these increasingly hostile actions having a direct impact on oil supplies vital to global stability.
Just last week the world witnessed this hostility in full effect. The compelling evidence of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trying to cover its tracks when a bomb planted on one of the oil tankers targeted in the Strait of Hormuz on June 13 failed to explode, exemplified in disturbing footage released by the United States Navy, highlights the desperate measures Tehran is willing to resort to. The Gulf of Oman is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, accounting for a third of the world’s seaborne oil supplies. Aggression in this arena is clearly designed to provoke a response from powers beyond the region. It is an effort to signal to the rest of the world that no one is beyond Iran’s reach.
While all-out hostilities are not in anyone’s interest for, Tehran is trying to push the situation as close to the brink as possible. These are the increasingly desperate acts of a regime with a diminishing number of options. The disintegration of the JCPOA has cut off a vital financial lifeline, one which has been used to fund proxies with increasingly complex weaponry. This was demonstrated in full effect by the Houthis’ recent fundraising efforts for a “cash-strapped” Hezbollah.
The increasingly dire economic situation in the country, in part due to this drying up of funds, has rattled the regime. Protests across Iran have been rumbling in the background for some time now. People are fed up with a corrupt government channeling billions to foreign extremist groups when infrastructure needs upgrading, living standards are falling and public services are in desperate need of improvement. Where the JCPOA failed to tackle Iran’s predilection for proxy violence, it seems people power is starting to have some impact.
America has done what European nations have thus far failed to do: call out Tehran on its destructive behavior. The people of Iran have done what European nations have thus far failed to do: call on Tehran to end its support for proxy extremists. However, the desire to heighten tension further remains strong within the country’s governing circles. Iran claims to be a global power, with recent events finally waking the world up to the wider threat the Islamic Republic poses. Maybe the West will now realize that standing up to Tehran’s destabilization efforts is not just a matter of regional interest.
It is also evident that Iranian proxies are working closely with Tehran in conducting attacks on oil tankers. In response, Europeans should sanction Iran’s proxies, as well as confront these groups effectively through closer military and intelligence cooperation with the United States. Iran has crossed a line, and it is time for the UK and Europe to join America in putting maximum pressure on Tehran rather than pursuing a futile and divergent policy.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.