Following the suspicious attack on a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf in mid-June, the US government gradually unveiled its scenario to build a naval coalition in the Persian Gulf against Iran. The proposal first was offered by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford on July 10. However, after a month of struggling, White House efforts remain frustrated as the allies have given a cold response to the American suggestion. The unwelcome by the allies poses many questions and speculations whose answers require examination of the roots of such rejection.
Sea alliance grounds
After the US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran nuclear deal last year, the US foreign policy became well focused on setting up a global consensus against Iran. But it failed to present documents that Iran violated the agreement terms. The documents that the Israelis claimed were stolen by their agents from Iran showing Tehran’s nuclear bomb ambitions failed to win acceptance and credit with the UN and even the American intelligence community. The American intelligence in their 2019 report conformed Iran’s full adherence to the deal terms, though Trump dismissed it. The more important development took place following the scandal of a Twitter account associated with a very likely made-up character named Heshmst Alavi who turned to be linked to the terrorist Mujahideen-e-Khalgh Organization. The character was a purported contributor to the Western newspapers and a source of many of their analyses on Iran. The Forbes deleted on June 11 an Alavi’s anti-Iranian article that Trump referred to for him to vindicate his claims of Iranian failure to stay committed to terms of the nuclear agreement. The deletion came just two days before the attack on the Japanese ship.
Failed to make the allies rally behind it over the past year, Washington changed policy adopting a “self-fulfilling prophecy” policy to, on the one hand, promote the claims about the so-called Iranian tension-causing actions at home and among the Asian and European allies and, on the other hand, send naval vessels to the Persian Gulf and paint Iran’s defensive arrangements against the American military assessment an act of endangering the security of the commercial vessels of various countries.
Mark Esper, then Acting Secretary of Defenseatte, traveled to Brussels in late June to discuss with the NATO officials foundation of the US-eyed naval coalition. After Iran seized a British oil tanker a fortnight ago, Washington’s efforts were stepped up. The US officials were hoping to see at least 30 countries join their alliance. This was a matter of image and credit for Trump and the hardliners in the Republican Party especially that in 2013 the contemporaneous President Barack Obama managed to gather 41 countries for minesweeping drills in the Persian Gulf. Trump’s failure to build the much-sought bloc, many agree, is big evidence that his pullout of the nuclear deal was unjustified.
One of the main countries that negatively responded to the alliance proposal was Germany. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday reiterated the need to de-escalate the tensions in the region saying that Berlin will not join the sea patrolling coalition. The opposition of Berlin, one of two major heavyweights of EU, to the coalition played a major role in the fall of the US alliance-building attempts. Germany’s stance was painful to the US to a degree that American ambassador to Berlin Richard Grenell furiously disparaged the Germans for their rejection. Talking to German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine, Grenell said “Germany is the biggest economic power in Europe. This success brings global responsibilities.”
El Confidencial newspaper of Spain wrote that Madrid has freshly received an official request from Washington to be part of the alliance but the Spanish leaders are not willing to join.
One of the Asian countries with key significance to the sea coalition is Japan which holds for a long time friendly relationship with Iran and is one of the biggest importers of energy from the Persian Gulf. Japan will not send warships to join a US-led maritime force to guard oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, wrote Mainichi newspaper of Japan on Friday.
What has driven US efforts to defeat?
White House stated it had sent invitations for the coalition to over 60 countries. The reason for inability to persuade these countries is that they are now sure that the US military presence is the reason behind escalated tensions. Barry Buzan, the professor of economics at the London School of Economics, in his prominent theory suggests that the existence of an interventionist trans-regional power in a specific region is the main cause of tensions there. If before the WWI Britain caused tensions in the Ottoman Empire’s realm and Asia, now the US undertook the role.
The US exploits others need for oil to escalate the tensions without itself paying a cost. In June, Trump told NBC that the US can produce its oil and that it does not even need to be in the Persian Gulf. When Trump pushed the tensions with Iran to their highest point, he signed a weapons sales deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE worth of $8 billion. The Congress recently in a bill blocked military sales to Saudi Arabia but the president vetoed the effort. When the contract was given publicity, the other countries understood that Trump is not afraid to compromise their security for the American profit. Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, said in a press conference on Friday that the US openly fuels the tensions and the coalition is more meant to pressure Iran than to have a secure and peaceful nature.
The second issue preventing other countries from joining the US coalition is Trump’s character. His three years of erratic policy and trade war destroyed the trust in him. The US will naturally lead this bloc and it is not unlikely that Washington sacrifices others for its interests. Nathalie Tocci, the special advisor to the US foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said: “Clearly, a military operation in the Gulf would increase exponentially the potential triggers for a confrontation with Iran. So long as [Europeans] see a chance of freedom of navigation being secured through dialogue and diplomacy with Iran, they will opt for this route.”
The third reason is Iran’s show of a policy of “two-bladed sword.” While Tehran is open to diplomacy, it shows off its military might and the power to respond to military threats. Iran’s foreign ministry has been largely successful in frustrating an anti-Iranian consensus. The success was so large-scale that the US sanctioned Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif out of a failure to put the brakes on his active policy. The sanction even drew criticism from London, Washington’s closest European ally. Iran on the other side shot down trespassing US drone in Strait of Hormuz and also seized a delinquent British oil tanker in a show of firmness to protect its borders. The moves largely had a share in countries’ hesitation to join the bloc.
US failure ramifications
The first result is that the regional and global nations will accept Iran’s vital and increasing role in Persian Gulf security. This Iranian role is promoted by a legal basis giving it international legitimacy. Foreign Policy magazine of the US in an article this week wrote: “Iran owns the Persian Gulf now” adding: “the United States is leaving the Persian Gulf. Not this year or next, but there is no doubt that the United States is on its way out.”
During his visit to Iraq in May, Zarif proposed signing with Persian Gulf Arab states a non-aggression pact. He earlier had suggested “regional dialogue forum.” These proposals came as the US escalated tensions in the Persian Gulf. The de-escalation policy of Tehran showed its positive effects gradually. Last week, the UAE coastguard head Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Misbah al-Ahbabi visited Tehran and met his Iranian counterparts. He said that meddling of some countries in the primary shipping lanes is the root of problems, adding that regional countries can cooperate with good faith to secure the region.
Before Trump nuclear deal quitting, there was no tension in the Persian Gulf nor was the talk of a sea alliance. This means that regional tensions are a fruit of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.