Today, Iran is an annoying little dog barking like crazy but unable to penetrate the pant leg of western powers operating in the Middle East. But even an annoying little dog can be very dangerous if they sink their jaws into someone’s jugular, and at this stage they may be seeking a jugular to go after.
Their desperation is clear. Nobody in the west can know for sure how crucial the supertanker full of crude oil captured by British forces earlier this month was to the Iranians, but they made the unprecedented move of admitting their subterfuge and demanding their tanker back. The pretended it was a Panama ship managed by a Singapore company with Iraqi oil in it that they took all the way around Africa instead of cutting through the Suez Canal, so we can assume by the great lengths they went to in order to try to deliver it to Syria that this was important to them. Was it crucial? Was this a last gasp attempt to jumpstart their economy after having it crushed by U.S. sanctions?
Their willingness to try to seize a British tanker may mean their losses were, indeed, backbreaking.
Five Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf Wednesday but backed off after a British warship approached, a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.
The British warship was said to have been less than 5 miles behind the tanker but soon intercepted the Iranian boats and threatened to open fire. A manned U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was above as well, the official said, adding that Iranian forces left without opening fire.
But this embarrassment in front of the international audience will not be a lesson learned. If anything, Iran and their “Twelver” mentality will feel the need to escalate their actions and do real damage. At some point in the near future, they’re going to open fire and kill someone. That’s the only thing they haven’t done yet during their recent rise in aggressive activities. And when they do take a life, it will almost certainly be American.
Iran needs to be the victim
There are two conflicting narratives the Iranian government needs to perpetuate in order to be successful, at least in their own minds. First, they must put up a front of strength to their people and allies. Their military may be relatively small compared to western military forces, China, or Russia, but they’re significant enough to pose a threat to anyone in the region. The second narrative is one of victimhood in the eyes of the international community. They need the United Nations generally to view them as being bullied by the west, and while a case can be made that the United States is provoking them by slapping on sanctions and leaving the nuclear deal, it’s hard to make a case that the United Kingdom did anything wrong by enforcing EU sanctions on Syria.
Their victimhood narrative is hard to push when they’re sending gunboats to capture civilian ships.
The United States is positioned well by being out of this particular conflict. Other than supporting the British with intelligence and reconnaissance, we haven’t gotten involved in either tanker incident between the U.K. and Iran. Sure, Iran and even Spain can point to the U.K. acting as American proxies, but it’s a hard case to make when it was their waters off Gibraltar where the British seized the Iranian tanker, as well as it being a British tanker that was attacked by Iran.
With or without the U.S. proxy label, the U.K. was right to enforce EU sanctions and to defend their own boats.
Whatever move Iran wants to make next, it’s unlikely to be as muted as a few small gunboats running away from a British battleship.
Underestimating Iran would be a huge mistake, but treating them as equals would be an even bigger one. They are pests and should be handled as such. But when they become more than pests, we need to be ready to act.
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