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Who benefits from escalating tensions in the Gulf?

Jun 19,2019 - Last updated at Jun 19,2019

Britain is the only Western US ally that has swallowed the proclamation by President Donald Trump’s administration that Iran is responsible for six recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf. Disbelief has been expressed by a wide range of governments and pundits. There are several reasons for the US’ lack of credibility on this and other issues.

First, US credibility has been seriously damaged by the lies Donald Trump personally, and his administration in general, have been telling on a wide range of domestic and foreign issues. These include the claims that Trump's tax policies benefit the middle class when, in fact, the rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class is struggling. The US claims to treat Hispanic immigrants humanely, although it separates small children from parents at the Mexican-US border, creating anguish for both parents and children. The Trump "deal of the century", drawn up by three aides deeply committed to Israel's colonisation enterprise, could be good for the Palestinians. And, global warming is a hoax when it poses an existential threat to the entire world.

The latest lie told by a leading hawk in the administration was uttered a week ago by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he said Iran was responsible for suicide bomber strike on May 31 in Kabul that killed four Afghan civilians and wounded four US soldiers, although the Taliban promptly claimed credit. He does not seem to understand that the Taliban are Sunnis, while Iran is a Shiite country that does not support Sunni radicalism.

Second, Trump uses threat as a major foreign policy weapon. Since taking office, he has issued military threats against North Korea, Venezuela and Iran, and has used economic threats though tariffs against a host of countries, including the European Union, China, Russia, Iran, Mexico and Canada.

Third, US allies other than Britain also fear the Trump White House could follow the bad example of the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009), which based its case for invading and occupying Iraq on lies and invented "intelligence" showing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction although this was far from the truth.

Therefore, accusations by Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the administration that Iran is behind last month's and last week's attacks on tankers have been met by considerable scepticism.

Norway's Frontline, operator of the Front Altair tanker, said a torpedo may have struck the ship, which had been chartered by Taiwan's state oil refinery to transport a cargo of naptha, a flammable petrochemical product, to east Asia. Frontline is the world's largest tanker firm. Now that the ship is in port, investigators could verify or refute this claim and perhaps identify the perpetrator.

The Japanese tanker operator of the second ship dismissed the US accusation that a time bomb or a limpet mine had been attached to the hull by Iran. The owners and crew insist the ship had been holed well above the water line by two flying objects.

On the technical plane, a US video purporting to show an Iranian naval speed boat removing a limpet mine from the side of the targeted vessel is blurred and unconvincing. Military experts have suggested the video had been doctored. Some have asked the following questions: When was the limpet mine attached? How was it planted if the ship was sailing? Why would the Iranians plant a mine if they hit the ship with flying objects? Why would they remove a device which they had planted? Mine removal would be a dangerous manoeuvre for sailors on a small, bobbing speedboat at risk of being swamped by the much larger Japanese tanker. Why would the Iranian boat be filled with sailors who would be put at risk by this effort? Some limpet mines are set to explode if removed.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas cast doubt on the authenticity of the video. Russia "severely" condemned the attacks but warned against coming to "hasty conclusions” about who was responsible.

Political commentators have asked why Iran would have struck at a Japanese ship on the very day that country's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was set to visit Tehran on a mission to reduce tensions between the US and Iran, a mission Trump himself supported. This was the first time a Japanese prime minister visited Tehran since the 1979 revolution and demonstrated Japan's interest in preventing conflict in the Gulf region, on which Japan depends for its oil.

Iran's Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani argued that the US could be behind the attacks. "The suspicious actions against the tankers... seem to complement the economic sanctions against Iran, considering that [the US] has not achieved any results from them."

Russia compared Trump administration’s allegations against Iran with former US secretary of state Colin Powell's accusation that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, including deadly anthrax, in the run-up to Bush’s war on Iraq. Powell made this false accusation while addressing the UN Security Council. The administration’s lies were proven untrue after the occupation.

The US’ 2003 war-of-choice based on lies has been an unmitigated disaster. Instead of ushering in democracy, good governance and stability in Iraq, as Washington promised, the US invasion and occupation have been the main destabilising force in this region over the past 16 years. Al Qaeda obtained a foothold in Iraq due to the security and political vacuum the US created in Iraq when the Bush administration ousted president Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party and demobilised the Iraqi army. Without Al Qaeda's infestation in Iraq, there would have been no Daesh, no Jabhat Al Nusra (now Hayat Tahrir Al Sham) and no similar radical factions which are now threatening countries across the globe.

While hawks in the Trump administration continue to beat the war drums and are encouraged to do so by regional rivals of Iran and Israel and its chums in Congress, the UN, NATO and US experts and military men seek to calm the situation.

It must be asked cui bono? Who benefits from escalating tensions in the Gulf that could lead to war? First and foremost, Israel, which has been promoting US war on Iran for years, even though regional instability it not in Israel’s interest.

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