The US Fifth Fleet announced last Friday that a carrier strike group led by 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 10 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, a well-known expert on Iran who heads the Washington-based think-tank Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote 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 election fails to make headway, he might resort to some desperate gimmicks that give him mileage in the news cycle and help whip up jingoism among a gullible American public who would rally behind their commander-in-chief.
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.
Parsi sees Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the mastermind behind this Plan B. And the intention seems to be somehow to provoke Iran to use force, which would provide an alibi for the US military to carry out “reprisal” attacks.
Parsi enjoys a strong 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 his prediction.
Indeed, after having failed to get the United Nations Security Council to back his move to invoke “snapback” sanctions against Iran, Pompeo is threatening to implement such “UN sanctions” unilaterally even without a UNSC mandate.
It is a bizarre situation. But Pompeo is adamant about enforcing the non-existent UN sanctions with effect from “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, untrue.
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 would jump with glee into any US-Iranian military conflagration. With the normalization of Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, Israel gets access to three 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 attack Iran militarily.
And Israel will be desperately keen to realize that dream while Trump remains the president and Pompeo, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, remains an influential policymaker.
As of now, both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are in the same boat as any discredited politicians anywhere who would stand to gain out of whipping up jingoism ahead of an upcoming election.
Trump faces an electoral battle that 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.
Israel announced last week a second nationwide lockdown as the pandemic has spun out of control.
The probability is high that if the US Navy were to interdict Iranian ships, Tehran would be forced to retaliate in some form. What form it takes only time will tell.
The powerful head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), General Hossein Salami, has warned Trump directly.
Conceivably, Trump would know this is a risky path to take, for the entire Plan B could boomerang if Iran inflicts serious casualties on US forces. Iran’s missile capability is very substantial. But Pompeo seems adamant.
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 would go down well with Pompeo’s evangelical constituency back home. Thus Plan B may take off, 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 Indochina and initiate a massive bombing campaign.
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.