Relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran have recently taken a turn for the worse following the attack of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. This is the latest in a series of diplomatic finger-pointing gestures carried out by the US at Iran in what has been an especially turbulent chapter in the Donald J. Trump presidency.
Two mysterious explosions disabled the tankers and left the world holding its collective breath as footage of the burning ships found itself in the week’s news cycle. The incident was met by an almost immediate commendation by the US, followed by an assertion that Iran was behind the attack.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that US intelligence pointed toward Iranian involvement and warned of a potential military encounter in the area. Moreover, President Trump mulled about sending an additional 1,000 troops to complement the already 4,000 strong stationed in Poland to increase US military presence in the area. Iran pointed to circumstantial evidence and denied any involvement in the affair.
But, why does this incident matter? Well, to begin with the Gulf of Oman is one of the foremost waterways for the transportation of crude oil in the world—about one third of the world’s oil supply passes through it. Secondly, the rapid military planning and readying of personnel by the US points to further escalation of tensions with Iran. Thirdly, since the US pulled out of the Iran Nuclear deal—which if enforced would have prevented Iran from further developing a nuclear arsenal—it has been looking for a full-on confrontation in order to gain more leverage over the Middle-Eastern state.
Fourth, the US had been committed to patrolling the waterway since the early 1990’s, making this attack an effective failure on their part. Fifth, the economic impact of the closing of the straight, or that of a military encounter between the two powers, would be widespread. Sixth, critics of the Trump administration are pointing to the similarities between this event and those which essentially became the causus belli for the Vietnam War. Lastly, those same critics are accusing the Trump administration of utilizing a potential bellicose encounter as a way of increasing support for the president ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The impact that the deteriorating relations between the US and Iran, whether that is measured geopolitically or economically, has the potential to be catastrophic. The world will peer with watchful eyes to see any further developments between the two powers.