Like a furious maelstrom, roiled by opposing currents, the crisis in the Gulf gains in intensity and destructive power almost by the day. On Sunday, Donald Trump said the US was “locked and loaded”, ready to respond to attacks on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, in which it believes Iran was involved.
The US and its allies recently accused Iran of being behind the 14 September attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil industry. These hit the world’s largest oil processor and an oil field. Iran, however, has denied responsibility.
And critics of Washington’s longstanding military interventionism believe warmongering elites are again trying to lead the imperialist superpower into yet another disastrous Middle East invasion.
But warning bells, akin to those used to alert fog-bound mariners steering towards rocks, have been ringing out for months. They have mostly been ignored. The daunting bill for multiple acts of political insouciance, measured in lives and petrodollars, is now coming due.
It’s easy and convenient to solely blame Iran, as American and British officials routinely do without conclusive evidence. Rather, it is serial western and regional miscalculations that have drawn us ineluctably into this dread vortex.
Iran’s fractious, fractured leadership rallied, improbably unified by Trump. Military and clerical hardliners are now taking the fight – a fight, as they see it, against regime change by the US – to their enemies, principally the Saudis and Israelis.
The failure of US and British leaders, among others, to halt Salman’s disastrous war of choice in Yemen marked another stage in this downward spiral. Ignoring war crimes and what the UN calls a worst-in-the-world humanitarian catastrophe, they continue to peddle arms, advice and diplomatic cover for Riyadh.
When the Yemen civil war began in 2015, there was scant evidence of active Iranian military support for the Houthi rebels. Yet now, reacting opportunistically to US attrition, Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards are apparently supplying – directly or indirectly – the drones, missiles and limpet mines used to attack Saudi oil fields, airfields, and tankers.
The very last thing Iraqis want is the Americans coming back, using their territory as a forward base in a wider Iranian siege. Yet Trump suggested exactly that last year. Can this scenario be ruled out? Not entirely. And so, reason takes flight and the maelstrom builds. Urgently needed now are competent leaders who know how to calm a storm before all are sucked under.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It’s also a serial human rights abuser and has strong links to terrorism. But it’s a key US ally and arms recipient, so it gets a free pass.
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