Tehran and Washington need to explore venues to reduce tensions between the two countries, in light of the recent reports regarding US and Iranian navies in Persian Gulf. Although Tehran is adamant that a US warship ventured inside the Iranian territorial waters, the US media is not buying that and demonizing Iran as the ones who have “provoked” warning shots by a US warship at Iranian patrol boats that supposedly came dangerously close to it in the narrow waters of Strait of Hormuz.
Since then the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made a number of public statements highly critical of the US, echoed by the country’s military leaders vowing to be ready to take on the US. Again, the US media has interpreted Iran’s vocal denunciations of US as “offensive provocations” when, seen from Iran’s prism, could well be interpreted as defensive vis-à-vis perceived (potential) US aggression.
While there is no way to independently confirm the veracity of each side’s accusations regarding the tensions in Persian Gulf, it is on the other hand fairly certain that (a) there is potential for further deterioration in US-Iran relations and greater tensions that can, indeed, be dangerous and trigger an open confrontation, and (b) both sides ought to “take a deep breath” and step back from any measures that would add fuel to the hot furnace of US-Iran competition in the volatile region.
By all indications, the US navy is still reeling by the mishap of its sailors’ temporary apprehension by Iran earlier this year, which has resulted in disciplinary action against those sailors, some of whom dared to apologize for entering Iran’s waters illegally. The Western superpower’s ego is seemingly bruised by that incident — that was in fact a “good example” of diplomatic closeness between US and Iran diplomats as a result of marathon nuclear negotiations, as readily admitted so by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has also welcomed Iran’s inclusion in Iran’s participation in Syria peace talks.
But, unfortunately, Kerry does not seem to be calling the shots on Iran, particularly with respect to the military dimensions orchestrated by the US defense officials, who keep referring to Iran as a national security threat to US, and this, in turn, raises the question of where President Obama stands? In his final months in office, Obama is of course a lame duck president who much prefers a stable US-Iran relations so that he can savor his legacy of the Iran nuclear accord. Still, as commander-in-chief, Obama still has the authority to seek the de-escalation of tensions with Iran, that can simmer to new heights even as a result of an “accidental confrontation.”
Clearly, with the problems of terrorism being rampant in the Middle East today, US and Iran should focus on fighting the “common enemy” instead of each other. It simply makes no sense to sidestep the problem of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which threatens Europe and US as well, by focusing on Iran, an anchor of regional stability.
One way to de-escalate tensions between Iran and US in Persian Gulf is to seek an incident at sea agreement, whereby more channels of communications between US and Iranian navies would be set up, perhaps for a limited duration that can be extended after an initial experimentation by both sides. The key advantage of such an agreement is, of course, the minimization of accidental warfare, which can set global oil prices skyrocketing.
Meanwhile, the US should respect international maritime laws, which call on military vessels transiting through a country’s territorial waters such as Iran’s in the Strait of Hormuz, to act as civilian ships and refrain from using their fire power or flying their jets or helicopters.
In conclusion, the prospect for heightened tensions between US and Iran in the proximate future is quite real, all the more reason for both sides to take the necessary steps aimed at de-escalation.