Tensions continue to rise in the Persian Gulf as a senior Iranian military officer threatened to shoot down more US surveillance drones over the volatile region. The US and Iran are already close to war over the destruction of a drone near the Strait of Hormuz, although President Trump is trying to avoid more military entanglements. If Iran attacks more US aircraft, though, all bets are off.
Recently, Iran escalated the situation in the Persian Gulf by moving from attacking civilian tankers to shooting down a US Air Force reconnaissance platform in international airspace.
- US and allied forces in the Gulf have been on a higher state of alert since Iran launched attacks on two tankers in mid-June. With 17.4 million barrels of oil a day passing through the Strait of Hormuz, it’s vital that Iran doesn’t seize control of the strategic waterway.
- Part of the response to Iran’s aggression was an increase in surveillance flights, to watch for Iranian boats that could plant mines on tankers. The main platform for surveillance is the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a large drone that can stay on station for up to 30 hours. The USAF operates RQ-4s from several bases in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
- Last Wednesday, an RQ-4 on station 18 miles off the Iranian coast — in international airspace — was shot down by a surface to air missile. The $220 million aircraft was totally destroyed.
- Now the chief of Iran’s navy is threatening to destroy more drones. Rear Admiral Hossein Khandazi, talking through a government-linked news agency on Monday, said Iran can deliver another “crushing response” if necessary.
- Iran’s real aim is probably to bully the US into stopping drone flights over Hormuz. That will leave tankers vulnerable to more terrorist attacks by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
- If Iran can close the Strait of Hormuz, that will increase pressure for the US to back down over sanctions and let Iran continue its “peaceful” nuclear program. It will also signal that the US and other western nations can be intimidated by threats.
- It looks like Iran is gambling on President Trump’s unwillingness to respond to more aggression. The president has already said he canceled planned missile strikes to avoid escalation. He didn’t think the 150 deaths the strikes were predicted to cause was proportionate to the destruction of an unmanned drone.
- However, if Iran keeps pushing, the US will have no choice but to respond. Either Admiral Khandazi doesn’t realize that, or he’s playing a dangerous bluff. What’s certain is that his comments just made war in the Gulf even more likely.
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