US-Iran war–a close call: Mark on the radio

It sounds like “fake news.” It’s not. The US nearly provoked a war with Iran a month ago. I talked about this a few minutes ago with host Bruce Sakalik on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.

The new US Defense Secretary, James  Mattis, had a plan to have his navy intercept an Iranian ship on the high seas and search it for weapons heading for Yemen. That’s an act of war.

This story sounds so outlandish that people might think it’s fake news. So did I. So I checked it out and found it to be true. Bruce rightly questioned me about that, and I referred to this article about how the state of journalism today threatens democracy.

Some background: There’s a civil war in Yemen, and it has become a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. One of the side effects is that the chaos has given al-Qaida a freer hand to operate there, and that led to the Navy SEAL commando raid in January that killed an American serviceman and do civilians.

The US has been involved, directly and indirectly, in the Yemen war since its outset. Now it’s working to back its ally, Saudi Arabia.

Independent of that is the bedrock belief of the Trump administration that Iran is a serious threat to the rest of the world.

That sets up the scenario: Iran sends weapons to its side in the Yemen war, shipping them by sea to Oman and then overland to Yemen. That’s well known. So why not stop one of the ships and confiscate the weapons?

Why not, indeed. If it’s intended to make a difference in the Yemen war, then it would actually make about as much difference as urinating on a forest fire. If it’s intended to sent a signal of toughness to Iran, as in, “don’t mess with the Trump administration,” that’s more plausible–but the risks are much too great.

Stopping a ship on the high seas, even to search for weapons, is a recognized act of piracy. It can be excused if the arms are to be used against the party stopping the ship–Israel has intercepted several Iranian ships filled with weapons for Hamas and Hezbollah–but the US is not a party to the Yemen civil war.

So it’s piracy. And an act of war. Iran would be obligated to retaliate. And it would. Whether the retaliation would come in the form of an attack on a US military base in the Mideast, or a navy ship. or a civilian target, or something else–it would come. And the US would hit back. And we’d likely end up with a Mideast war on our hands.

There’s one other possibility. It’s unclear why the operation was called off. The White House indicates it’s because it was leaked. Perhaps the whole thing was an exercise to warn the Iranians about the tough new US policy toward them by leaking an outlandish operation, though there was no intention to carry it out.

That carries its own risks, and here’s the main one: It runs counter to the  reality that tough talk, military actions and sanctions against Iran have run their course. They brought Iran to the negotiating table, and they produced an agreement. Now is the time to implement the agreement and bring Iran back into civilization.

That’s the only way t0 solve the Iran crisis. No one says it will be easy or free of hitches. Iran is still involved in most of the conflicts in the region. That won’t change overnight. Economic benefits take time to bear fruit–and for now, the economic parts of the Iran accord are limping along, because companies and banks are afraid that if they do business in Iran, they’ll be hit by American sanctions.

We need to take care to avoid bringing about an “I told you so” situation in which we are the ones who scuttle the Iran accord, and then take credit for calling it a bad deal. The consequences of that are a hostile Iran, and worse, a nuclear Iran. I sincerely believe that no one wants that.

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