How Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” Campaign Against Iran Now Works Against Him

16 June 2019 — Moon of Alabama

There is no evidence that Iran was behind Friday’s attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

There are many parties in the Middle East and in the United States who are interested in goading the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran. Most of these parties have the capability to launch clandestine attacks on civilian vessels. That the U.S. government would blame Iran for any such attack is obvious. But even Israeli analysts doubt that Iran is responsible for the recent incidents. The German government doubts that video the U.S. presented shows anything of significance. Others point at the suspicious timing of the incident.

biggerIsrael is of course the foremost candidate for such a false flag attack. Prime Minister Netanyahoo agitated against Iran for the last 25 years. He multiple times threatened to directly attack the country but would prefer that the U.S. would do so. The Israeli clandestine service Mossad is capable of far reaching operations. Israel’s submarines are known to have operated in the Arab Sea.

The Saudis are under pressure from Houthi forces at their southern borders. The Houthi receive some material support from Iran. If the U.S. would attack Iran, the Saudis would be relieved. The Saudis need oil prices way above the current $60 per barrel to finance their state. Anything that drives up the price, like the tanker attacks, is obviously in their interest. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey demonstrated that the Saudis developed extensive clandestine capabilities and have no qualms to use them.

The Saudi partner in crime in Yemen are the United Arab Emirates under the ruthless control of Mohammad bin Zayed. Bin Zayed hired Eric Prince of Blackwater fame to build him a mercenary army. Prince is a former U.S. Navy SEAL, a military operator trained in clandestine operations at sea. Secretly putting a sticky bomb onto some ship is exactly what SEALs learn to do.

U.S. President Donald Trump hired several Iran haters into his administration. His National Security Advisor John Bolton has for years agitated for regime change in Tehran. Bolton is known for circumventing the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He directly communicates with lower levels in the U.S. military and with its regional commanders. The U.S. Central Command now claims that:

“a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down a US MQ-9, at 6:45am local time, June 13, over the Gulf of Oman, to disrupt surveillance of the (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous…”

Sure – that must be right. Just like the CENTCOM claim that the tankers were damaged by limpet mines, which are ineffective when used above the waterline of a ship. The Japanese owner of the Kokuka Courageous says that CENTCOM lies, and that the ship was attacked by “flying objects”. The MQ9 Reaper drone is a surveillance platform but it is also capable of firing missiles. If the new CENTCOM claim is true where is the drone video of the “Iranian attack”? How can we be sure that it wasn’t a U.S. drone that fired missiles at the Japanese ship?

There is of course also the CIA. Two years ago it formed a new mission center to attack Iran:

The Iran Mission Center will bring together analysts, operations personnel and specialists from across the CIA to bring to bear the range of the agency’s capabilities, including covert action.

To lead the new group, Mr. Pompeo picked a veteran intelligence officer, Michael D’Andrea, who recently oversaw the agency’s program of lethal drone strikes and has been credited by many of his peers for successes against al Qaeda in the U.S.’s long campaign against the terrorist group.

Mr. D’Andrea, a former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, is known among peers as a demanding but effective manager, and a convert to Islam who works long hours. Some U.S. officials have expressed concern over what they perceive as his aggressive stance toward Iran.

One wonders what D’Andrea, with his experience in directing drone strikes, worked on throughout the last two years. What operations did he plan?

We know that false flags attacks are as American as apple pie. The Boston Tea Party was committed by colonial settlers camouflaged as Indians. Remember the Maine? The Gulf of Tonkin “attack” that never happened? The fake chemical attacks staged by U.S. paid actors to then be blamed on the Syrian government?

There are also a number of non-state actors who might have been involved in the tanker attacks. The MEK cult is known for committing terrorist attacks against Iran. But it is not the only group. Over the last two year alone Baluch terrorists at the Pakistani Iranian border, Arab separatists of the Ahvaz movement, the Islamic State and Kurdish groups all launched terror attacks against Iran. All these groups are financed by one or the other state actors listed above. With practically unlimited money available, they all might have developed the necessary capabilities to damage some tanker.

All the above actors have motives and the potential capability to launch attacks that they can then blame on Iran. It is no wonder then that everyone calls bullshit when Secretary of State Pompeo claims that “only Iran” could have done it. There is simply no evidence – as in zero – that Iran committed the attacks.

It is also no wonder then that even avid Moon of Alabama readers doubt this authors reporting that Iran’s new strategy is to put “maximum pressure” on Trump. It sounded outlandish when it was first developed in the update to this post. But if one puts oneself into the shoes of Iranian decision makers, it suddenly becomes a realistic assessment.

A day after our first reporting on the new Iranian strategy Asia Times confirmed that the concept exists:

[T]his kind of non-lethal warning, which caused a spike in oil prices, has been in the hardline Iranian playbook since the Trump administration signaled it would take steps to squeeze the Islamic republic’s ability to sell its petroleum.“It was being debated even before the oil waivers were revoked [in November], but largely as a possible response to an attempt to zero [eliminate] Iran’s exports,” an Iranian source told Asia Times on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

The idea behind this, says the Asia Times source, is to push the Saudis to tell Trump to lower the pressure on Iran:

“If MBZ tells Trump that it’s time to slow down the maximum pressure policy that is very different than [Japanese President Shinzo] Abe calling for negotiations,” the source said.

But to slow down Trump’s maximum pressure policy against Iran is not sufficient. What Iran wants to do is, as we argued, to eliminate Trump’s maximum pressure campaign by putting maximum pressure on Trump.

Elijah Magnier is known to have access to high level sources in Tehran. He reported last night:

Informed sources close to Iranian decision makers repeated the words of President Hassan Rouhani and the Iranian advisor to Sayyed Khamenei for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, namely that “if Iran can’t export oil through the Persian Gulf, no-one in the Middle East will be able do this”. The source “expects further attacks in the future, given the US decision to stop the flow of oil by all means at all costs. Thus, oil will stop being delivered to the world if Iran can’t export its two million barrels per day”.“Tensions in the Gulf can be eased only when sanctions are lifted on Iran. Otherwise, more objectives may be targeted and the level of tension will gradually increase. [..] If Iran is in pain, the rest of the world will suffer equally,” said the source.

“President Trump is betting on maintaining the status-quo. This doesn’t suit Iran, because its economy will suffer dearly. Binding the deep economic wound and holding on until Trump ends his first mandate is playing into Trump’s hand and this is not going to happen. The tension in the Gulf was generated when Trump decided to pull out of the nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA). Let him pay the price now. If Iran cannot export its crude oil it means the country must be ready for war”, continue the source.

“If you want maximum pressure,” Iran tells Trump, “we are able to deliver that.”

No Iranian official will of course ever confirm this publicly.

What makes the situation confusing and the reasoning counterintuitive is that Iran and some of its enemies now have the very same tactical interests. Both sides now want to increase the heat in the region. That guarantees that more such attacks will happen. There are many, many potential targets for this campaign.

Current loaded tanker traffic in the Middle East

via Tanker Trackersbigger
Iran’s enemies hope that more attacks on tankers will goad Trump, and his British sidekicks, into a military conflict with Iran.

Iran calculates that Trump will see the danger and recognize that such a conflict would ruin his presidency. That he will accept that he has to revoke the sanctions and rejoin the nuclear deal to avoid to be blamed for unprecedented oil prices and catastrophic consequences for the global economy.

We can expect that the cat and mouse game will continue throughout the next twelve month. Trump will be under pressure from both sides. Next spring or summer is the latest point for him to decide either way. Until then we will see more casualties of this new tanker war.

Iran’s enemies as well as Iran itself now have an interest that more attacks on tankers happen. But unless there is very convincing independent evidence we will never know who will have committed these. There are simply too many players who have motives and the capabilities to make such attacks happen. All of them have plausible reasons to damage more ships. All of them have plausible deniability. It is this what makes the current situation so dangerous. Luckily the problem can be easily solved.

The one who caused this conflict is Donald Trump. He is also the one who can immediately end it.

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