The seizure of the Maersk Tigris on April 28 came days after the IRGC Navy had surrounded an American vessel and followed it along its course for a time before breaking off. The two incidents have been seen as a sign of increased tensions between Iran and the West.
This had been further evidenced late last week when the Pentagon announced that the US Navy would be escorting American vessels through the Strait, that it was prepared to escort them through the entirety of the Persian Gulf, and that it would intervene if need be to rescue the crew of the Maersk Tigris.
The British request for a similar escort is arguably a further sign of the spreading of global anxieties related to Iran’s activities in the broader Middle East.
That anxiety may also be viewed as justifying the calls by some of Iran’s major adversaries to confront its aggression and meddling beyond its borders. These adversaries include Saudi Arabia, which led the bombing campaign, Operation Decisive Storm, against Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen last month. Israel is also urging opposition to Iran, particularly with respect to the Iranian nuclear program, which Israeli officials understand to pose an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Iranian officials have variously called for the destruction of that state, but American opposition to that rhetoric has arguably been toned down in the past year and a half amidst efforts to formulate an agreement to trade sanctions relief for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment and research. Relations between the American and Israeli executives have deteriorated in the midst of this pursuit of rapprochement, which Israel has opposed with calls for more pressure on the Iranian government.
By some accounts, the administration of US President Barack Obama actively restrained Israel from taking unilateral military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But while the administration opposes what it views as a rush to war, it is also intent on convincing Israel and other critics that the military option remains on the table.
This effort was on display this past weekend when Secretary of State John Kerry gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 10 News in which he boasted of the US military’s possession of a bunker buster bomb that is potentially capable of penetrating the Iranian nuclear enrichment facility at Fordo, which is set deep underground within a mountain. The preliminary terms of the nuclear deal taking shape between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations allow Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure at this site.
According to the Times of Israel, Kerry suggested that the US would be willing to deploy the Massive Ordinance Penetrator if need be, and he “seemed to be indicating that the threat of US military action still hovers over the negotiations and acts as a stick to prevent future Iranian violations of any would-be agreement.”
But an editorial in the World Tribune argued that this and other aggressive statements by the Obama administration are actually indicative of its fear of losing public support for the nuclear negotiations at a time when congressional hearings on the topic have gone badly, a growing number of policymakers are expressing concern about excessive concessions to the Iranian regime, and Iran itself is disputing American claims of progress in the negotiations.
Kerry’s interview with Channel 10 claimed that the administration would not accept any deal that failed to close off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. But the World Tribune contrasted this with what it claimed was the administration’s usual way of dealing with criticisms of its soft approach to Iran: to ignore substantive points and claim that the critics themselves are biased and partisan.
The World Tribune also pointed out on Monday that the Center for Security Policy had released a video ad about the nuclear negotiations depicting an Iranian negotiator and ruling mullah discussing the talks and laughing over how many concessions had been handed to them by the American side.