Critical Day in the Arab (Persian) Gulf – June 20th, 2019
On June 20th Iran shot down an advanced US military drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran argues the drone infiltrated Iranian territory.
The US denies the drone was in Iranian airspace. Reportedly, U.S. Central Command spokesperson, Navy Captain Bill Urban said, “This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”
Over the past month, Iran has initiated escalation in the Gulf both through direct attacks and through using their proxies.
Iran most likely is responsible for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf on May 13thand June 13th. And Yemenite Houthis who are massively supported by Iran attacked Saudi oil facilities on May 14th and a Saudi civilian airport on June 12th.
The above incidents are in addition to rockets which targeted the US Embassy and US military forces deployed in Iraq. Though no one claimed responsibility for the shootings of the rockets it is likely they were launched by one of the units of Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobility Units – PMU) an Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary force affiliated with Iran.
Iran’s shooting down of a US drone marks a severe escalation and might result in a US military counter move. US President Donald Trump recently wrote: “Never threaten the US.” In Syria President Trump demonstrated his willingness to take action if red lines which he draws are crossed. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo announced more than once that the US will hold Iran accountable for any attack on the US or its allies.
The downing of this US drone (and very advanced one) is a major achievement for Iran. If it goes unanswered it will be an Iranian triumph that will likely provide momentum to Iran and to its proxies. In my recent analysis of the crisis in the Gulf “Escalation in the Arab (Persian) Gulf: Observations, Evaluation, Prediction” (May 20, 2019), I wrote: ” Iran might conduct another attack using one of its proxies – and that could be one attack too many…an Iranian-US collision in the Gulf in the imminent future is a very real scenario.” The series of June attacks validate my prediction.
Iran’s downing of the US drone could be “the one attack too many.” It is very difficult to see how the US refrains from any military reaction.
The US has largely two courses of military action:
One would be moving the US Aircraft Carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln – currently in the region, but not in the Gulf – to the Gulf. An action Iran has heretofore warned would be an “act of aggression” and be met with a military response.
Another option would be a small and confined US strike on IRG assets in the Gulf. For example, one possible target is the Iranian military bases located on the island of Abu Musa southeast of the Hormuz Strait. The island of Abu Musa – together with two other unpopulated Islands – Lesser Tunbs and Greater Tunbs (one of the eight arenas of the Iranian – Arab power struggle) which have been occupied by Iran since in 1971. Abu Musa Island was part of the Arab Emirate of Sharjah, one of the Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
The escalation potential of both options is very serious.
One way or another June 20th is a critical day in the Gulf Area and the region.
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