Why is Boris Johnson leaping into Iran mess - analysis

The headlines indicating the UK could join the US seem to ignore that the US Secretary of State says Washington is seeking to avoid war with Iran.

By
September 24, 2019 01:32
3 minute read.
BORIS JOHNSON, one of many contenders for the Conservative leadership

BORIS JOHNSON, one of many contenders for the Conservative leadership. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The same day Iran said it was releasing the Stena Impero, a British-flagged ship that Tehran seized in response to the UK stopping an Iranian vessel in Gibraltar, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Iran of being behind an attack on Saudi Arabia. He made the comments while on his way to the US for the UN General Assembly, where he will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

What is Johnson thinking? The UK was almost humiliated in the tit-for-tat tanker grabbing that took place in July. It had no real long-term policy to prevent Iran’s actions, even though it had warships in the Persian Gulf. Iran won by doing what it always does: call the Western Power’s bluff. Iran always knows that instinctively, Western governments will do everything to avoid war. They might appear to sanction Iran or even detain a tanker, but when they are similarly threatened, they find a way to climb down, de-escalate and then do what Iran wants.

Yet Johnson waded into the Iranian swamp on the plane, claiming that the UK believes there is a very high degree of probability that Iran was behind a September 14 attack on Abqaiq. He claimed that the difficulty is in organizing a global response and that the UK would work with the US and European friends to “de-escalate” the tensions. Iran doesn’t need to work to de-escalate, because other countries will do it for them. This is a win for Tehran because it can attack a Saudi oil refinery, show off its weapons systems, and then get other countries to “de-escalate.

Oddly, Johnson also said that the UK was looking at “what kind of action we can take” and would look at what the US was proposing. His words are being twisted to allude that the UK would join the US in military action.

The headlines indicating that possibility seem to ignore that the US Secretary of State says Washington is seeking to avoid war with Iran. So the UK policy is to de-escalate. The US policy is to avoid war. Western European powers, such as Germany and France, want to avoid any tensions. Everyone is avoiding.

Meanwhile, the Stena Impero is ostensibly “free to leave,” the Iranians have said. Is Johnson’s timing related to the tanker being released, thinking that he’ll turn up the heat now that the boat can leave? What is in place to prevent Iran from taking more boats? Will his comments scupper the meeting with Rouhani?

Tehran is in an enviable position. Its adversaries have telegraphed exactly what they are going to do, like a team giving you all their plays before the game. It has received support from Turkey, Russia, China and others, and has had many European powers appear to negotiate on its behalf. It has one serious handicap, which is that it can’t get the other European signatories of the 2015 Iran Deal to actually break the US sanctions. Here, Iran has learned that one of the main problems with dealing with many European powers is that there may be lots of meetings and talk, but it translates only into snail’s pace action.

For some commentators, the Johnson comment that appeared to allude to joining the US conjured up images of the Blair-Bush years, when the UK and the US carried out operations in Iraq. In both America and Britain, that war now overshadows reticence to ever do something like that again. Almost 30 years after the Gulf War, when the US built a large coalition to defend Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, there’s not going to be any coalition this year – unless Iran seriously missteps.



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