Commercial shipping activity in the Gulf of Oman near the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates was disrupted on Tuesday after several ships in the area reported difficulties operating their GPS-based navigational systems.
Meanwhile, another report came in that a ship named Asphalt Princess had been hijacked by armed assailants. The entire story can be traced to an incident in the Arabian Sea last week, in which the Iranians attacked the MV Mercer Street vessel with a suicide drone, killing the ship’s Romanian captain and a British crew member.
After the world realized, based on Israeli intelligence, that Iran was behind the attack, senior U.K. and U.S. diplomats openly accused the Islamic Republic and threatened retaliation without saying whether it would be diplomatic or military in nature. The U.S. Pentagon said all options were on the table.
The Iranians, who apparently didn’t intend on killing any of the crew, were caught in this crisis rather off-guard.
The ensuing condemnations from all directions, along with the numerous threats, it seems, sparked considerable anxiety in Tehran, and the Iranian leadership, seeking to nip matters in the bud, delivered a message that any action against Iran would be met with a response, which would most likely severely disrupt oil shipments from the Persian Gulf.
It’s worth noting that some 30 percent of all of the world’s oil is passes through this highly sensitive waterway, such that any disarray could cause a global crisis even to the point of war with Iran.
The Iranians are adept at pushing boundaries. In any crisis, they pull the rope to its absolute limit, right to the point before it snaps, in order to gauge the West’s response. When the Iranian tanker Grace1 was stopped by British forces in Gibraltar in the summer of 2019, the Iranians hijacked the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero. Ultimately, the British released the Iranian vessel and the Iranians released the British tanker, ending that particular crisis.
In the latest incident, the Iranians, it appears, activated GPS jammers that disrupted several ships’ navigation systems, and armed assailants who didn’t identify as Iranian to hijack a vessel. The Iranians apparently want to show the West that they possess a variety of capabilities in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and that if the West decides to act, as its leaders have suggested, Tehran has a diverse array of responses at its disposal.
There’s no doubt whatsoever that this crisis with Iran necessitates a Western response. Iran’s actions are maritime terrorism for all intents and purposes, and contravene international law. The West has more than a few diplomatic tools at its disposal for deterring the Iranians, which must now be implemented.
In the background, meanwhile, the Biden administration and the other signatory countries (P5+1) want to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and renew the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
The talks in Vienna were paused to allow the Iranians to finish the process of replacing their president, and are supposed to recommence in the coming days. Will Iran’s actions and the West’s interests prevent Western countries, spearheaded by the United Kingdom, from retaliating against Tehran’s terroristic activities? Time will tell.
Vice Adm. (ret.) Eliezer Marom served as commander of the Israeli Navy from 2007–2011.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.