Donald Trump, who had recognized the significant Saudi role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States when he was still running for office, made a trip to Saudi Arabia one of his first priorities as President. There, on 20 May 2017, Trump participated in a Saudi war dance and formed an “anti-terror” alliance with the Saudis against Iran (a country which, unlike Saudi Arabia, has never carried out an act of terrorism on American soil).
Shortly after returning from this trip, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the Persian Gulf as the “Arabian Gulf.” In his Iran Policy speech of October 13, 2017, President Trump himself used the incorrect term “Arabian Gulf” to brazenly insult Persians when he accused Iran of interfering with maritime traffic in the waters off of its own coastline – at a distance of more than 11,000 kilometers from the shores of America. On March 22, 2018, Trump appointed John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, a man who, for decades, has been a paid lobbyist and propagandist for the MEK, an Islamist-Marxist Iranian terrorist organization that backed Saddam Hussein in his brutal eight-year war against Iran and has a history of murdering Americans.
On May 8, 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the JCPOA or Iran Nuclear Deal. This was followed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of twelve preposterous preconditions for negotiations with Iran that would lead to a new deal. These preconditions included things like Iran’s forfeit of its legitimate international right to Uranium enrichment as well as Iran’s production of ballistic missiles for its national defense.
Iran’s rejection of these ridiculously unrealistic demands led, in November of 2018, to the re-imposition of harsh US economic sanctions on Iran, including new sanctions targeting any country that buys Iranian oil. In April of 2019, a six-month waiver that had been given to foreign countries and companies doing business with Iran’s oil sector was terminated and the Trump Administration attempted in earnest to implement a global embargo of Iranian oil. The aim was to put the Iranian economy under such pressure that it would lead to a mass uprising that either brought the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table or ended in a regime change.
Beginning in April, the Trump Administration’s Iran Policy moved from economic warfare to the threat of actual warfare. On April 8, 2019, Mike Pompeo designated the IRGC, Iran’s elite combined military force that is comparable to the US Marine Corps, as a terrorist organization. It was the first time that the United States had designated part of another country’s military as terrorists.
This was an extremely threatening move considering the fact that under the 2001 Congressional Authorization of the Use of Military Force in the Global War on Terrorism, Trump would not need to seek approval from the US Congress to go to war against Iran by launching an attack on IRGC “terrorists” inside of Iran. Such an attack almost took place. On May 19, 2019, the President of the United States threatened “the official end of Iran” – not the end of the Islamic Republic, but the destruction of the Iranian nation. This came only days after John Bolton claimed that the United States was preparing to send 120,000 troops and the Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf to confront Iran.
One month later, a US Global Hawk spy drone violated Iranian airspace in the Strait of Hormuz and was shot down by IRGC defensive surface-to-air missile batteries along Iran’s coastline. That night Trump responded by ordering a US airstrike on IRGC targets inside of Iran, an attack that would have begun the worst war that the world has seen since 1945.
Just minutes before they would strike their targets, Trump reversed his decision and pulled the planes back. Trump thought that this stunt would bring Iran to the negotiating table, and when he was frustrated in this ambition he posted his most ignorant tweet to date in an attempt to taunt Tehran: “Iranians never won a war, but never lost a negotiation.” In point of fact, Iran has won more than forty major wars in the course of its 3,000 year history – a history which includes the formation of four or five world-class empires, one of these being the largest empire that the world has ever known when estimated in terms of the percentage of Earth’s population that lived as taxpaying Iranian subjects.
Not only did the Trump policy of pressure fail to force Tehran into a renegotiation of the nuclear deal, not only did repeatedly threatening, insulting, and humiliating the rightfully proud Iranian people fail to catalyze protests aimed at regime change, but Iran’s resistance and fortitude in the face of this increased pressure only served to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Iran’s strategic dominance in the heart of the Islamic world. Iran had warned that if it was prevented from selling its oil, then it would have no interest in maintaining the security of oil shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
On May 12, 2019, four oil tankers were damaged near the Fujairah port of the UAE. On June 13, 2019, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, one Norwegian and the other Japanese – while Shinzo Abe was undertaking the first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister to Iran for decades. It was a special mission to deliver a message from Trump to the Supreme Leader of Iran, to negotiate – or else. Ayatollah Khamenei rejected this ultimatum in the strongest terms imaginable. In response to the British seizure of the Iranian oil tanker “Grace” (subsequently renamed Adriyan Darya) off of Gibraltar on July 4, 2019, in support of the American embargo policy, the Iranian IRGC Navy retaliated against two British tankers in the Persian Gulf on July 19, 2019.
One of these tankers, the Stena Impero, was intercepted, forced to redirect its course, and then boarded by Iranian commandos in direct defiance of a British Royal Navy vessel that ordered the IRGC-armed speed boats intercepting the Stena to stand down. Despite the British Naval vessel’s warnings, the Iranians continued to radio to the Stena tanker: “Alter your course immediately… If you obey, you will be safe. If you obey, you will be safe.” The Iranian commandos, who repelled from a helicopter onto the deck, took control of the British tanker and sailed the Stena into an Iranian port on the Strait of Hormuz – or the Strait of Ahura Mazda (Middle Persian Ohrmazd or Hormuz).
The will to ensure that the Persian Gulf does not become “Arabian” is based on more than just patriotic sentimentality, let alone nationalistic chauvinism.
Within two months of this incident, Donald Trump fired John Bolton as his National Security Advisor and reiterated that he is “not looking for regime change” and that Iran “has a chance to be a great country even with the same leadership.” At the time of writing, Trump is considering extending a $15 billion credit line to Iran on the hope that Iranian President Rouhani might meet with him at the UN later this month. Meanwhile, the petroleum processing plants and oil fields of Saudi Arabia burn. Trump has also stated that he is in no rush to launch a retaliatory strike against Iran.