June 14, 2019


A Tanker War in the Middle East--Again? (Robin Wright, 6/14/19, The New Yorker)

Tensions in the Gulf are an eerie echo of the tanker war that erupted in the late eighties during the eight-year conflict between Iraq and Iran. The tanker war was launched in 1984, when Iraq attacked Iran's oil terminal and oil tankers at Kharg Island, in the northern Persian Gulf. Iran responded by striking tankers--initially from Kuwait and later from other nations--that ferried Iraqi oil. In 1987, as the tanker war threatened to disrupt global oil supplies, the Reagan Administration intervened. It re-registered Kuwaiti ships under the American flag, which allowed the U.S. Navy to provide military protection. Operation Earnest Will became the largest U.S. naval convoy operation since the Second World War. It included carrier battle groups from the Navy, Air Force AWACS surveillance planes, and U.S. Army Special Operations Forces. At one point, some thirty ships were deployed to escort tankers from the volatile Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.

The U.S. intervention to protect tankers also led to direct military action with Iran. In September, 1987, U.S. aircraft spotted the Iran Ajr pushing mines into Gulf waters. Helicopter gunships opened fire. By the time the attack was over, four Iranian sailors were dead, the rest of the crew had abandoned ship (and were picked up by the U.S. Navy), and the ship was scuttled.

The timing of the U.S. attack was particularly painful for Iran. Khamenei, who was then Iran's President, was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly--the first visit by a top revolutionary leader since the 1979 upheaval that overthrew the shah. His trip followed the first covert contacts between Washington and Tehran in what became known as the arms-for-hostage swap during the Reagan Administration. In 1986, top White House officials led a secret mission to Iran. Although that diplomacy collapsed, Khamenei's trip in 1987 was designed to signal Tehran's willingness to engage with the world. Instead, the visit was overtaken by Iran's mining misadventure.

Just as we were objectively pro-Iraq then, we are objectively pro-Wahhabi now, and then blame the Shi'a for waging our wars.

Posted by at June 14, 2019 4:00 AM