The British vessel  Stena Impero being seized and detained by the Iranian forces, July 19, 2019 in the Strait of Hormuz. (Getty)

By Track Persia

September 14, 2019

Over the past few months, Iran has escalated tensions with the United States to a dramatic level. The escalation has seen ships mysteriously attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized in the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for a third of world’s seaborne oil.  Additionally there war shooting of a US reconnaissance drone over the Gulf of Oman, and apparently Iran has attacked and confiscated a number of oil tankers in the Gulf.

On Saturday, Iran announced that it had seized a boat and arrested 12 Filipinos as it busted a “fuel-smuggling ring” in the Strait of Hormuz according to Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA. Iranian officials claimed that “a foreign tugboat was confiscated as well as 283,900 liters (75,000 gallons) of petrol worth 233.71 billion rials ($20.2 million),” ISNA said. I

On his part, ran’s coast guard chief in the southern province of Hormozgan announced that twelve Philippine nationals had been arrested. While Iranian legal authorities have been reported that they were taking the required legal measures against the group for being suspected of operating a fuel-smuggling ring.  The tankers’ seizure comes amid tensions in the Gulf after the United States withdrew from Iran nuclear deal, putting curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions.

Iran has been suspected by the United States, its allies in the region and some western powers of being behind these attacks, especially after the United States provided evidence showing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel were removing unexploded bombs form a targeted tanker.

Moreover, IRGC officials admitted at the time that they had detained a “foreign tanker” in the Gulf waters on July 14 for allegedly smuggling contraband fuel with a capacity of two million liters and 12 foreign crew on board, the vessel was en route to deliver contraband fuel received from Iranian boats to foreign ships.” However, according to a maritime tracking service, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah, used in the strait for fuelling other vessels, had crossed into Iranian waters, and at that point, its automatic identification system stopped sending signals.

In the most high-profile seizure, the IRGC seized the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 for breaking “international maritime rules.” Iran also seized another ship on July 31 with seven foreign crew onboard over allegedly fuel smuggling, but it has not revealed the vessel’s identity or the nationality of its crew.

Outstandingly, over the last few months, Iran’s its proxies in the region have increased attacks against the United States and its regional allies. More recently Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have announced that they would form an air force intended to target any US and Israeli drones targeting them in Iraq.

On Thursday, September 5, the Iraqi Shiite militia group Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a close ally of Iran, announced the formation of their own air force. The decision comes a few weeks when suspicious air raids targeted PMF locations in different parts of Iraq, including Baghdad. PMF leadership blamed Israeli drones, in cooperation with the US forces of being behind the attacks.

The PMF was formed from Shia militias in 2014 mainly from pro-Iran militants who had been trained and funded by Iran’s IRGC. It came as a response to a religious fatwa from Iraq’s top Shi’ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to counter Islamic State militants. It was later granted recognition as a “national force.”

In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah organisation has recently been setting up a factory for precision-guided missiles in Bekaa valley after a drone near Beirut set off brief cross-border fighting.

Iran’s escalation against the United States and its regional allies can be seen as a type of Iranian insurgency strategy which focuses on using its proxies to carry out, not a conventional war against its enemy, but operations that can have psychological effects and can demonstrate Iran’s strength in mobilising its paramilitary proxies.

However, Iran seems it is tricking its proxies in the region like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen to use violence against its enemies to provoke an overreaction from them, in particular, the United States and Israel.

Iran has learned how to implement these tactics from over more than a decade- long experience. Among the tactics, Iran has used to apply this strategy are major terrorist attacks or assassinations of government officials or politicians in a bid to provoke authorities in power to respond and carrying out attacks that might cause large losses of life among civilians in the hope that the latter would act against their governments.

The Iranian regime seems it thinks that by implementing its proxy war, it will provoke the United States or Israel to strike back in retaliation, consequently it will be successful to gain global sympathy. However, the regime realises that an indirect war with the United States does not lead it to defeat the United States. Iran simply believes that its policy can provoke the United States and force it to strike back in retaliation and it can then gain international sympathy.

However, the economic turmoil that Iran has been suffering since the renewal of the US sanctions by the President Donald Trump administration, which is part of Trump’s campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran, has further prompted the Iranian regime to focus more on the insurgency strategy  against the United States, that is reflected in the recent shooting of a US surveillance drone. Having said that, Iran has not been completely affected by US sanctions and it seems it is able to reach to the global oil and arms markets because countries like Russia, Chania and India do not support that US sanctions on Iran.

Most importantly, the Iranian regime seems it is adopting this insurgency strategy against the United States because it is too weak to sustain the US sanctions. Additionally, Iran does not see that the  United States is able to be involved in a conventional war. For this reason, Iran is expected to continue with its provocative insurgency strategy against the United States and its regional allies.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.