Beginning of ‘Psychological warfare’?

Citing ‘credible Iranian threats’, the US has deployed aircraft carriers and bombers to the Middle East. Will this add to the Middle East volatility? 

Background 

President Donald Trump’s administration has been intensifying a pressure campaign against Iran since 2018. The United States unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA deal under which Iran had agreed to halt its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanction. Sanctions were re-imposed on Iran targeting Iran’s oil, shipping and banking sectors. 

In 2019, the US designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group and announced that the US will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, a decision that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China and India and US treaty allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey.

Analysis

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the United States was deploying the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a message to Iran. Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has approved sending carrier strike bombers to the Middle East because of indications of a ‘credible threat by Iranian regime forces”.

Shanahan wrote on Twitter that "It represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces,". He added "We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests,". 

Keyvan Khosravi, the spokesman for Iran's supreme national security council, said that Bolton's statement was "a clumsy use of an out-of-date event for psychological warfare". Officials noted that "multiple, credible threats" that were picked up by intelligence were primarily against US forces in Iraq by Iran, and its proxy forces. They said there was also concern about US forces in Syria and in the waters nearby.

Bolton said the US wants to send a message that “unrelenting force” will meet any attack on US interests or those of its allies. “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” he said.

The USS Abraham Lincoln has previously been deployed to the Gulf, including during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The strike group's deployment from the Adriatic Sea to the Strait of Hormuz is aimed specifically at deterring any Iranian military actions, a senior military official added. The Strait, a 21-mile wide waterway that separates Iran from other Gulf countries, is the conduit for shipments of about 30 per cent of the world's crude oil, making it a strategically crucial passageway for the global economy.

In response to Trump’s announcement that the US will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, a decision that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China and India and US treaty allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey - Iran said it has mobilised all its resources to sell oil in a "grey market".

Assessment 

Our assessment is that when the US had designated IRGC as a terror organization, the Iranians had threatened to take reciprocal measures. It was likely that they would target the 5000 troops stationed in Iraq, 2000 forces in Syria and the remaining forces that are based at air, land and sea installations in Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as at small installations in Saudi Arabia. It can be noted that President Rouhani declared all American forces in the Middle East as terrorists and labelled the US government as a state sponsor of terrorism. We feel that the US is escalating maximum pressure and the administration sees the damage inflicted as a success. 

It can be noted that Israel had passed on the information on the alleged Iranian plot after Palestinian Islamic Jihad along with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah had fired missiles at Israel from Gaza. 

We feel that blocking the Strait of Hormuz will affect all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and any interference with the flow of oil will affect global oil price.  

Image Courtesy - U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Miller