Both the United States and Britain now have escalated tensions with Iran after Iran seized a U.K. oil tanker weeks after shooting down a U.S. drone.
Per USAToday, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Iran of “serious consequences” if it does not release a British-flagged oil tanker it seized in the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway on Friday, although he ruled out “military options.”
Hunt announced later in a tweet that he had spoken with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and “expressed extreme disappointment” that Iran had “behaved in the opposite way” of trying to deescalate the situation.
The seizing of the “Stena Impero” potentially marks the most significant escalation in tensions between Iran and the West since they began rising in May, about a year after the United States pulled out of an international accord aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.
The Pentagon announced it authorized the movement of troops to Saudi Arabia as an “additional deterrent,” adding to the 1,000 troops deployed to the Middle East in June.
The showdown has caused concerns around the globe, with each maneuver bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by either side could lead to war.
The British government is threatening "serious consequences" if its oil tanker isn't released by Iran pic.twitter.com/QJm8UHsOqn
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) July 20, 2019
The United States is deploying troops in Saudi Arabia as tensions soar with its arch-rival Iran raising concerns over navigation in the Gulf’s strategic Strait of Hormuz.
It will be the first deployment of its kind since 2003, when American forces withdrew from the kingdom after a 12-year presence and two US-led wars with Iraq that culminated with the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein.
Is a new war looming in the region?
– Is this preparation for war? –
Separate statements from Riyadh and the US Central Command, or CENTCOM, say the Saudi deployment aims to ensure stability in the turbulent Gulf.
“Based on mutual cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, and their desire to enhance everything that could preserve the security of the region and its stability… King Salman gave his approval to host American forces,” the Saudi defence ministry said.
CENTCOM said the deployment “provides an additional deterrent, and ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats”.
But for Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College London, the troop movement “is part of posturing and the US trying to increase its military options in case of a strike on Iran”.
Washington and Tehran have been locked in a standoff since May 2018, when US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Trump and his oil-rich Saudi ally have also accused Iran of attacking tankers and drones in the Gulf since last May.
Iran denies the charges and has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz — a chokepoint for around a third of the world’s sea-borne oil — if attacked.
Riyadh and Washington have not revealed the number of troops that will be deployed in the kingdom, which lies about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Iranian shores.
But US media reports said 500 American troops will be based at the Prince Sultan military air base, south of Riyadh.
“Five hundred US troops in Saudi Arabia are hardly a buildup, particularly when we are thinking about a war with Iran,” said Krieg.
“These troops are there to prepare the Prince Sultan air base for potential deployment of an air squadron,” he added.
The base housed thousands of US troops and squadrons of jet fighters from 1991, starting with Operation Desert Storm after Iraq invaded Kuwait, to 2003 when the US-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam.
– What is the message? –
Analysts say the deployment is aimed at bolstering ties between Washington and Riyadh — particularly military relations — strained in the past year.
“The Saudis… are saying: if you stick with us we will stick with you,” said James Dorsey, a researcher at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“The Americans are trying to say: we have your back,” he added.