Iran hits out against the U.S. and its allies
Fears intensified that the standoff between the U.S. and Iran could spiral out of control this week, after Iranian troops seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and Tehran announced that it had busted a CIA spy ring. Masked members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps rappelled from a helicopter onto the tanker and detained the crew, ignoring warnings from a nearby British warship. The move was widely viewed as retaliation for Britain’s impounding of an Iranian tanker in the Mediterranean earlier this month. That vessel was believed to be shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, but Tehran suspected Britain of enforcing the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure policy on Iran. Following its withdrawal from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal last year, the U.S. has hit the Islamic Republic with sweeping sanctions in a bid to force it to negotiate a more restrictive pact.
Days after taking the British tanker, Iran claimed to have arrested 17 citizens who were spying for the U.S.; some have been sentenced to death. “Zero truth,” Trump tweeted about Iran’s claim. The Pentagon said that while patrolling the Strait of Hormuz—a choke point in the Gulf through which about one-fifth of the global oil supply passes each year—the USS Boxer used signal jamming to down two Iranian drones that came dangerously close to the warship. Iranian officials called the report “a big lie.” Despite the hostilities, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he is open to talks with the White House—just not at the cost of “surrender.”
What the columnists said
Iran’s leaders are acting “like the international deviants the Trump administration has long made them out to be,” said Mike Giglio in TheAtlantic.com. Since the U.S. quit the nuclear deal—which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs to Tehran’s atomic program—the U.K., France, Germany, and other signatories have painted “Iran as the victim of the Trump administration’s increasing confrontationalism.” But Iran’s piratical behavior could now push Europe closer to the U.S., leaving Tehran even more isolated on the world stage.
By lashing out, Tehran has admitted that the U.S. strategy is working, said NationalReview.com in an editorial. Trump’s oil embargo and banking sanctions are “cratering the Iranian economy.” Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz last month and its seizure of a British tanker are intended “to send a message to the White House that its pressure campaign doesn’t come without costs.” If those costs appear too grave, the mullahs believe, Trump will cave and offer a favorable deal. The president must hold firm “and ratchet up the pressure.”
Trump should listen to his gut and negotiate with Iran, said The New York Times. He has already wisely “jettisoned the diplomatic protocol against direct talks with North Korea and the Taliban,” so why not reach out to Tehran? The alternative is “a dangerous strategy of brinkmanship,” forcing “crisis after crisis” until one side buckles—or makes a mistake that sparks a regional conflict. With the risks so high, a “grand overture” is worth a shot. ■