Washington: U.S. diplomats warned Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The warning relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It also came as Lloyd’s of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region.
Meanwhile, authorities allege that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran.
This all takes root in Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs.
The notice comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries. The Trump administration recently ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter the supposed threat from Iran that forced the U.S. earlier this week to pull all non-essential U.S. government personnel from Iraq.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Iraqi top brass that Iran-backed militias have moved their missiles closer to bases housing Americans.
Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s extraterritorial military operations Quds Force, meanwhile, met in recent weeks with the militias and told them to prepare for proxy war.
“Iran or its proxies” were also blamed by the U.S. for targeting four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, while Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline, prompting the Saudis to call on the U.S. to carry out strikes against the Iranian regime.
Other countries soon followed the threat assessment of the U.S., with Britain raising threat levels for its troops in Iraq on Thursday. Both Germany and the Netherlands suspended a training mission in Iraq.
But President Trump on Tuesday appeared to downplay the escalation and denied the reports that his administration was planning to send more than 100,000 troops to the region in the wake of heightened tensions in the region.
“If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” he said.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, on Thursday deemed new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as “unacceptable” but noted that the country is committed to the nuclear deal.
“We believe that escalation by the United States is unacceptable and uncalled for. We have exercised maximum restraints,” he said during a visit to Japan.