“The 3,000 sailors and Marines arrived in the Middle East on August 6 alongside a deployment of US fighter jets to the region.
What exactly they’ll be doing isn’t yet clear: If US troops were to board commercial ships, the details would need to be worked out with the companies and countries in question. US officials told the Associated Press that such a policy is under consideration. (The Department of Defense did not respond to Vox’s questions for this story by press time.)
The Biden administration says that the Iranian threat to tanker traffic is the reason for the deployment of sailors and Marines. Iran seized two oil tankers in a week this past spring. Iran also intercepted a Tanzanian-flagged tanker on July 6, a day after the US Navy intervened to dissuade Iran from nearly seizing two ships. Iran has said that it sees itself as responsible for the security of the Gulf, not least because of its long coastline, and claimed it has not illegally seized tankers.
Other factors may be contributing to Biden’s decision-making: The US might be thinking about balancing China’s increased presence in the Middle East, as epitomized by the spring’s surprise rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US also might be responding to concerns from other partners in the region, especially as the US is pushing for Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations. “The noise has increased a lot from Gulf partners, especially as the [Biden] administration is pressuring Gulf partners on a number of different issues, including normalization with Israel,” Simone Ledeen, who served as a senior defense official in the Trump administration, told me. “It’s certainly connected.”
Above all, Iranian actions in the Gulf could affect oil prices. For President Biden, keeping oil prices low has been a priority of utmost importance. It’s partly why he traveled to Saudi Arabia last summer to make up with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. And since then, the Biden administration has sought to reassure Gulf partners like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of US commitment to the Middle East.
This “forward-deployed presence provides US officials with options,” writes analyst Bilal Saab, that would make Iran “think twice before using violence to achieve its political aims.””
“Saudi Arabia and Iran restarted diplomatic relations after seven years of high tensions and violent exchanges between them. Within two months, they will reopen embassies and have both pledged “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs.” The two countries have been engaged in a proxy war in Yemen over the past eight years that has calmed down until recently, and have been on opposite sides of conflicts throughout the Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. While normalization may not mean a cessation of violence throughout the region, the pause in outright hostilities between the two should be welcomed by all. The breakthrough builds on several years of talks in Iraq and Oman.”
“That China played a role shows where global power is shifting — and a meaningful change in how Chinese President Xi Jinping conducts Middle East policy. Thus far, Beijing has been cautious in taking an active role there; this diplomacy, while significant, doesn’t mean China is trying to displace the US security role in the Middle East, Freeman explained. Instead, China is “trying to produce a peaceful, international environment there, in which you can do business,” he told me.”
“China is the largest trading partner of the Gulf and most of the Middle East, and it has a real stake in an easing of tensions. Looking ahead, Saudi Arabia made a strategic choice here and elsewhere — it’s looking to join the BRICS grouping of developing countries and take on observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
“It indicates that the kingdom wants to focus on domestic economic development over geopolitical conflicts at present, particularly as conflicts in Syria and Yemen settle into stalemate and Iran’s leaders are preoccupied by domestic unrest,” says Andrew Leber, a political scientist focused on Saudi Arabia at Tulane University.”
“the Islamic Republic, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, executed 23-year-old Mohsen Shekari for the crime of “waging war against God,” or moharebeh in Farsi.
Shekari was the first prisoner to be executed due to the recent unrest, in what Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, head of the Norway-based organization Iran Human Rights, characterized as a “show trial without any due process.”
With Shekari’s execution — likely the first of dozens — the Iranian regime is reverting to a tried and tested playbook of executing political opponents and dissidents. But it’s not clear that the mass imprisonment, extrajudicial killings, and further possible state-sanctioned executions will deter the protesters who have for more than two months now defied crackdowns and curfews to call for an end to Khamenei’s regime.
It’s also not clear what success looks like for the protesters should they somehow manage to topple the regime that’s had an iron grip on the nation since the 1979 revolution — or how they would manage to do so in the first place.
The inciting spark for the now 11-week-long protests was the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. Amini, a 21-year old Kurdish woman, was arrested while in Tehran for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly; since her death, she has become a potent symbol of many Iranians’ contempt for the country’s oppressive theocracy.
The protests have gained momentum since they began in Amini’s hometown of Saqez, in Iranian Kurdistan, appearing in dozens of cities throughout the Islamic Republic despite the government’s efforts — including internet and mobile network disruptions, mass arrests, and civilian killings — to quash them.
There are some ways this protest echoes past movements, but there are also key differences — not just the longevity, but the degree of societal cohesion and solidarity, too. Women have led and become the public face of this movement — a particularly notable fact in 2022, given the ways that women have been repressed under the current regime.
All of that, however, doesn’t mean that this movement will bring down the Islamic Republic; decades of repression, a poor economic outlook, extremely limited opposition in the political establishment, plus the fact that the military and security service as well as the economic elite continue to throw their lot in with the regime make it difficult to imagine an alternative vision for the future of Iran.”
“Europe — the staging ground for most Iranian operations in recent years — has been afraid to make Tehran pay. Since 2015, Iran has carried out about a dozen operations in Europe, killing at least three people and abducting several others, security officials say.”
““If the Islamic Republic doesn’t receive any punishment, is there any reason for them to stop taking hostages or kidnapping or killing?” she said, and then answered: “No.””
“Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa. In Colombia, police arrested two men in Bogotá on suspicion they were plotting to assassinate a group of Americans and a former Israeli intelligence officer for $100,000; a similar scene played out in Africa, as authorities in Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal arrested five men on suspicion they were planning attacks on Israeli targets, including tourists on safari; in February of this year, Turkish police disrupted an intricate Iranian plot to kill a 75-year-old Turkish-Israeli who owns a local aerospace company; and in November, authorities in Georgia said they foiled a plan hatched by Iran’s Quds Force to murder a 62-year-old Israeli-Georgian businessman in Tbilisi.
Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: They won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.
While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and renewing business ties.
Unlike the U.S. and Israel, which have taken a hard line on Iran ever since the mullahs came to power in 1979, Europe has been more open to the regime. Many EU officials make no secret of their ennui with America’s hard-line stance vis-à-vis Iran.
“Iran wants to wipe out Israel, nothing new about that,” the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told POLITICO in 2019 when he was still Spanish foreign minister. “You have to live with it.””
“the dictatorship’s rationale for such killings has been to protect itself.
“The highest priority of the Iranian regime is internal stability,” a Western intelligence source said. “The regime views its opponents inside and outside Iran as a significant threat to this stability.”
Much of that paranoia is rooted in the Islamic Republic’s own history. Before returning to Iran in 1979, Khomeini spent nearly 15 years in exile, including in Paris, an experience that etched the power of exile into the Islamic Republic’s mythology. In other words, if Khomeini managed to lead a revolution from abroad, the regime’s enemies could too.”
“The Iranian regime is struggling to crush a massive wave of nimble and durable protests, unlike any the Islamic Republic has faced in the past. The leaderless movement has grown in strength despite increasingly harsh crackdowns, relying on unprecedented solidarity between ethnic minorities, different religious groups, and men allied with protesting women.
The movement started in September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an ethnic Kurd from Saqez in northwest Iran, who was arrested in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly and who later died in police custody. Protests in Saqez quickly spread to Tehran and other cities throughout the country. Now in their third month, the protests show no signs of stopping, despite the shocking violence security forces have deployed against the demonstrators, including savage beatings, mass arrests, and indiscriminate killings of protesters, including children.”
“more than 300 have been killed during the protests. That number includes roughly 50 children under 18, the New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi reported last week. But casualties and arrests are difficult to track; social media and internet access have been severely curtailed, and foreign reporters can’t access the country. Thus far, five protesters are set to be executed for participating in the uprising.”