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Trump’s threat to Iran has a hollow ring

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A tweet by US President Donald Trump on April 22 said, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.” Trump seems to be talking the language of war while indulging in politics by other means. Like his ban on immigration, he is resorting to distractions to turn attention away from his incompetence in tackling the Covid-19 crisis in the United States.

A Time report while referring to the tweet said, “The White House had no immediate comment. The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet referred questions about the tweet to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon referred questions to the White House.”

Meanwhile, Tehran was plainly dismissive. The spokesman for the Iranian armed forces, Brigadier-General Abolfazl Shekarchi, said disdainfully, “Instead of bullying others today, Americans should put their efforts into saving their forces who have contracted [the] coronavirus.”

Trump was ostensibly reacting to an allegation by the US Navy on April 15 that 11 Iranian vessels had “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches against multiple US naval ships operating in international waters.” Speedboats belonging to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) apparently came too close to a squadron of US warships sailing close to Iranian waters.

These warships included the expeditionary mobile base vessel Lewis B Puller – a ship designed to serve as a platform for a US invasion – the Paul Hamilton, a guided-missile destroyer, two coastal patrol boats and two Coast Guard ships.

The US Navy statement said, “The IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision … and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area.”

The Iranians then released a video on April 19 that showed the IRGCN warning off a flotilla of US warships in the Persian Gulf as they tried to approach Iranian territorial waters. After the Iranian warning, the US ships apparently moved away.

Such incidents are not uncommon and the two sides know how to de-escalate. Trump had no reason to meddle. He must be really out of his mind to kickstart a military conflict in the Middle East over such incidents at this point when the United States’ Arab Gulf allies are preoccupied with Covid-19.

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