By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
March 13, 2017

It has become an alarming and dangerous pattern; a pattern of provocative actions initiated by Iran against many nations in the region, the U.K., the U.S. and its allies.

Just in the last week, several of these provocative operations unfolded. On March 4 U.S. officials pointed out that several of Iran’s assault crafts came dangerously close to the USNS, within 150 meters. A similar incident occurred two days earlier, on March 2 as well. These swift-moving assault vessels operate under Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),

which has been empowered and emboldened by the continuing relief of sanctions as well as the lack of a robust reaction against Iran from the international community.

These incidents clearly highlight the fact that Iran is attempting to showcase its military power and regional preeminence to the United States. Some of Iran’s Persian-language newspapers boasted about Tehran’s military capacity to counter the U.S. navy and dominate the Strait of Hormuz, an area that roughly a third of all oil traded by sea must pass through. Iran has frequently exploited the strategic location of the Strait of Hormuz by threatening to shut it down or conducting military exercises meant to intimidate.

In addition, Tehran has been openly boasting about its power in a very dangerous fashion. Despite the intentional provocation, the U.S. Navy and military have been trying to avoid escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington. This is due to the fact that engaging in these provocations can lead to direct regional confrontation. Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis pointed out that due to “a combination of unsafe or unprofessional behavior” by the Iranian Navy, a U.S. ship altered course to avoid a collision in these incidents. He added, “It’s concerning because it can result in a miscalculation or an accidental provocation that we don’t want.”

Iran is also attempting to send a message to its proxies and hard line supporters that neither the international community nor the Trump administration can take any serious action to counter Iran’s ambitions.

Iran believes all talks held with the purpose of countering Iran’s actions are simply rhetoric. When Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was asked by journalists what Iran would do if the U.S., U.K. and France took a “counter-measure against Iran,” his response was: “They [American, French or British officials) talk a lot.”

Further demonstrating their defiance, Iranian leaders insist on continuing to feel out and test the Trump administration. Their goal is to discover whether President Trump genuinely meant what he previously stated about his policy on Iran. In September 2016, President Trump famously announced that if Iran tried to harass the US Navy while he was in office, he would order the Iranian boats “shot out of the water.” He stated ,“And by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures that our people — that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”

It is not a new phenomenon that Iran is harassing U.S. or U.K. Royal Navy ships. A navy official told the Associated Press news agency that these provocative actions have been occurring on a regular basis.

These provocations aren’t just limited to harassment of U.S. or British Navy ships. This weekend Iran test-fired a pair of ballistic missiles according to US officials. According to Fox News, “One of Iran’s ballistic missile tests was successful, destroying a floating barge approximately 155 miles away, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the launch told Fox News. The launches of the Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles were the first tests of the missile in two years, one official said.”

This would be Iran’s 14th ballistic missile tested after the nuclear agreement was established in 2015. Iranian leaders are blatantly breaching a UN Security Council Resolution. Security Council resolution 2231 (section 3 of Annex B) “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” In a destabilizing and defiant move, Iran also held a military excise in the Strait of Hormoz on Feb 26.

Iran is clearly not changing the core religious and revolutionary pillars of its foreign policy, which includes pursuing regional hegemonic ambitions and encouraging anti-Americanism. Instead, Tehran has ratcheted up its provocative actions and interventionist policies. For Iran to take the international community seriously, robust and concrete measures should be taken immediately.

This article was originally published by Arab News.


Harvard-educated, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a businessman, an American political scientist, president of the International American Council on the Middle East, and best-selling author. He serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review.

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