Peter Beaumont is a senior reporter on the Guardian’s global development desk
The growing confrontation in the Gulf between the US and its Saudi-led allies on one side and Iran and its proxies on the other is now focused on the spate of recent mine attacks on oil tankers, which have been blamed by the US on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This is a standoff that has been coming. It is incontestable that Iran has been guilty of destabilising overreach in the Middle East in recent years, as it has moved to build a crescent of Shia influence from Damascus to Baghdad and Lebanon to Yemen.
But Iran’s actions can hardly be said to have occurred in a vacuum. As the Iran analyst for Crisis Group Ali Vaez recently argued, it has been the recent policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran under the incoherent foreign policy of the Trump administration that has exacerbated the current tensions. In short order, the Trump administration has withdrawn unilaterally from the internationally agreed – and successful – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 2015, whose purpose was to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable limits on the country’s nuclear programme.
In April, Washington designated one of the country’s most significant (if troubling) security institutions – the politically influential Revolutionary Guards – a terrorist organisation. It also introduced new economic sanctions that have further stressed Iran’s badly frayed economy.
In tandem with the US moves, Saudi Arabia – one of the countries seen as pushing US policy – has increased its oil production to sell to former buyers of Iranian oil, while at the same time vocally supporting moves to strangle Iranian exports.
It is not hard, then, to see how these moves might be viewed in Tehran: as part of an escalating offensive from multiple sources threatening its own home front in a campaign of economic warfare designed to weaken the regime. The US national security adviser, John Bolton, has been an advocate of regime change in Iran in the past.
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