Instead of concentrating on the public health crisis that the Iranian nation is facing, the theocratic establishment appears to be putting its focus on the US.
The instigator of the rising tensions between the Islamic Republic and the White House is clearly Tehran. Six US ships — the Coast Guard Cutters Wrangell and Maui, the expeditionary mobile base Lewis B. Puller, the guided missile destroyer Paul Hamilton, and the patrol boats Firebolt and Sirocco — were this month sailing in international waters when they were harassed by a flotilla of armed speedboats. The boats, which belonged to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), circled the US ships in a dangerous manner, as described in detail by the US Navy: “The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the US vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50-yard closest point of approach and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow. The US crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.”
This is not the first time that Tehran has been implicated in acting dangerously in international waters. For instance, in May 2019, four tankers were attacked close to the port of Fujairah off the coast of the UAE. A month later, two other tankers — the Japanese Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian Front Altair — were sabotaged while crossing the Gulf of Oman. One went up in flames, while the other was left to be towed away. In a third incident a few weeks later, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) released a video showing commandos in black ski masks and military fatigues descending from a helicopter to seize a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians would on go to shoot down an American drone that was operating in international airspace.
Tehran is most likely violating international law, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The theocratic establishment of Iran is a signatory to this UN convention but has long refrained from ratifying it.
Top Iranian officials have also resorted to heated rhetoric, likely to add fuel to the fire and further ratchet up the tensions. In the wake of this month’s incident, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif retweeted a message he first posted two years ago: “US Navy can’t seem to find its way around our waters... Maybe it doesn’t know what it’s doing in our backyard, 7,000 miles from home.”
This kind of destructive behavior could see the crisis spiral out of control and lead to a major war in the region. Iran’s recent harassment of US ships prompted President Donald Trump to warn on Twitter: “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
This harassment came after Iran-backed Shiite militias launched several attacks on the US and its allies’ personnel in Iraq. One attack in mid-March killed several members of the US-led anti-Daesh coalition at Iraq’s Camp Taji base. Eighteen 107 millimeter Katyusha rockets slammed into the base, killing two Americans and one British soldier.
Meanwhile, Iran’s coronavirus death toll has now exceeded 33,400, according to opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, even though the official figure is fewer than 6,000. And leaked documents have revealed widespread corruption in the Iranian Health Ministry, the IRGC and two organizations under the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The history of the Islamic Republic shows us that, whenever the regime is hit with a domestic crisis, it attempts to dodge accountability and responsibility by blaming other countries. That is why the Iranian authorities seem to have launched a campaign pointing a finger at the US and its sanctions for the coronavirus crisis. The US has offered Iran medical assistance, which was declined. And there have been no sanctions imposed on Iran concerning the fight against coronavirus, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying: “There is no sanction on medicines going to Iran, there is no sanction on humanitarian assistance going into that country. They’ve got a terrible problem there and we want that humanitarian, medical assistance to get to the people of Iran.”
The regime is likely heightening tensions with the US in an attempt to divert attention from its cover-ups and mishandling of the pandemic.