What, if anything, would cause President Barack Obama to step away from the negotiating table with Iran?
This is the question I find myself pondering in light of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy Patrol’s unchecked act of aggression on Tuesday against America’s interests in the Straits of Hormuz – an act that in a sane world would in and of itself put an end to the president’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran.
As of this writing, reports indicate that the Iranian Navy Patrol fired shots at and ultimately seized a commercial cargo ship, the M/V Maersk Tigris, which flies under the Marshall Islands flag. Some believe Iran was even targeting a U.S. vessel.
In a helpful dispatch, commentator Omri Ceren notes the significant implications of such an action given that the U.S. is: (i) Treaty-bound to secure and defend the Marshall Islands, and (ii) Committed to maintaining the free flow of commerce in the strategically vital waterways of the Middle East — as affirmed just one week ago on April 21 by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf and Pentagon Spokesman Col. Steve Warren.
The U.S. fulfilling its obligations to its protectorate, and acting to ensure vital shipping lanes remain open are not trivial matters.
Further, this act can be seen as a brazen test of the sincerity of U.S. resolve, as it was timed to coincide with the opening of the Senate’s debate on the Corker-Menendez Iran bill.
Yet there is a broader and perhaps more important context in which to consider what Ceren calls an act of “functionally unspinnable Iranian aggression.”
Even if we ignore the history of Iranian aggression against the U.S. and its allies since the deposal of the Shah in 1979, the firing upon and seizing of the Tigris marks the latest in a long series of such provocations that Iran has undertaken in just the last few months. Consider:
- On February 25 the Iranian Revolutionary Guard blew up a replica U.S. aircraft carrier during defense drills
- On March 24 it was reported that the Iranian regime had increased its naval threats against the U.S., including “[T]hreats to take over and sink American aircraft carriers and other warships; to close the Strait of Hormuz and Bab El-Mandeb; to carry out large-scale missile attacks inside and outside the Persian Gulf; and to mine the Persian Gulf”
- On March 31 Basij militia chief Mohammad Reza Naqdi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stated that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable”
- On April 1 it was reported that an Iranian military observation aircraft had “buzzed” an armed U.S. navy helicopter over the Persian Gulf during March 2015
- On April 12 it was reported that Iran had been working to deliver surface-to-air missiles to the Houthis in Yemen
- On April 13 it was reported that Iran had increased arm shipments to Hezbollah and Hamas
- On April 14 Russia lifted its ban on the sale of missiles to Iran, no doubt with the firm support of the Iranians
- On April 17 it was reported that Iran was sending an armada of seven to nine ships – some with weapons – toward Yemen
- On April 18 Iran celebrated Army Day with calls of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”
- On April 19 the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s deputy leader Gen. Hossein Salami declared that there would be no inspections of military sites under any nuclear deal, threatening “We will respond with hot lead [bullets] to those who speak of it…;” and
- On April 24 the Iranian Navy Patrol intercepted the Maersk Kensington, a U.S.-flagged vessel
This rhetoric and action comports with Iran’s historic hostility toward the U.S. since the fall of the Shah. Lest we forget, this list of atrocities includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- The 1983 bombing of the U.S. army barracks in Beirut
- Aiding and abetting Al Qaeda with respect to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on our nation
- Funding, training and arming terrorists responsible for slaying American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
Would Iran’s most recent actions in the Strait of Hormuz coupled with the litany of other recent and historical bellicose acts lead one to question whether it is in the United States’ interest to continue negotiating with the mullahs?
Put more directly: In what respect can the U.S. consider Iran to be a reliable, honorable negotiating partner?